Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

The lessons we learn when dogs enter our lives

Going Nature's Way


January 3, 2019

Poncho is an excellent example of adaptation to a cold northern climate. Just two months ago, he was wandering the streets of Dallas. His journey north began with a rescue organization driving him and a truckload of other strays to Duluth, where Animal Allies hosted an adoption event. It’s been 10 years since we said goodbye to our last dog and the idea of bringing a dog into our lives again has been growing stronger. Mike was away when my daughter called from Duluth on a stormy Sunday to say they had found a dog that she was sure was just right for us. We ‘face-timed’ so I could see what he looked like and after a few minutes of agonizing uncertainty, I said yes.

On the drive north I streamed names through my brain, wishing Mike were there to help me make this decision. The dog had been given the name Laredo because he was from Texas, but I wanted something different. We had chosen environmental heroes for the two previous dog’s names, but this time I remembered the show we watched as kids – The Cisco Kid. Pancho was his sidekick — that name felt right — though I would spell it with an ‘o’.

On this early November day as slushy snow fell, I met our new family member at a Petsmart store. After picking up necessary food and equipment I loaded him into the backseat of our truck and headed home. He seemed seriously disoriented for the first few days, but we managed to find a routine fairly quickly.

We had gotten a few inches of snow and when I took him out for walks he looked a bit confused at first, but once I learned that he loved to fetch balls, nothing else mattered. Two days ago we woke up to a very white world — trees bent over with their coating of snow and all patches of bare ground hidden away. Poncho paused as the front door slid open and surveyed this new landscape for a few more seconds and then he stepped boldly into this white world.

You would think he had been born in this cold, snowy place by his enthusiasm. He (as far as we can guess) is part German Shepherd and part Yellow Lab, so he does have a sleek coat of blond hair, which seems to be enough to keep him warm. I have yet to see him shiver. Today when he went outside, he sat on his haunches on our deck and carefully surveyed the yard.

Squirrels are his nemesis. His big upright ears rotated like radar, and his pink nose quivered with each breath. When he got up, his paws had left dark imprints where they had melted the snow. The temperatures were only in the single digits and I marveled that he was producing enough heat to melt snow, but not feel pain in his pads.

Watching him frolic in the snow is pure delight. He has learned that this cold white stuff can be chewed and swallowed and quench thirst. He will gladly lie down and roll around in it if some kids show up and want to play.

I have also watched him plunge his face up to his ears in the snow to better smell the voles or mice that are living under the blanket of white. Just beneath this fresh snow is a hard crust of ice, created by the previous weekend’s mist and sleet — a dangerous condition not only for us two-leggeds. The subnivean layer as it is known is generally the safest place for small mammals to spend the winter. The snow works as insulation and a barrier to the cold. But there are some predators equipped with extremely good hearing or sense of smell, or both— owls, fox, weasels, bobcats, and in this case a determined young dog. I can’t fathom how a creature can actually use their nose when it is surrounded by snow and still be able to pick up scents. But learning that dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, (compared to our six million) you start to appreciate their gifts.

Life has definitely changed for us. We have more obligations and responsibilities now — another mouth to feed, another body to groom and protect from disease and injury, another personality to learn about and love. Dogs expand our family circle and make our lives richer and more interesting. Loyalty, curiosity, playfulness, and patience are just a few of the lessons we learn when a dog enters our lives.


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