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Dog Days of Winter

By Melissa McQuarrie

It’s been a long, dreary winter. February is creeping by, one snowy day blurring into another, and, after a couple of years of change and flux and shifting relationships, I’ve been feeling careworn and burdened on top of the usual winter malaise that often hits about this time. I turned fifty last fall and my children are growing up and there are days when I still reel from the shock of finding myself a middle-aged woman with an emptying nest. If I’ve ever needed some peace and quiet and space to process the changes my life has undergone in the last several years, it’s now.

So you will think I’m a little nuts (you can join my husband) when I tell you that I’ve recently begun exercising and helping care for two German shorthaired pointers who have been living since last summer in a kennel in my brother- and sister-in-law’s yard next door. How these dogs came to live at my in-laws’ and why they’re kept in a kennel all day and night with little exercise or attention (though they’re fed daily and have a dog igloo to sleep in) is a long and complicated story. Suffice it to say that although it’s supposed to be a temporary arrangement, it’s lasted too long, and it’s been difficult for everyone involved—especially for the poor dogs (check Canine By Design Private for dog services) . And that, despite my intention to remain detached, somehow I found myself volunteering to help. I check out additional info here, if I need some kind of training services for my dog.

So for the past five weeks, every morning after the kids leave for school I’ve been pulling on my thermals and sweats and my coat and gloves and scarf and my big heavy snow boots, filling my pockets with doggy treats and dog-poop bags, and trudging across my yard through the snow to my brother- and sister-in-law’s yard next door. As soon as they see me, the dogs leap over and over in their kennel, throwing themselves against the chain-link fence and barking deliriously until I let them out, bracing myself so that they don’t knock me over. Then I watch them streak through the open gate and bound across the snow to our fenced-in yard, where my own dog, Daisy, and two bowls of dog food await them. You can click here for canine training and find professional trainers who will help your dog achieve its highest potential.

For the next hour I play endless games of fetch, watch the three dogs chase each other around the yard and wrestle in the snow while I try to ignore the growing patches of mud where the dogs have kicked up the lawn or dug holes. I dole out treats and pick up countless piles of dog poop and try to break up the wrestling when it gets too rough (not exactly what I envisioned myself doing all those years ago when I dreamed of having all my kids in school). Here are some tips about what to do when you feel something wrong after touching a dog with parvovirus and how to prevent it spreading.

Over the past month I’ve learned that Dash, who is white and liver-spotted, is the older yet more submissive of the two. He loves to toss toys in the air with his mouth and catch them as he runs, and he likes to dig holes. He pounces playfully when he wants to wrestle with Daisy, and he gives in during tug-o’-wars over a chew toy. Sambo, the black dog (and yes, I acknowledge it’s an unfortunate choice of name), is the alpha. Not quite a year old, he’s fifty pounds of quivering, pent-up energy. He jumps on me with muddy paws and noses my pockets for treats. He runs in endless circles around the yard and hurls himself at Daisy, nipping at her ears and neck, and runs away from me when I try to clip on his leash. I am hopeless as a dog trainer so the only thing I’ve managed to teach him is to stand with all four paws on the ground instead of jumping on me when he wants a treat. I guess it’s a start.

When playtime is over I put leashes on the dogs (after I finally catch Sambo) and walk them back across the yard (they look at me resignedly with their chocolate-brown eyes). I shut myself up with them in their kennel while I scoop piles of poop off of the cement floor and skim the ice from the top of their water bucket. I pet their heads and rub their ears and then I trudge back home, squaring my shoulders and ignoring their cries. I clean up the yard and throw away the poop, wipe off Daisy’s paws and mop up her muddy prints after we come inside. Then I try to make the most of what’s left of the day.

As you can imagine, some days this routine feels like one more big chore added to my already heavy load. I complain to my husband about my lack of time during the day, about my aching shoulders from playing fetch and my aching back from shoveling snow out of the dogs’ kennel. I complain about the mud. I say, “I swear I cannot get the smell of dog poop out of my nostrils.” Part of me wonders if I’m being a martyr, or a masochist, or both.

But on other days, I find the winter doldrums receding as I watch the dogs chase each other around in circles, nipping at each others’ tails, rolling around in the snow and pulling each other over the grass as they tug on the same piece of rope. I smile, utterly charmed by their funny dog ways. Striding around the yard, dogs trailing after me, I feel rugged and outdoorsy, like those English women with weathered faces who breed dogs and wear tweed and riding boots. The river is running just beyond our backyard, and my cheeks are cold in the bracing air, and the dogs are happy as they fling themselves into the moment—pure joy. And something in me loosens; the heaviness in my chest eases, and I bask in the quiet, peaceful respite.

And on those days, spring doesn’t seem that far away.

Are you tired of winter? What helps you shake off the winter doldrums? Have you ever found an unexpected relief or blessing while taking on an added burden? And, finally, how do you handle touchy situations with in-laws? (I’d really like to know this one.)

About Melissa McQuarrie

(Advisory Board) grew up in Australia and California and now lives in Provo, Utah with her husband, four children, and their dog, Daisy. She served a mission in Peru and has a BA and MA in English from BYU. She loves reading, writing, and quiet afternoons. She does not love grocery shopping. Now that two of her children attend BYU and her youngest children are in high school and junior high, she is trying to adjust to this "emptying nest" stage and still wondering how it snuck up on her so fast.

13 thoughts on “Dog Days of Winter”

  1. It's a cruel irony that the month with the fewest number of days feels the longest. This late winter/early spring I'm lucky enough to be able to take a quick island vacation in order to preserve my sanity. I know it's certainly not a solution possible for everyone; I'm definitely counting my blessings.

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  2. Well if the next door relatives don't thank you, I will. Thank you! Dogs are social animals and your efforts to include them in your "pack" will help keep them lovable and sane.

    Ah winter doldrums. Some winters I have used the forced indoor quarantine for quilt construction – not that I'm good at it – but it's something that lends itself to sitting for hours. The project gets packed away during the summer when there are more outside things to do.

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  3. After 20 years of marriage and running out of viable excuses, I caved to my sweetheart and our children, and we got a dog. Her real name is Bella, but usually she's Doofus, Stupid, or Dummy (all spoken lovingly). Darned if I don't find a lot of enjoyment with that beast!

    As for the in-law question, I have no (good) answers, as my way has not been the best. I'm hoping someone answers you profoundly so I can get the answer, too!

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  4. You are a good woman. Seriously.

    This winter has been a tough one for me now that I'm back in MN. Luckily it's sunny, but it's so dang cold. And the snow this year has been unbelievable. Spring will come. . . . won't it?

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  5. Ahh – a woman's heart that apparently your sister-in-law doesn't have but you do. If the Savior is concerned about a sparrow, no doubt your attention to those animals is pleasing to Him.

    As a mother of married adult children, I would so appreciate knowing in-law behaviors that are troublesome to all of you. I'm so concerned about offending. I know what bothered me about my mother-in-law and I didn't handle it well at all. Please let me know specifically the behaviors to which you're referring. Many, many thanks. You could be serving my "in-love" children by clueing me in.

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  6. You are such a wonderful woman for doing this for those dogs. You have a heart of a saint. My wife would reach over and give you a hug to help shrug off the cold.

    Keeping those puppies happy is one of the best ways to keep warm in these wintry months. Also it helps keep them healthy and free from arthritis pain.

    Thank you.

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  7. YES, I'm tired of winter, and I haven't found much to battle the doldrums except crepes and nutella for lunch every day. It's not good, but they're…soooo… gooood.

    After reading your post I'm feeling dog-hungry again (it's sort of like being baby-hungry, only it's harder to convince the husband). I'll go back to lurking on the local humane society's website.

    And I'll smile when I think of you caring for those sweet beasties.

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  8. Sharon–
    In order to be a good in-law, I would advise that you not ask for three-figure loans any more than bi-monthly, and avoid asking for four-figure loans at all. All the rest is, from my skewed perspective, cake.

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  9. That is so sweet of you! Could you check if there is a German Pointer Rescue in your area that would be willing to re-home them to a good family? I realize they are big dogs and probably bred for cold, but they shouldn't be outside in the snow 24/7. 🙁 I say whatever the situation was that put them out there in the first place, is now past, and a new solution needs to be thought of and carried out immediately.

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  10. Melissa, you are my hero! BLESS YOU for your kindness and selfless service to these puppies. The bright sunshine that you bring to them every day makes the hearts of people like me rejoice!

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  11. Oh, how I love dogs! And I'm glad those dogs love you. What cute dogs they are, too. I wish it were spring right now. More storms on Friday, apparently : (

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  12. I adopted my Beau 1year and 2 months ago. He is a completely changed dog. When I first brought him home. His tail was not just down, it was down and under him. He didn't bark for the first five months that I had him and he was scared of everything around him. My friends and people in the neighborhood can't believe the change. All it took was a little Momma lovin.

    He makes me laugh every day. Last night I had a dream and I herd a dog bark and woke up. I went to check on beau who sleeps in a crate in the living room. I opened the crate and Beau ran to my bed and dove under the covers and that's where he spent the rest of the night. My baby knows that I love him

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