Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Feeling the cold

When Morgan, Bear and I announced eight years ago that we were moving to Thunder Bay in the middle of the winter, we were most often greeted with a loaded silence followed by, “Why?” asked in such a way that suggested we might be just a bit crazy.

We really didn’t have a solid reason for our decision other than because it is on the shores of Lake Superior and is surrounded by great tracts of accessible wilderness and because it is far enough north to get real winters with cold and snow, something we were experiencing less and less of in southern Ontario.

We were set to move in January. So, that Christmas I was festooned with gifts of woollen hats and scarves and mitts, far more than I could ever wear. Apparently everyone thought I might freeze to death.

And some well-meaning family member bought Bear a knit sweater dotted all over with a snowflake pattern.

We had never considered getting Bear a sweater. Sweaters, we thought, were for dogs too small to create their own body heat or for those with such short coats that they may as well be naked. Bear, being a Lab with thick black fur and plenty of body-warming bulk on her 80+ lb frame, was quite capable, we were sure, of fending for herself.

The sweater was about two sizes too small. We could tell by looking at it that it would be a tight fit, but we tried to squeeze her into it anyway. It was the kind that actually goes on like a sweater, over the head and then the front legs fitted through a couple of stubby sleeves.

We only got it about ¼ of the way on. The neck of the sweater was stretched to its limit, making visible each individual stitch. The body of the sweater was completely twisted to the side, with one paw jammed through one sleeve as far as her elbow so it functioned like a sling and she sat there hunched over, ears flat, one paw pointing straight out in front of her and she rolled her eyes up at us and just about said, “Are you kidding me?”

The sweater was never seen again.

I thought about it the other day though, as the real cold finally descended on us this winter, the kind that snaps at your skin and freezes your breath to your hair. We were up in the woods cutting firewood with the dogs. Murdoch buzzed back and forth, leaping over downed trees, disappearing amongst hosts of snow-covered pine trees and running and running and running. Bear diligently sniffed every inch of the trail and then veered off into the deep, un-trodden snow and investigated that.

She emerged from beneath a canopy of clustered balsam trees, covered in snow from her nose to her tail and I noticed she was shivering. She looked at me as if to say she wanted to go inside and then she and I quick-marched back to the house where I wrapped her in blankets in front of the woodstove and thought perhaps she could use a sweater.

We never really forget that Bear is sick, but it is easy to sweep it to the back of our minds most days as she skips through the woods behind Murdoch and jumps enthusiastically for sticks and eats with gusto. But her illness is making her more sensitive to things like the cold and food. If she doesn’t keep moving when she’s outside, she starts to shiver and if she eats too much of the wrong thing, she becomes bloated almost instantly.

And then there are those seizures.


  1. Have you thought about getting her a down jacket. I think that may be helpful and keep her warm enough. Wool does get wet and cold.

    1. A down jacket sounds like a great idea. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. That is a great idea...my old girl could use one too!

  3. Wouldn't a down jacket get wet too? But even so, it wouldn't stretch like a woollen jacket and might give protection from cold winds. It would be easier to dry too once it was off.

    Bear deserves the best!