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Monday, January 15, 2007

Comedic Interludes

With “Christmas in Kansas” coming out in installments, regular postings must take the form of interludes or – heaven help us, a word from the sponsors. With Missouri buried in ice, perhaps the Morton salt jingle and a small girl in a yellow raincoat should come to mind. What I have instead is an extremely indignant Dalmatian and a very cautious shepherd!

Sir Lancelot is, as I’ve noted elsewhere, a very *male* dog. This is an utterly charming aspect of his personality, since I happen to enjoy character traits I associate with men. It can also make for some rather hilarious moments and metaphors, and this week of ice is no exception!

In general, Lance enjoys charging out into the back yard, bellowing his announcement of his presence and superiority at full gallop until he reaches a favorite spot of fence and lifts his leg. Those of you with male dogs probably know that this leg lifting is not a physical necessity, since a male dog who just *really* needs to go will arch his back and empty his bladder like a puppy. The leg-lifting his an adult marking behavior, and as they age, male dogs engage in it as it suits their mood and circumstances. As a side note, I’ve known two female dogs who lifted their legs – my grandmother’s extremely spoiled and much loved retriever-beagle mix and my husky , who is currently trying out a new home in Kansas herself, would both squat and then lift one foot mid-process. An interesting behavior, but not something I’ve ever heard thoroughly explained.

Anyway, back to the present and Sir Lancelot’s current battles.

My corner of Missouri received about a quarter of an inch of sleet and snow Friday, and subsequent rains and a bit of snowfall have done nothing to thin the coating of frozen, glassy whiteness. It looks like snow from a distance. But the stuff is so solid, I’ve been tempted to get my skates out and try using them in the back yard!

Saturday, Lancelot went charging out onto this sheet of ice, heartily engaged in his early-morning bellow. He immediately lost control, landed on his rump, and careened into the chain-link fence. Not to be deterred, he scrambled to his feet and located his favorite spot along the boundary of the yard.

Another physics lesson took control. He made repeated and determined attempts to maintain his leg-lift despite the fact that every time he started to go, his opposite front foot would start to slide out away from him.

He began to growl at the ice. He became more determined, more manly, and less interested in physics. He tried lifting his leg away from the fence, growling the whole while, and slowly sinking as each foot slid in a separate direction. The growls became indignant, and then morphed into a gurgle as he completely lost control and ended up belly down in a puddle of pee on the ice. He wasn’t happy about the bath that followed either!

Bubbles just seemed to be adding insult to indignity in his estimation.

In the hope of preventing further incidents – and avoiding additional dog-baths -- I tried taking the dogs out the front door rather than out the walk-out basement to the back yard. To my surprise, Sally the shepherd trotted to the top of the hill in the side yard, and as her paws started to slip, she tucked her back legs under her, and slid down the hill. She seemed someone chagrined, but maintained a certain aplomb, and glided to a spot part way down, long before she ran out of retractable leash-line. She investigated the lower side yard, took care of business, and used her heavy shoulders and badger-claws to hop her way back up the hill, grinning and thoroughly pleased with herself at this new game.

After this incident, she has avoided the top of the hill, and has been moving briskly about on the ice in careful, measured steps, staying well-centered and just going with the flow if a leg slides out from under her.

[sigh] Lance, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. His first couple of trips out the front, he stayed away from the hill, continued to growl at the ice and earned himself approximately one bath or thorough wipe-down for every three trips outside.
For those of you unfamiliar with non-Disney Dalmatians, the males have large, well muscled chests, lungs designed to let them keep up with trotting horses, and dainty feet that aren’t much wider than their legs. Pretty, but totally useless for scrambling in the ice and snow. No snowshoe effect here. They are trotters, not mountain goats and they certainly can’t qualify as all-terrain canines.

I had glanced back inside the house to check on the whereabouts of Oscar the cat when Lancelot discovered the top of the hill. In an instant, he disappeared around the corner of the house; I heard an aggravated grunt, felt a tug on the leash as he ducked his head and let the collar slide over his ears, and he was gone, his spotted form starting to spin as he melted into the gloom of the side-yard.

Hurrying while on ice is not something I’d recommend to anyone. I kicked off my slippers, so my socks would give me some purchase on the ice. By the time I managed to get far enough out into the yard to see the dog, he’d already encountered the gate to the back yard, had taken care of business in the comfortable angle created where the bottom of the hill met the fence, and was trying to pick his way back up the hill. Five minutes later, he was still trying, an earnest and determined look on his face every time he looked up at me. He’d tried coming up the middle, picking his way along next to the wall of our unit, and clambering along the rocks at the side of the next unit. With each attempt, he gained ground, finding a way past the points where he’d started his slide back down into the gloom. His determination was – well—dogged. And his earnest looks were heart-warming. He was not upset or frightened, just absolutely set on returning to my side. He would find a way. Each glance seemed to be telling me to wait. He would get to me.

I didn’t wait. After five or six minutes, I went scrambling back into the house, and Sally and I charged to the rescue, slipping and sliding our way out the back door and over to the gate. After another couple of minutes banging at the latch to get it open, I was able to welcome Lance back into the relatively flat confines of the backyard. He made a bee-line for the basement door. Once inside, he shook himself thoroughly, flapping his ears and lashing his tail like a whip. He climbed the steps to the living room at a steady pace, never glancing back. At twelve years old, this pace is much slower than it once was, and I was a bit worried that he’d strained something in his battle with the hill. He sniffed a ball and a bad cuz on his way to the water dish, then made for his usual spot on the couch. After clambering up to his spot and trompling around on the cushions in that mysterious dog-ritual left over from the ancient past, he plopped his rump onto the afghan and raised his head. On his face was the most delighted grin I’d seen there in some time.

He had battled the elements and had returned with his hide and his pride intact. Despite the slide down the hill, he had taken care of business, acquitted himself in a manly fashion, and had returned to my side and the comforts of the couch without requiring a bath. He was a happy man, um, dog, and he settled himself against me for a long winter’s nap!

1 comment:

KnitNana said...

What a delightful picture you paint! (not a dog person, you know, but can still appreciate what you've all been through in the ice)
Stay warm (and be careful, all of you, on the slick stuff!).