Dog vs. Winter

After months of applying and being either ghosted or told that the creature in question was alas unavailable, we finally succeeded in setting up a meeting with one. In early January, we drove twenty minutes to Marshall, nervous the whole way. Grinning, sure, but behind our grins was the sentence – what the hell are we doing?

He was in a shopping cart at a sporting goods store, curled up against the metal in a little purple leash. We marveled at how relaxed he was while talking through our masks to his foster mother, a very nice lady named Cathy. I poked a rawhide through the bars of the shopping cart. He gnawed it while looking at me with one blue eye and one brown eye, totally silent, and then I got out my checkbook, wrote a $300-ish check, and we took him home.

If it didn’t work, Cathy explained, it didn’t have to be permanent. The agency had a two-week return policy on puppies; no one would be mad at us if we gave him back to her within fourteen days, and he’d be sure to find a new family. I might have whispered this to myself as we drove home, but by the time we reached our driveway, he was sitting in my lap, and now, if I am to be honest, the return policy has not once crossed my mind, not in the last two weeks that we’ve been dog owners.

This is, I guess, our life now.

We have named him Campion (after a character from the excellent-and-deeply-weird Ridley Scott HBO show Raised by Wolves; Campion is the human child of two android parents who have come to an alien planet, and, as modeled by the android parents in the show, Campion is really fun to yell), bought him multiple enclosures and roughly 12 squeaky toys (as well as others given us by all the friends and family who are thrilled we’ve gotten a dog), a giant bag of food, and an advanced pooper-scooper.

He has joined the four cats — this marvelous dog, our half-husky, half-Australian Shepherd monster, black and white, ten weeks old and ready to party. His needle-like teeth and excellent reflexes are counterbalanced by the fact that he’s clumsy as hell and has a habit of falling off of couches, then getting surprised.

Another excellent trait is that he’s very fond of strangers. My brother and his girlfriend visited us this weekend, and within half an hour Campion was camped out on their bed posing for Snapchats. We walked him outside and sat him down in the tiny bar Miles has created out of an outbuilding; unlike the cats, he enjoys going to the bar, and curled up on my brother’s lap next to the woodstove for two full hours as we talked. He is exactly what I wanted: a cuddly-ass but soon-to-be-scary-looking wolf.

Of course, it isn’t all cuddles; he requires constant supervision and doesn’t enjoy being left alone, even for a second. (We’re working on it – I keep grunting, “Our dog will not be a Covid puppy.“) There are the obligatory bathroom breaks at 5am, even if he does tend to only require one per night, which is pretty weird for a dog who’s only been existing in the world since the November election. There’s his tendency to stop mid-chew-toy session and instead attack a person’s hands. And he does chase the cats, though thankfully the cats have learned to — instead of running — stop in their tracks, stare him down, and then bat the heck out of his nose if he doesn’t quit.

But the other best thing about him is that he – as I wrote on Facebook last week – has been successful in getting me outside.

It’s no secret that I’m one of the seasonally-affected. My parents have seen how, my whole life, I’m a different person in the winter than I am in the summer. I write less; I’m more prone to brain fog and snappishness and late-night ennui. I’ve always felt put-upon in winter, uniquely offended by its presence. Which is perhaps justifiable; the world, in winter in Minnesota, just gets smaller. All the real estate of the warm world is closed off by snow and ice, and we’re left with interiors only.

I don’t like feeling trapped, and I knew I would feel especially penned-in this particular winter. In previous years, I’ve talked myself through the cold season by saying, oh, but your friends are willing to come over, and there’s a nice bar down the street. And now all of that was gone. For five months, I started to realize in late fall, I’d have to just be alone with the SAD version of me.

“Well, what else am I up to?” I started to say to myself. “Why not just try curing it?”

I had time, so I decided to be uniquely Type A about it. In late November, I devised an aggressive plan that required a lot of tiny vitamins and routines. Happy lamp, CBD oil, GABA and 5-HTP, Vitamin D, daily yoga, journaling time, an online therapist, a lot of expensive tea, hobbies like making illustrations and studying for the LSAT just because — when I list them out like this, there’s a certain embarrassment to it, all the shit I was throwing at the wall just to see if it might work.

But I can’t be too embarrassed, because somewhere around Christmas, I started to feel like it was.

For whatever reason, I have not been as fucking sad this winter, even with the pandemic and threat of fascism. I still occasionally doomscroll while drinking wine, sure, but the anxiety-sads — they aren’t as loud as usual. Every so often, this winter, I’ve been surprised by pleasure, an unusual thing.

We never quite considered returning the dog, but I was worried, that first week, that he would hurt rather than help my seasonally-affected sanity. Having a puppy makes it a bit difficult to sleep through a full night or do yoga in peace without kennel-bound yipping, for instance.

I’m glad to find that so far, the opposite has been true. I think sometimes: I should have gotten a dog before now. And then I think: no, this is the right place and right time. In the Cities, we were living beneath or next to people who would have been annoyed at his noises; we would have to clip a leash to him every time we wanted to take him out. This time last winter, we were always running from night out to work to the store; he would have been alone more often than he should have been. We were flightier people, less patient, and we lived in the wrong location for a half-husky puppy’s happiness.

Here, we can do what I just did — put on my boots and coat and hat, push Campion out the front door, and walk with him into the grove where our wedding will hopefully take place, marveling at the blue-blue sky and white-sparkling snow while he sniffed in the brambles, looking for a place to poop.

Both of us heard a noise and looked up; he sat in the snow, tail swishing, and watched as a pure-white propeller plane passed slowly over us. It was a new sound for us both, and echoed against the chilled earth. “Wow,” I said, something banal. Ed the cat walked up, twining himself against my legs.

Then the plane was followed by the biggest bald eagle I have ever seen – a white-headed AMERICA BIRD who circled over the three of us, definitely debating who to eat.

And I called Campion close, and Ed sat on my shoulder, and we watched for a while, and then the eagle decided there would be better prey down the road.

I surprised myself by, in that moment, not thinking of anywhere else at all — not longing for spring, or greater success, or the ability to walk to a bar and meet friends, but rather just existing in the sparkling snow, and being kind of happy that I was where I was. It was, I think, a skill that only a dog could finally teach me.

One response to “Dog vs. Winter”

  1. Lovely story Jessie, and darling puppy!!
    Lynn McNamara

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