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Dog days and dumps in the winter of ’07

Zippy the Dog is in dog heaven.

Zippy the Dog is in dog heaven. No, not the mythological, grief-salving dog heaven we like to think our dogs ascend to when they’ve finished living their all-too-short dog lives, the dog heaven of endless rolling fields, belly rubs, treat trees and guiltless snoozes on unblanketed couches. No, I’m talking about the heaven-on-Earth so many of our dogs enjoy every single day around here. Whistler in the winter of 2006-2007 is Zippy’s version of heaven.

Zippy loves cold weather. Cold weather ranks, well, not first in his dog heart but certainly in the top five, falling somewhere just below breakfast and dinner, treats, human leftovers, sleeping on the sofa, chasing balls and playing tug-of-war with anything he can hold between his teeth and any human he can sucker into trying to pull it out. Okay, so it at least breaks the top 10.

In this Windy Winter of deep snows, Zippy is beside himself with glee, an emotional state he shares with everyone in town who enjoys skiing or riding or playing in the snow, which is to say almost everyone. The world from just outside our backdoor to everywhere familiar and unfamiliar has become a perfect playground for a dog who has never seen a snowflake he doesn’t love. Well, almost perfect.

The only moment of panic in Zippy’s idyllic winter life — quite possibly the genesis of his whimpering, leg-twitching dog nightmares, though that word hardly begins to capture the essence of interruptions that visit his daytime as well as nighttime sleep — revolves around his most unusual personality quirk. Zippy is, um, modest. Perhaps I’m guilty of anthropomorphizing deviant dog behaviour. I’m certain animal experts would argue modesty is a trait unknown to animals who will happily roll in carrion one moment and on your very valuable silk Qom rug the next, who will shamelessly beg scraps from anyone eating on Dusty’s patio only to be distracted in mid-beg by an irresistible opportunity to fornicate in public.

Whatever. Zippy is a modest dog. He does not care to do his “business” in the gaze of the public eye. Were he an urban dog, he would die, perhaps of shame or chronic sepsis. Fortunately, his journeys into urban landscapes are rare. Having once chosen the perimeter of a crowded, lunchtime, sidewalk café on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco to heed the unstoppable call of nature — admittedly with a look of shame, embarrassment and anger at having been subjected to such an indignity — I am loathe to take him anywhere big trees and dense bush do not grow in abundance. Curb your dog is, to his way of thinking, cruel and unusual punishment.

And so, Whistler is a paradise for a modest dog. Except when Whistler is transformed into its current incarnation of dog — and skier — heaven. The deep snows that give so much relief and entertainment to a heavy-coated Lab pose a certain dilemma for a modest one.

The snowpack lying just outside the door is more or less eye level. My eye level. What Zippy sees when he goes out is a wall-o’-white. At the end of the patio, overhung by the deck above, the shoveled pathway has sides in excess of four feet. They are punctuated with holes about the size and shape of a Labrador’s head. They are practice holes. The loose snow shoveled into high berms is too unstable and maybe too high to jump atop. In a pre-evolutionary strategy, Zippy has taken to mimicking the behaviour of a dog-mole, burrowing into the snowbank in an attempt to break through to the forest beyond. It doesn’t work but it does leave interesting patterns.

At street level, the familiar is unfamiliar. Snowploughs daily change the size of the street — two cars wide now after several days of no snow — and the height of the snow walls bordering it. The packed, frozen walls offer stable footing and a chance to descend to the dumping grounds in the trees below. But the going is arduous. When you see him at all, moving through this semi-solid landscape, all you see is the top of his tail and an avalanche of snow filling in the trench behind him. It’s all very Japanese movie in effect: Mothra vs. The Snow Moles.

What generally takes forever seems now to take even longer. I don’t know what his remaining ritual is, like I said, he’s a modest dog and takes pains to find someplace well away from prying eyes, but I can imagine him walking circles, pacing back and forth, wondering how he’s going to pack down enough snow to accommodate freefall. It must be humiliating because the look on his face when finally he emerges atop the streetside pile and scrambles back down is one of bemused anger instead of relief.

Life should not be this hard when play is this good.

Dogs being highly self-centered, I’m sure he doesn’t pause and think how tough this all must be on little dogs. It was announced earlier this week that, for something like the sixteenth year in a row, Labs were the most popular breed of dog in the U.S. I don’t know if they are in Canada and I’m not certain such popularity contests are tracked on this side of the border, but it wouldn’t surprise me. What was surprising was that Yorkshire Terriers had jumped to second place, indicative of a disturbing rise in the popularity of small dogs.

Small dogs, once deviant outliers rarely seen around this town, are hot commodities, très chic fashion accessories, lifestlye statements, flesh-and-blood Manolos. What started as a vacuous, urban trend, favoured by terminally tiresome celebrities too self-centered even to adopt an African child for their Philippine nanny to raise, has been picked up by the plebian masses in a slavish aping of People Magazine lifestyles previously only dreamt of.

I wonder, in those frigid, lengthened moments waiting for Zippy to emerge from wherever he disappears to, what insurmountable burdens short-legged, toy dogs face in this winter of deep snows. I half suspect the smallest of them, the ones generally seen wearing sweaters because they’ve hardly any coat at all, have simply been bred to relieve themselves in their owners pockets or open-topped jackets from whence they yap at the passing world. Well, it’s been said the sign of a civilized society is one where everyone has a warm place to….

And, ever-philosophical, even Zippy would choose the travails of 10-foot drifts over the dog days of summer.