Snow Day

Earlier this week, I ran into a new dog walker who was experiencing her first winter.  “Is it always like this?” she asked, sounding as if she might cry at any moment.   We were  standing on the sheet of ice that was supposed to be the dog run with a cold wind whipping off the Hudson.  The dogs were slipping and sliding around us.  I evaded a little so as not to freak her out.  “I’ve been doing this six years,” I told her.   “The good news is once you’ve made it through your first winter, you can officially call yourself a dog walker.  Most new walkers don’t make it past January.”  This seemed to cheer her sufficiently.

Dog walking in winter can be onerous.  It’s  definitely my least favorite time of the year and I’ve sworn each winter for the past two years that this one would be my last.  It’s months and months of freezing temperatures, icy terrain, putting on dog sweaters, wiping off icy salty paws, wearing so many layers that you can’t remember what your actual shape looks like and, of course, the de rigueur bitching about the weather.

But then the forecasters call for snow and all is forgotten.  I become a little kid, gleeful with anticipation.  It’s not that dog walking will be easier; it’s not.  It’s actually the worst time to schlep around when there is a lot of heavy snow to contend with.  But like the woman who has another child even after experiencing the pains of labor, as soon as I know snow is coming, I get giddy.

There is only one reason for this.  THE DOGS LOVE IT!  From the youngest puppy experiencing her first snowfall to my Weimaraner Cinder who forgets all her aches and pains and kicks up her heels, dogs just can’t get enough of the snow.

Today the snow started early.  There was only a dusting in the run with my Pink Ladies group, but it was enough to have everyone running like mad.  Dash, my little dachshund, took advantage of the snow-covered ice to run a few feet then slide on her back, using her sweater as a sled.  She did this over and over for the entire time we were there.  Sasha, Bella, and Feather used their time to wrestle and run nonstop.

Then it was time for the puppy group.  There was by now almost 1/2 inch of snow to play in and the puppies took full advantage.  Ace and Lilly (a shitzpoo and cockapoo) who are six and seven months old both went nuts.  They spent their time running and leaping around with their best friend Bitsy.  The older kids, Maisy and Jason, not to be outdone did plenty of winter activities as well.  Jason dug a hole for his nose in the snow, followed by a good spin on his back.  Maisy, my singing standard poodle, entertained us all with her happy chant of “WOOO Wooo”  as she raced back and forth across the run.

By the time my late afternoon group reached the park, we had some decent accumulation.  Cinder and her friends Sasha, Bella and Lilly all careened crazily in the snow.  Lilly used her head as a plow, delighting in moving the snow back and forth.  Sasha and Bella did what they do best: wrestled.   Cinder supervised all the young kids and, when she thought no one was looking, even tossed a stick in the air.

We’ll have more snow by morning and although the sidewalk snow will be dirty and gross, the forecast for the park is another great SNOW DAY!

Puppy Pile-up

Puppy Pile-up

Snowy Sniff

Snowy Sniff

Pink Ladies at Play

Pink Ladies at Play

Naked Clients: the untold horror of dog walking

I’ve had more than my share of embarrassing moments over the past six years of walking dogs.  My slips, falls and sprained ankles alone could make an award-winning blooper reel.  And then there is Cinder who, whenever I try to make her sit in an elevator, will let our a very noisy fart.  That’s mortifying.  But there is probably nothing more embarrassing than walking in on a client who is naked.

And I don’t just mean skimpy pajamas, boxer shorts or a robe.  Those are fine.  I mean tighty whiteys, thongs, or, in some cases, sporting nothing more than a birthday suit.  That initial deer-caught-in-the-headlights moment is the worst.  Then it’s a scramble as I avert my eyes and they make a mad dash back to safety.

How does this happen?  Well, for starters I have their keys.  So I come in and out each day without knocking or ringing a bell.  But in my defense, I come in at the same time every day.  And I’m expected.  I’m walking their dog, after all.  But that doesn’t seem to matter.  Because I’ve walked in on MANY.  Some have been exposed while grabbing a cup of coffee, and some just while walking across their living room naked.  And as discomfited as my clients have been when this has happened, it is equally, if not more embarrassing to be the one walking in.  In other words…AWKWARD!

It happened again today.  But instead of being a client, it was the client’s house guest.  I entered the apartment to pick up the dog and standing a feet away from the door was a woman blow drying her hair.  Completely naked.  In this case, I have to say she was the one who was more embarrassed.  After all, I didn’t know her.  She didn’t leave my payments, or chat with me about her kids, or discuss wine vintages.  She was a complete stranger.

I simply leashed up the dog and made a hasty exit.  When I returned after the walk, the woman was fully dressed and sitting on the couch.  We made small talk about the snow.  And I went about my day.  Although, I confess, I may have greeted the next dogs in a slightly louder voice…just in case.

A Word About Senior Dog Food by Cinder Winifred

I’ve tried keeping my own counsel on this matter, but I can stay silent no longer.   I’m a pretty easy-going girl, an eleven year old Weimaraner who was rescued from the mean streets of Palm Beach.  Now I enjoy a comfortable existence with my mom and my friends in New York.  I’m not quite the diva my mom makes me out to be.

But recent events have caused me some distress.  I used to eat Evo.  It’s a very delicious high protein dog food.  I’ve been eating it for the past two years and I didn’t even mind that I was eating the same thing every day.  That’s how good it was.  I’d see the shiny yellow bag coming into the house and my heart would fill with happiness.  Then about two weeks ago, something happened.  The yellow bag didn’t come in.  I don’t remember what color the bag was that did arrive, all I know is that it said “Senior” dog food.  And it tastes like crap!

My mom explained to me that my kidney values were slightly raised from my arthritis medication so she wanted to put me on a lower protein and lower phosphorous diet so my kidneys wouldn’t suffer, but I have to say this just isn’t right.  Sure, I’m old, but I’m still me.  I sleep, eat, play, lunge at obnoxious dogs and, excuse my indelicacy, poop, just like I did two weeks ago.  And I deserve a tasty Senior food.  This one by Innova may be good for me, but I don’t like it.  And until things improve around here, I’m not biting.  If anyone has a recommendation for a tastier food, please let my mom know. Until then I’m on a hunger strike.  Okay fine, I’m eating it, but I’m not happy about it…

I'm not a diva...I just dress like one

I'm not a diva...I just dress like one

A Walk in the Dark

I’m not sure what everyone else is doing at six o’clock on a Saturday morning, but I’m guessing it has something to do with sleep.   Since Cinder came into my life nine years ago, I haven’t had the pleasure.  Anyone who knows us well commiserates with the fact that my Weimaraner finds it a biological imperative that we rise by 5:30 in the morning, day in and day out.  For some reason it’s become worse since this fall.  She apparently didn’t set her “internal clock” to the fall back setting, and now delightedly starts her morning pacing routine at about 4:30.  After a hoarse scream of “Cinder, Lie Down!” I can usually get her to come back to bed for an extra twenty or thirty minutes.  But only if I allow her to get under the covers.  I know, it’s ridiculous– especially since my friend Sarah bought me a beautiful Frette duvet for my birthday last year and Cinder luxuriates in it with an air that is decidedly proprietary.  Princess that she is, I can’t fault her love of the finer things.   But after my twenty minute reprieve is over, and she resumes pacing, I begin to lose my mind.

I’ve pretty much tried everything.  Taking her out later and later.  This has no effect on her whatsoever.  I’ve taken her out as late as midnight and she still is ready to go on schedule.  I’ve tried feeding her a little bit of food in the evening, thinking maybe she’s just getting up so she can have breakfast.  While she thought the extra rations were a delightful idea, she still got up at the same time.  It has nothing to do with going to the bathroom.  She just wants to be up.

On the weekdays, the early morning schedule doesn’t bother me so much.  I start dog walking before eight, so having a couple of hours in the morning to get organized for my day is fine.  I tend to be  a morning person anyway and at my most productive.  But on the weekend?  It’s just cruel and unusual.

This morning was particularly torturous because it had been a long dog walking week.  I craved a morning of uninterrupted sleep like an addict looking for a fix.  I took Cinder out around 10:00 last night and watched as she peed.  Then I had a conversation with her.  This might seem strange in other parts of the country, but it’s a perfectly normal behavior here in NY.  We talk to our dogs.  “Tomorrow morning we’re going to sleep in,” I tell her.  She looks at me with understanding and compassion and I imagine she is thinking, “Sure, Mom, you’ve had a rough week.  I can do that.”

Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Hmmm.

We’re in the park by 5:19. I am incredulous that she didn’t take my lecture to heart.   As we walk down the promenade of Riverside Park, I’m thinking, “This is stupid.  We shouldn’t be in the park at this hour of the morning.”   It’s completely dark and there are no visible signs of life.   I have this same conversation with myself every day, then decide that I’m safe enough with my eighty pound dog.   It’s actually more unnerving to be out so early in the spring because revelers who haven’t gone home yet are winding down their evenings.  Kissing on darkened park benches.  Singing drunkenly.  Lurching around, trying to remember where they live.

I unclip Cinder’s leash and watch as she crunches through some snow that didn’t get melted into ice.  It’s cold, but not as cold as it has been.  She does a little pee and then turns and starts walking in the direction of home.  “Are you frickin’ kidding me?”  You’re not even going to poop?  I’m shouting now, as Cinder looks at me placidly and continues on ahead.  I catch up with her (she’s old and has arthritis) and clip on her leash.  I already know that this means in addition to the early morning walk, she will now be ready to go out again in a few hours because she’ll need to poop.

When we get home, I’m faced with my usual weekend dilemma.  Another hour or two of sleep, or get on with the day?  It’s really not a question.  I brew coffee.  You can’t take a walk in temperatures below freezing and not be fully awake.  I look at Cinder who, infuriatingly, has climbed onto her loveseat and tucked herself into her sleeping position.  Sighing, I cover her shoulders with a blanket like an old lady with her shawl.  By now all is forgiven.  I sip my coffee and plan what I’m going to do with my Saturday.  I hope it will include a nap.

Ice Storm

I didn’t think I had anything left to say when it came to dog walking.  After all, I’d just finished writing a full-length manuscript detailing my crazy, sometimes horrifying, adventures in the canine culture of New York City.  What else was there?

Then I realized when it comes to dogs, there is always a new absurdity to comment on.  Today was the weather, or rather the result of yesterday’s weather…

Freezing rain yesterday turned Riverside Park today into an icy nightmare.  It’s been bad before, treacherous, but today was definitely the worst I’ve seen it in my dog walking tenure.   As I was picking up my first group of the day, I ran into my client Neil and his Airedale, Tank.  “Don’t attempt the park,” he cautioned as he approached.  As if to underscore his message, Tank began lunging and lurching toward me on his hind legs, anxious to say hello.  No doubt if they’d gone into the park, Tank would have been the only one standing.  I hadn’t forgotten the sprained ankle he’d caused on one of our walks two years ago.  “Don’t worry,” I assured Neil, as they continued on their way.  “I’m a professional.”

The truth of the matter is I had to go to the park.  My first group of dogs would not stand for anything less.  The “Pink Ladies” I call them.  They are all alpha females and very high energy.  If I even dared bypass the dog run, I would have to endure my golden retriever Feather’s look of disappointment.  But that wouldn’t be as bad as my husky Sasha.  She was the master of the Stink eye.  In her book there was no excuse for a short excursion.  From the first cold day in the fall until the last dribbles of ice in the spring, Sasha was in her full glory.  Avoidance wasn’t an option.  And then there was Bella.  A sweet yellow Lab, Bella wouldn’t be reproachful, but instead would issue a challenge.  “You’re afraid of a little ice?  This is nothing.  We can do this.”  Of course the fact that they have four legs for balance is completely lost on them.   But I knew I would go.

I picked up the team and we weren’t even onto the promenade when I knew we were in for trouble.  Slipping and sliding just to get to the steps, I felt my thigh muscles groan as they rose to the challenge of keeping me upright with three dancing dogs on the end of the leash.  We made it down the steps, and even down the hill which had claimed me as an ice victim last year.

Then I saw the dog run.  Any remains of the fluffy snow we’d frolicked in yesterday had been changed into a sheet of ice by the freezing rain.   If I’d had a Dorothy Hamill haircut and a pair of skates, I’d have been better prepared.  I unleashed the girls and took stock.  The ice was so smooth in spots, I half expected to see a Zamboni machine making a hasty retreat through the park.   No one else was at the dog run and the whole park seemed deserted.  Weren’t there supposed to be park employees salting and attempting to look like they cared if we broke out necks?

The girls immediately began to play, not caring that they were sliding around.  Belly performed a perfect double axel, her toenails scraping the ice with the crispness of a professional skater.  Then she started to slide.  Right toward me.  Bella is the master of bumping into me while playing.  This wouldn’t be bad if she were a small dog.  But she’s an eighty pound Labrador, surprisingly light on her feet, but eighty pounds nonetheless.  I grabbed onto the iron fence just before she skidded to a stop at my feet.  After a brief look of apology, she was off and running again, waiting for Sasha and Feather to wrestle her to the ground.

We survived the hour and even managed to make it back up the hill.  I took the girls home and was just congratulating myself on our fortitude and dexterity when it hit me.  I still had three more groups to go.


The Pink Ladies before the ice...