Out & About: How Can it Be April Again?

By John Morton

RosieApril again? Already? I think the annual dog issue is a terrific idea. I love our yellow Lab, Rosie, but I’m afraid I covered most everything in last year’s article. Well, maybe not everything. Rosie’s now 10, that’s 70 in dog years. We still take her on hikes and cross-country skiing outings, which she loves, but we have to be mindful of the distance. We are very fortunate to have groomed trails nearby, where the landowner welcomes dogs. In fact, on a recent outing, he overtook us on his grooming machine, stopped to chat, and fished a small Milkbone out of his pocket for Rosie before he resumed his grooming. That gesture represents a deep affection for dogs, which for very legitimate reasons are not welcome at all ski centers.

If the conditions are right, packed powder, dry snow and not too many long, fast descents, Rosie can still handle ski tours up to 10 kilometers or so. The down hills are the issue, since, in spite of her advancing age, she remains determined to be first. If Kay and I pick a trail that includes several significant descents, which Rosie still attacks with abandon, for the days following the outing, we have a stiff, slow dog. I guess that says something about our priorities, if we choose mellow ski trails so that we won’t wear out our loyal, four-footed companion. It also says something about our dog, who values the joy of tearing down a ski trail enough to tolerate stiff, sore muscles for a few days thereafter.

Of course an obvious alternative is to simply leave her at home while Kay and I go ski the more challenging trails. Most dog owners will recognize that this is simply not an option. The highlights of Rosie’s days are her outings, whether the mile round trip out the driveway for the morning paper, or an afternoon cross-country ski tour. In fact, if the day begins to slip away while Kay and I become too absorbed in what we are doing, Rosie will let us know that it’s time for some exercise outing. And she’s always right, we always feel refreshed after a break outdoors.

Another characteristic which seems to be appearing with her maturity is a limited tolerance for juvenile behavior from other dogs. Perhaps because she was separated from her litter quite early, Rosie has always been more people oriented. She diligently watches people, paying close attention to their activities and cues. In contrast, she has never been particularly fascinated with other dogs. On outings where other dogs are present, she will reluctantly participate in the obligatory, mutual sniff greeting, but she no longer has much interest in a subsequent game of chase. If a persistent, younger dog yips and jumps at Rosie to get her to play, one forceful bark from the old girl lets the youngster know she’s not interested.

I believe I read somewhere that a dog’s sense of smell is 70 times more acute than a human’s! It is hard for me to imagine what it would be like to have a sense of smell 70 times more powerful. I’m not sure I would even want to try it. It does explain however, why Rosie covers about twice the distance we do on any outing, constantly diverting from our route to chase down another exotic odor. I can only imagine that the melting and thawing snow in springtime produces an olfactory banquet for her that is beyond description.

Rosie is also remarkably committed to her schedule. Although there are plenty of times that she exhibits amazing patience, she also has a phenomenal internal clock. Kay and I typically rise sometime around 6 a.m., but if we oversleep, we can be assured of a nuzzle from the side of the bed indicating that it is time to get up, and more importantly, to feed the dog. Regardless of the events of the day, whether it included an exciting and stimulating hour of plunging her nose in the snow along a wooded trail, or simply lying on the living room rug, protecting the front porch from being overrun by red squirrels, Rosie will lets us know, almost to the minute, when it’s six o’clock, her suppertime.

Just like this April dog issue surprised me by reappearing so quickly, it seems impossible that Rosie has been with us 10 years already. It provides both a heart-warming reminder of all the enjoyment she has provided to our family over the past decade, as well as a resolution to make her remaining time with us as fruitful as possible.

John Morton

John Morton

John Morton is a former Olympic biathlete and Nordic ski coach. He lives in Thetford Center, where he designs Nordic ski trails. You can reach him through his website, www.mortontrails.com.