When the temperature is twenty-six degrees but it feels like 11 degrees with a 20-mph wind blowing out of the north, the last thing you might expect to find yourself yelling at your dog might be, “No swimming! I mean it! CHUGGI BEAR BEKER, I MEAN IT! Stay out of that water! NO SWIMMING, BEARFACE!”
But if your dog happens to be Roo, it would be silly not to expect to be yelling that at her — sillier only than expecting her not to develop profound, sudden-onset deafness.
What is it with retrievers? How do they do it? How come they don’t turn into a block of ice? Roo felt terrific after a nice, leisurely swim in the Arctic waters of east Oklahoma. All it did was get her in the mood to get down to some serious mouse hunting. Which would make sense if there were any of them left in the Fort Smith-Cowlington-Poteau area, a Bermuda Triangle for rodents. The ones she hasn’t already caught have all packed up and decided to take their chances with a more hospitable type of ICE agent.
Apart from a notion I have that swimming when it’s that cold can’t be good for her, especially now that she has a little arthritis, I’d rather she didn’t for selfish reasons: it means a lengthy drying process that’s a lot more fun for Roo than it is for her personal grooming army of one. First with towels, which freeze to my hands, especially in that kind of wind, followed by a 15-minute blow drying session. Neither of these can be done indoors. The toweling could be, but that just relaxes her so much that she would refuse to go back outside for the blow drying, which has to be done outside because the electric circuit in the camper always trips the second I plug the blow dryer in. I have to take her to a neighboring plug. Normally, these are strategically located in spots where the wind is channeled into higher speeds.
So, I do it outside. Roo enjoys it. She looks around. She gazes at the buffalo or the horses at whom, if she decides to go outside later in the night, she will bark to remind them who’s boss, because there is a type of dog who feels better about going to bed after issuing a few final orders at livestock to keep them on their toes. But, while she is dried she stays quiet, listening to me talk about her day in the woods.
“Everyone knows what a big brave bear you are,” I tell her. “But, Rooki, really, do you have to go swimming in these conditions? Is there some point to it? Of course you do. Why shouldn’t you? Because your Daddy asks you not to? Ridiculous. What dog in her right mind would care about anything like that?”
She doesn’t answer. She is smarter than that. Or, she is merely plotting her next move, which is, now that I’ve gotten the ice in her fur to melt and most of the twigs and burrs out, to break away from me to throw herself on the ground and roll around. Apart from how good this must feel, it also has the benefit of grinding more dirt and leaves into her fur, and the subsequent need for me to pick them out.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Chig! Stop rolling around,” I call to her. The wind is murder. My fingers are numb. Is it too much to ask her to cooperate a little?
She hears the exasperated tone in my voice. It is exactly the one she wants. She has achieved the desired effect. Her answer is to stop for a couple of seconds, sunning her belly, demonstrating how untroubled she is by the bleating of some distant, annoying voice and then to grind into the dirt a little more before getting up, smiling at me, giving me a wag, and coming back to be blow dried.