It was a cold winter’s night in rural New England. The woods behind our house were dark and snow-sealed in that late February / isn’t-this-over-yet sort of way. The earth was frozen solid and all the critters were desperate for food. The trees had been stripped to sticks for so long that even the chickadees were starting to regret their decision to hang around for the winter.
Inside the house there was an altogether different scene. My mother, stepfather, sister, and I sat around the dining table eating Chinese takeout while our black lab, Junebug, slept contentedly beside the fireplace.
A quick PSA for pet owners with fireplaces: Always close the damper when the fireplace is not in use. Not only is it more energy efficient, but it will keep virus-carrying critters from falling into the fireplace and having a row with your curious fur ball. It’s also wise to use a fireplace screen if your pet has an adventurous nature.
Just as I was diving in for my favorite part of the dinner spread -- crab rangoon -- Junebug leapt to attention and bolted for the sliding glass door. She barked and howled, her nails clacking against the tile floor in desperate morse code. It took us all a moment to see what she was so worked-up about.
There was a raccoon on the porch outside, pawing through Junebug’s food bowl.
My stepfather opened the door and let her out in a flurry of black hair and nail clacking, thinking that her barking would scare off the raccoon. But to his dismay, the raccoon had decided the food bowl was his and he was honor-bound to defend it. He stood on his haunches and bared his teeth. When Junebug moved toward him, he swiped at her nose.
My sister turned to me with a guilty look and whispered, I guess it wasn’t a good idea to feed the raccoons kibble yesterday. It’s not ever, it turns out, a good idea to feed wildlife. Just then, three more raccoons lumbered up the stairs onto the porch -- two smaller and one full-grown. He had his family to back him up.
My stepfather realized that Junebug was far outnumbered and it was time to intervene.
You know how in moments that require swift, decisive action, you sometimes make choices you normally wouldn’t?
In one fluid movement my stepfather open the glass door, pulled Junebug inside, grabbed the closest weapon he find, and slid the door shut behind him.
His weapon of choice? A bouquet of flowers.
My mother, sister, and I stood with our noses to the glass and watched from inside. Almost like our animal reflections, the raccoon’s comrades hung back on the far side of the porch, just waiting to see how it all played out. My stepfather gripped the bouquet like a sword and lunged at the raccoon. Bop, right on the nose. The raccoon stood his ground for the first blow and snarled as an explosion of red and white flower petals rained down around him.
My stepfather kept at it, waving the ever-thinning bouquet of flowers in the raccoon’s face and bopping him on the nose.
Soon enough, all four raccoons gave up and scurried into the darkness of the night.
After checking Junebug for raccoon bites, we sat back down at the dinner table and finished our meal with a nice vase of weary stems as our centerpiece.
The next day, my sister and I started researching how to build an outdoor dog shelter that could withstand the elements and not get pilfered by hungry wildlife.
1. Make sure the opening of your dog house does not face into the wind. Cold temperatures can become deadly with a high windchill factor.
2. Put a piece of windproof fabric over the wind-facing side of the dog shelter for protection.
3. Get a thick, waterproof dog bed for the floor. Wash it often to keep your pup’s home clean and dry.
4. Make sure the dog house is just big enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down. He’s unlikely to have unwelcome guests if there are no nooks for them to hide. Also, the smaller the space, the easier it is to heat.
5. Insulate the walls of the doghouse as well as the floor.
6. If you put a heating pad on the floor of the enclosure, only turn it on when you are nearby.
7. Make sure to tuck all heating pad cords out of the way so that your pup isn’t tempted to gnaw on them.
8. Keep the water bowl away from bedding area -- if water splashes and freezes, you don’t want your dog to have to sleep on cold ice.
9. Keep pet food indoors so as not to attract hungry critters.
10. Never leave a dog outside unattended for extended periods of time when temperatures are near or below freezing. Even though they have big warm coats, they’re still susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite.
With the right amount of preparation, your dog will be able to enjoy the outdoors this winter just as much as he or she does during the summertime. Just be sure to remember to bring in the food bowl when everyone goes in for the night. Unless you want to get into a flower fight with a band of raccoons.
Does your dog like to play in the snow and ice? Tell us about it in the comments!