This is Carmen the dog’s second winter in upstate NY. I should probably amend that… This coming winter will be her second. Sigh. Winter, alas, is here. Early, and often. Seems like just last week Harry the letter-carrier was delivering mail whilst wearing short pants and shirt sleeves. Heck, it probably was last week. We’ve had an odd fall like that. But more about Harry the letter-carrier later. First, Carmen the dog.
Above is a photo of her from early August 2009. She arrived in our lives in late July that year after living in a local foster home for a couple of months. She had been rescued from a kill shelter in South Carolina where she’d been dumped pregnant and sick after a few years of abuse that left her scarred and terrified of bathrooms, basements, brooms and men. She had her puppies, and treatment for heartworm before leaving the south, and was moved north in the late spring. She was still sick (although we didn’t know it at the time) with a bad case of heartworm when we took her in, and as skittish as a dog can be, but she was clearly happy in our enclosed backyard from the moment she first entered it. More than a year later, it is still her favorite place to be, and nothing seems to give her as much joy as tearing around the garden beds at full tilt after a squirrel, or rolling on her back in the grass whilst someone rubs her tummy.
Yep, Carmen the dog loves the grass, and the warmth of summer. This is her second winter, and I believe she thought up until this past Sunday that her first winter was some odd prank we had played on her. We hadn’t really meant it when we covered all of her favorite grassy places with a few feet of snow. Surely we would never do such a thing again! She had had to be quiet most of the winter anyway, the second heartworm treatment required it, so clearly that was why we kept her in and hid the grass. But no. As season follows season, winter has arrived late fall this year and we are buried in 20 inches or so of snow.
Poor bewildered Carmen the dog seems to be taking it rather personally. She misses walking on sidewalks, wandering onto grass to sniff trees, and sniffing anything that doesn’t smell first and foremost of snow. She is not in the habit of relieving herself in the backyard (for which I’m grateful) and so must be walked at least twice a day (we choose three times), but does not much care to be out in this weather and so pulls for home before doing much in the way of “business.”
So winter. I’m agreeing with the dog: Bah, humbug. Except this: Harry the letter-carrier. We don’t see Harry every day when we’re doing our mid-day walk, but Carmen has learned to look for him. She doesn’t trust men in general, and men in funny clothes who routinely touch the house (he’s delivering mail, but she takes this house-touching as a personal affront) are her least favorite of the species. But Harry is a smart man and he is undeterred by her little neuroses. He carries dog biscuits in his mailbag, and when he sees Carmen, he breaks off a piece and throws it to her. He doesn’t try to get too close too soon (we’ve told him bits of her story), yet he’s steady as lake effect snow with his attention. If he misses seeing her while walking, he’ll toss her a biscuit bit from his truck as he passes by. If he sees her when he’s on the other side of the street, he’ll cross over and toss her one. Carmen goes wide on her leash those days. Not toward but warily away from both of us without putting any more distance between him and herself than she’d have had if she’d stayed by me, all while wagging her tail and looking ready for fight or flight.
Sometime beginning in late summer her behavior started to swing in his favor. When she hears an approaching mailtruck (specifically the type he usually drives), she stops dead in her tracks until it goes by and then acts as if she’s ready to chase after it if I’ll just be foolish enough to drop the leash. If she sees the truck parked, she looks for Harry and will not walk in another direction if she spots him. If he gives her one biscuit bit, she’ll try to follow him from house to house in hope of another.
On Friday, as we were walking through the cold neighborhood, Harry saw Carmen, and the two of them met in the middle of the street where he bent down and she took a biscuit out of his hand. I almost cried. They’ve attempted that connection in the past, and it has always ended with her wanting to get close enough to take it, but instead barking at Harry, him dropping the biscuit close to her feet and immediately backing off, and me feeling somewhat at a loss and mortified all at once. This time, though. Connection made. Warmed me up all over!