NICOLA, JACKSON AND THE DF&CThere has been a hole in our lives for the last 15 years. That is when Licorice, a rescue black Labrador retriever, suffered a fatal rattlesnake bite. We have talked about getting another dog, but travels, jobs and the confined spaces in which we lived conspired to keep that from happening. And I suppose the cats were secretly lobbying for us to remain canine-free.
Then an old friend called the Dear Friend & Conscience from upstate New York on Christmas Day with an unexpected gift: Brother and sister four-and-a-half-year-old chocolate Labs who needed homes because their master was being deployed to Afghanistan.
The situation turned out to be a bit more complicated. Jackson and Nicola had been dumped at the home of the mother of the deployed GI's girlfriend and were basically cage bound, seldom walked and never exercised. The master had no intention of reuniting with them when and if he came home, while the girlfriend's mother was moving from a house with a yard to an apartment.
Jack and Nicky clicked immediately with the DF&C on an exploratory visit, and in mid-January they were introduced to their new home, the DF&C's mountain retreat, a place made in dog heaven that has a large back yard below a woods, the Kittatinny Ridge and the Appalachian Trail. Oh, and a 40,000-acre wildlife refuge across the road.* * * * *The snowpack at the mountain retreat is about 18 inches as we slouch toward the last month of winter, and it is a solid 18 inches because many of the storms have begun or ended with sleet and freezing rain. One result, in addition to the back yard and environs being a skating ring, is that when we walk and exercise Jack and Nicky, we zoot along on top of the snowpack and our foot and paw falls are a symphony of notes sounding like broken glass and tinkling wind chimes.* * * * *There is nothing more important to dogs than getting exercise. A good diet and loving owners are important, of course, but a dog that cannot run is not a happy dog and sooner or later will become an overweight dog with a shortened life expectancy.
Jack and Nicky took to us immediately. Jack has shown some apprehension when the DF&C isn't around, but both are extremely intelligent, obedient and excellent watchdogs who hear the sound of a car on the driveway long before we do.
And do they love to run! Tearing off on mad sprints, circling back to us and then off again, sometimes mock fighting, leaping and tumbling with a joyousness that we can only hope has exorcised memories of their cage-confined lives of neglect.* * * * *One reliable measure of the harshness of a winter is how often I have had to wear my Sorel snow boots, which have high gaiters and felt inserts. The boots are ideal when the going gets tough because they keep me dry in deep snow and the inserts can be swapped out when they become damp from sweaty feet. Well, this has been a Sorel Winter for sure, but not a sweaty feet one with daytime temperatures that often do not reach the freezing mark and nighttime lows at or near zero.* * * * *Having been outvoted by the humans on the dog question, we didn't know what to expect from our four cats (all rescues themselves), but their consequent behavior has been a surprise.
The mountain retreat is spacious inside, as well as outside, which has allowed the cats to hang out pretty much where they want. Chin, who is increasingly senile in her old age, sticks to the living room and kitchen. Kimba, Taj and Iggie pretty much have the run of the joint, but in cold weather almost always can be found in the large finished basement not far from Al, the Alaska-brand coal stove that keeps the house toasty and the floors and walls warm even in a winter like this one. Oh, and Iggie sometimes likes to spend the night in the garage where he can guard against mousies and other real and imagined invaders.
Jack and Nicky have upset this apple cart because they usually are confined to the basement and are eating in the garage for the time being, the initial result of which was to exile the heat seekers upstairs.
It took about two weeks, but they have slowly made their way back downstairs, perching on bookshelves that run parallel to the steps where they can bask in Al's warmth. Iggie, always the most sociable of the bunch, has gone further in presenting himself to the dogs while figuratively giving them the finger when he is let into and out of the garage.* * * * *There is no doubt in our minds that rescue critters find their rescuers and not the other way around. This makes the saga of Jack and Nicky all the more amazing because, by our count, they passed through at least four owners before being rescued by the DF&C.
There was the owner in whose home or kennel they were born. The owner to whom they were given or sold, someone who obviously worked with them at a tender age, a result of which is their good manners. The owner who is off to Afghanistan. And the owner who is the mother of the girlfriend of the deployed GI.* * * * *The temperature is hovering near zero, but the bone dryness makes it feel warmer as we huddled on the back deck the other night and called out the constellations arrayed in all their glory over our heads.
There are our old friends Orion, Ursa Major and Minor, and zodiacal faves Taurus and Gemini. But we also can see the so-called Winter Triangle as clear as a bell: Impossible-to-miss Betelguese on Orion's left shoulder, Sirius all by its lonesome, and Procyon, part of Canis Minor, which trails Canis Major as one of the two dogs following Orion in Greek mythology.
Kind of like Jack and Nicky.