I welcomed the first good snow of this season a few weeks ago with open arms.
My border collie and I are cold-weather gals. On that early morning, I enjoyed the white from inside the house, while Bailey hustled outside and started rubbing her nose in it, left to right and back again, before diving in and running along like an anteater.
She loves having the white stuff on her eyebrows and whiskers and sprinkled across her back, and she’ll stay in it so long, it balls up in the fur between her toes, and she’ll spend some time after she comes back in, digging it out with her teeth and making horrible snorting noises in the process.
After I got my own engine started that morning, I decided to take care of a few chores for my outdoor friends. I know that I always have the luxury of coming inside to eat and get warm, but squirrels and birds have to be a bit tougher. I help them out by providing some extra food.
The two birdfeeders on my back porch stay filled with bits of sunflower seed mixed with thistle. The mixture has guaranteed me a rainbow of red and gold finches out my back window all year, along with the mourning doves, who waddle around pigeon-toed beneath them, picking up the scraps scattered by their friends whose table manners leave something to be desired. Sometimes I leave separate piles of seed on the patio for them, too, so they don’t have to feel like such beggars, although I often wish they’d do a better job of Hoovering up the mess the finches make. The thistle grows better in that garden than the irises and hydrangeas do.
Nevertheless, I know that, having kept these birds fed all summer and fall, I need to keep it up in the winter. The flocks have come to depend on this location as one of their feeding sources. I don’t want to let them down when they need it most.
I also make certain my front yard pals are cared for. Sunflower seeds keep the squirrels happy, and ears of field corn help them stay fat and warm. In that first snow a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but smile at the messages all the animals left in the otherwise flawless white mantle. Small twig-foot imprints told me the cardinals had already been checking out the previous day’s seeds, while small sets of four holes, spaced about a foot apart, tracked over from the neighbor’s house, across my driveway, and up to the first ear of corn. Nope, not that one, the footprints told me. This particularly picky squirrel had hopped to all the cobs in the order I’d thrown them out and had turned up his nose at each, settling instead for the seed pile beneath the tree to the south.
My buffet, apparently, left something to be desired that morning. I emptied the seed bag and made a mental note to get some alfalfa for the cottontails who work the houses around me.
While the cold weather satisfies me personally, I always have some lingering uneasiness about it, particularly on those bitter-cold nights when I crawl into bed beneath thick blankets, surrounded by satisfied fur balls, each of whom settles into his or her favorite space.
I know that outside, at many locations out there in the frigid night, many more animals are having a much rougher time of it, and that keeps my long winter’s nap from being fully satisfying.
As we head into another new year, I wish that I could make everyone feel the same sense of responsible stewardship over both domestic and wild animals that all responsible pet owners feel. I wish, as we head into 2010, that I had the power to make everyone care about other species and feel a desire to help them out, just a little more.
I wish all pet owners would care enough to make warm, dry bedding available to their companion animals. I wish they would make sure each day that the water supply hadn’t frozen over and that the kibbles stayed fresh and dry in clean bowls, not thinly scattered across the ground.
I wish that every owner of every horse and cow and sheep would provide a snug barn for snoozing in and plentiful feed for grazing on.
For all animals, both wild and domestic, I wish simply a safe existence, free from the cruel perversions of “sport” that humans seem endlessly able to invent.
And on behalf of everyone at the Lawrence Humane Society, I wish, for every person, the ability to understand and accept the unconditional love of a domestic or companion animal, and the ability to return it.
Because the joys and rewards are immeasurable, and they make the world a better place for all of us.