I’ve long held that I learn the best life lessons about being a better human from my animals.
Not that I spend time staring into my dog’s brown eyes pondering the existential status of the universe or basing important life choices on how many times my cat twines himself around my legs before tripping me or reading my future from my horses’ manure like Asian tea leaves.
Occasionally, though, a lesson presents itself.
I give you: The Booty Lesson.
My dog, Cooper, has thin skin like a rabbit, which is fine for rabbits, but not for a 45-pound dog it means he can’t tolerate extreme temperatures, so basically he has a lifelong dislike for winter as a whole.
Over the years he’s toughened up quite a bit, but his feet just can’t acclimate, and try as he might, when the temps hit the single digits and colder, with snow on the ground, he can’t stay outside long enough to do all the chores with me without intervention.
I have to kneel down and get him onto my “lap” to warm his feet, hurry (or carry) him to someplace he can get off the snow, like a hay pile, or just take him back to the house. Sometimes, he’ll just quit me, run back to the house and beg his other human to let him inside where the sane folk stay warm.
If he stays out with me and gets too miserable, he pouts, like I invented bitter cold just to be mean. If he goes back to the house, he cops a guilty pout for leaving me to die in the cold, alone. It’s lose-lose for both of us.
A few years ago, I realized his feet were the last hold out to cold weather acclimation and got him some booties like sled dogs use — tough and sporty booties to help him feel more rugged and outdoorsy.
He hated them. He walked like I’d bound his feet in duct tape. He kept pulling them off; I had to retrieve them. Then he started pulling them off and hiding them. I spent more time searching for those booties than he did wearing them. This would not do.
Defeated, I tossed the booties into the closet and forgot about them … until, that is, 40-below zero was looming on our horizon last week.
After a few days of subzero and snowy weather bringing out the worst in Cooper, I grabbed the booties and put them on him while he laid on his bed, working up to a good pout. Outside in the snow, though, he took 30 seconds to contemplate the benefits of icky, awful booties then raced up and down the snow-packed road, bounded through drifts and explored the morning until chores were done. In the snow. And the beyond-bitter cold.
Within three wearings, he was racing to my chair to get them put on as soon as I asked that magical b-question: “Booties?” When I took them off him, he insisted on licking the snow off each one and helping me pack them to the heat vent for drying. He loved him some booties.
As I pondered his transformation, I thought about how he could’ve bypassed two years of winter agony, and had so much happiness instead, if only he would’ve gotten over his little mystery phobia from the start.
That’s a sad human thing to do, too, I thought: forgo doing something that’s good for ourselves because we’re too neurotic, picky, prejudiced, lazy, directionless or lacking in confidence or a sense that we deserve joy.
We all have booties we could be wearing, figuratively speaking, to make our lives happier, easier.
(Just suck it up, put your darn booties on and be joyous. Have some fun for crying out loud at firstname.lastname@example.org.)