Winter Walkin’

This weekend, for the first time in probably two weeks or so, I took the dog for a walk longer than a trip to the end of the block and back. Given that we live very close to the corner, that means our recent forays outside had likely been no more than a couple of minutes in length — enough to do what has to be done, followed a quick scurry into the welcome warmth of home.

It’s only Jan. 17 today, which means there are still more than two months of winter remaining on the calendar. Given that the official onset of the spring season very rarely means the conclusion of winter weather, we’ve got a ways to go with the cold season, folks. There’s no use in complaining too much at this point; we just have to channel our inner Hearty Minnesotans and tough it out.

Still, I can’t help but wonder: does Benji have such a trait in his makeup? He’s a Shih Tzu mix, so he’s not exactly bred for the Iditarod. When it comes to the cold weather, though, he has been known to display a surprising quality of endurance. It should be stressed that the same is not always the case of his “chief.”

After all, when I take Benji out to do his business in stunningly frigid wind chills, the animal I’ve nicknamed Mr. Sniff still feels the inexplicable need to get a whiff of nearly every flake of snow possible. I’ll pull on his leash, imploring him to either keep moving or to complete the necessary task at hand, but he’ll offer stubborn resistance, fixated on who knows what. I have been known to usually use “Mr. Sniff” in an affectionate tone, but affection is the furthest thing from my mind when it feels like 30-below outside and the pesky pooch is trying to sniff out some creature that just may have run through that very piece of snow hours before.

Over the last several days, you could bet it on it every lunch hour and every night before bedtime. Get Benji out, and watch him saunter hurriedly to the same area of snow next to the neighbors’ driveway. I’ll allow him a few seconds of odor-related revelry, then tug on the leash in an effort to lure him away from — what, a buried piece of meat from weeks ago? A long-forgotten bone chewed on by one or more dogs before him? I can’t wait until the next thaw, if only to see what the heck has captivated Benji’s attention in even the most Arctic conditions. I always get him away from that spot eventually, but he’ll frequently make an effort to head back to mystery-stench nirvana. By then, I’m usually cursing under my breath while trying to catch it at the same time in an environment more suitable for Robert Peary than a comparatively wimpy transplanted Minnesotan.

It’s strange, I often think. I can put on a bulky winter coat, guide Benji outside in the heart of winter and rapidly become chilled myself, and all while the dang dog noses around obliviously. Perhaps I need to put a scented candle outside that will distract my nostrils from the deep freeze. I can not see that working by any means.

A few days ago, I came home for lunch and was quickly met with a startling realization; the back door to the garage had somehow blown open, and the door from our entryway into the garage was ajar as a result (we finally got the garage door shut Sunday; the cold air/moisture combination would not allow closure before then). Benji could have gone outside and headed off to anywhere — the deep south, if the mutt had any sense — but there he was, sitting in his favorite chair, curled up as tightly as possible. I felt awful for the poor guy. I think I even detected a shiver or two, and he was definitely feeling the freeze when I came back from an extremely quick potty trip. He returned to his curled up position and remained there for a while — I’m guessing until the kids got home from school.

As I write this, a “wintry mix” is supposed to be falling outside. I’d almost rather walk him in the temperatures of the last week than lead him off to sidewalks that are sheets of ice. A couple of years ago, I wiped out good; he just looked at me with these huge (albeit helpless) “are you OK?” eyes.

He was probably thinking, ‘Wow, this dude needs to toughen up. Just take a deep breath and smell the clean, crisp winter air.”