Friday, January 22, 2016

the shovelnose terrier, or, taking a plunge

On a rare sunny, warm afternoon, Josie and I sat on the porch, soaking up sun. We were just back from our river walk, which was highlighted that day not only by sunshine but by our ability to walk on water. Elliott had been invited out, but he opted to stay in.

A lovely day on the porch with  Josie.

Outside, Josie never stays still for long. Soon from the porch he bounded, going after something he seemed to see beyond the driveway’s far snowbank.

There he goes.

I was not far behind, and I began making a video.

My Boy Jo, Part One: Something Beyond the Snowbank

I admit to being impressed, perhaps overly so, with Josie’s ability and desire to plow through snow. He will follow another’s trail, certainly, but just as often he likes to plow his own. Thus, I have dubbed him a shovelnose terrier, a rare and quixotic breed.

Shovelnose terrier.

Josie’s legs are no more than six inches long—the shovelnose standard—and up this-a-way the average snowfall per year is around 200 inches. This left little doubt in my mind that come winter I would be shoveling paths for my helpless, little, short-legged Jo, but this was, of course, before I learned that he is, indeed, a shovelnose.

My Boy Jo, Part Two: Backtracking Home (oops, no) New Path

The only time Josie seems not to like the snow is when it’s getting down toward 10 degrees. (This year that seems to be the chill point inside and out.) At 10 degrees, Josie’s paws begin to hurt. Luckily, the day he fell in the river it was 18 degrees. It was overcast, a light snow in the air, and we were walking on the river, staying fairly close to shore as there are still some open spots down the river’s mid-section—they look like busted open zippers—and you can see the water flowing swiftly, a dark rift against the snow-covered ice. One thing about shovelnose terriers is that they are notoriously short-sighted: they don’t always think before acting. So although Josie had trotted to the far side of the river via solid ice and had so far avoided all open spots, when he decided to cross back toward me he ran straight at one of those gaping holes, a large, dark, black, flowing open zipper, and I thought he would see it and have the sense to avoid it, but no, he ran straight at it and fell straight in.

Things change so quickly.

Josie was in the water at one end of the zipper; he kept his head above water, but that was about it. His head was drenched, and his big dark eyes bugged out even more than usual. He pawed at the ice around him to no avail. This was quite a sight, and a number of things ran through my mind, the most important being the realization that it was unlikely that Josie could pull himself out of this situation. Second, I had little idea of what to do. Third, something had to be done.

I got close to Josie, sprawled on the ice on my stomach, and reached toward him. With a fist I broke away some of the thinner ice between us, and he moved closer to me, and then I was able to grab his collar and maybe a leg or two, I don’t really know because in a flash he was out, running to shore, running all the way home. Once home and inside he was kind of wild, as a shovelnose terrier is likely to be, especially after a drenching, and it was all I could do to wrap him in a towel, rub him dry. Elliott was all agog, of course, thinking the whole thing a fantastic story.

My Boy Jo, Part Three: Shake It Off

What I have come to learn about shovelnose terriers is this: they are wholly able little dogs. They are loyal, brave, alert, strong, tenacious, adventurous, and, for the most part, quiet, that is, until something really important is happening. They are not very good swimmers, but, as with most things, they’ll give it a try. They are independent, accept help in a pinch, are sometimes like Velcro and can hardly be peeled off. They are known for eating everything from tangerines to avocados to popcorn. They are not the friendliest little dog—you must earn their devotion, most likely with the offering of several bits of cheese or baked chicken, and then, still, it may take a while. They quite often get the hiccups and will make a squeaky noise when yawning. Some say the shovelnose has magical voodoo powers, especially those of the northern climes, as they appear to be directly descended from the ancient terriers of the Outer Hebrides. Overall, this terrier is easy to clean, sporting both fur and hair, often in a comic combination, and they come in all colors, though the red-coated shovelnose is preferred. They are playful and funny as heck. If you are lucky enough to have one of your own, you are probably laughing every day. And if you don’t have one, but would like one, there’s only one place to go, and that’s the animal shelter. As I said, the shovelnose is rare, so if you do not find one, or, as is likely, get distracted by some other, well, I’m sure you’ll find some one or the other, maybe even one of your own rare breed, and then: lucky you.

But be warned, for as able as the shovelnose is, sometimes he will need a little backup, and he will probably be counting on you.

Does this shovelnose have any idea where he’s going?

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