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Sep 4, 2023

Snow Is Better With a Dog

Mister was eager, friendly, outgoing, and a world-class trash can raider. The latter was an addictive practice that occasionally broke my schedule when his owner forgot to relocate the kitchen trash can to a nearby closet.

Snow Is Better With a Dog

In 1995 Mister was two-years-old and eighty pounds of glossy black handsomeness. To my everlasting regret, the photo is not of Mister as decades of pet photos were lost in the move from Philly. But this dog reminds me so much of him, a beautiful black Lab enjoying two of Mister’s favorite things: tennis balls and snow.

His garbage forays notwithstanding, five days a week we walked to a neighborhood park to play fetch. In the beginning, Mister would pester me to let him carry the tennis ball, but like a little kid, he was easily distracted always dropping it along the way. More work for me because Mister tended to forget about the tennis ball unless he was chasing it. Eventually we worked out a compromise: I carried the ball to the park, freeing Mister to follow his nose and splash p-mails on street trees. He carried the ball home. Worked out beautifully because after a visit to the park Mister was always ready for a nap. And I avoided carrying a sloppy tennis ball.

Games of fetch made Mister happy and I loved being a part of his joy. No matter how bad the weather was — in Philly it can get downright miserable — we always showed up in the park. Besides sleet and freezing rain, every winter brought snow which was always well received by kids and dogs with weatherproof coats and webbed toes. After the city’s favorite meteorologist forecasted 20” of snow in January 1996, I pulled out my snow gear. Mister was going to love this.


Heavy snow frenzied by wind began falling on a Sunday, ending 36 hours later with a record 30.7 inches. Even if streets could be plowed, the parked cars lining all of them would have been buried until April. Making matters more challenging, people worked outside the home in those days and, like me, all of my clients made it to work.

It took the city a week to get our neighborhood on wheels again. Until then Mister had the time of his life.

When he wasn’t hopping around in deep snow like a giant puppy, Mister was plunging into drifts to retrieve his tennis ball. Yet I do believe the best part was not needing a leash. The snow was too deep to escape and we could play fetch wherever we wanted. Exhilarating for a city dog to have so much freedom.

My favorite mental portrait of Mister was captured the day after the snow ended. Our little world was cloaked in white against a brilliant blue sky. We are almost to the park on a zigzag course when I stopped to slip a note through a client’s front door mail slot. I turned to see Mister looking at me, his ears pricked, his expression expectant, his magnificent face lightly dusted with snow. I smiled. He wagged. Moments later Mister was throwing himself into the snow in pursuit of his tennis ball.

Did you know?

In the 90s there were fewer dogs sharing roomy Philly parks, thus interactions ending in aggression seldom occurred, and insurance claims filed by pet sitters were few and far between. These are among the reasons why almost everybody ignored the dogs-on-leash-at-all-times park rule.

Fast forward 12 years and I no longer let a dog off leash in neighborhood parks. It has been many years since my last game of fetch. The restrictions were imposed by insurance providers paying out too many claims involving bodily harm to off-leash dogs and their people in public spaces.
Yes, the dog population has increased exponentially making city parks everywhere feel less roomy. And where there is crowding sometimes there will be canine interactions that end in aggression. And sometimes those unfortunate events are followed by upset owners loudly assigning blame.
Mostly I blame technology. Before cellphones, dog owners kept an eye on their pets. Even when dog owners gathered to chat, somebody would keep an eye on the dogs. These days lots of owners bring their dogs to a park and “check out” on their cellphones.
Dog fights do not begin with noise. Like people, conflict between dogs begins with hard looks. And the interval between fixed stares and bodily contact can be breathtakingly short. One sure way to prevent physical attacks or bullying (and unexpected vet bills) is to put away the tech and stay in the moment with your dog. It’s crowded out there.

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