In search of ponies: Big freeze brings pet care lessons

Sharna Johnson

Earlier this week, while heading out the door for work, I noticed a frenzy of bird activity on my back porch. The flock was centered around the dogs’ bowls of half-eaten food, abandoned when they gladly traded their 20-below breakfast time for the warmth of their kennels inside.

I noticed one of the birds, a dove, was lying on its back with curled feet pointed to the sky.

Knowing he hadn’t been there when I passed by a few minutes earlier, I ran outside and grabbed the bird, hoping there was still a window of time to warm and revive it.

While I rubbed him in a towel, then tried warm water, looking for signs of life behind the ice crystals covering his eyes, I was reminded of holding a small puppy in the same condition decades ago.

Brownie, the beloved family mutt, had sneaked off and given birth in the midst of an eastern mountain snowstorm.

My brother and I discovered the puppies too late — curled together for warmth and frozen like little statues.

Wednesday, the bird in my hands didn’t seem that far gone, but he wasn’t responding either.

Out of ideas, I wrapped him in a towel, set him in a warm spot and left the kids with instructions to let him outside if he came to, and well, to put him outside if he didn’t.

A text message a couple of hours later let me know he wouldn’t be flying out.

I’m sure he wasn’t the only creature who didn’t survive the temperatures this week, but knowing the extreme possibilities, a majority of my time this past week went to making sure the furry folks in my care didn’t meet similar fates.

Between double feedings, cleaning up messes, breaking ice and playing musical dogs, it seems like that was all I did.

And from talking with friends and seeing their venting and lamenting online, I gather I was not alone in having an arduous week in the interest of making sure my pets didn’t.

In winters past, I have made mental notes of things to remember for the next winter and I always seem to forget after 12 months and warm summer days, so this year, I think I’ll put my list in writing.

Things learned in the Great Freeze of 2011:

• Buy tougher toys. Even with multiple stretch breaks, a stir-crazy dog in a kennel can destroy more than one stuffed toy an hour and then move on to blankets.

• As long as no one actually sees you put a sweater on your dog it technically didn’t happen.

• Don’t cut across ice patches with a big mountain breed dog on a leash. You’re cold and slow, he’s not.

• Just because the snow seems dry and packed and the ground frozen, doesn’t mean anything. Dog + snow = mud.

• Cold dogs can still jump fences, it’s just a bigger pain getting them back.

• The backside of the ax works great for breaking ice on stock tanks as long as you don’t put your fingers between it and the ice. You won’t feel it immediately, but you will feel it.

• Don’t store your coveralls in the garage. Yes, you and a mouse can both fit in them, but cold chores are bad enough without all the screaming.

• Just because the dog doesn’t want to go out, doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to go — and going on the carpet when it’s 24 below zero outside doesn’t make him dumb, it means he’s smarter than you are.

• Most importantly, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT change dog food brands when you run out the day before a big winter storm, even if you find another brand on sale and especially in the case of very large dogs with sensitive stomachs.

P.S. Don’t ask…

Sharna Johnson is a staff writer for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at