A "Fur" Piece

I can always tell which season it is by petting my dog Penny, a shepherd-chow mix. Her coat is a sort of seasonal barometer, if you will, of what’s happening in the natural world. Here are the basics:

Winter: It doesn’t even get that cold here, but Penny’s fur thickens as if she were destined to spend cold, lonely nights on the tundra, far from any sort of shelter. Winter always finds a few leaves determined to initiate dreadlocks in her fluffy “pajamas”–the long hair on the back of her hind legs. Her heels are always damp in winter, too, and she seeks out piles of frosty leaves (or snow) for napping.

Spring: For some reason, Penny finds what appear to be praying mantis hatchlings–tiny, perfectly formed, and just the color of new grass. She’ll have any number of them caught in her tufty spring coat and I have to very gently remove them and put ’em back outside. A little later in the season, she’ll return from a walk in the woods covered in what is known as “beggar lice.” These small seed-pod type plants are as verdantly green as the praying mantis hatchlings and shaped like a triangle with rounded edges. The outer husk is sort of sticky, like Velcro, and will firmly attach itself to pants and shoelaces and socks and dog fur. Inside, there’s a single green seed (pit? drupe?) that I suppose wants to set up shop in new places, and that’s why it hitches a ride on whatever passes by. Penny loves the taste of these things, and will snap up every one I pull out of her fur.

Summer: The season of grass clippings, green field burs, and even the occasional swatch of blackberry briars snagged in the long hair of her tail. I find the occasional tick, as well, wandering around in her dense and impenetrable double-coat like a dazed Legionnaire stumbling through the desert in search of water.

Fall: Fur was made for fall! It traps the scent of burning leaves, elevating the standard “eau de dog” to something that could be bottled and sold as cheveux du chien fumeux pour homme. Delicious! In addition to her smoking habits, Penny has a knack for locating spiny, urchin-sized burrs and allowing them to set up housekeeping in her ruff and haunches. It takes quite a while to work them loose, and one false move can cause the brittle burrs to shatter, sending each separate little barb deeper into the forest of fur. While performing this much-needed groomage, I tell Penny she has “burrs upon hers” in honor of Dr. Seuss’ star-bellied Sneetches who had “star upon thars.” She’s never really thanked me, but it’s got to feel better to lay down when there isn’t a needle-pointed burr digging into your hip.

Occasionally I wonder what it would be like to live with a house-bound hound whose fur remains sleek and unsullied between baths. No seasonal flora and fauna to contend with, no particular smells other than Chinese take-out or scented candles. Oh, well…


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