In our own backyard... It's a dog's life

I spent last weekend with a real dog. Oh, I'm not referring to a bad date - those days have long since been left behind me. I'm talking about an ebullient three-year-old yellow Labrador named Tanner.

I spent last weekend with a real dog. Oh, I'm not referring to a bad date - those days have long since been left behind me. I'm talking about an ebullient three-year-old yellow Labrador named Tanner.

He's my son Jason's dog, and he was totally mine last weekend as both Jason and my husband Ken traveled out of town.

If you've ever known a yellow lab, you'll know they have the heart of a lion and the disposition of a pussy cat, and the vast expanse of their bodies often gets caught up somewhere in between.

Tanner grew up having the run of a fishing lodge in Alaska and so he is both affable and adventurous, and on Friday night after I got home from work, I could tell he was just itching for a "burn." If you'll recall, however, that was also the night the temperature bottomed out at about nine below zero, and I wasn't so sure I wanted to go much beyond the front porch.

After "talking" it over at dinner, the two of us decided we'd chance it. I bundled up in my long johns, fleece pants, two layers of sweaters, parka and choppers. By the time I got done, I could hardly bend over to tie my Sorels, and as I groaned inwardly, Tanner began dancing around me in pure glee. There was no question about it - we were going for a walk, no matter how cold it was.


I put Tanner's special collar on him that is equipped with a high-power halogen light that hangs down below his chin to make him visible in the dark (as I told you, he's a real outdoorsman!). After that, he could barely be subdued, because that was his signal that the walk was on for real.

As the big dog leaped and spun and barked (all things he's not allowed to get by with when his master is there), I scrambled to grab a flashlight and wrench open the front door.

The rush of frigid air assailed me full force in the face, and it felt as though my eyeballs froze on the spot. But there was no turning back. In one giant leap, Tanner burst through the door behind me and took off at a dead run (also not allowed when he's supposed to be on his best behavior).

He dashed down the driveway as far as its junction with a trail through the woods we often take. He took a couple of bounds down the trail and then stopped dead in his tracks, looking longingly over his shoulder at me for the signal that we were, indeed, taking the trail instead of the driveway. For one agonizing moment, I made him wait, and then all I had to do was raise my arm and point - and he was off like a shot down the trail into the darkness.

As I labored along behind him in all my outdoor gear, I didn't worry too much about him because I could see the beam of his collar light dancing madly through the trees, a little like Tinker Bell on a drunken binge.

The darkness, by then, was absolute, and all my own flashlight would illumine was the three or four feet directly in front of me on the trail. Tanner, on the other hand, simply flew through the invisible tree trunks, zigging and zagging back and forth across the trail, nose to the ground on the scent of deer or coyote or whatever other nocturnal critter that happened to tweak his senses.

Every once in a while, I would lose track of him, but before long, he'd come bursting up the trail from behind me on the fly, nose to the ground and long ears flapping. Every once in a while, one of his ears would lodge over the top of his head, and he looked for all the world like a little old man with his ear flaps up.

As we worked our way deep into the dark woods, I began to enjoy our nocturnal adventure, with the cold snow squeaking beneath our feet and a silver slice of new moon barely visible through the pines overhead.


Over the course of our journey, Tanner must have covered three or four times the amount of ground I did, but he never once minced along on cold paws or acted as though it were anything different than a balmy summer night.

When we got back to the house, both of us were invigorated, and I was glad we had gone.

Not long afterward, the effects of the cold air and exercise caught up with me, and I decided to head for bed.

As Tanner settled down on his bed in the corner and the cats curled up on the big Hudson Bay blanket I'd pulled over me, the deck outside our bedroom suddenly cracked in the bitter cold like a rifle shot.

Tanner emitted a sharp bark, and both cats stiffened and wheeled their heads around in unison.

Though I knew full well what the sound probably was - still, the fact that I was alone caused me to harbor doubts. I slunk out from beneath my warm covers and tiptoed across the room to switch on the yard light, suddenly having visions of some intruder dropping a ladder onto the rail of the second-floor deck in the pitch blackness with an eye toward breaking into the house.....

And then, I gave myself a swift mental kick. After all, hadn't I walked through the heart of that same darkness only an hour or so before, deep into the heart of the woods, all alone, except for a bounding Labrador?

The Labrador! Of course! Why would I be afraid of an intruder when I had a big dog at my side to defend me?


Feeling the tension between my shoulders begin to relax, I gazed appreciatively over in Tanner's direction - only to find the yellow dog curled up, sound asleep.

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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