I live in Northern California where currently we are being deluged by what is known as an atmospheric river. That is a poetic way to say it’s raining cats and dogs, which is an old school way to say there is a brick ton of water, hail and snow falling out of the sky. Those of you with dogs will know where this is going. Those with cats (and adorable small companions of other varieties) will think of your litter boxes and smugly invoke the axiom “Cats rule, dogs drool.” Or pee near the back door, as it were.
When I was about eight years old my father, a career Army officer, went to Korea for a year. This was known as a hardship tour. It was a hardship because it separated the family. My sister, mom and I stayed home in Virginia while Dad was calibrating missiles pointed at North Korea (he would be aghast at current events). My mother was a bold woman, uncharacteristic of her time. Minding the home front with two daughters wasn’t a problem for her; she worked on her own car, built her own kitchen shelving and was pretty self sufficient. But the blizzard of 1965 threw us all for a loop. That was a LOT of snow to shovel. On morning one, my mother let our hale and hearty one year old collie, Laddie (yeah, I know, <eye roll>) out the back door to pee and left him out in the yard to enjoy the snow. Ten minutes later, she looked out the front window and there was Laddie standing in the middle of our cul de sac. Wha????!! She ran out in her robe to retrieve him and discovered that he’d walked right over the back fence on a giant snow drift. He was now out on the street looking for the fire hydrant. Poor guy had no idea where to go.
Nowadays I don’t have to worry about pets and snow, although when I take the dogs to visit friends in Tahoe at this time of year there are some challenges to be sure. Our dear friend Karen, who lives in South Lake Tahoe, is currently enjoying four to six feet of snow piled on her deck and even more in the street beyond. One day recently after a big storm, she called her one year old dog, Riley, to go outside.
Down the stairs he dutifully trotted until he reached the open front door, where he promptly stopped, took in the mounds of snow before him and shot back up the stairs and into his crate. Karen coaxed him from his crate, donned his newly minted down vest (given to him by his Aunt Kim for Christmas) and took him out to pee in the snow. He was not amused. Nor was he quite sure what to do.
Likewise, I was on a Zoom call the other day during one particularly rain drenched afternoon when the woman I was meeting with excused herself to let her pining young terrier mix out the sliding door behind her. The scene felt very familiar: my friend opened the sliding glass door in her office, her dog peered out and disenchanted with the weather beyond the dog demurred. My friend returned to her desk, donned her EarPods and we resumed. Fifteen seconds later, the whining. Rinse and repeat. Finally, the slider was left open. Several minutes later, despite the dubious results of the open door, the door was then closed for good. It was not only wet out, it was cold.
Our fellow blogger Neil Lurssen weighed in about his gang, Chloe and Sally. Chloe, the smaller of the two, presses herself against the side of the house to get coverage from the overhead eaves. She figured it out herself. This forces Neil to push plants and shrubs aside and splosh in the mud in order to clean up. She also likes to pee underneath the garden bench. (At least she’s not forcing Neil underneath the bench.) Slightly larger Sally doesn’t care in the least about rain and wanders around in it after “doing her thing.” She revels in getting soaked.
Thirteen year old Sally goes out for a pee every morning rain or shine at about 5:45 am when Neil’s wife Jean gets up. About 20 minutes later Sally runs upstairs to Neil’s side of the bed, jumps on his chest and sticks her head on his neck. She does it every single morning and has done the same thing since she was seven months old. Lately, Neil’s been waking up with a soggy neck.
Dawn Kovell’s associate Aryn Hervel has a pretty tight routine with her young dogs or dogs who are experiencing their first rain. She puts the dog(s) outside and then she sets up an Xpen with the dog(s) on one side (outside) and herself on the other side (in the door, under the eaves). That way Aryn is somewhat comfortable and the dog only gets out of the rain or back inside once they pee.
These tales (and tails) abound. All over my neighborhood and beyond I hear voices calling out: “Go potty!” “Get busy!” “Find a potty spot.” That last one is actually me. You can hear me saying, “Find a potty spot” five houses away.
There has been so much rain lately, I really can’t blame my dogs when I open the backdoor slider and they pause to check out where all that moisture is coming from. They can certainly smell it. One of them can probably see it and the other one can hear it. Together they make one complete dog. My next door neighbor, Chester, is a Guide Dog of the black lab variety. Chester actually puts his paw out the door to see if it’s raining. They really do school those dogs! Anyway, back to my house. Our front porch is covered by the first floor sub roof of our house. The front yard is bark mulch with drought resistant (mostly native) plants. The bark comes right up to the porch. In a normal rainfall there’s a rim of dry bark at the porch edge, so when the dogs won’t go out the back door in a downpour I take them out the front door and, much like Neil’s Chloe pressing herself against a dry place, I tell them, “Find a potty spot.”
This practice started many years ago when Maybelline came to live with us (long before I knew about Aryn’s technique). We adopted Maybelline in June, so it was almost six months before May even experienced a hint of rain. The first time she discovered that water was falling from the sky just out the back door she retreated into the family room and would not be coaxed or convinced to venture out again. That’s when I got the bright idea to try the front. Plus, that way I don’t have to get wet. So I stood on my front porch that evening for thirty minutes saying (say it with me now), “Find a potty spot.” For 29 minutes and 50 seconds May just stood there looking at me. The rain fell. I shivered a little. At moments I felt like Joan Crawford forcing my poor child to do something so against her will. But I persisted. Because I knew if I caved in and let her back inside she would always know it was possible to get away with not peeing outside. Dog training 101.
Finally, we did it, May and I (and the ghost of Joan Crawford). With a sigh and a full bladder she relented, found a potty spot, endured my cheering and general hallelujah chorusing and received a cookie (or two or three) upon re-entering the house. Claude and Lulu now must carry on May’s legacy, as have all our dogs, foster and permanent since the winter of 2004. Still, it often takes many minutes and some persistent coaxing. I continue to be heard far and wide invoking the ever elusive potty spot, but we somehow get ‘er done in this wild and inclement weather.
On these endlessly rainy days and nights, after our front porch ritual and bedtime cookies, I get myself ready for bed and retreat to my own potty spot. Many of you, I’m sure, have the same experience: as you settle yourself on the toilet your dogs come into the bathroom to hang out with you. I often wonder if they resent me for “going indoors,” if they even make the connection or if they feel sorry for me that my potty spots are so limited. One thing is for certain as the winds rage and the rains pour, we are all grateful for our warm, dry, indoor beds. And our DIY raincoats. We all made it through another day of extreme potty.