email@example.com (Mike Royko) (01/13/90)
MIKE ROYKO During these raging snowstorms, most public attention is given to the stranded motorists, pedestrians staggering through snowdrifts and travelers stuck at airports. But nothing is ever said about a creature who goes through far more agony during a blizzard than any of the above. I'm talking about dogs that have short legs. I had not given this problem any thought until the other morning. That was when a neighbor of mine came huffing down the street, a look of panic on her face. ``My dog got out. Have you seen him?'' she said. ``Don't worry, he won't go far in this storm,'' I said. ``He'll probably come home when he's hungry.'' ``Yes, but if he's out too long, he might become frozen.'' ``Oh, he'll be OK,'' I said. ``He has a thick coat.'' She looked at me with disgust. ``Not (ital) there (end ital) he hasn't.'' Then I remembered. Her dog was a basset hound. It has legs about the size of a thread spool. Just like a dachshund and a few other stumpy breeds. And I understood her concern. The snowdrifts were already a foot or two deep. The dog's belly, and everything else in that vicinity, is only about six or eight inches above ground level. That meant that certain parts of the creature were being constantly immersed in snow. I couldn't imagine anything more uncomfortable, especially first thing in the morning, although it was probably a quicker waker-upper than a cup of strong coffee. Later, while driving downtown, I heard a radio call-in show during which a worried lady called and reminded people to put bread crumbs out for the birds, or the tiny things would lose body heat and freeze. That's fine. But what about the excruciating problems of dogs with short legs? In weather such as this they, too, could freeze. Maybe not all over but, boy, even a dog shouldn't have to suffer from frostbite of.... So I phoned the radio station and said that something should be said on the air on their behalf. ``What do you want said?'' the radio person asked. That something should be done immediately for short-legged dogs. Who knows how many might already be going into shock. ``Yes, but what can be done?'' Well, maybe you can suggest that people put out a shallow pan of warm water so the afflicted dog could defrost himself. ``I don't think I can say that,'' he said. Then maybe you could say people should be sure to shovel their walks so tht short-legged dogs don't freeze their.... ``Uh, we can't say that either,'' he said, and hung up. So I called a few veterinarians to ask how severe this problem is. One vet was surprisingly casual. ``Oh, I wouldn't worry about it,'' he said. ``During my entire career, I've only seen two or three cases of that type of frostbite.'' He probably wouldn't be that casual if he had only seen two or three veterinarians with that type of frostbite -- and he was one of them. But another, Dr. W.T. Boozer, said: ``Yes, it can happen to all breeds. But the closer the dog is to the ground, the more susceptible he is.'' This is now a frank society, so I posed the question of how this could affect the dog's future love life and his masculine capabilities. ``If it were extreme, it might affect his potency to some extent,'' he said. Dr. Algis Rimas agreed: ``If he were out there long enough in extreme condition, it could cause impotency or permanent damage.'' That, I imagine, could lead to self-doubts, anxiety and depression. So the danger is more than physical. It includes the possibility that a severe, snowy winter, such as this, could create a vast number of short-legged dogs that have deep psychological troubles. And whom can they tell about it? And I had always assumed that the worst thing that could happen to a dog was fleas. I have sometimes wondered why basset hounds have that constant look of overwhelming sadness on their faces. They always look so tragic that everybody laughs at them. Now I understand why they look that way, and I'll never laugh at them again. You'd look that sad, too, pal, if your men's room was filled with four feet of snow. (C) 1990 BY THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.