Koala Discovers Her Inner Labrador

Koala is not a typical Labrador. Yes, she’s affectionate and cuddly and very, very food focused. But she’s also serious and rule-bound. She holds us to a schedule. She has no sense of humor.

She has her moments — she loves to play, but on her terms only. And she does love to stomp through puddles, but she’s not as eager to get into a body of water as most Labs. She’s usually indifferent to a ball tossed into the water. (Not Cali! Cali, a golden retriever, was born to swim after tennis balls. Over and over and over again.) Koala will fetch a ball on land, if you ask her to, but it’s clear she’s only humoring the silly human.

And Koala hates cold weather. She was born in Upstate New York and raised in Connecticut, so maybe by the time she moved to Florida, she was really just done with winter. At not-quite-2 years of age.

So, here she is in Montana, yet again. And yet again, it’s cold. It’s late October and … we had a blizzard. Somewhere between 6 and 8 inches of snow fell overnight.

When I opened the door to let Koala and Cali out in the morning, it was still snowing. She gave me her “are you nuts??” look, a look I know well. I convinced her to go out to pee.

Cali of course was delighted. But then Cali is usually delighted: She loves snow. She loves water. She loves rain. She loves sun. She loves grass. She loves summer. She loves winter.

Cali was a bit worried when she went to her toy box and all that was in there was a bunch of white powder, but she nosed around a bit and located a frozen tennis ball. She gave me her look … and I ventured out, in slippers and robe, to free the frozen treasure and toss it for her.

And Cali was off, racing around plowing through the snow with her nose to find her ball. Dropping it into the snow so she could find it again. Begging me to come out to play …

Koala looked on in disgust.

I beat a quick retreat indoors.

Then I looked out the window: Koala was racing around the back yard and — what was that? A wagging tail?! She made a couple of joyful, very Labrador-esque laps.

She must have sensed me watching.

She glanced over her shoulder, stopped running, and started sniffing the ground. She did her business and quickly came back inside.

Her burst of typical Labrador playfulness, her flash of joy as she played in the snow disappeared as quickly as it appeared. But Cali and I both saw it: Koala’s inner Labrador.

Wipe Her Feet!

Winter’s back. We’ve had  a pretty mild winter here in Missoula (much to Cali’s dismay), but after a couple weeks of 40s and 50s and melting snow, we woke up to a couple of inches of new snow on Friday.

Actually, I woke up to the distinctive scraping sounds of the guys who zip along our sidewalks on ATVs with mini-snowplows, clearing the sidewalks by 6 am. It’s miraculous.

Cali greeted the new snow with delight and romped around a bit on the “grassy” area by our patio. Once I was fully dressed, we ventured out for a walk. The snowplows are reliably followed by the bucket brigade, spreading blue snow melt stuff. It’s salt and other chemicals.

It’s terrible for dog feet. Some dogs are very sensitive to it; I remember a puppy I was training crying in pain as soon as his feet came into contact with it. Cali’s feet seem tougher, but I am very careful to wipe them with a towel and with baby wipes (organic, natural ones) so that she’s not licking the salty stuff off later.

There are other ways to help dog feet cope with winter:

  • I rub Musher’s Secret into Cali’s feet every week or so. It creates a barrier that protects her pads. It helps protect against hot pavement in the summer, too.
  • For hairy-footed dogs (like Cali), regular trims are helpful. The less hair there is between the dog’s pads, the less the snow balls up and sticks, which can be very uncomfortable for the dog.
  • For dogs who walk on snow, snow-melt chemicals, and ice often, boots are a good idea. Most dogs dislike this idea, but they can often be convinced (bribed) to wear their boots.
  • I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve heard that vet wrap — that stretchy elastic bandage wrap that comes in bright colors — can be wrapped around the feet to improve traction and provide a barrier to the ice and chemicals.
  • If you take care of your own sidewalks, choose pet-safe snow melt. It’s more expensive, but less caustic to the pup’s feet.

Do you have other tips? Please share!

Have a safe and FUN winter!


On the fourth night of Hanukkah, Cali got her wish: Snow. Fluffy, white, untouched-by-dog-paws snow.

It started snowing in the afternoon, and she got a little taste of it on our afternoon walk, but not much had accumulated. I went out to a dinner party and got home a little after 9. I put on my boots, put Cali on her leash, and gave her the best present of her life. We walked a bit, then I just dropped the leash and let her run. There was no one else out, no cars moving in the parking lot, and the space between two apartment buildings was so inviting. All that new snow!

As she has on encountering open spaces before, Cali ran crazy circles and figure eights around the picnic tables. She did something a little different this time, though: Every couple of circuits, she’d bound over to me, play bow, dance a little, then take off again. I scooped up snow and threw it in the air. It was so dry and powdery that I couldn’t make a snow ball to throw, but Cali caught the flying snow and licked it from her nose. She plowed into the snow on the ground with both nose and paws. She ran more laps around the picnic tables.

The next morning, we visited our friend Scarlett (who has a back yard!) and both girls ran around and around in the snow. We played ball in the snow, too. The snow is still here (Cali doesn’t know it yet, but the snow is likely to still be here weeks and months from now…) and she still thinks it is wonderful.