MJ Wixsom: Happiness is a warm puppy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 20, 2021

Wednesday night’s ice storm took out our electric along with many others. When the power was lost, we lost lights, internet and heat.

Pretty much everything is electric at our house. Electric heat, stove, refrigerators, freezer, everything.

We live far enough out that we have played this game before. We have flashlights, lanterns, battery backups, juice boxes and rechargeable portable items.

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This time seems different.

More things seem to be electric since the last time the power was out.

Thursday morning when I realized that I wasn’t going to work, I took the puppy for a walk, tried to bring in more firewood, but it was frozen to the ground. I put out birdseed for the birds (they use the calories to stay warm) and got a couple of blankets to sit and read by the window. I texted my friend that I had a fire in the fireplace, my Kindle, and life wasn’t too bad without power, but I was severely annoyed that I could not sit in my recliner because the feet would not come up without power.

Apparently, I had pushed it a little toward the lift function because it leans me forward enough that I now slide out of it. I took Foxtrot to bed and read, then napped and then we played in bed.

On Thursday morning, while it might have been best to migrate to a heat source, I practiced hibernation.

Ground hogs, bats, lady bugs, turtles, snakes and skunks do a true hibernation. Others like humming birds, bears and I (not really) go into a deep sleep or torpor.

The heart rate and respiration slow to conserve energy and heat. Warm in my polar fleece cocoon, I was in a deep sleep until almost noon. Dinner Thursday night was tuna salad kit and bars.

Friday, I knew I would have to make it in to work. It had been too cold to change the night before and I had slept in my jeans, socks and a sweatshirt.

I got up and slid into my boots and put in a shirt to change into at the clinic.

I then lit a fire in the fireplace for Matt and left for work.

I had a choice of the tree-lined road or the slick by the creek road that is longer.

I choose the shorter tree road. That was a bad decision.

My second bad decision was thinking that the tree leaning over the road was high enough and small enough to just go under it. My newly busted windshield marks exactly how high it was.

The road continued to be slick, but passable for another 3/4 of a mile. I did have to go around the bamboo that was leaning into the road. Since I and others had driven over it on the way home the night before, it was relatively easy to get around.

The next tree was not down as close to the road, because it was held up by power lines. I know these were power lines because there were at least three of them, so that big one was probably electric. The bottom line would have grazed the top of the truck at best.

I thought for a moment that the power was out in our area anyway, but quickly decided that might be wishful thinking but not something that was worth my and puppy’s life to test.

Now I was stuck.

Tree down ahead of me with power line in it and definitely too short a tree to go under behind me. Not to mention that I was now on a slick hill with a ravine on the right and running water on the left. I did a slick 18 point turn to turn around.

I called Rusty to tell him I would be late and ask if he had any suggestions or a chainsaw. He did not.

My falconry buddy, Mike, was my next call. He was out trying to find a generator because his had failed.

He asked how big the tree was and I told him that it was maybe six inches. He detoured by Lowes and bought a handsaw and headed my way. I watched the birds and tried to keep Foxtrot from eating the binoculars, the firestarter, the queen bee cage, the napkins, my gloves and sunglasses.

Finally, I emptied a water bottle and gave it to him. He was obsessed! There was no portion bigger than a 50 cent piece as I started taking the smaller ones away.

To be honest, I really spent most of the rest of the time thinking I had really screwed up.

Within thirty minutes, Mike showed up, spent three minutes sawing the tree, did not mention how unwise I had been and then headed back to work on his generator.

The roads were not clear the long way and I slipped a bit, but I made it to work without further issue.

While I did surgeries, Erika and Leacretta picked up wood for me. I told them to take my truck, but Erika insisted on her car, which she promptly got stuck at the gate of my driveway. They carried the wood and hiked up to feed my cats.

When I got home Friday night the house was even colder.

The fire had gone out burning most, but not all of the wood. I started a new fire, but it did not do much to warm the house.

Animals are known to put on an extra layer of fat to insulate. Perhaps this is why Matt was colder than I was. Or perhaps that my labs are better snugglers than his malinois. Regardless, we were both cold.

I had dipped into the emergency rations at GAMC and found some self-heating meal rations.

Beef stew and veggie chili for supper it was! Our kit also had a rechargeable lantern, but the portable stove was missing. I packed up and headed home.

Matt had suggested KFC, but I had left my credit cards in their holder at home. I totally forgot that you could buy takeout with cash.

I don’t think either Matt or I planned on being cold for two nights, but the power is likely out for five days.

Many arctic animals use fur and feathers to insulate them from the cold. Polar bears have two different hair coats: a soft one around the skin and a coarse hollow fiber one that traps air. Penguins trap air in their feathers and stand on the back of their feet to minimize cold infiltration and heat loss.

A little late to grow feathers, I put on a sweatshirtand slept in my pants with my socks on.

Snow is an excellent insulator.
Igloos can be 55 degrees, which is much warmer than the probable 40 degrees the house is.

Small animals, such as lemmings, mice, moles, voles, and shrews all enjoy the relative warmth and safety of this seasonal habitat. The network of small open spaces and tunnels under the snowpack is called the subnivean (sub+snow) zone.

Snow didn’t seem to be a practical insulator, so I used my new Sherpa blanket and polar fleece. Both trap air and allow my body to warm it.

It did work, but I still dreamed of the Iditarod and the various cold places I had slept volunteering on the sled dog race.

Whiskey is a pro at sleeping in the cold. He curls up his body into a tight ball and then wraps his tail around his face When Whiskey puts his bushy tail over his nose, it means that the air he is breathing is prewarmed. The exhaled heat is trapped on the fur and transferred into new air that he breathes in.

As cold as I was, the coldest I have slept is on Finger Lake on the Iditarod Trail in Alaska. I had a sleeping bag that was good to minus forty. I had a mat that went under that and I was in a bivy sac that encased the sleeping bag and mat. All of this was on top of a four-inch layer of straw in a heated tent.

Of course, the tent was only 35–45 degrees and all the heat was at the top of the tent. Sleeping bags were on the straw at the bottom.

Even in two layers of polar fleece, I was cold and slept under my jacket.

I breathed into the fur ruff to prewarm the air as I breathed it back in.

Still when I packed up my gear, there was a half inch of ice under my mat, inside my bivy sac from the condensation of my breath.

Those two or three nights were brutal.

I was so happy to leave Finger Lake, I didn’t care that the small airplane almost crashed on take-off.

This week, I used prewarmed fur from the dogs to stay warmer.

Japanese macaques use the hot springs to warm up. A shower certainly is a good way to get warm, but that drying off and dressing in the cold is brutal.

Not sure how the pink faced monkeys transition from hot spring to cold bathroom.

Our water is not that hot anymore anyway.

Shivering is another form of heat generation by animals and humans.

Although each body is different, when the body gets to 95 degrees, it will start the involuntary muscle reaction of shivering. Honey bees use muscle contractions to keep the hive a balmy 85 to 90 degrees during the winter.

One of my favorite ways to stay warm is to huddle together for warmth and share body heat. The emperor penguins are the master of this. The birds only touch very slightly so that the feathers are not compressed which would compromise their insulation. If one bird moves, they all do, so that nobody is too close or too far.

Whiskey (yellow lab) and Parker (black and white cat) are by far the best snugglers in the house. Foxtrot is a great neck warmer.

While I have enjoyed my revisiting how animals stay warm in the winter cold, I will be glad when the electric is on again. It is too late for this ice storm, but I have ordered a propane house heater for the next time.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566