This week in Chicago we had some record heat. I’m not sure of the particulars, but I heard someone say something about the highest temps in about 30 years, and the 4th hottest day ever recorded. They have this thing called the heat index which combines temperature, relative humidity, wind, and distance to the sun (in inches) and gives you a number reflecting not how hot it is, but how hot it feels. So on a 98F day in Chicago, you might get a heat index of say 14,000. This means technically that if you go outside, it will feel as if you are being assaulted by an army of 14K trolls named Fahrenheit, each armed with a blow dryer and an electric blanket. It can be uncomfortable, but if you dress like a Bedouin and drink lots of cold things, you have every chance of surviving.
Dogs, on the other hand, have a much more difficult time. Most of them insist on wearing fur coats year round and walking on all fours, which puts them near the ground where there is little breeze and lots of asphalt radiating heat like a radioactive thing radiates radiation. Some of my dogs have submitted to grooming, wisely choosing comfort over dignity. Josey in particular had so much hair removed that she even changed breeds, from Bearded Collie to Russian Nesting Dog. It’s a smart move. I barely recognized her at first, and the Fahrenheit trolls are only just catching on.
Other than haircuts, there really isn’t much more to be done to cool the canines. I stick to the shade on walks whenever possible, take it nice and slow, and provide a little extra time to drink water before the walk, and refill bowls with cold water after. I’ll offer an ice cube as a treat, and some dogs act like they’ve been trying to get into the freezer all day, while others look from me to the treat and back as if to say, “very funny, now gimme the real treat.” Those dogs that don’t have aquaphobia (or hydrophobia) can get a little cool water rubbed into the fur on their necks or onto their bellies or ears, where it will evaporate quickly and cool all the blood vessels and thus the whole dog. A couple dogs weren’t too sure about this idea at first, but they quickly came to love it. The same can’t be said about the practice of gently blowing on their panting snouts to facilitate evaporation. Some dogs absolutely love this, while others seem to appreciate the gesture but not the smell of my breakfast. Some sit right in front me and take in the breeze but eye me suspiciously as if to make sure I don’t move in for a kiss. No danger of that little friend, we’re cool. Or trying to be.
Some dogs, especially the old timers like Dudley, will walk out to the corner, handle their business, and then turn around and pull you right back home. I like to walk the dogs as long as I can, but in these cases the dogs know what’s best for them, and it’s not for me to drag them down a heat-shimmering street for the sake of exercise. If they’d rather spend the rest of their visit having their belly rubbed in the comfort of their air conditioned home, believe me, that’s fine with me. Young or old, every dog loves to lay a warm bare belly on a cool floor, resulting in many excellent opportunities to take photos which can and should be digitally altered to show the dog flying through the air like Superman’s best friend. Just superimpose the dog on a blue sky, maybe add a cape, and you have a smiling hero ready to take on a million trolls.