In my dogless years, I suffered from depression during the winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) they call it, but for me, it was more ISMICGOOB (I’m So Miserable I Can’t Get Out of Bed). I won’t go into details about my emotional state or describe the dire thoughts and feelings that whirlpooled around my sun-deprived mind. Let’s just say that during the winter of 2003, I was a mess. My beloved dog Wallace had died, I had divorced my husband and all I loved most about life — including the sun — had receded. Winter nights in the Northeast can be 14to 16 hours long. But it seemed like 24
One particularly dark night in January, the police actually showed up at the door of my lovely but secluded house in Woodstock, N.Y. My former husband had called them because he hadn’t heard from me in days, and he was worried.(Even though we had parted, he still sensed these things.) I remember how terrified I was to be awakened by pounding on my front door, how disorienting it was to see flashlights beaming into my bedroom window. I remember thinking, If Wallace were here, he would have barked.
Dogs sense our emotional states even better than husbands (or ex-husbands). Wallace would have let me know that the men outside the window were no threat. That event though it was a dark and bitter and miserably cold winter, we were safe.
Anyway, that was then, this is now. I have Chloe now.
After that odd but enlightening (no pun intended) incident with ISMICGOOB, I consulted a doctor — a pioneer in integrative medicine — who prescribed vitamin D; rhodiola; structured yogic breathing to stimulate the pineal gland and produce serotonin; and a high-grade, futuristic $500 lightbox. He also prescribed the usual: rest, exercise, laughter, companionship and so forth.
In other words, he prescribed a dog.
Shortly before the winter of 2004 descended like a dark curtain, in fact, one day before Daylight Saving Time ended, I adopted Chloe. Now, I don’t mean to imply that I adopted her because of the forthcoming winter — I had begun the process in August — but I was grateful for the timing. The universe sometimes gives us what we need, when we need it.
We lived, then, in New York City, which has its own particular version of winter. After the first half hour, the snow isn’t beautiful. It’s just this inconvenient thing you have to slog through to get some place you wish you didn’t have to go. Then, giant snowplows driven by angry New Yorkers scrape the snow violently into piles (scraping the side of your car along with it). The “snow boulders” just sit there for months, in great unattractive heaps the color of dung. With some piss-yellow thrown in (courtesy of men and dogs).
The cold in the city is more biting, more aggressive, some-how. City wind knows how to turn corners, fly up your skirt and speed through intersections as if trying to beat the red lights. And then there’s our source of heat: steam radiators that clang at night, as though some ghoul were hiding under your floorboards, banging a wrench against your pipes.
For dogs, the NYC version of winter includes all of the above, plus paw pain from chemicals spread on the sidewalks and the indignity of being forced to wear clothes, such as plaid Burberry lumberjackets and little canvas booties with “anti-slide” soles.
Don’t get me wrong. I love New York. And dogs love any-thing. But New York in winter? Not recommended by SAD doctors.
So we moved back to the Catskills, to Woodstock. Back to the garden, as the song goes, back to the land of peace and love. And light and space and air. One of the first things we did after unpacking was visit a local park called The Comeau Property, 76 idyllic acres of meadows, woods, streams, swimming holes and grassy fields. Chloe had plenty of land to roam on our own six-acre property, but I wanted her to make new friends. I wanted new friends, too; people with SAD should avoid isolation.