Cold Names, Warm Hearts: Home for Life's Winter Animals

As of last year, Home for Life established an annual tradition- to do at least one blog post celebrating something positive about winter (See HFL’s last year’s winter post).Around this time, we are deep in the throes of what seems like the never ending season (the Beach Boys’ “Endless Summer except 70 degrees colder). We don’t believe it will make a bit of difference if the groundhog sees his shadow; we know from experience that we are still at least two months away from spring, even with the warmer temperatures this year.
Anthropologists believe that people’s environment can shape their language, and a vocabulary of a people strongly influences how they see the world. An urban legend that illustrates this idea is the Inuit people who are said to have 100 words to describe snow. Since the Inuit live along the Arctic Ocean they must see far more of the stuff than we do in the Upper Midwest. Their many descriptive words for snow shows their appreciation of the variations and beauty of their frozen world.
For an animal sanctuary located in the northern part of the United States, how could we not name some of our cats and dogs in honor of the season that trumps all others? Winter has inspired some great names for many of our white or mostly white animals. (who are all winters no matter what their color charts say). Winter and the snow and cold it brings are such a big part of life in the north where the sanctuary is located, and the many facets of the season are expressed in the names we have chosen for some our white animals at Home for Life.
Polar, a neutered male, estimated to be 6 years old, is a blue point ragdoll who is FIV+. He looks as if he could be featured in a Fancy Feast cat food commercial or that he should be reclining on a chaise lounge on his own silk pillow but Polar is very athletic and active, and he enjoys the companionship of his fellow cats in the FIV+ cattery and the freedom to climb and go outside in the attached cat run. Polar was surrendered to Home for Life in 2008 by a Minnesota rescue group who was not able to adopt him out due to his FIV+status. Polar’s piercing blue eyes are crossed – a touching counterpoint to his great beauty that somehow makes him more endearing. He is and has always been a loving cat who seeks out attention from our staff and visitors to Home for Life.
Winter came to Homefor Life in the fall of 2011 from a small town not far from Home for Life. Hei s a young cat, maybe a year or two old, and until he came to Home for Life,had lived his entire life outside. He'd been fed all this time by a kind elderly woman , and Winter ( who received his name after arriving at HFL), made regular stops at her porch for food and water. In the fall of 2011,we were contacted by the woman’s family after she was found dead in her home. The family noticed Winter would still come to the porch to be fed and as they had sold the house after their grandmother;’ death, they worried that no one would be able to continue to look after him. Cold weather had arrived and they didn't think that he would not make it thru the winter.Shelters and rescues everywhere were full or said they would take Winter and put him down for them. The family couldn't bear to abandon the young cat , and thought about how much their grandmother had cared about him. They asked Home for Life to accept him in her memory and honor. Winter was unneutered when we took him in at HFL but was thankfully, negative for leukemia and FIV. He is not feral yet is quite shy as is typical with cats who have lived outdoors their whole lives and have been able to trust just one or two people who have fed them.
In the photo on the right, Winter is on the cat tree alongside his BFF(best feline friend), a black and white feral cat named Shady, a young male cat, whom we accidentally caught in a live trap when trying to locate Jonathan Houdini. Jonathan got to be friends with Shady when he was on the lam,after he'd mysteriously escaped within a day of arriving at HFL and Shady probably showed Jonathan the ropes of survival in Western Wisconsin. Though Shady is still extremely feral he loves Home for Life and has gained weight and made many new cat friends in addition to his first friend Jonathan ( who Is tame even though he lived in a cat colony in Florida for years before coming to HFL). Winter and Shady have been close friends since meeting at Home for Life, and can be often found eating from the same dry cat bowl ,side by side. I have always wondered if they knew each other from the neighborhood as kittens as both were found not far from Home for Life,Winter in the town of Star Prairie and Shady in the woods that run along the Apple River near Home for Life.

Arctic Cat
With the Polaris Snowmobile plant of Osceola WI, a stone’s throw from the sanctuary we had to have a resident Arctic Cat at Home for Life.
Arctic, is a neutered male who is estimated to be about 7 or 8 and was surrendered to Home for Life nearly three years ago by an animal control facility west of the Twin Cities,Minnesota after he was found to be FIV+. He's a handsome, big cat and did us a great favor the day of the photoshoot by posing on the green blanket to bring out his green eyes. Arctic is really an unassuming gentle cat who lives and lets lives. Like all our oversized former tomcats of the FIV+ cattery, Arctic seems relieved to be indoors where he doesn't have to fight for survival or struggle to stay warm. All our FIV+ boys are very friendly though most of them lived outside for years on their own, and all of them live in harmony in the cattery –there are never any squabbles or fights. Arctic loves to go outside in the cat run when the weather is warm. Though the cat run has a big shade canopy on its top Arctic likes the heat of the direct sun , and sits on the cat tree hammock that is not under the canopy when sunbathing. Last year after a day of sun worship one hot July day,he even got a tinge of sunburn on his ears !

Icy is a beautiful white cat with blue eyes who came to Home for Life all the way from Canada when the couple who adopted her from a shelter discvoered she was positive for leukemia. (Read her bio).She is one of our many beautiful cats at Home for Life, and just can't take a bad picture. She has lived at Home for Life for over 6 years and is a great endorsement for our conviction that cats who are leukemia positive, as Icy is,should not be put to sleep if they're still healthy and asymptomatic. Icy has been in great health even though leukemia positive, and it would have been tragic to put her down before her time just because she was positive for the virus. Home for Life believes if these cats can live safely segregated from noninfected cats, there is no reason to put them to death if they are in good health, and showing no signs of the disease.
Snow was surrendered to Home for Life by Small Paws, a bichon frise rescue. They flew Snow to us from out of state. She travelled all alone on the plane, and we met her flight at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport. She seemed so small and alone, waiting in her crate in the back of the baggage department with the unclaimed luggage. She has been at Home for Life for nearly 2 years.

Her owner had died,and she was turned in to animal control by the owner’s family along with the other dog in the home, a pure bred bichon. From there, Snow and the bichon were rescued by Small Paws and evaluated for adoption through this rescue. Snow was described to us as a bichon mix and age 14 years old. She was deemed to be unadoptable by the rescue because of Alleged food aggression.Small Paws intended to euthanize her if she could not come to Home for Life. Upon meeting Snow and getting to know her, she would be most accurately described as mix of bichon and Jack Russell terrier, She has a white coat and pink skin and her fur is very wiry like a wirehaired terrier. She has intense dark eyes that are very striking against her white face. The terrier blood in her gives Snow her unquestionable moxie : even though her testy behavior may have gotten her into trouble with the rescue this spirit made it possible for her to survive the death of her owner, her abandonment at animal control,the loss of her dog companion who was younger and adopted out by Small Paws to a different home, a lonely and frightening plane trip to a new state and the necessity to adapt to a much different type of home than what she must have had her entire previous 14 years.
Snow looks very adorable in her Weatherbeata coat. We had to put a coat on her for her photos because with her sparkling white fur she was tending to disappear into the snowy landscape. In pictures,without her coat, Snow might seem to fade into the winter background, but with her strong personality that could never happen and she would never be lost in a crowd at Home for Life, Despite her age and relatively small size, Snow is one of the leaders ofher dog group ( along with Snoopy a formidable dachshund ) which includes dogs who are much bigger and younger than she. Snow takes herself and her role as a leader seriously and can be found at any time in the group’s large dog run which is alongside the parking lot. From this vantage point, she monitors the other dog groups and all other activity of the day at Home for Life. This is a big responsiblity as her group is the first to see staff arrive for their shifts, any vendors or workmen, and any deliveries so Snow has a busy day, every day, alerting the other dogs at Home for Life of the latest happenings.
We don't have a concern managing her " food aggression." Snow is no land shark-she just wants to be able to eat her breakfast and enjoy her treat each evening without being disturbed. She is a gentle hearted dog who has a surprising amount of energy and intensity for her age,and who was lonely and misunderstood when she lost her long time owner. At Home for Life, with dog friends and a second career as the Home for Life setinel, the hole in her heart has been mended and her behavior problems have subsided.

Snowbelle came to Home for Life from the Animal Humane Society in Minneapolis, and is a small shepard mix with a cream colored coat. Snowbelle was confiscated by the Animal Humane Society of Minneapolis in the course of a cruelty investigation along with over 24 other dogs. She was just under a year when seized and was surrendered to Home for Life because of her extreme timidity. In her original home, where she was born and spent he puppyhood, she had never been socialized, treated well or cared for appropriately , and she'd become very afraid of people. We named her Snowbelle after an FIV+ cat from Louisiana , a white male cat named Snowbell who had passed away just a few weeks before the puppy arrived. (This is another tradition at Home for Life- naming dogs after eparted cats and vica versa: See blog post: "Namesakes at Home for Life")
Snowbelle saw that Daphne was not afraid of the photographer,
and so we got some great pictures of them playing happily
in the new snowfall.
Snowbelle has always loved other dogs; they were probably her friends and teachers in her original home. She was as timid as a wild deer when she first arrived at Home for Life and declined to come near us at all for weeks. With dogs like Snowbelle, who are so shy, they'll learn to trust their caregivers at Home for Life by watching the other dogs. After two years at Home for Life, Snowbelle has at last become much more confident and will make a tentative approach for a pet. Her basic nature with people will always be shy,but she's gentle and easy for us to handle and has even consented to be bathed and groomed by professional groomer Antoinette who's at HFL twice a week to groom dogs. of the HFL border collies, a therapy dog,her mentor and friend/bigsister, has helped Snowbelle gain confidence around people. In these photos Snowbelle saw that Daphne was not afraid of the photographer, and so we got some great pictures of them playing happily in the new snowfall.
Snowbelle and Daphne

This happy guy is Frosty, a samoyed/ american eskimo mix who is paraplegic. He was rescued by the Near HeartBandits group whose focus is helping american eskimo dogs who've become homeless. Frosty is a wonderful dog who had been hit by a car and left paraplegic,then ditched by his owners at an animal control facility in Nebraska,certain to be killed. Thankfully Near Hearts reached him in time before his scheduled euthanasia date,but they pulled him without any place to take him. No adoptive homes or fosters were interested in Frosty due to his paraplegia and incontinence. The director of the rescue recognized Frosty's special spirit and begged us,relentlessly, to help. There seemed to be a thousand practical reasons not to accept another dog, let alone another paraplegic at HFL when NearHearts Bandits contacted us.But sometimes in this work,the right choice is not always the decision that makes the most practical sense. When Frosty arrived at Home for Life he was frail,skinny and unkept looking with sores on his legs and seat, thin fur that was missing in patches and in obvious need of care and attention. Yet his radiant spirit had not been extinguished despite all he'd been through: the painful injury, the heartless abandonment at animal control by his family,the lack of care, an 11th hour rescue by Nearheart Bandits, the uncertain future. A dog who could still hold on to hope in the face of all he had been through deserved a second chance.

We have never regretted for a single second the decision to accept Frosty,who is beautiful, loving and always seems to have a smile on his face. He was the grateful recipient of a new cart that we bought for him shortly after hearrived at Home for Life. The cart has returned to Frosty the freedom that was destroyed after he was hit by a car. Now like any of our dogs he can run in our meadows enjoying the new snowfall .

Flurry & Winter
This photo is of Flurry and his late brother Winter who died in 2009.
These two australian shepards were born with birth defects and came to Home for Life from a rescue in Illinois. The two brothers were turned into a shelter by a good Samaritan who found the puppies at age 4 months abandoned on a country road. Initially, the shelter asked us only about helping Flurry because he was the less disabled of the two puppies. Both pups were hard of hearing but Flurry could see from one eye. Winter was deaf and also had impaired sight in both eyes.. Australian shepards affected with blindness and deafness are known as “lethal whites” because they're often culled by breeders at birth.When we agreed to help Flurry( who was called "Wonder by the shelter), the shelter then raised the possibility of our also helping Flurry’s brother -who was Winter( known as Charles at the shelter). We couldn’t see splitting up the two brothers: they had been left on a lonely country road, and then spent two months together at the shelter. We said we would help them both.

The puppies arrived at Home for Life when they were six months old and were inseparable, Winter always following his more able brother as seen in this photo.. Together they completed the Renaissance Program when 14 months old, and were on their way to becoming therapy dogs when Winter passed away on the eve of our spring brunch fundraising event in 2009.. It was a shocking and devastating loss as he was supposed to walk in the dog parade a feature of all Home for Life events. I don’t know how I managed to explain to his poor Renaissance student that his dog had died; he had worked so hard for weeks to train Winter using hand signals and was supposed to walk with Winter, in the parade. We brought another dog for the student to walk with in the parade but it wasn’t the same. Shortly after the event, the student ran away from Boys’ Totem Town, and was still a fugitive when the session ended. I like to think if Winter hadn’t died the kid would not have run away because he was so proud of the progress he and Winter had made with training and was looking forward to graduating from the program.

When Winter died so unexpectedly and suddenly, we wondered how Flurry would cope. But he was the stronger and more capable of the brothers, and it would've been harder if Winter had lost him rather than the other way around. Flurry knows, as all animals seem to, that life is short and there's little time to mourn. He has made new friends including another lethal white Australian shepard ,a female named Whisper, and Dodi our harlequin greatdane who has epilepsy.

When I see Flurry so happy, running in the new snowfall I like to think that he is running for Winter too. He’s running and living life now, for them both.

All photos except where noted by Mark Luinenburg, January, 2012. More winter photos by Mark Luinenburg: taken at Home for Life January 12th, 2012