Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Only Good Thing about Winter

There is only one good thing about cold weather as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, I may enjoy a good snow with the best of them, but face it here in the Sunny South we're more likely to be blessed with a cold rain or one of those awesome ice storms that have us huddled in the dark for long chilly hours.

No, winter doesn't bring a long series of picture postcard days. It brings mud and ice and chilly trips outside to tend to animals who have to eat anyway. It brings worries about relatives who have to travel. It brings the propane man and his bills, the early dark, the skeletal trees against the sky.

The one thing that it brings that I really appreciate is death to fleas.

A good cold snap will, in fact, bring death to pretty much any insect not equipped with a hibernation mechanism that allows them to hide and sleep through the cold. That means goodbye to the butterflies, crickets and honey bees, which is a less welcome farewell. But on the good side it brings an end to the brown marmorated stink bugs and Asian lady beetles who appear in droves and invade our home like so many bad Asian imports, hanging out until we kill or apprehend them. More importantly it spells death to mosquitoes, most flies, ticks, and, eventually, fleas.

That's not enough to make me like winter, but it is one point on the side of cold weather.

Face it, if you own a dog or cat who goes outside, or, as in my case work with a lot of dogs, you've battled fleas this year.

Lots of fleas.

Usually a good dose of flea drops or spray is enough to keep them at bay. I have gone whole summers and not had a flea on one of my house dogs or inside. I've usually been able to keep my two yard dogs free, and sometimes the neighbor's dog as well just because treating her helps keep cross contamination down.

This summer I may has well have sprayed them with water -- they would have appreciated it about as much and it would have done about as much good.

A good treatment with the top of the line, $60 a bottle flea killer, which was supposed to last a month, might have lasted two weeks if we were lucky.

At various points during the summer my house dogs were flea infested, the children (who also live with dogs) occasionally had suspicious looking bites on their legs, my husband complained that he thought there might be fleas in the bed. I'm one of those people who don't attract blood-sucking insects so I generally lucked out.

We flea shampooed, shaved Jack Russell's hair (to increase visibility), washed bedding, sprayed. Yet no matter what we did, it seemed in a week or so we'd see the telltale signs of scratching again.

The yard dogs, unfortunately, were worse off even though I treated them regularly as well. Poor Rebel, my lab, often looked to be having seizures in the driveway as he tried in vain to scratch places he couldn't reach. Macy for some reason was less troubled, but they were both suffering.

We fought the good fight on all fronts, but there were always more. No sooner had we beat them down for a few days than I would see someone scratching again.

And don't even get me started on dogs who came for grooming. I had older dogs who I bathed and the water literally ran pink off their backs they were so infested with old flea poop. One black dog's hair was even crusty, but you couldn't tell it because of his color and his arthritis meant he'd pretty much been suffering in silence. My scalp would be crawling by the time I finished with some of my clients and I was convinced I had to be as infested as they were.

So despite the death of my flowers and the end of summer, there was a small part of me that began to breathe a sigh of relief when that first killing freeze swept through. Fresh fleas, at least, would be in reduced numbers.

The outside dogs are now bedded down in cedar and although there are still some little friends in their hair, the next warm day I plan on either bathing or spraying or both and leaving them lonely for the rest of the winter. House dogs have been pretty much itch free since that first frosty morning.

Winter is coming and while I'm struggling to find things to be thankful for, the death of the fleas will have to head the list. I'll try to remind myself that every subfreezing day is killing fleas and maybe, just maybe, that will help get me through the winter.

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