Let's not list the things we dislike about winter; we can leave that pleasure for spring. For today, I want to meditate on one of the soon-to-begin cold season's good points - something that comes into its own when the weather turns bad. I'm talking about the hearth.
"Hearth and home", the phrase goes, and indeed it's hard to think of anywhere safer, more familiar and more homey than the place in your house where the heat comes from. That's true whether you have an enormous marble-framed log fire or a fan-heater on a mat; it's the place that becomes the centre of your home and your life for three months.
It's the centre of your pet's life too.
Oh, the bone-easing, paw-warming glow - Kita and Cloudy share the bliss.
A testy relationship? Put them in front of a blaring fire and they'll forget their differences. This is Gracie Gray with Mouse.
Dry your boots, bake your pets: Chip and Cupcake.
Lou and Kaspar savour the heat.
Athena and Iris are a pair of heat-vanes.
Ziggy and Rosie wait for the warmth to start pumping.
Winchester and Derringer grill themselves.
Nigella is Fidel's pillow. I've loved curating these fireplace photos - it's like being invited into people's homes and feeling the warmth of their hearths.
That metre or so in front of the fire is evidently the pet zone. Ronk and Boukje are in it.
Room for all: Keisha, Pepper and Bella won't let any heat escape.
Yeena, Cloud and Misty.
Suki, Mello, Socks and Lucy.
A hearth of a movable kind: Maggie, Carter and Walter follow it round.
Rocky, Poppy and Rudiger.
Alfie and Hemi.
Toto and Kitkat. Am I bored with photo after photo of blissed-out pets and cosy hearths? No I'm not. Each hearth represents a home where pets are safe, comfortable and cared for. It's what having a pet is all about. So bring it on...
Another movable hearth, favoured by Cheyenne and Cherokee.
Bob and Meika wouldn't be anywhere else in the world.
One of those wall-hearths, bringing delight to Leo and Louie.
Koka is fond of her heater...
...as is Pip, who'd wear it as a hat if he could.
Stacie (left) appears to be turning up the heat setting. Meanwhile, Murphy gently self-toasts.
Now for variations on that classic scene: one fire, one pet. Chloe loves a frontal blast.
Pancho Villa prefers a toasty belly.
Romeo simmers on a medium heat.
Hershey the chocolate Labrador risks melting.
Bess braises her bones. To digress for a moment, Japanese philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka wrote that "The simple hearth of the small farm is the true centre of our universe." Good sentiments - though for me, the centre of the universe needs to have a pet within about a metre of it.
This is handsome Zac and his beautiful fireplace.
Jake is a cross bettween a Great Dane and a Bullmastiff. He's a big guy, but he needs his heater and his socks.
Meet Tess, who's not fussy about pillows.
Impi hasn't quite grasped the notion of "fire guard". His name is Zulu for "fighter" - he survived being hit by a car and being left at the side of the road; he lost a leg but fights on so I think we can let him bend the rules.
The hearth-twist, version 1: Dudley.
Version 2: Luna.
Version 3: Milly.
Version 4: Blaze.
Fluff is snug. Is that a pizza box acting as a day bed? How classy!
Who needs a rug, bed or blanket? Put down a box near the fire, and cat-nature will take its course. This is Smooch.
Thorne believes in proximity.
Charlie is at 10 on the pleasure meter.
Ruby dries off after a beach walk.
Miss B's perfect position.
How it should be for every dog: Zoe's hearth.
In most cases, a fire is so calming and its reach so wide that multiple pets can peacefully enjoy its benefits. In a few cases competition flares...
... but soon eases. Tui and Pippin find that it's hard to keep up a rivalry when it's so darn comfy.
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