This story was written for The Colorado Campaign, a project by the lovely and talented Anya Elise (@unguidedlines), and was first published on her blog at Anya Elise Photography. Well worth checking out the other submissions to her project!
The words go together like a hipster and a Helga, the History Channel and footage from Hitler’s speech at the 1927 Nuremburg Rally or a man and, well, his dog. The back story on man and dog goes into prehistory, and dogs have probably been in Colorado longer than anyone can remember. They were here as soon as European miners and settlers arrived and have been around since, as seen in this photo of a St. Bernard named Jessie taken between 1895 and 1905. Native Americans had dogs all over the United States long before that.
But today dogs and people enjoy many of the same activities, living in houses and apartments, and playing in parks and greenbelts. Some still work, of course, with police, search and rescue, even listening to stories as children learn to read.
My family didn’t have a dog when I was young. We had goldfish (won at a church fair and presented to my parents’ horror that evening), and later Guinea pigs. I was about 20 or 21, living at home and going to school in town, when my sister came home from her first semester at CSU with a yellow Lab mix that a friend hadn’t been able to keep. His name was Max.
Not growing up with dogs, I had been a bit skittish around them, but it didn’t last with Max. Despite being nearly waist-high, the greyhound in him made him skinny and slender-nosed. His affection and simple satisfaction with having his belly rubbed and just being around anyone who paid attention softened me.
Not long after that I finally moved out; Marianne (my sister) moved around, going home and back out several times. But I still saw plenty of Max, and he was always happy for a pat on the side. He wasn’t my dog, but he was my friend.
Of course, before long I couldn’t see any reason not to have a dog of my own, so I did. He was every bit as good a dog as Max. Triston was, actually, better behaved sometimes — so intent on staying on my good side that nothing would stop him from answering my calls when he was off-leash. I lived at the time with my girlfriend and her son, and when that ended I couldn’t bring Triston with me; I left him to be the boy’s dog, knowing a six-year-old would have a much harder time saying goodbye than I.
I anxiously await the time I can make a dog part of my life again. Unfortunately Denver and its love affair with dogs have bred a new exploitation of dog owners in the form of pet fees, pet deposits and pet rent, which extract hundreds or likely over a thousand dollars from a dog owner for a year’s lease on an apartment, despite evidence that pets are better tenants than children, and that pet-friendly apartments rent faster and stay rented longer.
I’m in the right place for it, though, I think. Denver’s Dumb Friends League, which last year celebrated its 100th anniversary, is one of the oldest humane organiations in the country. Don’t forget to have your pup spayed or neutered; unwanted puppies crowd shelters across the country. Don’t be drawn in by the myth of dog condoms, either.
Articles on the best places to live with dogs frequently include Colorado Springs, Boulder, or even both. Off-leash dog parks are springing up all around the state, and online guides about where to take your pups are springing up just as quickly.
Of course, it seems like dogs are happiest off-leash, but owners have to care enough about the dog’s welfare to be sure it’s trained adequately to be safe off the leash. Leash laws have been a sore spot for many in Denver recently, and a pitbull ban in the city is making waves.
Dog parks have been a big issue in the last decade or so, with people searching for more options as existing parks are discovered and become crowded. Neighborhood organizations have even grown up around the idea of funding and building a neighborhood dog park.
It’s not just cities, either — hundreds of miles of the world-famous Colorado Trail that criss-crosses the Continental Divide in some of the highest country on the continent are dog-friendly and hiked by canine companions each year.
Many Coloradans balk at hitting dogs on the street — some have even caused accidents to save a pooch. When a canine victim is discovered, volunteers and well-wishers appear from all sides to help out.
When fire threatens Colorado towns, animals are high on our list of priorities. During the Four Mile Canyon Fire near Boulder, Colo., in the fall of 2010, hundreds of people opened the hearts and their doors to displaced animals.
Yesterday a fire broke out near the area where my parents live in Douglas County, and immediately I worried about their dogs. People and livestock were evacuated, thought fortunately not my parents, and the evacuations were short for people. I’m sure all the livestock will be home again soon thanks to the efforts of Colorado’s brave (and overworked!) emergency personnel.
A few weeks ago, I saw Max for the last time at my parents’ house. Days before, he’d been acting unhappy and uncomfortable, and my worried sister took him to the vet. He had to have a mass removed from his spleen and liver. It turned out to be malignant, and it had metastasized. Though he was happily recovering and eating again when I last saw him (and still a sucker for a pat on the hind quarters), a few days later he was back at the vet’s office, for the last time.
I’ve only owned Lab mixes, and they’re popular in my circle of friends. Their personalities aren’t unique, but are so consistently friendly, affection-seeking, and bright (but just dumb enough to be endearing). Instead of the big dogs that made me nervous as a kid, it’s now the little dogs that bother me, although more with their shrill yips than anything else.
I’ll miss Max, the dog that taught me the value of canine companionship, but his lessons have made me a willing helper to all dog-kind. I’ll honor his memory by keeping dogs out of shelters if I can, and encouraging others to do so as well.
I predict more Labs in my future, and I couldn’t be in a better place for it.