March 20, 2022

Check Out Colorado's State Trust Land Map Server

From a news release:

Our public map provides data about our 2.8 million acres of surface trust land and our four million acres of mineral estate. We’ve made our GIS layers available to the public with tabular information about leases, rights-of-way, Stewardship Trust designations, the Public Access Program, acquisitions, patents, and more.

Plus, you can overlay your own Shapefile, CSV, or KML files on top of ours. Zip your files and use our new ‘Add Data’ tool, located in the top right corner of our map

If you go to the basic map, there will be a menu of map layers on the right-hand side of screen. You can check "SLB leases-recreation," but be aware of one thing — not all "recreational" leases provide public access for hunting and fishing.

Some State Land Board lands are leased to individuals or hunting clubs, etc. So click on the parcel to get the leasing info, as shown in the screen shot here.

March 17, 2022

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go Fishing

When life give you lemons, squeeze the juice onto your trout.

Caught in a traffic jam last month on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, angler Dylan Hayes fished — and put the episode on his Instagram, Eat Work Fish.

I carry a little telescoping spinning rod, reel, and lures in the Jeep in warm weather. Maybe it should be in there in the winter too!

March 15, 2022

Somebody Tell Me Why My Zippers Have Two Sliders

OK, gear-heads, this is for you.

I never made a "Things that Annoy Me" category for this blog, but if I did, it would include coats and jackets with double zipper sliders.

Double zipper on a Patagonia parka.

There I am, dressing for the winter, with the dog bouncing around my knees — "Oh boy, a walk! I have to pee!" —trying to line up the "insertion pin" with two, not just one,  "sliders," and then push it down into the "retainer box." 

Easy to do with one slider, but getting the two to line up, expecially with stiffer, bulkier zippers is a chore. Sometimes pulling downward on the "retainer box" helps.

The top-fastening look from 1871.

The double zipper lets you open the coat from the bottom. That used to be fashionable, although in the case of Mr. Henry Edwards above, it seems like the tactic of a gentleman of increasing girth who is reluctant to discard his favorite velvet-collared coat.

"Buttoned at the top" was not just a look
for the older gent, however (1880s "sack suit").

Here again, a young man's look.  That is a box camera he is holding —
his selfie stick would not fit into the photograph.

The outdoor brands seem to love their double sliders. My coat rack holds the afore-mentioned Patagonia jacket, a Cabela's down-filled coat, and an Eddie Bauer fleece-lined coat, all with double zipper sliders. And there is a double set on my waterfowling parka down in the basement as well.

But why? It is just more bother for no clear gain.

I never see anyone on the street with the coat zipped only at the top, its bottom floating free in the breeze.  Jacket and coats are either unzipped completely, zipped up completely, or open partway down from the neck.

We do not fasten coats only higher up so that they expose the elegrance of their linings or our fashionably cut waistcoats — not for the last 125 years or so.

Nor is this I look that I see on cross-country ski trails, in the marsh, or in the woods. I could maybe see it for horseback riding, but Eddie Bauer doesn't go for the "winter equestrian wear" niche.

So somebody tell me why the outdoor brands keep doing it.

Meanwhile, the dog really needs to go out!

March 13, 2022

Where in the Riparian is the Redtail?

Another patient in the Raptor Center "ICU."

The injured red-tailed hawk, the game warden said, was somewhere in the riparian cottonwood grove near where the power line crosses the little gravel road to the fishing pond.

What color is a red-tailed hawk sitting on the ground? Streaky brown and creamy white. What color(s) is the landscape? Shades of tan and brown.

He couldn't help because he was two counties away at some other activity. Luckily, he did have the phone number of the man who found the hawk,  and luckily that man answered and agreed to meet me at the site. 

The finder led me to a spot near the bird, which was impersonating a small stump in the tall grass beside the winter-clear water of the Arkansas River.

I laid my cotton flannel capture net on it, and it rolled into claws-up defensive position, which actually makes a hawk easy to pick up if you have your heavy gloves on. It footed me, but not very strongly. 

Into the bright blue carrier it went — I like this model because you can lift the top and set birds into it, instead of having to stuff them into a smaller end opening. 

Off to the Raptor Center we drove, where the hawk was pronounced dangerously underweight. 

"He's been on the ground [not hunting] a few days," the director said. Hydration, rest, and food come next. 

The hawk probably collided with the aformentioned power line, maybe burning a wing tip and injuring a foot. Human infrastructure strikes again.

March 12, 2022

Wolverines! They Might Be Coming Back to Colorado

Wolverine in Glacier Nat. Park (NPS)
Fictional southern Colorado high schools may no longer be accused of using an almost non-existent animal (in this state) as their mascot.

The last confirmed wolverine sighting — and it was a rare one—  was in 2009. A tagged male wolverine left northwestern Wyoming, wandered intp Colordo, and then headed for North Dakota.

Indeed, from his starting point near Jackson Hole, M56 took less than a month to arrive in the Centennial State, where his kind was last reported in 1919.

The venture confirmed what was believed of wolverines’ tendency to cover vast ground. Still, researchers were astonished by the speed. And more than that, they marveled at watching in real time the animal of mythological lore that had always evaded their view. (Recent estimates suggest low densities, small numbers in big places — between 250 and 350 moving across rugged, remote fringes of the Lower 48 states.)

Colorado Parks & Wildlife (back then the Colorado Division of Wildlife) formulated some reintroduction plans, but did not carry through. Now, wolverines are back on the table, so to speak. (You would not want a live one on your table.)

Wolverine reintroduction has not come up in Colorado Wildlife Commission meetings for more than a decade. The agency began a wolverine reintroduction process in 2010 and created “an extensive plan for how reintroduction could be accomplished,” said CPW spokesman Travis Duncan. 

Recently, the agency has been reviewing that plan and process to find possible update and what remains workable, Duncan said. 

“We will be working with a wolverine expert who is going to take on updating and providing greater detail on a wolverine restoration and management plan,” he said. “The contract isn’t in place yet, but we hope to be able to say more on this soon.”

Meanwhile, in Lewistown, Montana, urban wolverines? We're not there yet. 

UPDATE: And in Utah this month, a wolverine killed or wounded 18 sheep in one morning before being captured, radio-collared, and released.

February 23, 2022

Blog Stew with Lynx*

 • Here is a short video about lynx in Colorado.**

Is your toothache really Lyme disease?

• The history of outdoor life in the Nordics is long and really incorporated with the culture, since we have a lot of land and a small population." Emphasis addded. Anyhow, they have a word for it. We don't, but we have the concept.


* If I remember right, the first text-only hyperlink browser I ever used was called Lynx (get it?).  Wikipedia says it was launched in 1992 and is still being maintained.

** I think that biologist at the beginning is married to my cousin. I have a lot of cousins — can't keep track.

February 21, 2022

New Mexico Newspaper Noir

Clickbait? That is nothing new. Watch Kirk Douglas as obnoxious, erratic, but talented reporter Chuck Tatum in the 1951 noir film Ace in the Hole (directed and co-written by Billy Wilder) and set somewhere west of Gallup, New Mexico.

Chuck Tatum's brilliant plan is to extend a mine-rescue story over multiple days to benefit his new Albuquerque employer, even though it means putting the victim at greater risk.

In this case, a pot hunter (still an honorable job in 1951) is trapped by a cave-in. Apparently, when the Ancestral Puebloans were not hauling pine logs for many many miles to build kiva roofs, they were hauling them to timber hand-dug adits where they buried their dead. Who knew? 

The trapped man, who with his family runs a little diner and curio shop on Route 66, tell Tatum that the ancient pot he just found is worth "fifty bucks." (That's $553.44 today, according to the gummint, if you believe them.)

So instead of the private investigator in the dusty office, we have strong-jawed but amoral Kirk Douglas at a dusty movie-set ciff dwelling, the location of which you can find on Google Earth, etc. at  35°23'53.6"N, 109°01'12.0"W.

Jan Sterling plays the equally amoral peroxide blonde wife of the trapped man, who wants nothing more than to get out and head for the bright lights. She gets lines like "I don't go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons."

Iron Eyes Cody, that American Indian film star from Sicily, makes a brief appearance as a newspaper copy boy.

The movie's trivia page at the Internet Movie Database includes this observation:

This film's utter and unrelenting cynicism so repulsed 1951 movie audiences that it lost Paramount a fortune. Writer/director Billy Wilder later admitted that it had a negative impact on his career...while also citing it as one of the best films he ever made.

Wilder had other big successes like Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot, and given that this was the era of Film Noir, maybe audiences just could not swallow a "noir" approach in an non-urban setting.

As something of a film-location nerd, I was impressed that it was actually made in New Mexico, years before New Mexico's state government got into the film-and-TV promotion business.

February 16, 2022

"Environmentalist with a Gun": The NYT Profiles Steve Rinella

Steve Rinella (Photo: Natalie Ivis)

People toss the word "brand" around a lot, but I did not know how big a "brand" Steve Rinella has become.

Rinella is arguably the country’s most famous hunter. The final episodes of his show’s 10th season will become available on Netflix in early February. (The first six seasons ran on the Sportsman Channel, a fishing-and-hunting cable channel.) He’s the founder of a rapidly growing lifestyle brand, also called MeatEater, whose tagline is “your link to the food chain”; in addition to its ever-expanding roster of hunting, fishing and culinary podcasts and YouTube shows, his company sells clothing and equipment and serves as a clearinghouse for all manner of advice, tutorials, videos and posts, ranging from a recipe for olive-stuffed venison roast to stories with titles like “Mother Punches Mountain Lion to Save Son” and “The Best Hunting Boots for Every Season” and “Should Hunters Be Concerned About Deer With Covid-19?” Rinella is the author of six books and has a contract with Penguin Random House to write five more, including a parenting book forthcoming in May. In three years, MeatEater has grown to 120 employees from 10, and its revenue has more than tripled.

You can read it here and avoid the New York Times paywall. There is also an audio link.

Donald Trump, Jr. doesn't like him, having co-founded a competing publishing platform and podcasting business called Field Ethos.

The value of Rinella, writer Malia Wollan suggests, is that he is speaking to a broader demographic than older outdoor writers did: younger, with more women, and more minorities:

My family might be considered a part of this wave of newcomers. When the shutdowns first began, my husband and I started fishing with our two sons, then 3 and 6. Things got serious fast. We found a motorboat to rent and, whenever we could, ditched our cramped urban home for the open waters of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Instead of children’s shows, the boys started asking to watch “catch and cook” videos — a phrase that brings up some 130,000 results on YouTube. The narrative arc of these videos is timeless, the stuff of cave paintings, really: Protagonists go out seeking fish, they catch fish, they eat fish.

I have listened to some of his Meateater podcasts, and there is good stuff there, although some episodes were a little too much "Steve and His Fans." But he is smart, well-spoken (the article mentions his MFA degree in creative nonfiction), and he puts a strong environmental-conservationist message, not to mention the game-cooking advice.

February 15, 2022

What the Fashionable Mushroom (Hunter?) Wears

"Look 1," from Private Policy (Vogue magazine)
  The article on Vogue Runway's website begins,

Every New Yorker spends a not insubstantial amount of time trying to get away from the city. Private Policy designers Siying Qu and Haoran Li certainly understand this, despite outfitting some of New York’s most devoted denizens: club kids. Of all things, mushrooms and fungi inspired them to continue searching for balance and softness in all aspects of life.

So wait, maybe it's not about mushroom-hunting — although inconspicuous colors and big pockets are always good — it is about wanting to be a mushroom, all in order to get some of that " becoming more calm and in tune with nature.”

"Wearable fungus." That's a thing too.

January 26, 2022

Oh Gawd, There Is a Puppy in the House

 I am at my desk reading the morning news. 

There is a swishing sound, but it does not really register on me.

Then I go out into the hallway to see this white stripe going down its length into the living room.

At the end sits a Certain Dog, very pleased with himself.

"I thought only cats did that," I said.

He is now eleven months old, an adolescent mix of serious  and goofy.

We think that he might catching up on puppy shenanigans that the more regimented life at the breeder's prevented him from enjoying when he was half this age.

Like most dogs, he figures that going Full Wigglebutt ensures that all will be forgiven.

January 24, 2022

Making Legal Use of Fresh Colorado Roadkill

(Photo from Utah state government)
An article in the Sopris Sun (Pitkin County) quotes a man who moved there from Alaska a few years back: 

“After I relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley, it was curious to me that the animals [along the side of the road] were left to scavengers, given my prior experience in Alaska,” says Missouri Heights resident Mike Fleagle, who moved here in 2018.

Fleagle is an Alaska Native (Iñupiaq tribe), former chair of the Alaska Board of Game and has hunted and lived off wild foods his entire life. 

In November 2018, Fleagle recalls spotting a just-hit buck in the center median on Highway 82, which was the first time he used the salvage permit dispensed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) and local law enforcement agencies for harvesting roadkill. 

With his roadkill buck, Fleagle cut and packaged roasts, stew meat and steak, made burger with purchased beef suet (raw, hard fat ideal for frying) and Italian sausage with purchased pork suet and then jerked some “for a special treat.”

He just called the sheriff's dispatcher to start the process. (In most places, the sheriff dispatch also talks to game wardens, although technically they are dispatched after-hours by Colorado State Patrol, since they are state agencies.)

There is a process for doing this legally, but if you visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and put "road kill" or "roadkill" into the search box, you get nothing. Likewise on the FAQ page — at least that was my experience.   

Compare Alaska's online information! 

Meanwhile, Cornell University's Waste Management Institute (now there is a college major that will get you hired) will give you a video on composting roadkill. Read more here. 

This method is intended for road departments and municipalities, but if you have a large back yard, plentiful wood chips, and a front loader, you are all set.

Composting provides an inexpensive alternative for disposal of dead animals in many cases. Composting animal carcasses is not new; chickens, pigs, calves, cows and even whales have been composted.

Passively aerated static pile composting in which piles are not turned and natural processes result in high temperatures is proving to be a viable method of managing carcasses. It is quick and simple, uses equipment and materials used in daily road maintenance operations and is cost effective. 
This method helps protect ground and surface water by keeping the carcasses out of contact with water. Composting also reduces pathogens, nuisance to neighbors and odors in properly managed piles.

January 17, 2022

Retrievers and Me (7): Marco, the Dog with the Wrong Tail

"Conquer Through Cuteness."
That is the Puppy Way, Marco knows.

Already published

Part 1: The Retriever Who Did Not Retrieve

Part 2: A Professional Golden Retriever


Part 5: Half a Lab, Totally Brave

Part 6: Fisher, the most Difficult Dog

The Covid pandemic "shrinkage" sneaked up on us. By early 2021, I realized that I was not going anywhere except two nearby towns, even after being vaccinated against Covid-19. It was a mental thing. "Lassitude," M. called it. 

Fisher's world was shrinking too. His increasing mobility issues meant walks were shorter and shorter, a quarter mile instead of half a mile, then maybe only 200 yards, then less. No rough terrain.

In May 2021, I drove up to Colorado Springs. I had not been there since March 2020. There were whole new buildings downtown! 

In June, we realized two things: First, Fisher had reached the end of his trail. Second, we had to hit the road! Go somewhere! Break out! No more "Covid Contracture"!

Now dogless, we took our popup trailer down to the Conejos River, along with what seemed like hundreds of other campers and RV-ers. It felt wonderful.

A trip to northern New Mexico followed in September. In October I went to visit my friend Galen in North Dakota. We did a little bird-hunting. It seemed wrong not to wear a whistle. (Gracie, his young German wirehaired pointer, was picking up the slack as a bird dog.)

November saw us on the road to the Texas Hill County and San Antonio. It was a business trip for me, with some sightseeing. We knew it was our last planned trip, and then it would be time to think about dogs.

I put out some feelers about adopting another mature Chessie or a Lab. Nothing panned out. M. was interested in a black German shepherd puppy, but the fostering organization said we lived too far from "their vet." 

Then a Colorado Springs breeder DM'd me after reading what I had posted on a Facebook Chessie group. She had this ten-month-old dog — not a little pup, but not fully trained either.

We went to see him. This time, I had more questions, like why was she getting rid of him at that age? What was his problem?

It looks fairly straight here, not typical for him
The problem was his tail.

"Tail of medium length; medium heavy at base. The tail should be straight or slightly curved and should not curl over back or side kink."

American Chesapeake Club Breed Standard 

The website goes on about how the standard should "enable the Chesapeake to function with ease, efficiency and endurance." What does a curvy tail have to do with swimming, water retrieving, or upland hunting? Nothing that I can see.

The breeder explained that he had been shown for "conformation" — and club records show him as far away as York, Pa.* She had also considered training him as a therapy dog — and I agree he has a easy disposition. By Chessie standards, he is a love bug.

Oops, there it goes curling over his back!
But as he grew, his tail curled too much! So he was selling for half price. But we could take him home, and she would hold the check. We brought him home on the 2nd. On the 5th I emailed her: "Cash the check." We had a new dog, and his name (thanks to M.) was Marco.

So much was new. I think his previous world was concrete-floored kennels and mowed grass. Now there was snow, ice, cactus, pine needles, goatheads, twigs, trees. And other dogs barking at him! And horses — so big! 

His reacting to birds on the television screen makes me think he had not been in a room with a TV set before. 

The basic retrieving instinct is there, and if this weird warm weather holds another day, I can take him to a shallow pond for a controlled water introduction.

Yep, dangerously curled.
Of course, there are puppy problems. He is always stealing something: a piece of crumpled paper, a glove, a T-shirt from the laundry basket. He is not 100-percent housebroken, but we are working on that. 

It has been 25 years since I had a dog so young. Retriever-training books are being (literally) dusted off. Dummies and balls and check cords, etc. are gathered into a bucket.

School is in session, but sessions are short, just ten minutes. And the teacher is less worried about him Getting It right away. Tomorrow is always another day. Let's go for a walk. 

* He appears as Ocotilla's Orion of Dalbrian

January 15, 2022

Retrievers and Me (6): Fisher, the Most Difficult Dog

Already published

Part 1: The Retriever Who Did Not Retrieve

Part 2: A Professional Golden Retriever


Part 5: Half a Lab, Totally Brave

A mid-air frisbee catch, somewhere in northern Wyoming.

"Fisher" was the name he came with. It was a little suburban for my taste, but, I thought, he has so much to learn, so why add learning a new name all that?

Wrong decision! I should have taken him to two or three dog-shamans for soul-retrieval and psychic cleansing, given him a dose of ayahuasca, changed his name, and dyed him blue. Anything for a fresh start.

It started when Jack's cancer was worsening and we knew that his days were limited. M. and I were sitting in Eske's Brew Pub in Taos that spring (Jack being back home at a wonderful boarding kennel) and decided that we should be thinking about another dog.

I contacted the breeder who had sold us Jack, but in the intervening dozen years she had dropped out of making new Chesapeake Bay retrievers. 

Willing to adopt an adult dog, I contacted the Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue group. (As usual, most of the adoptable dogs were on the West Coast or the Upper Midwest or East Coast.) A volunteer from the Colorado Springs area came out down to meet us, meet Jack, and check out  our home. She promised to be in touch. 

Fisher's first day — looking good — on land.
And she was! Someone in Denver had brought her a 2-year-old dog. He was not yet listed on the website. Would we like to meet him?

We took two vehicles so that Shelby could come and meet him at a neutral site. When we arrived, there he was, sitting a perfect Sit on her kitchen floor while she tossed him cheese bits.

"He's a food whore," she said. Truer words never spoken.

The two dogs met, sniffed — no conflict.

The previous owner was there. He said something about a divorce, no one home all day . . . kids . . . whatever. And he said that when Fisher swam in a lake, "they had a hard time getting him out." That should have been a warning.

Not only was he a food whore, he was a food bully. When I tried feeding both dogs in opposite corners of the kitchen, he inhaled his kibble, ran over to Shelby, body-slammed her out of the way, and inhaled her food too. So, separate rooms.

(Jack, meanwhile, gave Fisher a menacing growl, and immediately started sinking fast, to where he had to be put down the next day. I wished that he had not had to see the new dog arrive.)

The next day, I took him down to the dog swimming hole (picture here). I tossed in one of the retrieving dummies, and he sprang after it — and kept going. Barking crazily, he rampaged over the dam and headed downstream, splashing, wading, swimming.

I jogged down the parallel road, tracking his barks. When they stopped moving, I cut through someone's lawn and down to the creek, where he was standing calmly in a pool. I waded out and snapped a leash on him, then walked home in soggy jeans. What was that all about?

Another day, I tried a shallow pond. At first he dog-paddled normally, then it started — splashing with his front paws, biting the water, ignoring all commands. Thinking he was in distress, I stripped to my underwear and swam after him, herding him to the bank. In fact, he was not in distress at all. Given time, 10–15 minutes, he would stop and swim out

It's called "water-freaking," I learned in online forums. And no one seemed to have a cure for it, really. It appeared to be genetic. Watch this video and add more barking and more thrashing.

I tried working with him, using food mainly, to encourage him to be in the water without going nuts, but with only small success. It was like trying to cure epilepsy with dog biscuits.

In the long run, it meant he was only an upland hunting dog. With sharptail grouse or pheasants, he could be useful. But I had a Chesapeake who had to be kept away from water deep enough to swim in.

That was not the worse thing that he did

A year went by. He had some hunting experience, and we felt we were calming down his food aggression.

Then one summer day, when M. was setting out our meal on the front porch dining table, I heard her screaming. I ran out to find her backed up against the porch gate, her forearms bleeding, Fisher in fighting stance in front of her.

I grabbed the nearest object, a large metal dustpan, and lit into him like an angry ape, yelling and bashing him with the dustpan until I had chased him to the far end of the porch.

Then she and I spent some time disinfecting and bandaging her wounds. (That NOLS Wilderness First Aid class was helpful.)

Fisher at 11. He never went gray.
I had a plan for him. I would put a pistol in my pocket, snap on his leash, take him for a walk up on the national forest, and come back alone. He had crossed a line and kept going. There would be no more.

So how he live to be almost 14? He could thank my wife's tender heart and a dog-writer in St. Louis.

When I told her my plan, she begged me not to do it. So I did not. But I had no Plan B.

She offered one. Her sister-in-law, a true dog-lover, lives in greater St. Louis and supports a group called Stray Rescue of St. Louis. The dogs they foster and try to re-home come with every behavioral and socialization problem that you can imagine. The group's founder, Randy Grim, put his experience into a book: Don't Dump the Dog: Outrageous Stories and Simple Solutions to Your Worst Dog Behavior Problems.

We did everything in Chapter 9, "Bullies with an Attitude." When other people came to the house, we either crated him, or we coached them on how to act. (Hint: He could be bribed.)

Things were better — until the day a neighbor stopped by, drove up to the house, and got out of his truck. I started down the steps to the driveway — and then Fisher, who had been napping on the porch, shot by me and launched himself at the guy. More defensive wounds. More bandaging and apologies — we ended up taking the neighbor and his wife to dinner at the best restaurant in the county.

But before that, they had gone to a walk-in urgent-care clinic for proper medicine, antibiotics, etc., and the clinic reported the dogbite to our county sheriff. I got a call from one of the public health nurses: "Just so you know, your dog was reported, and you will be hearing from the sheriff's office."

Yikes, his rabies vaccination was expired! I rushed him to the vet, so that when the bored deputy called, I could say, "Oh yes, he's up to date."

The law here is "Two Strikes and You're Out," but M. does not believe in dealing with The System, so he skated.

We tried one more thing that Randy Grim's book does not mention: bear spray. We live with bears, and in the summer, a canister sits on the kitchen counter, ready for walks in the woods or, heaven forbid, a home invasion via the back door. 

The next time Fisher started acting aggressive toward her in the kitchen, M. gave him a shot of Udap cologne. It cooled his jets right away. "Ow! She bites back!" Once or twice more she just had to lift it up off the counter. He had learned.

All the aggression made it hard to get into his head, but eventually I figured out that inside the big dog was a scared dog. I don't think he had been mistreated, but he was missing something. One neighbor (whom Fisher never bit) used to just shrug his shoulders and say, "That dog was made on Monday." (Think of a GM auto plant in the 1970s.) 

Fisher hiking in the Wet Mountai
Sometimes we wondered if there was such a thing as canine autism, because when riding in a car he seemed overwhelmed by The World Out There. Must bark! Must jump around! Yet in a crate he would travel quietly all day long.

For all that, he was still The Dog. Shelby died six years before he did (they were never friends, but co-existed), and after that he had it all to himself. And we had some good times, if he was carefully managed.

We had him cremated and placed his ashes in an urn up the ridge between two boulders. M. likes to go up and sit with him.

Read the last installment: "Marco, the Dog with the Wrong Tail."

January 13, 2022

Retrievers and Me (5): Half a Lab, Totally Brave

Already published

Part 1: The Retriever Who Did Not Retrieve

Part 2: A Professional Golden Retriever

Part 4: Hardscrabble Jack
With Shelby and Jack on a spring hike in the Sangre de Cristo Range

Shelby was the mystery dog. She was our first "rescue," not through a group, but through a neighbor. M. and I were her third owners, and I guessed her age at around two years at the time. If that is true, she lived to be fifteen, so she had a pretty good run.

Allegedly she was half Labrador retriever and half Rough Collie. Her coat was long and silky, like the Rough Collie's, but her ribcage was more round and her muzzle not as long as the "needle-nose" purebred strain. She weighed 75 lbs. (34 kg). And she was black, with a small white blaze on her chest. "Shelby" was the name she came with.

She had nicknames too. "The Bandit Queen" was one of them. Before she came to live with us, she aready had a small posse of her own who followed her for quite some distance.

If Jack was "my" dog, M. hoped that Shelby would be "her" dog, but in fact, Shelby was Shelby's dog. 

Another of her nicknames was "cat in a dog suit." Although she stuck with us, we felt that she always had a Plan B in case we let her down, and possibly a Plan C as well.  

In personality, she was a collie. Walking in open country, she would not be up front quartering like a hunting dog, but off to one side — with the invisible herd of sheep in front.

She was more predatory than any of the Chessies. Once I found a dead fox squirrel in the snow near the house, and the snow told the story of how she had caught it as it tried to cross from tree to tree, killed it, whirled it around in a war dance (blood splatter), and then left the carcass for me to find.

Another time I came out to find her playing Keep-Away with Jack around the vegetable garden, having possession of a still-warm dead chicken. Another neighbor's dog was shot for chicken-stealing —  did she care?

Victor the cat and Shelby shared a fashion sense.
She and Jack were a sort-of pack but she also was close to our cat Victor, who shared her long silky black coat with a white blaze. It was a cross-species genetic connection of some sort.

I credit her collie side with how she was "crazy-brave." Once M. told me how she charged a black bear near the house, but consented to be called back.

But that was not her peak of crazy-brave.

When she was twelve (?), Jack was gone, replaced by Fisher. One morning in late summer I was walking them both off-leash up the Forest Service road.

Fisher, still young, had "the zooomies," and he went racing down into a deep gully, up the other side, and into a thicket of Gambel oak. Shelby, now slow and arthritic, plodded along by my side.

He ran into the oak brush but suddenly shot out again at a run, pursued by a medium-size black bear. (The bear was just loping. Don't underestimate their speed over a short distance.) 

He dashed back down through the gully, ending up in a face-off with the bear, who was on the far side.

There was a poor mast crop (acorns) that year, but that particular clone-cluster had a lot, which had attracted the bear.

I was calling him, but he was too overwhelmed by events to come to me. Meanwhile, Shelby launched herself at the bear.

Old and arthritic? She forgot all about that! Barking furiously, she charged down into the gully and up the other side. Head down, tail flowing in the wind, she went for the bear like a black guided missile.

The bear turned and ran into the brush, pursued by Shelby. 

I ran to grab Fisher, saying good-bye in my heart to Shelby: "You lived a good life." I fully expected to hear the shriek of a dog being disemboweled. 

There was silence.

Something black moved in the oak brush. Dog or bear?

Shelby trotted out into the open, squatted, and pissed with her back to where the bear had gone. Then she consented to notice that she was being called.

With a dog collar in each fist, I hustled them toward home.


Next: Fisher, the Most Difficult Dog

January 11, 2022

Retrievers and Me (4): Hardscrabble Jack

Already published

Part 1: The Retriever Who Did Not Retrieve

Part 2: A Professional Golden Retriever

Part 3: A Bulldozer of a Dog

Jack swimming in the creek on a hot summer day.
Let's try changing Leo Tolstoy's famous opening line of his 1878 novel Anna Karenina to this: “All happy dogs are alike; each unhappy dog is unhappy in its own way.” 

When Perk was gone after only ten years, I turned to the Internet and located a Chesapeake Bay retriver breeder in Black Forest (an area NE of Colorado Springs). 

M. and I visited her, bringing photos of Perk as our credentials, and we put down a deposit on one of the current litter, who were just fat little puppies wriggling around in the whelping box at that time.

In June she announced that our puppy was ready. Based on our previous ownership of a dominant male, she assigned us another one —first out of the whelping box, she said — although he never grew as large as Perk, topping out at 90 lbs. (41 kg).

He spent his midsummer following our cat Victor around the yard and garden, until Victor seemed to say, "Would someone get this clumsy puppy away from me?" (Victor's real inter-species friendship was with Shelby — see the next post.)

He perfected his characteristic stance, front legs braced extra-wide, as though saying, "Are you going to make me? You and whose army?" 

In late summer we took a car-camping trip up into British Columbia and Alberta, visiting friends and some of my Canadian relatives. He sat in M.'s lap as we traversed Wyoming on I-80, contentedly chewing on the armrest. 

Jack bays back at the local coyotes.

In a small Idaho town, a retired logger gave him his "secret name" — Little Hamster — and told us a story of another Chessie who would ride atop a loaded log truck. 

On a hiking trail at Lake Louise, the cute puppy/le chiot received many compliments.

But I don't have many tales to tell about Jack. He hiked, he hunted, he camped, he traveled, he howled back at the local coyotes. Although his muzzle went gray early, I hoped he would live forever. As you do.

His only quirk was that he did not show his belly. If you caught a little bit of belly showing as he napped and wanted to rub it, he immediately would turn upright. Perk used to wriggle on his back in the snow, making doggy "snow angels." but Jack would never do that.

When he started to pass blood in his thirteenth year, and I took him to the vet, it took me and a vet tech together wrestle him over and hold him so that the vet could pass the ultrasound transducer over his bladder area.

It showed "a mass," she said. 

A relatively new graduate of the Colorado State University vet school, she was a little afraid to say the C-word to a client, I think. But that's what it was — bladder cancer.

I wrote a haiku some time later:

I splash cold water on my face.
The young dog sniffs
at the old dog's grave.

The young dog. Fisher. Oh gawd, Fisher.

Maybe I should acknowledge another dog as well before dealing with . . . Fisher.

Part 5: Half-Lab, Totally Brave.