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Canine adventures

Column by Hal Walter

Dogs – June 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

THIS IS A BIT of a shaggy dog tale. Back in 1983, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I was pretty sure that a full-time “rim rat” on the Pueblo Chieftain copy desk wasn’t it. In the year since my graduation from the University of Colorado journalism school, I’d endured enough late nights, second-hand cigarette smoke and bad syntax to convince me there had to be something better out there.

I’d been spending many of my weekends in Summit County, where my friend and early mentor Miles F. Porter IV was living. I’d met Miles at the Northwest Colorado Daily Press in Craig, where publisher Bob Sweeney was kind enough to have an open-door policy for me to work whenever I had a vacation from college. Bob sold the Daily Press and bought the Colorado Statesman, and Miles went to Denver with him. So did I, as an intern.

Then Miles went through a series of jobs editing weekly newspapers, hopping from the Statesman to Fort Lupton to Breckenridge. I graduated from CU in 1982 and went to work in Pueblo two days later. After quitting in Breckenridge, Miles was the press secretary for a failed political campaign, and then, along with his partner Mary Staby, he bought the weekly Copper Cable in Copper Mountain in 1983.

Miles and Mary could see real opportunity brewing down the road in Frisco, where there was more room for development along Interstate 70. One thing the growing town lacked was a weekly newspaper. They proposed that I move to Frisco with them and help them start and operate the paper. They would give me a third ownership, and I could live in the basement of their new home in Frisco. It seemed like a crazy step backward to move from a stable job at a mid-sized daily newspaper to an upstart small-town weekly, but I was young and impetuous enough at 23 to give two weeks notice in Pueblo, then started moving my stuff.

At that age I didn’t really have a lot of things, but it was more than would fit in my 1972 Toyota Landcruiser. I started moving my belongings to Frisco on my days off, and while I was there we began work on what would become the Ten Mile Times. I gave notice at the Chieftain and was actually headed back to Pueblo for my last few nights of work there when just south of Guffey on Colorado 9, I saw the dog.

Just like a newspaper, this dog was black and white, and waiting for someone to read him. I stopped in a little dirt pullout and got out. The dog was a border collie or Australian shepherd, or some mix of the two. It was young and had ice-blue eyes. I didn’t know what to do but I knew I couldn’t leave that animal there.

I opened the back of the Landcruiser and the dog jumped in. I stopped at Royal Gorge where there was a service station in those days and asked if anyone had stopped in looking for a dog. Nobody had. I was due to work on the copy desk that evening and so I headed on to Pueblo.

I knew I had to find the dog’s owner and in the end I did. I loaded the last of my possessions and left Pueblo, stopping back in Canon City, Royal Gorge, and Guffey, checking message boards for lost dog signs. I half expected to find one posted on a tree trunk or fence post along the highway. But there was nothing.

When I drove up to the house at Frisco, Miles and Mary were outside. I opened the door and the dog bailed out before I could explain. The first thing Miles said was: “No dogs.”

Now, I had absolutely no intention of keeping this dog, but I didn’t like being told that I couldn’t. In all fairness to Miles, he did have allergies to dogs, and it was, after all, his house. However, it brought up the gnawing question of just how democratic this partnership would be.

I WENT INSIDE and thought about it for a while. Then I called the managing editor at the Chieftain and asked if he’d filled my job. He said he hadn’t and would be glad to have me back. So the next day I headed backed to Pueblo with the dog, stopping once again at all the likely places someone would leave word about their lost pet.

I ended up keeping him. For lack of anything better, I named the dog Frisco and he was a constant companion for the next eight years. He moved with me from Pueblo to Wetmore, and then to Leadville and back to Wetmore, where he died rather precipitously of lymphoma in 1991. I buried him perhaps illegally beneath an aspen tree on forest land in the Wet Mountains, but I had this strange feeling it was not the last I’d know of this dog.

Miles and Mary went on to marry and build a thriving business with the Ten Mile Times, also publishing The Guide to Ski the Summit. We remain friends and I even filled in as a “rent-a-editor” at their newspaper when they vacationed. A few years ago they sold the paper for a sum that I don’t even want to know. What I do know is that Frisco the dog showed up for a reason, whatever that reason might be.

One night not too long after Frisco died I was headed home from, of all places, the Chieftain. It was late and at the top of a hill on the lonely highway to Wetmore there was a young dog sitting by the road. I got out; he got in. There was a minimal search for the owner, but I pretty much knew I had already found him.

Golden was the big dog around here for the next seven years. It always struck me that he might be Frisco reincarnated. Both dogs loved to run. There were some physical similarities in size and shape, but there was something in the personality that seemed more than vaguely familiar. Both seemed to show up at times when I needed some sort of direction in life. Both also left abruptly. Golden disappeared one summer day in 1998, and it was years later that I found he had fallen into a well on a neighboring property.

There have been other dogs. Spats, a cocker spaniel lived with us for 18 years; and Ted, a rat terrier who was a gift from my late friend Rob Pedretti, has been with us for almost 10 years. And while these dogs have been beautiful, loving companions, neither seemed to possess the deep soul of Frisco or Golden.

Harrison, Hal, and Sam.
Harrison, Hal, and Sam.

Which brings us to Sam. A few weeks ago I decided to think about getting a bigger dog as a companion for our son Harrison, who is at the stage where he is adventurous but does not yet have a sense for danger. One day while in a coffee shop in Westcliffe I mentioned this to someone, and the next time I was in I was handed a phone number.

We took Harrison to see the dog and Sam immediately showed interest in the boy and followed him around. A week later we had adopted him from a local rescue organization and he was home with us.

Within the first few days I decided to take him running on the trails around here. A couple miles from the house a wave of goosebumps ran over me.

There was something vaguely familiar about this dog.

Hal Walter writes from 35 acres of dogs, horses, and burros near the abandoned town of Ilse in the Wet Mountains.