Bear Necessities

It started with a miscommunication, which is the polite way of saying it was all Lynn’s fault. Since she didn’t have to be at work on Memorial Day until 10 a.m. (a luxuriously late hour for her; an impossible time for me to start my day), she decided to go on a morning walk.

I was lying in bed with my TV news and my electronic newspapers, and she seemed to think I might want to go with her, but I was good where I was. “I need a dog,” she said, in what I took to be a wistful tone.

I don’t believe Lynn grew up with dogs, but I did. I can’t tell you anything about Ranger other than what I’ve been told: he and I would be playing some rambunctious game in the back of the house, and when an adult would come to see what the heck was going on, we’d both be sitting there innocently.

After Ranger came Patches. My grandma was getting her hair done when the stylist’s kids came in with an Australian shepherd puppy they’d found in a cornfield near Monte Vista, where my maternal grandparents lived. Grandma came home with her hair fixed and a new puppy. I was still quite young when Patches and I were in their outer yard (they lived out of town surrounded by the prairie) and she started running in circles and barking, keeping herself between me and the rattlesnake and then distracting the snake as I ran for help. Grandpa dispatched the snake and we always viewed Patches as my lifesaver.

She would spend extended stays with us in Gunnison, but it wasn’t until I was 12 that we went up to Bartsches to see the new litter of puppies and bring one home. I wanted the blue merle that looked liked Patches, but that one was acting a bit shy and my mother suggested the more interactive one with the brown, curly coat.

So I picked that one and named her Tag-Along. She survived — barely — her habit of trying to eat front car tires while they were rolling, although I had to tearfully beg my parents not to put her down after she got run over at age 3. I put a lot of money into her broken leg over the years, but she had a good run that lasted another 13 years, which in dog years was pretty good but also covered an entire range of my life, from teenagerdom through college and well into my journalism career.

That was when the sad universal truth really struck home: the lifespans of my boon companions were not the same as mine and while there would be lots and lots of giving, there was also going to be this awful taking.

After several months, perhaps even a year, I started thinking about getting another dog, and I thought a border collie might be a good choice. While that was not a thought I would recommend to anyone else, it did mean that after I went to take a picture for the paper of a dog at the pound that needed a home, the picture never made it into the paper and the dog came to live with me.

Reprieve was a handful and a half, needing far more stimulation and exercise than I was providing. The day I finally got a ticket for her endless “at large” escapades was the day she somehow clipped her chain to my neighbor’s Malamute’s chain and then wiggled out of the fence the two of them were theoretically enclosed in.

I’m told border collies become good dogs after about five years, and that was probably about the case with Peeve. We both of us survived 14 years together thanks to the boundless kindness of the village who raised her, and me — the Barils took her cross-country skiing; Peg Furey offered safe harbor and horseback rides (and de-quilled her the time she rolled in a dead porcupine); Veronica Berkes and her family provided both of us with sanctuary. There were so many others, too, including Tim Holt, the veterinarian who opened my door to the possibilities offered by alternative medicine.

And Lynn, too — she came into our lives near the end of Reprieve’s and accepted both of us, along with my compulsive need to bond with dogs. Many months after Tim gave us a final assist on the day Peeve came to a literal stop (she just completely stopped moving: enough, she plainly said), we ended up at the Montrose animal shelter and came home with Ashoka, a blue heeler who early on ate an entire bag of fun-size Snickers with no ill effects [clarification: she helped herself, uninvited, and she ate them wrappers and all] but who was allergic to everything the natural world produced and had the world’s most sensitive skin.

She spent about 13 or 14 well-behaved if itchy years with us before we had to say good-bye. Seven months later I showed Lynn Oz’s picture and — well, you probably know more about him than you ever expected to. What you may not know, because I didn’t tell you, is that he, along with Tag and Patches, convinced me the way forward is through Australian shepherds.

So when Lynn lamented about not having a dog to go for walks with or clean our dinner dishes, even though Oz’s paws are still firmly embedded in my heartstrings, I decided maybe this shouldn’t be all about my timetable. Lynn said she wanted a dog, so I started looking.

The Gunnison shelter had several options, all of them young and needing lots of attention and work and maybe no other animals in the house. Same situation at PAWS in Crested Butte. Then I remembered Oh Be Dogful south of Crested Butte, which provides daycare, rescue and sanctuary, letting otherwise homeless dogs live out their lives there.

On their website was a picture of an Australian shepherd, not the blue merle I was once again envisioning but 10 years old and available for adoption June 10. I made an inquiry; Lynn and I went to visit; and now we have a small Bear in our lives.

Because neither one of us sounded very certain, the rescue owner suggested a trial visit — a sleepover for a night or two. That was Saturday afternoon; Sunday we were in Pawsitively Native, the pet store, picking out a collar and engraving our phone numbers on his tag.

While I haven’t had a puppy since Taggie in 1974, Bear is coming to us much later in his life than the others. But I realized here recently that even if I knew from the outset that Oz’s time would be cut short by cancer, I would not have passed up the opportunity to have him in my life.

Because no matter how hard it is when they get taken away, everything a dog gives you, including little Bear, here with us now for not quite four days, is this massive exuberant embrace that just makes my soul happy.

Not only does a dog give you love, but it comes with this absolute trust, this complete and utter belief in you — and apparently that’s something in my life I just don’t want to live without. So welcome, Bear: we hope you find us worthy.

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