Archive for January, 2013


Any profession swamped with paperwork develops a language of abbreviations to slim down the drudgery. Animal sheltering is one such profession, and sports quite a few handy short cuts to keep medical terms, animal histories, and long-winded breed names manageable. As an animal evaluator, two taps on the keyboard, a few letters on the screen, can spell death or salvation, judgment day made so casual by efficient routine. After several years of writing and reading humane society shorthand, certain acronyms bypass conscious thought altogether and stir up deep-seated emotion.

There are some breed combinations that simply predict misfortune for an unwanted dog. Any mixture of BC, ACD, and GSP reflexively sets me to sighing and lamenting the negligent production of animals destined for relinquishment. Such charts are often peppered with foreboding conditions like Sep Anx, High Arousal, and Escape, and are paired with adoption profiles sporting such euphemisms as: very active, fun-loving, has extraordinary stamina, needs a little training. These letters regularly foreshadow some laborious behavior modification and occasionally prelude bonus rotations through the shelter system as adoptive families fail to accommodate a four-legged tornado. These are Border Collies, Australian Cattle Dogs, and German Short-haired Pointers, and I thought I’d never be fool enough to attempt taming one as a household pet.  God knows how I ended up with two!

Now don’t get me wrong, every dog breed, cross, and mix under the sun boasts a fine selection of members who aptly wreak havoc on even the most dog-savy domestic bliss. Wonderfully mellow breeds like bassets and greyhounds can be total nightmares due to flaws of genetics, upbringing, or lifestyle. Likewise, every human household has unique capacities and (occasionally horrifying) limitations in the pet guardianship department. Those puppy-hungry college freshmen of Boulder come to mind.  But there’s something especially thick-skulled about taking a creature bred to outsmart and outmaneuver livestock, bred to put in thirty, forty, fifty mile days, bred to read human intention with unparalleled speed and accuracy, and incarcerating that irrepressible spirit in our sedentary civilization.  There’s a very good reason BC/ACD/GSPs so often show up in the night kennels with cryptic reasons for their relinquishment.

For the first dog I adopted, I steered well clear of the true “working breeds” and sagely picked a sweet lab/vizsla mix. We locked eyes as she pranced by on her way from the Kentucky transfer wagon to a holding kennel, and it was love at first sight.  A combination of breeds painstakingly domesticated for bursts of exuberant activity (hunting) followed by long stretches of sedate and affable leisure, she loved to run and bike and frolic, but was happy to chew a bone, watch squirrels, and clock in for a good spooning session once she had an hour or two of exercise under her belt. After her morning run, I could leave her alone with a few chew toys for a long work day and return to an unscathed apartment and desperation-free pet. She was everything I could have asked for in a city companion, including an immensely humbling challenge, but her instincts and sensibilities would never have resulted in a well-balanced farm dog. If you’ve had some practice with animal shelter euphemisms, you might correctly decode that as: U/U Aggression – Resource Guarding.

But shortly after kidney disease put my beloved Joy in an early grave, my graduate school lifestyle gave way to one I am much more suited for – ranching. Removed from the oppressive force of city culture and the drain of tedious nine to fives, I found myself possessed of an unquenchable thirst for physical activity. My ideal day would start with farm chores at dawn, followed by crossfit, followed by farming, followed by a long trail run, followed by farming, and finally, lots of good food with friends and a long night sleep curled up with my pack. If only I had enough hours in the day and adequate stamina, I’d pack in some bikram yoga and a fox-hunt-style horseback ride and maybe a quick swim, but unfortunately I’m only human, and no fitness phenom at that. Nothing makes me happier than an exhausting and challenging day spent out in the rural wilderness, amongst animals of all sorts, with a need for my creativity, and a chance to accomplish something concrete.

I found quite suddenly that I could offer the world a happy home for a working breed dog, a dog who shared my love of livestock, who was both intelligent and tractable enough to be useful, and who could keep up with my ambitious activity level.  And, after a few months searching cautiously for the right one, I found Wilbur. He was listed on, an intact stray turned transfer from the ranch lands of Eastern Colorado. His photo was of a timid, very ordinary looking smooth-coat BC mix, black and white with speckles and a mysteriously curled tail. Hoping I’d found a good match, I promptly called the rescue.

Wilbur, formerly “Charlie,” was taken in by a fierce dog lover named Hildegarde who, in her retirement, runs a second chance dog rescue in the Valley. After some phone tag made confusing by her thick German accent, she conducted a stern and rather offensive phone interview before agreeing to let me meet Charlie, grilling me on such subjects as whether I might abandon him in the national forest, if I was going to chain him alone in a yard, would I use a spiked choke collar, and whether I would let him sleep on the bed (I lied on that last one just to placate her aggressive distrust). I passed the interrogation, and arranged to meet her at a park in Glenwood the following evening. The next day flew by as I made up a dog bed and toy box when I should have been working, and relished the opportunity to study ingredient labels at the local pet store on a shamelessly extended lunch break. With a couple more hours to kill until my dog date, I headed to Red Hill for a trail run, skipping up the steep sections with unprecedented energy as I realized this might be my last lonely run for years to come.

I was early to the park and quickly regretting my sweat soaked attire as the sun dropped behind the hills and the wind picked up. After ten minutes waiting in goose-pimpled anticipation, a haggard brown van pulled up next to my Rav with a badger-like woman hunkered in the driver’s seat. As she switched off the engine, a chorus of barks rose from the interior, and a flurry of wide-grinned faces filled every available inch of window with steam.  Hildegarde climbed out, tugging on a ski jacket from the roughly the same era as the van, well-weathered but still jarring with its contrasting neon panels.

We introduced ourselves and she wrenched opened the back door to fish out Charlie from the tangled mob within, giving me the sudden impression that the entirety of High Mountain Dog Rescue was quite possibly this sexagenarian van and its cargo of unwanted pets. Charlie shot out, snapping the buckle on his frayed collar in his haste, and dove for reassuring contact with the first human in sight. Taut with fearful energy, he thumped his shoulder against my calf and wagged madly from nose to tail, then steeled his courage to lift his eyes and grinned sheepishly into my face. Though hugging unfamiliar dogs is very ill-advised, and hugging dogs at all is generally poor etiquette, I impulsively crouched down and wrapped him in my arms. He ducked his cold nose into the nape of my neck and positively shuddered with delight, butt wiggling fiercely on the icy pavement. Seeing he hadn’t seized this opportunity to streak off into the growing darkness, Hildegarde heaved a sigh of relief, than stood a moment in perceptive silence while this mutt and I found exactly what we’d been looking for. Her gruffness melted with a chuckle, and she turned around to dig a cheerful blue camouflage collar and a fat sharpie out from beneath the driver’s seat. She wrote my phone number on the collar and handed it to me with a satisfied smirk.

Hardly five minutes later, Hildegarde’s van trundled off into the night, riding low under the weight of her howling, yipping, and whining charges and leaving me with my very first non-Labrador and a singing heart. I promptly discovered that Charlie’s hurried exit from van was indicative of a surprisingly vehement fear of vehicles, the first of his many phobias to come to my attention. I eventually gave up on cajoling with love and liverwurst, and carried him as gently as possible over to the Rav. Turns out he is also terrified of being carried. Poor fellow. As hard as I tried to accommodate his fear thresholds, it must have been a rough first few weeks. The indoors, stairs, bridges, baths, wood floors, and occasionally hats had him fretting with worry as he gradually acclimated to his new lifestyle.


Wilbur’s insecurity and sensitivity are balanced with equal measures of exuberance and affection, and he’s given me the rare opportunity to watch many of my own personality traits played out on a canine stage.  As he came out of his shell, his mixed heritage began shining through. With his ears pinned back and eyes drawn tight with worry, the GSP in him was all but invisible, but is unmistakable now in the brazen thrust of his chest, powerful elasticity of his stride, and hawk-like focus of his gaze on the hunt. Also in that prey drive that so often overrides caution and logic. Likewise, Wilbur’s youth and malnutrition had disguised his ACD genetics, but now he’s grown into a muscular frame, a bullishly confident stubbornness, fierce loyalty, and an uncanny precision with heeling reluctant cows and horses. This combination is extraordinarily challenging, but it also rings more true than I care to admit with my own character. I too can be impulsive, pig-headed, and over-sensitive, and am almost as skilled as Wilbur at being all three at the same time. Though I rarely bite the cows, I beginning to believe that were I born in a dog’s body, it would be black and white and a wonderful pain in the butt just like him.



I’ve missed weeks and weeks of workouts from catching a string of really nasty bugs, colds, and viruses, and I’m yearning for the gym more and more every day.  I’m actually having dreams about weightlifting, and I’m feeling ever so sad as I watch my muscles slink back into hiding. But, enough moping! Soon I’ll be back at it, and I freaking can’t wait to feel the satisfaction of progress, achievement, and well-earned fatigue! Wait, wait, what am I talking about – we all know I’m just in it for the pump…

The more I hear and read about other crossfit gyms, the happier I am that I got so lucky to end up at a gym like Roaring Fork.  The coaches never bring up the importance of a sexy physique, skinniness, or the numbers on a scale. They emphasize health, strength, and good, old fashioned fun.  For the first time in a long time (a dozen years at least), I don’t bother scrutinizing my belly fat in the mirror. I’m too busy watching my performance improve and getting excited about what my body is capable of.  It’s an incredible freedom, and arrived just in time to accelerate this train of personal empowerment I’ve hopped on (with a little help from a bad job situation and an amazing life coach).

Though I’d forgone the weightlifting component of my exercise routine since moving to Basalt, I didn’t arrive at CrossFit Elements some hot mess of un-fitness, and I was honestly not expecting to see huge changes. Just a little toning, a bit of strengthening, and a some help buckling down for that speed training I’m so very good at avoiding (because who has the motivation to suffer that hard solo?).

I’ve been pretty thrilled with the steady stream of improvements, and it keeps it exciting when there’s always a personal record waiting to be thrashed with better technique, more finely tuned pacing, stronger muscles, and most importantly of all… a deeper, darker pain cave.  If you like to work hard and are comfortable keeping your competitive zeal between you and your past self, a good crossfit program will be painful but great fun.  If you also get a kick out of staggering around for a few days after a workout and groaning every time you move, wiggle, or breath, look out – you just might get addicted too!