Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Monday, July 24, 2017

When the Bond Breaks

When I started this blog, it was my full intent to focus on the beauty that is found in the bond that can develop between humans and animals, especially between people and their dogs and horses. Though that will continue to be my focus in future blogs, due to recent events I feel the need to shift focus to look at what happens when that bond is broken. 
 
The harsh realities of when the bond between humans and canines is broken
A recent tragedy here in Bozeman, Montana served as a reminder that we don’t live in an ideal world where everyone and all creatures get along.  One only has to look at nature or the nightly news to witness the brutality within the life cycle of predator and prey.  Utopia doesn’t exist.  Yet in our comfortable suburban worlds, some are lulled into the illusion that it might.  What a shock when reality calls. 

On June 24th, a local resident was attacked by two dogs who belonged to one of her tenants.  The woman eventually died.  After the horrible news broke, people started asking me what I thought about it because of my background in teaching and testifying about bite investigations and canine behavioral assessments.  I wasn’t able to say much because I wasn’t privy to the details of this specific incident any more than they were, and it is dangerous to speculate about actual events when the public facts are few.

For that reason, I won’t focus on this particular incident but instead use it as a starting point.  It’s a harsh, painful reminder that, no matter what we think of our animals, how much we love them, or can’t imagine them doing harm to anyone, they are still animals.  Their behavior is directly connected to their base instincts and whatever stimuli they have experienced throughout their lives.

When I was teaching animal control and law enforcement officers across the nation, I always brought the focus back to base instincts.  More often than not, the dog’s experiences and past training are an unknown.  The only known constants are the dog’s instincts—specifically pack, predatory, and fear instincts.  When a dog is under high stress, he is operating almost entirely on instinct.  Even highly trained working dogs, such as those in military or law enforcement K9 units, operate on an instinctive level.  The training just helps redirect and control it.  Let me put that another way:  Training is simply the suppression or redirection of instinctive behaviors. 

Over the past 30,000 or more years, we humans have established an amazing relationship with canines.  This has grown well beyond dogs meeting our original practical needs for protection and assistance in hunting or hauling supplies.  Today, our connection with domestic dogs is primarily one of friendship, even lapsing into a perceived familial bond.  Alas, there is the problem.  When we anthropomorphize our dogs, we begin to interact with them as small humans, thinking their minds work like ours.  They don’t.  Dogs don’t see us as family.  They see other living creatures as either in the pack or not.  When we humans forget that, problems arise. 

Over the years, I’ve been asked to submit written testimony or testify in person in a dozen or so court cases regarding dog bite incidents.  In all those cases, as I analyzed the dog’s behavior, I could trace the root cause of the attacks to some human action.  Even in the instances where a court was not involved—often at an animal shelter where the dog was showing extreme aggression—I could trace back almost all bite incidents to human causes.  (The few exceptions involved untreatable neurological issues in the dog.)  In the majority of the human-caused incidents, I found that the dog’s behavior, though unacceptable in western society, was in fact entirely normal for canines operating in a feral pack mindset.  In essence, the dogs were just being dogs, operating on their base instincts in a moment when they lacked human guidance and control.

There was one court case that I had to testify in that involved a dog attacking and severely injuring another dog down the street.  I won’t go into details, but I spent over half an hour on the stand.  During a break after that, the owner of the dog that had been attacked approached me and said something I will never forget.

“What happened to my dog isn’t right, but at least now I know why it happened.  Thank you.”
The dogs were just being dogs.  As harsh as it sounds, that’s the truth.  This doesn’t excuse the dog.  Far from it.  I will not hesitate to recommend a dog be euthanized if the level of aggression shown is one that results in severe injury or is very likely to be repeated.  As a society, we can’t tolerate certain violent behavior.  That is why we have jails.  That is why we euthanize some dogs.  It is something that society has deemed necessary. 

The dogs involved in the recent fatal attack in Bozeman were euthanized and rightly so.  But what about the other half of the equation?  How about the human owners?  In this particular case, they have been charged with two counts of vicious/dangerous dog and two counts failure to have current rabies vaccination per county ordinance and will face the consequences. 

As mentioned earlier, in almost all the cases of canine aggression that I have assessed, I could trace the cause to humans.  Though not necessarily the dog’s owner.  You see, I’ve seen instances where the owner was not the cause.  Perhaps it was a previous owner or, in rare instances, sometimes the victim’s actions triggered the aggression.  Regardless, we humans almost always bear the yoke of responsibility when it comes to how our dogs behave.

I am a firm believer that we are made to be stewards of creation. That includes the care of the animals we share our lives with.  For dogs, this care goes well beyond food, water, and shelter.  There are far too many who think that is where their responsibility stops.  No, responsible dog ownership must include training, socialization, containment, and in rare cases, the choice to end the animal’s life to protect others.  If only all people understood and honored that responsibility.  That’s my utopic dream now, isn’t it? 

The reality is that we humans are flawed, prideful, selfish creatures much of the time, and those less savory qualities can erode the beautiful animal-human bond.  When we forget our responsibilities to the animal, when we neglect training or worse, train aggressive behavior without the obedience to control it, that is when tragedy happens. The dog, without a solid foundation of training and socialization, will operate on instinct and, in some cases, this can end in catastrophe. 

In dog-handler relationships, we humans are the ones whose moral choices can result in life or death, for our dogs and even for other people.  This is a massive responsibility.  Recently the weight and power of that responsibility really hit me.

While conducting research for my third novel, I’ve spent a lot of time with law enforcement K9 handlers from around the region.  This is pure joy for me, and I count myself blessed to be allowed to hang out with them, observe their work, and even take some bites as a decoy every now and then. 

During this research period, I learned that a new K9 officer just announced he didn’t want to do it anymore—after only a month as a handler.  He’d completed all the training, got placed with an amazing dog, and then said no.  The dog was left in limbo, stuck in a kennel for weeks until things finally got sorted out. 
Taking some bites from Gallatin County Sheriff's Office K9 Miles

I was shocked.  Angry even.  Then I learned that the other handlers felt the same.  I struggled to understand my own anger, but it wasn’t until I spoke with one of the other handlers over lunch that I grasped it.  He explained to me what kept him committed to his work as a K9 handler.  What most people don’t realize is that being a law enforcement K9 handler is a 24-hour a day job.  The handler’s work doesn’t end when the shift does.  He or she still needs to care for the dog, which goes beyond basic needs.  This continual work is done without pay.  When I asked what kept him doing it, his answer captured what is at the core of the strongest human-canine bond:  Commitment.
“I don’t want to let him down,” the officer said, referring to his dog. 

You see, that man saw the dog as a highly trained, highly capable partner who was only held back by the limitations and willingness of his human handler.  Years of training investment had brought this dog to his present aptitude.  For this K9 officer, and I think most others, to “let the dog down” would be on par with letting down a spouse or a fellow law enforcement officer.  That is how strong this officer’s bond was with his dog. 

It was then that I understood my anger in response to the handler who quit.  He had let his dog down.  He had broken the bond that he had built up over the time they were together.  I don’t know the reasons for his decision, and I don’t hold any anger towards him specifically.  It’s more general, a deep grief regarding anyone who breaks the bond, as I know how hard it can be to form it.

The bond.  That is what it all comes down to.  What are we willing to do to build and maintain it?  Do we comprehend the responsibility we have by entering that bond?  I hope so.  God knows it took me a long hard year with my first two Rottweilers to learn it.  I swear the only thing that makes the bond possible is that dogs are forgiving creatures.  We humans fail repeatedly.  We get lazy and forget to train, or we train with improper methods or motives.  Still, the dog forgives.  

You see, our dogs want the bond.  They want that connection where the framework of training and structure intersect.  They want you to not let them down, to not break the bond.  Because when we break it, the dog is the one who pays the heaviest price.



Troy Kechely is the author of two novels that portray the transformative power of animal-human connections.  To learn more about the author, and to order Stranger’s Dance and Lost Horse Park, visit www.troykechely.com.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Bond With My Dad

*I did not have time to have this edited so please forgive any errors.  I will be the first to admit that though I am a good story teller, I'm terrible with the mechanics of the English language.

My Bond With My Dad

“Pick your feet up Troy.” My Dad instructed me with hushed words as we trudged through deep November snow.  This command intended to minimize the noise I was making as we made our way to the west side of the ridge that forms the Continental Divide.  Being only seven or eight years old, my short legs struggled to comply with my Dad’s demand but I tried.  Together with one of my older brothers, whom I don’t remember, we made our way through the timber to a large park where we hoped to see some elk but were greeted only with the setting sun and a snow-covered expanse.  
One of my favorite photos of my dad.

This is my first memory of going hunting with my Dad.  Though way too young to carry a rifle and legally hunt, Dad would often take myself and my brothers out on late afternoon hunts if his job allowed him to get home early and drive up to the top of MacDonald Pass to get an hour or so of hunting in before darkness enveloped the land. 

It is just one of hundreds of memories I have of time with my Dad.  Many involve ranch work or other adventures. Some were not so pleasant given that Dad and I did have our disagreements at times. Still, of all my memories, it is the times hunting that I cherish the most, and, especially since he has been gone over a dozen years, they are the memories I miss the most.

Though our last official hunting trip together was a pheasant hunt in North Dakota that was a unique experience, it was not the one I feel strongest towards. That one is reserved for a trip a few years before that, on one of our last times going into hunting camp in the Gates of the Mountains north of Helena.
My Dad and I's last hunting trip together.

Because Dad had bad knees and was out of shape, our time up in hunting camp had diminished over the years. The effort to pack the camp in, set it up, and maintain it was proving to be too much.  My brothers had all moved on and it was just Dad and I who had the time to do the work.  This year it was my uncle and I who set it up as Dad was unable to help.  Still, my Dad loved hunting camp and would make every effort possible to go up, even if only for a weekend.  I like to joke that Dad was a doctor by day but liked to pretend he was the mountain man, Jeremiah Johnson, on the weekends. I was okay with this though as it meant I got to play along. 

At that time, I was in college and Dad was working a lot of on call shifts as a pediatrician.  Being on call meant he had to stay close to the phone and be able to get to the hospital quickly if needed.  This meant that the hunting camp was not an option.  Yet his desire to hunt was strong and he arranged for me to go up on a Friday night and have camp ready as his call shift ended Friday night at midnight.  Our friend, Dan and his wife joined me up at the camp.  With Dad’s on call status ending that night, he wanted me to meet him at the unloading point with our horses well before sunrise on Saturday morning.  At this stage in my life I was fine with that, my comfort of working with horses in the mountains was at its peak.  That Friday, Dan, his wife, and I went to the camp and got settled.  I had two horses for Dad and I.  My Dad’s horse, Comanche, and my horse, Sil.  Going to bed that night, I lay in my old army surplus sleeping bag going through all the things I needed to do when I got up.  All the while, Dan’s snoring filled the tent.  Outside, the breeze flowed through the trees, their branches brushing up against the canvas walls of the tent in a cold serenade.  I could hear the horses stepping in their corral and an occasional snort.  Sleep finally did come but it didn’t last long.  Several times I remember waking up and checking my watch, wanting to make sure that I would not miss my meeting time with my Dad.  It was important to me not to disappoint him.  I was to be at the truck by six which meant I needed to be up by five. At a quarter to five I pulled myself out of my sleeping bag and dressed without benefit of light.  I was comfortable in the dark so it wasn’t a big deal.  I exited the tent to be greeted by a black canvas of stars framed by the towering trees around the camp.   Still not needing a lantern or flashlight, I saddled Comanche and Sil, pausing a couple times to just pet them and stare at the blanket of sparkles above. With horse’s ready, I headed out of camp and down the narrow trail.  I learned later from Dan that he never heard me leave and to this day is amazed that someone could get up, saddle up the horses and leave camp without a light and without waking anyone.  One of my prouder ninja moments I must say.
Dad on Comanche with Sil in tow heading out for an afternoon hunt.

Picking our way down the trail to the trucks, we arrived just after Dad had.  He stood outside his truck with a large Mini Mart mug that he always had full of coffee.  Dad was dressed for the hunt with a thick wool coat, bright orange hunters vest, and his mountain man fur hat that he liked to wear.  After he tightened Comanche’s cinch and got into the saddle, the two of us headed out for a day’s hunt.  We covered a lot of ground that day, including some of my favorite places. Places that sadly I haven’t been back to since.  Places like Sheepherders Monument, Windy Ridge, and the Crow’s Nest.  It was while come back from the Crow’s Nest that Dad and I encountered a ice sheet across the trail.  We had headed back towards camp using a different route than we had coming up and the trail crossed an area that the snow had melted and then formed a massive patch of ice.  This was on a steep side slope so it was a risk taking the horses across, especially while riding them.  We talked it over and decided to walk across leading our horses, and take our time.  Our horses had cleated horse shoes so I felt confident that they would be okay but I worried about Dad making his way across.  I told him I would go over first and then be ready if he needed help.  Slowly Sil and I stepped across the fifty-foot span of ice until, thankfully, we reached the bare trail on the other side.  I held Sil's lead rope as I watched Dad make his way across.  I thought he was going to be okay when suddenly Dad’s feet went out from underneath him and he went down hard.  Comanche, being the amazing horse he was, stood still and waited patiently for my Dad.  Seeing that Dad couldn’t get his footing again I started to tie Sil up so I could help but Dad told me not to.  He crawled on hands and knees until he cleared the ice, Comanche following behind at the end of his lead rope.  As Dad stood up I could see he was hurting.  I asked if he was okay and he revealed he had dislocated his finger.  I tied up both horses and helped Dad take his glove off.  Sure enough, one finger was bent at a nasty angle.  Dad told me I needed to reset it for him.

I hesitated of course.  This was my Dad.  A doctor.  The man who had reset my finger when I had broken it.  The one who stitched me up many times and had provided care to all us kids and our friends at one point or another.  Yet he had asked me to help.  I tried to think how he had set my finger before and grabbed the finger.  Dad held onto a tree with his good hand as I pulled the finger and let the tendons snap it back into its proper position.  Dad was visibly in pain but didn’t make a sound.  I helped him get his glove on and then got him on Comanche and made sure he could handle the reins with his injured hand before I got on Sil. 

The rest of the weekend was uneventful thankfully and I can’t say I remember much else about it.  I do remember that time below Windy Ridge and Dad taking the spill on the ice.  I remember it because I realized then that Dad didn’t view me as a kid or just his son, but as a man, a fellow hunter and horseman.  I guess that is why I cherish it so much.  It was times like that where I felt a connection with my Dad beyond that of family relations.  A connection from a shared love of the mountains, of horses, and of the hunt.  I miss that connection dearly. 

This last week I’ve heard a lot of men talk about their dads in preparation for Father’s Day.  Some men remembering how positive an influence their dad was.  Some just the opposite.  Some sharing that they didn’t know their dad or that they lost him at an early age.  In all of that it made me thankful that I had the time with my Dad that I did.  Yes, some of those times were turbulent but perhaps that is what made the good times so special.  The times of being on a horse on the top of a mountain, miles from anyone, anyone except your dad.  A true blessing that I am thankful for and wish others could experience the same. Remember such times with your dad.  Cherish them, they are fleeting and pass quicker than you want.
Dad and I around 2001 while out playing in the mountains


The bond my dad and I shared when we were on horseback in the mountains is one I tried to capture in my second novel, Lost Horse Park.  It was my hope that I could transport the reader into the saddle high up on a mountain top with the wind blowing and the expanse of God’s creation all before them.  It was on one such trip that I penned this poem back in 1988.  I know how much my dad loved the mountains, how he felt heaven was there.  That is why we spread his ashes up on a high ridge near the Continental Divide. 

Heaven

By Troy B. Kechely

I sit myself upon this ridge and stare across the land.
The rough and sculptured mountains rise, each created by God’s hands.
The wind brings its message, blowing to and fro;
Crying out for all who live, for those who care to know.
The clouds slowly amble by, observing their domain.
For truly they are the rulers of the mountains and the plains.
I wonder of the things I see, and how we coincide;
And I ponder if I do live, or perhaps if I have died.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Worth of a Dog

Recently some dear friends of mine experienced a horror that all pet owners fear; their dog Abby was hit by a truck. It was an accident, and thankfully the resilient little Blue Heeler survived but not without a major injury that will take quite some time to heal. Knowing the little fur-covered canine lightning ball, and how much she is loved by her family, there was no surprise as to their urgency and absence of hesitation in getting her the medical care she needed.  Still, I do not envy them in terms of the long recovery time that lies ahead and the veterinary bills that will inevitably be stacking up. 
Abby after coming home from the vet.
Every pet owner out there understands these realities at some level.  Pets can be hurt, they become sick, their care costs money.  Sometimes lots of money.   Still, I don’t know of a single person who regrets spending the money they did on their pets.  If there is any regret I’ve seen, it is in the desperate attempt to keep the animal around when it would have been better to end its suffering.  Often that is done out of a personal desire to not part with a beloved friend, which is why money is not an object. 

Now, I’ve known some people who’ve had to make the tough choice to put an animal down simply because they could not afford the required medical care. I don’t fault them for that.  It is a personal choice that we must make as pet owners -- a difficult, often heart-wrenching choice.  At the center of the issue is this one simple question:  What is my pet worth?

This topic became the seed for a tense conversation between my dad and me many years ago.  I was back on the ranch visiting, and my step-mom, dad, and I were out on the patio enjoying a nice summer day.  I’m not sure how the issue came up, I just know that dad was wondering why I wasn’t able to afford something even though I had a good job. I explained that I had just gone through a year in which both of my dogs had experienced some serious health issues that were rather costly.

“Well, how much have you spent?” My dad asked.

“Between the two of them, over two thousand dollars,” I replied honestly. Such an amount may not be a lot to some, but at that point in my life it was a huge sum that took me a year to pay off.

“What!? I can’t believe someone would spend so much money on an animal. People are out there wasting all their money on their pets when it could be used to help other people or other important things.”  Dad actually expanded on the list for a bit, but you get the point.

When he had paused long enough for me to jump back in, I did so in a very calm manner, something I learned is important to do when dealing with my dad.  Don’t raise your voice because if you do it stops being a discussion and becomes an argument--, not a pleasant thing between two alpha males.

“Dad, how much do all those bronze sculptures in the house cost?”  I queried.  Dad was a very successful man in the medical profession and had an amazing collection of western and wildlife bronze sculptures.  Dad remained silent so I continued, “My dogs are with me the majority of my day.  They are my friends, my protectors, and my confidants.  I literally have a closer relationship with my dogs than I do with most people.  They are always there for me, always loving me, always faithful.  I’ve taken them to nursing homes, walked in parades with them, and used them in my canine behavior classes. What do those sculptures do?  How many people do they help or comfort?”

My dad pursed his lips but kept quiet.  My step-mom just smiled, knowing that my point had been made -- a point that I didn’t intend as an insult or implication that my dad was somehow uncaring.  Far from it.  I can’t tell you how many times my dad had helped families in need by meeting them on a weekend or evening at his clinic so they wouldn’t have to pay the ER fee.  He really loved people and did a lot to help them.  My point in all of this was that his view of the worth of a dog was vastly different from my own.  I did notice, though, that he never again questioned my dogs’ value to me.  If anything, he grew to respect it more in the years prior to his passing.

This brings us back to the original question.  How do we put a value on our animals?  What are we willing to pay to keep them safe?  I think the answer that most would give is best summarized by a story involving my friends, Matthew and Amanda, and their dog, Merlin. 
Matthew, Amanda, and the mischievous Merlin
Merlin came into their lives with the reputation of being the most difficult dog at the shelter.  A massive, jet black German Shepherd and Malamute mix, the dog was a handful, to put it mildly.  His destructive behaviors were legendary and finding a good boarding facility that could handle him was difficult.  While living in Billings, Montana, Matthew and Amanda had to go visit out of town family and managed to find a veterinary hospital that also did boarding.  The facility seemed well-equipped to handle Merlin, so Matthew and Amanda were excited to go on their trip.  As Matthew dropped Merlin off, the desk clerk handed him a form to fill out.  One of the questions caused Matthew to pause:

In the event of a medical emergency do you wish lifesaving care to be provided and if so, is there a maximum monetary amount that you do not want us to exceed?

Matthew’s brain ran through a list of increasing amounts, wondering if each one was enough.  He and Amanda had discussed this issue, given they were a young couple just starting out in life and living on a limited income.  Matthew also knew that his wife viewed Merlin as higher valued than he, himself, did, but that isn’t what drove his answer.  With each amount he considered jotting down, he wondered if they would stop there and let the dog suffer and die, when perhaps another couple hundred dollars could save him.  As the values climbed in his head, he came to the only answer that seemed right.  In bold, block letters he wrote: SAVE MY DOG!

There you have it.  A fixed amount couldn’t be set.  Not in his mind, not considering how much they loved the big black dog that shared their lives.  And perhaps that is how it should be. 


 I’ve personally had a discussion with both my vet and my mom regarding the care of my dogs if I’m gone.  My instruction has been to do whatever is necessary if it has the likelihood of saving the dog or of ending its pain.  I’ll deal with the monetary issues later.   Save my dog, I’ll handle the costs later, that is the decision I have made.  I can always work overtime or sell some items if it comes to that.  There is almost always a way to make more money, but there is never a way to get a beloved pet back once it is gone.  


The value of the connection we have with our pets goes beyond words. It is something I try to include in all of my novels to give the non-pet owning readers a glimpse of what it is like.  To learn more about my novels, go to www.troykechely.com.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Slowing Down

Growing old sucks.  Though I’m only in my forties, I have noticed my body telling me that its warranty expired about fifteen years ago.  As if that wasn’t a sufficient reminder of the inevitable cost of time, I see an even more powerful one, that of watching my dog slow down.  When I got my girl, Carly, back in November 2013, she came to me with a well-earned nickname, ‘Crazy Carly’.  She was a high energy, high drive dog with a propensity for destructive behavior.  Yet now, that damaging nature is relegated to her Wubba toy as well as any small, furry rodent that might foolishly draw too near her in between her nap times.  Carly’s pace has slowed due to a bum elbow, and she is continually more content to stop and sniff the bushes and trees than drag me at a high pace in the direction of her choosing.  A dominant female Rottweiler who always had to lead the pack, she is now happy to just be in the pack.  Carly is slowing down it seems.

Of course this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this.  Having had many dogs in my years, all rescues, almost all were with me drastically shorter periods than if I had gotten them as puppies.  Still, it is no easier to watch now than it was then.   The appearance of gray hairs, the longer sleeps throughout the day, especially after walks. No matter what the species, we all start to slow down as we age. 
The slow, steady deceleration seems more tolerable, though, than the sudden decline that often coincides with illness.  I watched a good friend experience that recently with her Rottweiler, Duke.  She’d had him for almost nine years, having gotten him as a puppy.  I had the pleasure of first meeting Duke just a few days after she got him, and I continued to watch him grow into a large, handsome dog who became Emily’s faithful companion.  Through social media I, along with many others, followed Duke and Emily’s adventures. Among the duo’s favorites were long road trips, told through pictures of Duke at various landmarks along the way.  Then, last month, Emily received the worst news a person can hear about a loved one.  Cancer.  I had dreaded this day.  Not only because Duke was such an amazing dog, but because I knew how important he was to my friend Emily --how much time they had spent together, how he had protected her and comforted her during hard times.  To know that he was going to leave her was hard to watch.

Though social media can be a pain at times, one benefit is that it allows a connection to friends that you might not normally have.  Emily shared Duke’s final weeks via Facebook, including some road trips and his enjoyment of various foods that were sent to him by family and friends.  His final weeks were truly ones where the focus was his comfort. Still, I could see in the photos and in Emily’s words that Duke was slowing down. Fast. 

In those final days, Emily posted pictures of a stunning sketch she was creating of Duke.  Emily’s artistic skills are exceptional, and this work was a fine tribute to her boy.  What was amazing to me was that she was often working on it through tear-filled eyes while Duke rested nearby. Perhaps that is why it was so beautiful and captured his essence as well as it did.  The drawing was not just a project, it was love transferred to paper, a successful attempt to capture Duke before the slowing down ground to a halt.

When she posted about his passing on May 10, 2017, I hurt for her as I do for all those who have loved and lost a dog.  I know that pain well.  It is the curse of owning dogs.  They somehow work their way into our hearts and their passing leaves a hole that little else can fill.  Perhaps that is why I become a little sad watching Carly slow down, knowing what is coming.  I don’t know when, but the outcome will be the same. 

If there is a lesson in this reality it is this: Slowing down isn’t really a bad thing, as it allows us to see the world, our lives, and those in it in a more appreciative manner.  Like Carly, and all my dogs before her, slowing down and just taking in her surroundings becomes a lot more important than being in a hurry to lead the pack. Perhaps that is why God created us this way.  The slowing down that is part of growing old offers the opportunity to appreciate what we have before it is too late.  When Carly has passed on, hopefully in a few more years, I will apply the same lesson to any rescue Rottweiler I take in, knowing that no matter how young they are when I get them, eventually they will slow down. 


Dedicated to my friend Emily and her dog Duke
Duke: End of Watch 10-MAY-17. 


Duke and Emily are a wonderful example of the beautiful bond that forms between humans and dogs. I try to capture that bond in my novels as I feel it is a unique part of our humanity.  For more information about my books, please go to www.troykechely.com.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tank

"While only six, he possessed an old soul, and he clearly had no issues with anything I placed in front of him."
Tank showing a little attitude

Enjoying some sun with the cat.

Tank in the beautiful Paradise Valley

This was how my friend Jessika described her first meeting with a horse named Tank.  With a body fitting of his name, standing 17 hands and 1400 pounds, the white and patchwork colored horse was to become a major part of Jessika’s life.  Long before she met Tank however, Jessika’s life was already devoted to and often motivated by her love of horses. 

A child of the deep south, Jessika grew up with horses, learning to ride western style before switching to English style at age 13.  With one of her first competition horses, Ginger, Jessika competed in hunter/jumper competitions before switching over to three day eventing, an equine triathlon. Shortly thereafter, another dream of hers took over.  That was the dream of being in law enforcement.  Pursuit of law enforcement lead Jessika to Montana where, after college, she became a police officer in a small town an hour north of Yellowstone National Park.  Though living one dream, she never gave up her first true love, horses. It was after she was forced to retire Ginger due to health reasons, and while looking for another competition horse, that she decided to combine her passions. That’s when Jessika’s life headed for real change.

With a lot of self-initiative, Jessika convinced her small department to let her start a mounted unit comprising her and a new partner, Larry, a horse she had picked specifically for this new job.  Jessika dove into her new pursuit as only a stubborn redheaded southerner could, leading to numerous trips with Larry to trainings and visits to departments around the country that had established mounted units.  She describes how Larry performed in this new endeavor:

"Larry was actually fabulous as a police horse.  He was brave, curious, and very generous; however, it was often on own his terms.  He’s by far one of the most sensitive horses I’ve ever ridden, a prima donna, if you will.  Normally, mounted units have at least a few horse and rider combinations.  LPD’s unit was unique, as it was just Larry and me.  Horses are naturally herd creatures; they find confidence and security when they are together.  While Larry often displayed these traits on his own, there were also times where he did not.  He also developed ulcers, which are extremely common in competition horses and horses that are under stress.  Mounted police work is not for the faint of heart, nor is the training for that matter.  Having a confident mount on every ride is paramount, especially if you’re a one-horse unit.  I retired him from police work and turned him into my three day eventing partner."

With Larry no longer an option, Jessika did what any other horse-loving woman would.  She went horse shopping.  That is when she found Tank.
Jess and her husband training Tank for police work

"It was love at first sight when I met him.  Ask any horse person and they’ll tell you it is both the worst and best feeling in the world.  No matter how much you love a horse, they still must pass the veterinarian pre-purchase exam.  After only riding Tank for a few minutes, I knew right then and there that he would be perfect as my partner.  I test rode him solo on a nearby road, with cars zooming by, then later, walking over a tarp.  While only 6-years-old, he possessed an old soul, and he clearly had no issues with anything I placed in front of him.  Days later, he passed that pre-purchase exam!"

The bond between Tank and Jessika was one that only horse people could understand.  It was a trust, a friendship, and a love that couldn’t be broken.  This bond was tested and proven true one fateful day.  On June 27, 2016, Jessika was out for a ride on Tank in the mountains near her home.  It was a beautiful summer day and the trail was not anything unusual for her and Tank.  Along for the ride were Jessika’s two Boxers, Roxie and Archer, both of whom were regular participants on these rides. Perhaps it was the enjoyment of the trail and a calm, sunny day, but whatever the reason, Jessika wasn’t prepared when something happened that caused her to fall from Tank.  She has no memory of the few minutes leading up to the accident but here is what she thinks happened.

At a rocky part of the trail, Tank stumbled a little and in just a heartbeat, Jessika fell to the ground and struck her head on some rocks.  Even though she was wearing a riding helmet, the impact rendered her unconscious on the trail, although she was not alone.

"While I remember everything up until the few minutes before the accident, I have complete amnesia of the accident itself.  My next memory is that of waking up in the hospital, two days later.  I’ve had multiple people state in disbelief that I was by myself at the time, but in reality, I was not alone.  Tank was grazing nearby and my Boxers had bedded down around me. I was conscious when the hiker found me; however, I have absolutely no memory of it.  I apparently fought the paramedics and my deputies, yet I have zero memory."

  So began Jessika’s long recovery from what is called Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  Yet, like during the time of the fall, she was not alone during this long process.  Her husband, step-children, friends, and coworkers all were there to help, as was Tank.

"I was ignorant of brain injuries when this happened.  I simply was not prepared for just how long and hard recovery would be.  Tank has helped me on every level possible - spiritually, physically, and mentally."

Despite the injury, Jessika’s love for her horses, and for riding, were not diminished and, in fact, were to become driving forces in her recovery.

"About three weeks after my TBI, I felt confident enough to get back in the saddle.  Even though it was against doctor’s orders, as well as my husband’s, it was something I had to do.  I thought I had a bond with Tank before the accident, but I did not truly feel it fully until I got back on him after my injury.  He just seemed to know.  He was gentle, affectionate, and patient with me.  I only had the energy for a twenty-minute ride, but I just knew that he knew what was going on with me.  While he was gentle and patient with me those first few months, over time he would gradually test me here and there.  That’s when I knew I was really progressing under saddle.    From the time I got back on him after the injury, he just knew what my capabilities were."

This story, itself, captures the beautiful bond between horse and rider, yet with Tank it portrays just a touch of how wonderfully impacting this horse with a tough name is.  More evidence of Tank’s impact was captured in February 2017, when Jessika posted a picture of Tank visiting an old woman whose husband had passed away.  The relationship between Jessika and this couple had been long-forged, and Tank, like so many animals, seemed to understand that he was needed.

"I met Marlys and her husband, Bob, while delivering jury summons on duty about seven years ago.  I had arrived that afternoon during a very difficult time in her life.  I adored her the moment I met her and we kept in touch over the years.  In 2015, while conducting training in the neighborhood on Tank, I decided to stop by their residence to say hi.  Marlys’s love for Tank was immediate.  Tank responded in kind and was more affectionate with her than he had ever been with me.  Bob and Marlys soon became my adopted grandparents.  They embodied everything grandparents are supposed to be - warm, kind, selfless, humble – everything we all aspire to be.  Whenever training in that neighborhood, I was always sure to bring Tank by.  And even when I wasn’t working the neighborhood, I would trailer him over to their house.  Bob always had a ridiculous amount of carrots and apples stocked in the fridge for Tank, just in case we made a surprise stop.  Marlys had been ill for some time and had been reliant on Bob to care for her.  His love and commitment to her was undeniable.  Bob passed a week ago Sunday, yet I can still hear his laugh and see his big bright smile as he brought out Tank’s treats."

The picture that Jessika posted after Bob's passing, combined with her comments, clearly highlighted just how big a heart Tank has.

Tank's visit with Marlys after her husband had passed

"For the first time in 64 years, my Marlys spent Valentine's Day without her beloved husband. This warm, kind soul passed away on Saturday. I can't bring her husband back, but I can bring a 1,400 pound teddy bear by for a few hours. He got super protective of her that day. He even warned one of the girls when she got too close to their little "zone". I was appalled yet fascinated at the same time. Like a mare protecting her foal."

Many people have been around dogs and cats, but few have had the privilege of working with horses.  The equine/human bond is unique and entirely about trust.  It is based on both horse and rider being a part of one herd, one mindset. Trusting. Faithful. Jessika and Tank are the classic example of that beautiful bond between horse and rider.
 
Jess and Tank




It was my intent to capture this special equine/human bond in my second novel, Lost Horse Park.  If nothing else, I desire to give readers a taste of what it is like to be one with a massive animal that runs with the wind.  A special thank you to Jessika for sharing her story about Tank and for contributing the pictures contained in this blog. 

Troy B, Kechely
www.troykechely.com

Thursday, February 16, 2017

All Hail the Queen

When the small female Rottweiler named Queen was surrendered to the shelter, the score was Queen 3, Cats 0.  Even being just sixty-five pounds and having bad hips, Queen was still very adept at dispatching her feline foes.  Her family, unable to keep her contained at the small trailer they rented as well as deal with the city fines for having a dog at large, had no choice but to turn her over.  The tragedy of this was that they were alive because of Queen.   Not just once, but twice, Queen had saved her family.  The first life-saving incident had occurred when she chased off a Grizzly bear that had charged the family while they were out cutting wood.  The second was the reason they were living in a rental where her containment had been an issue.
Her majesty, Queen.
After a long day of cutting wood in the forest, the tired family had returned to their home in Helena and allowed Queen to stay inside that night.  Sometime during the night, a fire started. Scratching feverously at her owners’ feet, Queen woke them, allowing them just enough time to grab their two children and leave the house.  They lost everything but their lives.  It was after that fire that the family moved to Bozeman, where Queen discovered her hidden talents of cat removal.
The story about Queen's heroics
Queen was just as her name described, though small in stature, she was a regal and powerful female, controlling all she surveyed.  Queen soon became the majesty of the shelter, ending up as the canine ambassador, when visiting local elementary schools, since her demeanor towards people was exceptional.

Aside from her friendly disposition towards people, Queen also became known for a few quirks she had.  One involved buckets.  Yes, buckets.  Queen, for the most part, could care less about her regular water dish, but when someone donated a bunch of large, thick rubber-sided, horse watering pails, something triggered in Queen.  She would become totally fixated on the buckets, replete with destructive intent.  Her favorite pastime quickly became “get the bucket”, as the staff would say.   Now keep in mind a couple of things.  First, this six-year-old, small Rottweiler with bad hips seemed a mismatch for the large, thick rubber-sided containers that held nearly twenty gallons. Despite the odds, however, Queen decimated every bucket she could get ahold of.  In less than a week, her first bucket looked as if the local militia had used it for machine gun practice.  Its sides were perforated with countless, perfect canine tooth-sized holes and large chunks had been removed and tossed about the pen.  This tenacious behavior with the buckets carried right over to tires and trees as well.  Yes, trees.  She might have been a small Rottweiler but it was common to take her for a walk, only to have her drag back a ten-foot-long log she found along the way.  These, along with her amazing ability to catch mice and leave them in her water dish for the staff, and her love of tennis balls and a green squeaky moose toy, made Queen one of the most beloved dogs at the shelter.
Queen and her tire. Who says diamonds are a girls best friend?

In 2001, after 22 months at the shelter, I wondered if perhaps Queen would ever find a home.  Still, like with all the dogs I worked with, I held out hope that God had a home waiting just for her. In late May, the shelter decided to hold a remote adoption at the local Costco store.  Costco was kind enough to allow this to happen and had always been supportive of the shelter and its efforts, even setting up bins so people could donate items purchased there to the shelter.  Several dogs were taken for the remote adoption event, but the two that I took were Queen and Adonis (See the blog, Heaven Sent, for his story).  Both dogs had been there almost two years, and I desperately wanted to see a good home come along for the both of them.   The crowd was thick on that beautiful Saturday, and though many people stopped to pet Queen, no one showed particular interest. 

This was the case until a woman and her teenage daughter stopped to ask more about Queen and what was involved in adopting her.  Queen put on her normal charms and rolled onto her back for a belly rub.  Amy, the woman, explained that they lived out of town and were there to pick her husband up from the airport. They just wanted to get some shopping out of the way while waiting for the plane to arrive.  She talked about how her husband used to own Rottweilers but hadn’t had one for years, and she said she knew that he would love to have another.  I told her about Queen’s issues with cats along with all her good traits.  Amy told me she would talk to her husband when they picked him up in a few hours and if he was interested they’d stop back by. 

After they left I didn’t get my hopes up, as promises from people to come back are rarely kept.  I knew this having been doing rescue work for several years at this point. The following is in the words of Crystal about how they broke the news to her step-dad:

We got to the airport and Mom had told Rich we had a surprise for him.  He said, What a dog?  Mom said yes!  You could see the tears welt up in his eyes.  He excused himself.  We went back to Costco to talk about Queen.  Queen what a beautiful name.    

It was a pleasant surprise when Amy, Rich and Crystal did return that afternoon.  Rich, was a quiet man and seemed somewhat gruff, which I understood considering he had just been on a long flight.  Still, he at least tried to get to know Queen.  As usual, Queen rolled over onto her back for a belly rub but looked away from him while he petted her. Rich seemed a bit bothered that she appeared disinterested.
“I don’t think she cares much for me,” Rich said dryly.
I was just about to explain to him how Rottweilers take a while to get to know and trust someone, but Queen beat me to it.  She rolled her head over and licked his hand gently.  The deal was done.  In that moment, the gruff and tired man’s heart melted.  The application and checks were completed, and Queen went home to her new family. 
The happy family on adoption day

I thought it was a happy ending and for a while it was.  Throughout the summer, the shelter would get updates from Amy about how Queen and Rich were always together, and they even heard that their favorite pastime was going for a ride in the jeep on their mountain property.

Sadly, after only a few months with her new family, tragedy struck.  In August, while sitting at his desk at home, with Queen at his feet as was typical, Rich died of a heart attack.  Crystal describes that dark time:

In August of 2001 a friend and I were visiting Montana when Rich passed away suddenly.  Our lives were crushed.  Queen would not leave the front door, she knew something was wrong, she knew Rich wasn't there.  
After everyone had left, Mom had Queen. She was there for my mom when she was alone on top of that mountain.  I would occasionally go back out to see them.  Queen was so smart and she helped me heal from my broken heart.  One night we came home to the front door wide open, we were scared!  Queen could sense it, she went into protection mode.  She stood straight up, ran around the house, woofed, checking everywhere she went for a intruder.  She didn't stop until we stopped.  I look back now and think she would have done anything to protect us, to protect the ones she loved.
Queen and Amy

I didn’t hear from Amy again until Christmas, in the form of a letter.  It was one of those standard letters that people send out to all their family and friends as a Christmas gift.  Its purpose was to let everyone know of the events of the past year.  Amy’s letter was more somber than most.  She told about the elation of adopting Queen and then the sudden loss of her soul mate.  She then went on to explain how she knew that Queen was sent to her from God, to help her through this tragic time.  It seemed that Queen, once again, was a hero, saving her loved ones from tragedy.  Like most Rottweilers, Queen became more than just a dog; she became a protector, a confidant, and a supporter.  Queen’s excess of confidence was exactly what Amy needed during this dark time.
 
For many years, Queen continued her watch over Amy and her daughter Crystal, making sure that the deer or other trespassers didn’t get to close to the house, while being wise enough to allow the moose to wander as close as they wanted. Queen was smart enough to know not to tangle with a moose.  

There will never be another dog like Queen, she was one of a kind.  I still think about her 11 years after she passed away.  You wouldn't think a dog, would have an impact on you like that and people that have never had an animal will never understand.  They are a part of your family, when you lose them it's like losing a part of yourself.  Queen will always have a place in my heart.
Queen and Crystal

Though news of her passing in 2006 hit me hard, I take comfort in knowing what an influence she had on the people who were blessed enough to know her.  That positive, powerful influence was no surprise, really, she was, after all, canine royalty.


The reason this latest blog has taken as long as it has is that I was focused on publishing my second novel, Lost Horse Park.  Though a stand-alone novel, it connects to my first novel, Stranger's Dance.  You can learn more about them at my website, www.troykechely.com.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Lost Horse Park


Hey everyone, I wanted to let you know that my second novel, Lost Horse Park, is now available on Amazon and through my website in both Kindle and paperback. If you love history, Montana, horses and dogs then this book is for you.   It is also available through Amazon in Europe and other parts of the world.
Here is a summary of the book:

After causing trouble in his Montana hometown one time too many, teenager Jim Redmond has run out of options.  A run-in with the law results in an ultimatum: either head to juvenile detention or spend the summer working with a backcountry trail crew along with the intimidating World War II veteran Tom McKee. What soon emerges is a moving exploration of the human heart.
Lost Horse Park is a stunning novel that takes readers from the rugged wilderness of Montana to the dark jungles of the Vietnam War and through the Italian mountains of World War II, uncovering the hearts of two men who are more similar than either of them could have ever imagined.
This sweeping novel examines the emotional connection humans share with animals, while poignantly exploring what it means to trust others and--above all--trust yourself.
 
If you enjoyed my first novel, Stranger’s Dance, then you are sure to enjoy this one.  Please share this with others and thanks for following this blog and my novels.

Troy
P.S. I'm working on a new blog and hope to have that out in the next couple weeks.  Until then, enjoy the beautiful bond with the humans and animals in your life.