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.

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. 


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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017


"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

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,

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.

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.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Though my blogs have always been based on real events, I am making an exception for this, my final blog of 2016.  I wrote the following story back in 2000 as a Christmas gift for family and friends, and I later shared it with various rescue groups because it captures so many aspects of rescue work that few can understand.  Though the story itself is fictional, many of the events are based on real life situations that I, or other rescuers, experienced.  I share it as a blessing to you this Christmas season, and I look forward to sharing more examples of the beautiful bond between animals and humans in 2017.
By Troy Kechely
Copyright 2000
The sounds of ringing bells flowed from the speakers in my truck doors.  My fingers tapped along with the music as I mimicked the sound of the bells with my mouth, careful to pay attention as I drove out of my office parking lot.  “Carol of the Bells” had always been my favorite Christmas song.   Now, with two days remaining till Christmas, I was filled with joyful expectation of the holiday and time with my family.  It was going to be the first Christmas in almost three years that I was not undergoing some kind of surgery. I recounted mentally the times I had been operated on to remove the golf ball-sized tumor in my head and then recalled the surgeries required to repair the damage it had done.  What affected me the most was after I awoke from the first surgery, and I had been told my heart had stopped and that they had struggled to revive me.  I was only 26 and had not even considered dying.  Now, three years later, I had overcome my fear of death, trusting more in God and recognizing that He was in control.  My dealings with death nowadays were restricted to rescuing Rottweilers, as I often had to recommend that animals be put to sleep.  Almost always their aggression was due to bad owners; dogs beaten and neglected to the point that humanity was the enemy.  I did not hold it against the dogs when they tried to bite me, but I also recognized that they could never be placed in homes and it was best that they be put down.  Thankfully, it had been many months since I last had to make such a recommendation.  The dogs at the shelter and in foster homes were all well-behaved and, like typical Rotties, provided daily challenges but nothing out of the ordinary. 
Working with such dogs was my one pleasure in life.  After the surgeries, my motivation to recover was so that I could return to working with the Rotts at the shelter. I often thought of their dark brown eyes looking towards the door, waiting for me to come during my lunch hour to take them for a walk along the river.  Perhaps I pushed too hard to recover but I had to for them. 
The song on the cassette ended and a new one began.   I turned onto Main Street towards home.  I had managed to take the afternoon off so I could pack for my trip to the family ranch in Helena.  The roads were covered in snow and ice, typical for Bozeman in December.  My tires slipped as they struggled to gain traction as I turned a corner.  Pulling into my driveway, I ejected the cassette tape and shut off my truck.  With my briefcase in hand, I headed into the house to be greeted by 225 pounds of dog wiggling wildly at my feet.  Mickey was the most energetic.  A large purebred Rott, she contorted into a C shape as her nub of a tail vibrated.  Griz, my Rott/Malamute cross stood next to me, his tail wagging slightly as he let out a barkish howl.  I set my briefcase on the table and moved across the living room so I could let the dogs out back.  Bounding out the door, they sniffed and marked the snow that covered my backyard.  Closing the door, I decided to leave them out for a bit so I could prepare for my trip.  My friend John was supposed to come over and ride to Helena with me that night.  As I packed I ran through my head all that needed to be done.  The phone rang just as I was just letting the dogs back inside.  It was one of the local Highway Patrol officers letting me know there were reports of a stray Rottweiler running loose on the Interstate on Bozeman Pass, just east of town.  I got the information I needed and then hung up the phone.  My mood switched from the joy of packing and the excitement of the holiday to one of serious reservation.  The weather outside was bad and it would be dark in only three more hours.  With a sigh I convinced myself of what I had to do.  Picking up the phone, I called Valerie at the local shelter.
“Hey Val, I just got a call from the Highway Patrol about a Rott on the pass.  Do you have room if I can catch him?” 
“If we don’t then we’ll make room. Do you need help?”  Valerie was one of those women who had an endless source of energy.  She claimed her energy came from chocolate and caffeine but I suspected there were other sources, specifically her love of animals.  My only problem with her was that she was a cat person.  Still, even with that flaw, she was the life and soul of the animal shelter.  As the animal care manager, she was the one who allowed me to start working with the Rotts that came in and even used me to do home checks for adoptions. 
“Nah, from the sounds of it I think I can get him.  When are you closing up?”
“Well, we close at 5:30, but let me give you my cell number and you can call me when you catch him.  Is he injured?”   Val’s concern for the dog was evident in her voice.
“Not sure, he was on the Frontage Road about 20 minutes ago, so I am hoping he will be easy to find.  I will give you a call when I know more, okay?”
Val gave me her cell number and I hung up as Mickey nudged me with her large head, wanting the affection that she had been denied while I was at work.  With a pat on the head, I moved her to the side so I could put my boots back on.  Griz lay in the corner chewing quietly on a raw hide bone, his eyes on me as I laced up my boots.  The phone rang again as I was grabbing my coat. 
“Hi, my name is Becky Jacobson. I got your number from the sheriff.  There is a stray Rottweiler in my yard.” 
It took only a few questions to ascertain that it was the same dog the Highway Patrol had called about.  The family that called lived off the Jackson Creek exit near the top of the pass.  The Rott was in bad shape and sniffing around their barn.  I asked the lady if she would catch the dog and hold him for me.  She said she would try as she used to have mastiffs and she was comfortable with larger dogs.  Hanging up the phone, I moved quickly to get there, hoping that the dog would be contained when I arrived.  I gave my dogs a treat and told them to behave as I grabbed my cold weather overalls and headed out the door.  I left the door unlocked and a note taped to it so Johnny would know where I was when he showed up.  Saying goodbye to the dogs, I stepped outside into the cold midday air.  Starting my truck, I watched the silver cloud that my breath formed as I waited for the engine to warm up. 
In less than ten minutes I was on the interstate heading east towards the pass.  Although my attention needed to be on the icy road, I could not help but run through different scenarios regarding how the dog might behave when I arrived. 
The ride there took longer than expected, but the road conditions kept me from going as fast as I would have liked.  Heading up the pass, the snow began to fall more heavily and the wind picked up.  I looked at my watch. It had been almost 40 minutes since the first call regarding the dog.  Turning off the Jackson Creek exit, I saw the blurred shapes of the few ranches that covered the area.  Once on the Frontage Road, I followed the directions Becky Jacobson had given me.  Arriving at her house, I pulled in, hoping to see a Rottweiler but, instead, seeing nothing but the falling snow.  With my knock, the door was opened and the warmth from inside washed over me.
“You must be Tom. I am so sorry.  Right after I talked to you the dog headed down the Frontage Road.  I followed him, trying to get him to come to me, but he crossed over the railroad tracks about a half mile up and I couldn’t stay with him.”  In her early thirties, Becky ushered me inside as she spoke.  A young boy stood behind her looking at me.  I smiled at him briefly, the lights of their small Christmas tree giving a cheerful glow to the small ranch house.  I got the details of where the dog had gone and quickly left, wanting to find the dog before the weather worsened and darkness fell.  I drove up the narrow two lane frontage road.  To my right about a hundred yards ran the four lanes of interstate traffic.  My eyes scanned everywhere, hoping to see the black form of the dog.  At the point where Becky said the dog had left the road I pulled over.  I found the tracks of the dog although they were now almost covered with wind-driven snow that was falling all the harder.  I put on my overalls and grabbed a flash light, leash, and a can of cat food.  Valerie had taught me that trick.  The pop top can of cat food often was enough to entice a hungry dog to come close enough to be caught. 
With everything in hand, I headed off the road towards the railroad tracks.  Stepping off the shoulder of the road, I found the snow to be over two feet deep.  Forcing myself through the drift, I managed to follow the trail of the dog to the embankment of crushed rock that formed the base of the railroad tracks.  The steel tracks were almost clear of snow because of the half dozen freight trains that lumbered up the pass each day.  It was easier to walk with the thinner snow cover on the tracks, but impossible to see where the dog had gone.  Taking a guess, I walked east, following the tracks towards the tunnel, hoping that he had taken shelter in the 200-yard-long underpass.  As I neared the entrance, the tracks cut through the rock, leaving a steep slope to a ditch and then a solid rock wall on either side of the tracks.  Praying that a train wasn’t due, I proceeded toward the tunnel.  Turning on my flash light, I entered the dark cavern.  The beam of light swept along the floor for the dog.  I also was looking at the end of the tunnel to see if my movement would force the dog into the light that beckoned from the other end. Approaching the end of the tunnel, I felt the wind as it funneled into the cavern.  The light from the snow was almost blinding after spending several minutes in the darkness of the tunnel.  I looked all around to see if there were signs that the dog had passed that way but nothing could be seen.  I decided to head back and look closely at both sides of the tracks to be sure that I had not missed any tracks leading from the railroad embankment.
Back on the other side, I searched the sides of the tracks, noticing uneasily how quickly my tracks had become covered.  I began to lose hope of finding the dog.  I paused briefly to check the dark mouth of the tunnel behind me.  My concerns about a train coming took precedence for the moment.  With the wind howling past me I knew I would not hear a train until it was too late.  I also knew that any approaching train would be going very slow as it labored to make the top of the pass, giving me time to get out of the way, if I saw it coming. 
Flexing my hands restored some warmth to my stiff fingers.  The storm had intensified.  Pulling back the sleeve on my overalls I noted the time.  It had been almost two hours since the first call.  I could not see my truck through the swirling snow and growing darkness, but I knew it was parked almost a mile down the tracks.  Heading towards it, I kept looking at the ground, hoping for any sign of the dog. Perhaps he had been picked up or had been able to find shelter.  Sadly, I knew that even with shelter it would take a lot for the dog to survive if it was in as bad a condition as had been described. 
About 75 yards west of the tunnel, I saw a path carved into the deep snow across the ditch, at the bottom of the railroad embankment.  I followed the tracks, moving carefully down the slick, rocky slope.  The other side of the ditch was very steep but flattened out about twelve feet up.  I was almost to the ditch when my footing failed and I plunged through the ice covering the foot-deep water.  I was able to keep one leg out, quickly but my left pant leg was quickly saturated.  The icy water sucked the heat from my skin, and even with my overalls I could feel my leg begin to numb up.  Cursing silently, I regained my footing and made the leap to the other side of the ditch.  My urgency was now not only for the sake of the dog but also for myself.  With the temperature dropping, I was at risk of frost bite.  I struggled up the slope, following the windblown path made in the snow.  At first I thought they might be deer tracks but after brushing away some snow, I clearly made out the large paw print of a dog.  With renewed hope of finding the dog, I crawled up the last bit of the slope and found myself on a bench about 40 feet wide and 100 feet long.  At the end was the mouth of an old train tunnel, closed to use almost 40 years previously.  The chain link fence, intended to keep people out, was mangled from countless trespasses s by local teenagers looking for a place to explore.  The path in the deep snow led to an opening on the left side of the fence.  Pulling out the flash light, I wedged myself through the opening, wondering what the darkness held for me.  If the dog was still in there I ran the risk of cornering it and it may attack out of fear.  Still, at least I would be able to get a hand on it and subdue it.  I swept the light back and forth as I crept deeper into the tunnel.  I could smell the pungent odor of infection as I proceeded.  Soon my light passed over a mass of black fur.  I froze as the light shown over a curled-up form.  I moved closer, seeing clearly the black and tan markings of a large male Rott.  I could see most of his ribs through the shivering, dull fur that covered him.
“Hey pup.  Hey puppy.  It’s ok.  You want to go for a drive?  How about a treat?”
My efforts to elicit a response went unheeded.  I moved closer, wanting to gain control of his collar in case he awoke.  Expecting at least some kind of reaction, I was surprised when the dog did not even move as my gloved fingers touched its neck.  The logging chain that encircled it was so tight I could not get a finger under it.  I realized that the dog was dying of exposure and I had to act fast. Disregarding the risk, I knelt and took the dog in my arms.  Judging by his size I figured he should weigh a healthy 120 pounds, but upon lifting him I realized that he was lucky if he weighed 75.   He let out a whine as I lifted him but he did not struggle, his strength long since taken by the harsh Montana winter.  As I carefully made my way to the tunnel’s entrance I noticed a glow in the distance.  Like a falling star, it seemed to grow larger.  For a moment I was startled, not sure what it was until I heard the harsh, shrill whistle of the approaching freight train.  As the train lumbered by I forced myself through the hole in the fence and made my way to the edge of the bench that fell to the ditch.  I stood holding the dog as the train passed, car by car.  As the last car went by I saw that along with the red warning light on the back, someone had made a star out of Christmas lights.  I chuckled, glad that someone had taken the time to remember Christmas while working.  Knowing I couldn’t safely walk down the steep slope with the dog in my arms, I fell to my butt and slid down.  My feet crashed through the ice once more, this time soaking both of my legs.  I wasn’t worried.  I had less than a mile to the truck and its heater.  I made my way up the railway embankment and then headed east along the tracks.  As I walked I prayed silently that the dog would live.  I could not feel breathing but tried not to think about that fact as I continued walking.  The pant legs of my overalls were frozen solid by the time I reached the truck.  Opening the passenger door, I laid the dog on the seat and quickly wrapped him with an old poncho liner I kept handy for emergencies.  I now heard his breathing, short and raspy, as if he had congestion.  Closing the door, I went to the driver side and got in, starting the truck and setting the heater on maximum.    
After letting the truck heat up I turned around and headed down the road, shivering slightly as my body struggled to regain warmth like the dog next to me.  I stopped at the Jacobson’s house since they were the ones who had seen the dog originally.  Becky opened the door before I could knock.
“Did you find him?”  The worry on her face was genuine. 
“Yes, but he is almost dead.  Can I use your phone to call the shelter?”
Becky’s husband was home and they both quickly invited me in.  As I dialed Val’s number at the shelter, they stood and watched, their faces solemn and concerned.  Becky peeked out the window briefly to see if the dog was visible in my truck.  The couple’s son sat playing on the table as I heard the phone ring through the headset.  Val’s welcome voice answered.
“Val, this is Tom.  I’ve got the dog, but he is in bad shape.  Won’t even move.  Can you get Dr. Murray in?”
“Sure can, I already gave him a heads-up about it.  He can be here in 15 minutes.  Do you think it’s hypothermia?”
“Yeah, that and severe malnutrition and possible abuse.  I’m up Jackson Creek and should be at the shelter in about 20 minutes.  Where do you want him?”  Valerie thought for a moment on what room was available.
“Well, let’s put him in the spay/neuter trailer for now.  When he’s healthy we’ll figure out where to put him.  Does he have any tags?”
“No, just a logging chain.  Looks like the damned thing was welded on.  It’s tight on his neck so we will have to cut it off.  He also reeks of infection, but I haven’t had time to look him over really well.”
“Lovely, well hurry down and Doc Murray and I will be ready.”
“Thanks Val, see you in a bit.”
I promptly thanked the couple for letting me use their phone.  Becky’s husband had listened to most of the conversation.
“Heck of a way to start the holiday, huh?”  I looked back at him and shook my head.
“No, really kind of sucks to tell you the truth.  Thanks again.  If you hear of who might own this dog please call the shelter, okay?”  They both nodded and wished me a Merry Christmas as I stepped back out into the cold mountain air.  Opening the door to my truck, I was greeted by the rank odor of the previously mentioned infection.  The Rottweiler did not move, though he was still breathing.  Pulling out onto the icy road, I heading towards Bozeman.   The snow was falling more heavily r as my headlights forged a path through the falling flakes.  The traffic on the interstate was sparse as I made my way through the canyon curves at the bottom of the pass.  All the while I kept one hand on the massive head of the Rott lying next to me.  I could feel that he had scars on one of his ears and muzzle.  The smell of the infection hung heavy in the truck, forcing me to open the window a crack to allow fresh air in.   After 25 minutes I was turning into the shelter, the sky a dark grey as night settled in.  I pulled up to the trailer that served as the spay/neuter clinic.  Val was waiting by the door and rushed out to help me.  As gently as we could, we pulled the Rott out of the truck and carried him up the metal stairs into the warmth of the trailer.  I said hello to Dr. Murray as he motioned us into one of the exam rooms.  I removed the poncho liner from the dog.  In the harsh light of the room we were exposed to the desperate condition of the dog.  All of his ribs showed as did many scars, several longer than my forearm.  Val shook her head as she tried to find a vein in which to administer an IV.  Trying to stay out of the way, I watched as the doctor and Val tried to get the dog’s body temp up and deal with any life-threatening issues.  After almost an hour, the dog opened its eyes, but I could see that its strength was gone. 
“Not much else we can do at this point.  I’ll be honest, I don’t think he’ll make it through the night.  If he does it will be a miracle.”  Dr. Murray’s face was strained with his words.
“Supposed to be the season of miracles isn’t it?  I guess we will just have to see.”  I walked over and placed my hand on the broad forehead of the dog.  His eyes followed my hand as it approached, filled with fear but relaxing when he realized that I wasn’t going to hit him.  I saw that the chain collar was much tighter than it should be and I made a quick decision.  I went out to my truck and, after a few moments of digging through my tools, I found my bolt cutter.  Walking back into the exam room, I noted Val’s look of confusion.
“If he dies he is not doing so with that damned chain on his neck.”  Valerie nodded and held the dog’s head as I cut through the links of chain.  The Rott did not move until we started to remove the chain itself.  The smell of infection suddenly grew worse.  The links had been imbedded in his skin.  As we pulled the chain slowly from his neck, the dog growled in discomfort but did not fight.  The chain, once removed, revealed deep wounds, each draining pus.  Val kept shaking her head in disbelief. 
“This is why I don’t like people.” she said.  Both Dr. Murray and I agreed with her. 
“I think we need pictures of this, Val. If we find the person who did this I am going to make sure he is nailed to a wall.” Dr. Murray stepped out of the exam room and returned shortly with the shelter camera.  Two rolls of film later we had documented every injury the dog had, including three circular burn marks that Dr. Murray figured to be cigarette burns.  With little else to be done, Dr. Murray left, telling us to call if anything changed.  Val and I stayed.  I sat by the dog’s head, my hand stroking him gently.  Expecting to be snapped at, I looked the dog in the eye, watching for the glimmer of life to return to him. The dog stared back at me, no aggression in his stare though he certainly had the right to hate me given all the abuse he had endured at the hand of man.  Still, the dog did not move, not even lifting his head as I stroked his soft, black hair.   Val checked his pulse and I could tell by her face that it wasn’t strong. 
I prayed silently, the first time in months that I had talked with God for more than a few seconds.  Now I felt overwhelmed to ask God to spare this dog, to give him the chance at life that he had never had before.  I watched as Val changed the IV bag hanging from a pole next to the exam table.  My fingers continued to gently rubbed the dog’s head.  Slowly, I moved my hand down to his muzzle, closer to his mouth, partially to scratch by his nose as my dogs always enjoyed the same, but also to see if he would bite, to gauge if there was any anger in him.  As my hand drew closer, the dog moved his head slightly.  With total tenderness, the dog licked my hand once.  I paused, startled by the act of tenderness, and watched the life fade from his eyes.  The light of the Rottweiler’s eyes dissipated slowly until it disappeared completely.   This was something I had seen many times growing up on a ranch, in the death of a calf or a deer I had shot, yet now this moment pierced me deeply.  I hung my head for an instant, allowing my hand to continue touching the nose of the dog. 
“It’s over, Val.”  Val looked down and tried to find a pulse but acknowledged what I already knew. 
“I’m sorry Tom.  Doc said that he might not pull through.”  I took a deep breath and stood up, still allowing my fingers to touch the short hair on the dog’s muzzle.  I swallowed my emotions and looked to Val.
“How do you want to handle this?”  Val asked, referring to the disposal of the body.  She was noticeably drained from the ordeal.  Her normal level of energy had been zapped by the loss of the dog. 
“We have pictures in case we ever find the person who did this.  So, I say we let this boy go.  I can get the crematorium fired up and deal with it tonight.  Do you want the ashes?” I thought for a moment about her question, wondering what benefit I would gain   by keeping the ashes.  I had only known the dog for five hours, yet something told me that was exactly what I should do.  I replied yes and grabbed my coat, poncho liner, and bolt cutters.  After putting things away in my truck, I helped Val carry the dog into the crematorium.  I watched as she slid his body into the fire chamber and closed the door.  I couldn’t speak or cry, and I simply watched in cold numbness as she activated the burners.  The room filled with the heat and roar of the flames as they began their work.  I walked outside and breathed in the cold, crisp air.  Val came out and stood with me as we watched the snow gently fall to the ground. 
“Gonna be cold tonight,” I spoke for no reason besides making small talk.  Val nodded.
“Yeah, they say it will be below zero.  You still heading over to Helena?” 
“Yeah, my friend should be at my place by now.  I suppose I should get going so we won’t be too late.  Thanks for all you did Val.  When you see the doc tell him thanks as well.”
“I will Tom, have a safe trip tonight, okay.”  I walked to my truck, trying to keep my mind from focusing on anything besides my footsteps.  As I drove home, I allowed the sound of the engine and the tires digging into the snow to keep my attention.  The ten minutes it took to get home felt as though I was in a time warp.  The passing cars and falling snow created a surreal experience.  I saw that the house lights were on, which meant that John must have gotten my note.  I opened the door to see that Mickey was laying on the couch with John as he watched TV.  Griz was by the door, and soon both dogs were at my feet, wanting my affection and sniffing at the odors that had accumulated during the evening. 
“Where you been, butt munch?”  John was rarely tactful, but his friendship was never in question.  When he saw my face he realized that his question was in poor taste.  I sat on the couch and allowed Griz and Mickey to come over for petting. 
“Crappy night, John, a really crappy night.” 
“Did you find the dog?” 
I nodded.
“Not a good ending, I take it?” 
“No John, not a good ending.  You ready to go?” 
“Yeah, just have to throw my gear in the truck.  You?” 
“Got packed before I got the phone call, but I don’t want to talk about it now.  Let’s get on the road before the weather worsens and Dad thinks I was in a wreck.”
John, the dogs, and I were loaded in my truck and on the road in less than 15 minutes.  After getting gas and a bite to eat we drove in silence. 
“You got any music to listen to?”  John was finishing up a cigarette as he asked.
“Just Christmas music, and I know how much you love that stuff,” my sarcasm clear in my answer.
“What they heck, it’s better than nothing.”  I leaned over and pushed the cassette into the tape player on my dashboard.  Soon the familiar songs of Christmas flowed from the speakers.  The songs helped keep my mind from wandering to the memory of the life that had faded from the dog’s eyes.   A song that I had not heard before came on.  As I listened to the lyrics a tear formed in my eye.
The blessed dawn of Christmas Day
I pray one day my heart will see
The light of God’s eternity
And know that Jesus died for me
Now close my eyes
So I may rise
At blessed dawn of Christmas Day
“Why the hell did he have to lick me?” I suddenly blurted.
John looked at me as if I was nuts.
“What are you talking about?  Who licked you?”
“The dog, he licked my hand.  He had every reason to bite me and he licked me.  After all the abuse he had received, he licked me.  He didn’t even know who I was.  For all he knew I was just another human going to hit him.  Instead he licked me.” 
John realized that I was starting to vent. We had been friends for over 24 years.  He had been by my side when my parents divorced, and I had been with him when he and his wife separated and finally divorced themselves.  Though we had many differences, our common bond of friendship and a shared love of animals allowed him to see what I was going through.
“Maybe he knew you were trying to help.”
“How could he?  My God, John, someone had burned him with cigarettes.  What kind of bastard does that?  That dog never even had a chance.  From the scars I saw, this dog never had a chance at life at all.  Yet he licked me....right before he died.   I hate doing that, considering an animal’s eyes as it dies.  Hunting is one thing.  At least there is a challenge and I eat what I kill, but this dog had no chance.  No chance at all.” 
“Yeah, he did Tom, you gave him that chance.  It just might have been too late is all.”  I remained silent for a moment as the emotion continued to swell within my chest.
“I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”
“Do what?”
“Rescue. I am thinking that the sacrifice is too much.  Hell, look at me.  I am 29 years old, and I don’t date, I don’t do anything.  Why? Because I spend all my time with Rottweilers.  What kind of life is that?”  John knew that the answers to my questions were in me already.  He shrugged in the dim light of the truck’s dashboard.
“The kind of life that you have chosen.  If not you, then who?”
“I don’t know.”
“It sounds to me like you are having a pity party.  I have been with you while you worked with the dogs at the shelter.  You love doing it.  You know you do.”  I couldn’t argue with John’s statement.  The pleasure the Rotts at the shelter got when I took them for walks over my lunch hour was something I did, indeed, enjoy.
“After your tumor was removed you went off on that religious kick, remember?  You were talking about God and about how you were born again.  I didn’t buy it for a while there, but I saw something in you change.  I don’t know if I believe all the stuff you say about Jesus, but I do remember some of the things you talked about.  You told me that when Jesus was crucified He asked God the Father to forgive those killing Him, right?  You said that was true forgiveness and true sacrifice.  Maybe, just maybe, that dog was doing the same thing, forgiving you, as a human, for all the crap it had received from humans.  And just maybe God was using that to get your attention.  You say Christ died for your sins, well the sacrifice you make for those dogs seems small compared to what He did for you.  Or are all the things you say you believe a bunch of garbage?” 
My hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as John’s words sank in.  It was not the issue of my sacrifice for the dogs but the topic of forgiveness that hurt.  Realizing that Jesus had forgiven those who killed him, I had to question who I was willing to forgive myself.  My anger at seeing the abuse and subsequent death of the Rott that night was focused on the people who had done such a thing to a magnificent animal.  Yet, I knew that I needed to forgive them whether they asked for forgiveness.  Judgement was to be reserved for God alone.  Tears gently traced paths down my cheeks.
We drove on as the music continued to play over the stereo.  My heart, mind, and soul conflicted with one another.  My thoughts returned to the gentle lick of my hand by the dog.  I silently asked God why He had let him die.  Not expecting an answer, I posed the question for my own analysis perhaps.  John pulled out a couple of cigars he had been saving as a gift for me.  Trying to relax, I lit the cigar and allowed the flavor to calm me.  I cracked the window a bit to allow the smoke to escape and the noise of the road to rush in along with the cold night air. John had lit his cigar and was puffing away quietly.  He looked through the back of the cab of my truck into the topper to make sure that my dogs were okay and not eating his duffle bag.  Turning back to look down the road, he took a puff on the cigar and then looked at me.
“What was his name?”  I took my eyes from the road for an instant and looked at John.
“Whose name?”
“The dog, what was his name?”  I looked back at the road and realized that during the whole ordeal the issue of the dog’s name had never entered my mind. 
“I don’t know, he didn’t have any tags.  I guess I didn’t think about it much.  I was more worried about saving him.” 
“A dog shouldn’t die without a name, just wouldn’t be proper.”
“No, I don’t suppose it would.”
“So, what should you name him?” I shrugged in uncertainty.  It was at that moment that something the pastor of my church had said returned to my mind. 
“His name was Venia.”
John looked over at me as if I was nuts.
“That sounds like a girl’s name. Where did you pull that one out of?” 
“It’s Latin for forgiveness.”  John was silent upon hearing the name’s meaning, the sound of the truck mixed with the soft Christmas carols emanating from the speakers filling the cab.
“I like it. Venia it is. Very appropriate.”  I nodded as everything that had happened finally fell into place in my mind. 
“Forgiveness through sacrifice.  Heck of a concept, huh?”  John took another puff of his cigar as I turned up the volume. 
“The meaning of Christmas, I believe.”  John nodded as he leaned his head back, enjoying his cigar.  The sound of ringing bells was crisp and clear as “Carol of the Bells” began to play.  My fingers tapped softly on the steering wheel as I allowed the music to reacquaint my spirit with Christmas.  In silence John and I listened to the music, captive to our own thoughts as we continued our journey down the highway.

The search for the dog was a real event and took place exactly as I described.  The fictional aspect of the story is that I never found him.  I lost his tracks in the drifts near the railroad tunnel.  To this day I don’t know what happened to that lost Rottweiler.  The descriptions of the wounds and condition of the dog are real, and I know of countless dogs who have come into shelters or rescues in similar condition.  The lick, the act of love by the dog, yes, I’ve seen that too.  This is why I love dogs the way I do.  We can learn a lot from them regarding the act of forgiveness.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Troy B. Kechely
Carly and Bradum in 2015. Bradum passed away Aug. 1, 2016.