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, January 12, 2020

Lead. Follow. Lead.

Lead. Follow. Lead
These three words sound simple, but I quickly learned it’s more difficult to apply than one might imagine.  
For me (Troy Kechely), the first time I heard them was in one of a dozen emails from my K9 instructor after he reviewed a video of a training sessions with my dog Daisy.  As I stumble through the process of learning how to transform Daisy and I into an explosive’s detection (EDD) K9 team, he made it clear I would hear those words often. 
He was right. 
Not only do I hear them from him, but I also find myself repeating them constantly. I even contemplated a tattoo on my arm as a reminder. 
So, what does lead, follow, lead actually mean? 
In the context of an EDD K9 team, it means that as a handler there are times to lead the dog and a time to follow the dog.  The trick is not only knowing when to do each, but to have the willingness to learn. Specifically, the “when” to follow part. Humans tend to want to always lead, especially when working with animals. Perhaps it is pride or a superiority complex, but it is a struggle. A good handler must learn to trust the dog.  That is a phrase I’ve heard often.  Trust the dog.  
The handler leads the dog on the search up until the dog begins to show signs it’s on an odor.  It’s then that the handler must relinquish their leadership role and trust the dog and follow. If the dog is struggling or you need to move to another area, then you lead again. 
Lead. Follow. Lead.
What’s interesting is that the more I repeat those words the more I see their application to all aspects of life—especially within teams such as those in special operations. 
Effective teams are comprised of members who know when to lead and when to follow. This comes with trust. Trust is earned through time, training, and real-world deployments. Once this is earned, trust your teammate that they will do their job, just like they trust you to do yours. 
Trust to lead, follow, lead.
Trust is the key. Both in the K9 and Special Operations world. If you want to learn more about this concept and others that make Special Operations and EDD K9 teams so amazing, then be a leader. Get signed up for the Special Operations Writers Conference and bring your friends. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Christmas Pardon

 The Christmas Pardon
By Troy Kechely
Copyright 2007

                Caitlyn heard a soft cough coming from the living room.  She stopped drying the dishes and went to investigate.  She saw Outlaw lying on his dog bed in front of the fireplace, a scene she had become accustomed to over the last three months.  Her three other dogs were each in their regular places on the two couches.  Their heads popped up wanting to see if Caitlyn had brought in any treats.  Determining she hadn’t, they laid down again and tried to fall back asleep.  All were still recovering from the past two days of Christmas celebration.  Caitlyn walked over to the old Rottweiler. 
            “You doing okay, Outie?”  She sat down next to his head.  The dog’s soft brown eyes looked up at her, though she knew he could barely see.  Even in the dim light of the smoldering fire and the lights of the Christmas tree, she could still see how Outlaw’s right eye was a lighter color than the other – the result of an untreated injury.  The vet had said that it was probably very painful for him, and Caitlyn started treating it the moment she took the dog in, but she wondered how many years he had suffered. 
She gently caressed his head as he laid it on her leg.  She could feel the scar on his ear and see the other one across the bridge of his nose. Down his neck, she felt yet more scars.  Each one was a story of hardship, each one a tale of neglect and abuse. 
            When she first heard about Outlaw it was in an email from one of the members of the dog rescue group she volunteered with.  The shelter in Missoula was asking if there was any way for the group to take an old Rottweiler who didn’t have long to live.  It was not uncommon for the group to take in such cases, trying to give the dogs a few final good months of life. 
What was uncommon was for a shelter to make such a request.  Usually they would just euthanize the dog, but there was something special about this one.  As the communications rolled back and forth, Outlaw’s story unfolded.  His name was fitting, as he had become a regular inmate of the shelter over a ten-year period.  Never for anything bad - mostly misdemeanors such as dog-at-large or chasing cats.  Each time, the family would come and bail him out, but the staff wondered what kind of home he was going back to. Over the years, they noticed evident untreated injuries and ailments, yet they had to turn him back to his owners after giving them warnings about his care. 
When he came in for the last time, the owners never showed.  The shelter called and found out that they had moved, leaving Outlaw to his fate at the shelter.  The staff knew that a dog this old would not be adopted, and his health had diminished to the extent that he had a hard time walking.  Mostly, he just liked to sit and be petted or hang out with one of the other dogs at the shelter that he had befriended. 
Once Caitlyn read the emails, she knew she wanted to take him.  She had a soft spot for the geriatric dogs, and something about Outlaw struck her heart in a way that she hadn’t felt in a long time.   She was not the only one who would be touched by him.  In only one week’s time from the first inquiry by the shelter, Outlaw was in a vehicle beginning the 500-mile journey to Caitlyn’s home in Wyoming. 
She received updates as he traveled along the route, starting with the goodbye at the shelter and how all the animal control officers and staff came out to bid farewell to the old Rottweiler, many of them in tears.  In all, half a dozen people were involved with his transport.  Caitlyn was always amazed at the efforts that her group put into saving a dog, even an old one that no one wanted. 
When Outlaw finally arrived, he immediately had her heart.  The dog, though large, had a gentleness about him that could not be described; it could only be experienced.  Caitlyn took him to her vet the day after he arrived and confirmed that his health was failing, a combination of old age and hard living. Focusing more on quality of life versus longevity, they started him on treatment for his eye and his hips, simply to ease some of his pain. 
With each passing day, Caitlyn found herself becoming more and more drawn to this dog and him to her.  More amazing, she saw everyone in her family being affected by him, including her own dogs.  Usually rambunctious and full of energy, her three other Rottweilers kept a wide berth of respect for Outlaw.  They did the usual sniff and greet, but after that, they let him be; when he walked by, they stepped out of his way.  Outlaw carried the air of superiority even in his degenerated state. 
Now, in the post-holiday quiet, she sat with him, feeling him breathe. Caitlyn wondered how Outlaw might have been as a younger dog.  Strong, vibrant, full of life and confidence. With each pass of her hand, she felt the bones of his back and the scars of countless injuries.  She noticed that her female Rottie, Gertie, was watching her with ever-vigilant eyes.  Caitlyn smiled at her, but Gertie did not acknowledge it.  Outlaw let out another soft cough pulling Caitlyn’s attention back to him.  She moved her hand down to his chest and felt the soft steady beat of his heart. 
“Thank you, God,” Caitlyn spoke out loud, thinking back to the last vet visit only a week ago.  The prognosis wasn’t good. After two hours of tests and discussion Dr. Sites told her the dog had only days, perhaps a week before he would pass.  Caitlyn had heard that before with a dozen different dogs, almost all due to cancer. Outlaw was different.  He came to her from a life of pain and wandering, and she made it her mission to give him as good a life as she could.  She had held back tears as she left the vet’s office. 
Driving home, she had prayed, “God, just get him through Christmas. I know you have to take him, but please get him through Christmas.  For me and the grandkids, please.” 
She realized now that each heartbeat, each breath, each moment was a blessing.  She looked up and saw the sheet of paper lying next to Outlaw’s bed.  She reached over and unrolled it to reveal letters made in thick colored marker.  She smiled.  Chelsea, her eight-year old granddaughter had become especially fond of Outlaw and took it upon herself to shower him with as much affection as he would tolerate. 
When the whole family arrived on Christmas morning, Chelsea was the most excited.  Her beaming smile had a way of lighting up the room, and it grew bigger as people opened the gifts that she gave them. Caitlyn’s son and his wife actually had to encourage Chelsea to open her own gifts. 
The entire morning, Outlaw rested on his bed in front of the fireplace and watched with his normal placid demeanor.  Even when Caitlyn gave him his stocking filled with doggie treats, he didn’t show a bit of excitement. Though, when he thought no one was looking, Caitlyn saw him pull one of the treats out and tenderly eat it.
At the end of the day, the room was strewn with wrapping paper, and all the grandkids were playing with their new toys. Chelsea suddenly ran to where she had hung her coat and then came running back, her blond ponytail with the candy cane striped ribbon trailing behind her.  She slid to a stop on her knees next to Outlaw. In her hands, she held a rolled up sheet of paper with a bright red bow.
“Chelsea, what do you have there?  Is that a gift for Outlaw?” Caitlyn asked.
“No, it is a gift for Outie,” Her smile beaming brighter than it had all day. 
“Honey, his name is Outlaw, you know that.” 
“Not anymore!  See?”  Chelsea handed Caitlyn the rolled-up paper.  As she unrolled it, the child’s scrawl became visible.  Having a grandpa who was a lawyer, Chelsea knew more about legal-speak than most adults, and the document showed it.
Pardoned of all Crimes and Sins
From this day on you are a new dog
You are no longer Outlaw but are now known as Outie.
Signed: God
“He is too nice too be an Outlaw, so he is now just Outie,” The room was silent as the grown-ups watched Chelsea put her arms around the old Rottweiler’s neck and give him a kiss.  “You are not an outlaw anymore, Outie.” 
Caitlyn took a deep breath and wiped a tear from her eye. 
For the rest of the day, Chelsea didn’t leave Outie’s side, playing with her toys and showing her Barbies to him.  Occasionally, if she wasn’t petting him enough, he would nudge her with his large head so she would stop what she was doing to pet him softly and talk to him sweetly.  When everyone left, Chelsea was the last to hug and kiss all of Caitlyn’s dogs, saving her final goodbye for Outie. 
Now, as Caitlyn sat with Outie, the silence was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the day before, but it was a nice change.  Her husband, Don, had gone to run a few errands, leaving Caitlyn with the dogs.  Normally she would have gone along, but she just didn’t want to be away from Outie. Petting him, she looked at the paper pardon and smiled. 
“I guess you got a full pardon buddy; no more jail for you, huh?”  She looked down at his head as she stroked his fur.  “Right, Outie?”  He didn’t move.  Caitlyn shifted her hand down to his chest and realized she couldn’t find his heartbeat.  Her chin trembled as she sat with him. 
Gertie got off the couch sensing something was wrong.  She walked up slowly and sniffed Outie’s paw and then laid down at Caitlyn’s feet.  She rested her head on her paws, her deep brown eyes looking first at Outie’s body and then up to Caitlyn’s face. 
“You are free now, Outie.  You can rest now.”  Caitlyn began to cry as her other two Rotties got off of their couch and moved near her, sensing her pain. Each laid down next to her, the silence of the room only broken by the crackle of the fire and Caitlyn’s sobs.
Outlaw and Kathy, the woman who opened her home to him.


            Like all of my Christmas stories, this one is based on actual events.  Outlaw was, as described here, an old Rottweiler who had lived a very hard life and had become a regular at the Missoula Human Society.  Then, one day, his family didn’t bother coming to get him.  The staff had grown to love Outlaw and many were, indeed, in tears as he was loaded up for his transport to Wyoming. 
Once there, Outlaw lived his few remaining months being pampered and spoiled like he deserved.  During a hot summer day, he went and lay under his favorite shade tree and coughed.   Kathy, the amazing woman who took him in, went over to him and sat next to him.  He laid his head on her lap and then passed away. 
            Everyone who met Outlaw, was affected by him in a way that is impossible to describe.  Being the one who was first contacted by the shelter, I started the ball rolling on getting him out of there.  I didn’t care how, all I knew is that this dog should not to die in a shelter.  That was the mission.  What was amazing was how many people stepped up to help.  Many others, myself included, offered him a home.  Yet, it was Kathy who was best suited to take him. 
            I would like to thank Teresa, Denise, Pam, Karen, Rich, Bill and Kris and everyone else who helped get Outlaw out of the shelter and into Kathy’s loving home.  The biggest thanks goes to Kathy.  It takes a very special person to take in a dog that you know will die soon.  I know of only one other person like her and they both are amazing. 
            I hope this shows the effort and purpose of rescue:  to give a dog a chance at a life that is filled with love and hope, even if only for a few months. 
            I pray that you all have a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year.

Troy Kechely

Tuesday, September 24, 2019





1.     physics

a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system's thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.

"the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time" ·

2.     lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.

In June 2019 I had the honor and privilege of being allowed to attend, as a guest, a K9 handler conference through the American Society of Canine Trainers International (ASCT).  This wasn’t a public event, as it was for doing the annual certifications for both law enforcement and civilian K9 teams. Having been a decoy for the local K9 teams for over two years I was already keenly interested in the event, but when the instructor, Chris Aycock, the president of the ASCT, opened up the classroom portion of the first day with the laws of thermodynamics he had my full attention.  Those laws are familiar to me given I majored in Mechanical Engineering, so to hear it brought up in a K9 school was unexpected, but I knew exactly where he was going with it. Though the laws were simplified for the course, it went as follows.  Everything in the universe is made up of energy. If energy isn’t put into something it falls into disarray, or in thermodynamic terms, entropy increases. Everything includes relationships; relationships with other people and relationships with animals.  It is in line with what I’ve always believed and have taught since starting Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue back in 1997. When it comes to dogs, you get out of them what you put into them.  i.e. If you don’t put energy into the dog, then it and the human canine relationship will fall into disarray. 

Now before you break out the crystals and go all new age on me, let me clarify what energy is in this context.  Energy is time, effort, thought, and emotion.  That’s it.  Anyone who has worked with difficult dogs or trained dogs to high levels of capabilities know this to be true for the simple fact that you can’t achieve such things without that investment of energy.

A great example of this is a Rottweiler named Jack that I talked about in my blog, The Terrible Twos. Jack’s owner called me thinking they would have to put him down due to aggression issues.  After a little advice she invested energy into Jack every day, never slacking.  Jack is now one of the most amazing dogs I know of, an obedient guardian and faithful friend of all of the family.

My two most recent rescued Rottweilers are other good examples. Those of you who have followed this blog know about Carly and that when I got her in 2013 she had major issues. In fact, it took me weeks before I could touch her without being bitten.  These issues were the result of abuse the first part of her life and then years in a kennel, waiting to be adopted. In February of 2019, I had to say goodbye to Carly.  Even on that day she wanted nothing more than to be by my side, even though her leg was quivering with severe pain.  In the years I had her I was the only person she trusted completely. There were a few others she trusted most of the time and those I could count on one hand.  She was just one of those dogs. Though she had fear issues, I was able to take her to public places and visit friends with little concern.  I knew what her issues were and made sure she didn’t have to deal with them unless I closely controlled the situation.  She looked to me for that comfort and trust.  All of this was only achieved through the investment of time, effort, thought, and emotion. Lots of it. And you know what? It was worth every bit.  Just like all the difficult dogs I’ve worked with, if you put that energy into them, into earning their trust, working through their issues, and training them to not be a slave to whatever hell of a past they came from, then you get amazing dogs.

With Carly’s passing I was without a Rottweiler in my life for the first time in 24 years.  To say there was a hole in my world was an understatement. It took four months before I got serious about looking for a dog, and it wasn’t until July that I adopted my 9th Rottweiler and 7th rescue.  Daisy came to me with issues, like all of the ones I take, but this time was different. Daisy is great with people, no fear at all.  Her issue is predatory drive. High predatory drive.  She was the first Rottie I had with the level of this drive that she has, and I purposely wanted her.  You see, for the last three years I’ve been working with K9 units.  Over that time several joked that I should get a dog so I could train with them.  Though such comments were often not that serious, it planted a seed.  That seed has now grown, and I’ve been given the opportunity to train Daisy for a very special purpose, as the team dog for the Gallatin County Tactical Dive Team.  We are not sure to what end her training will take her, but for now I’m striving to get her certified as a level 1 Search & Rescue dog through the ASCT.  What is interesting about this new journey is the energy required from both Daisy and I.  You see, a K9 team is different from a normal human pet bond.  It is deeper, more complicated, and requires much more energy to make it work.  That is where I’m at.  Investing time, effort, thought, and emotion.  All to train with and learn about Daisy and the world of K9 teams. So far that investment is paying off.  If things start to fall apart there will be one reason. Me. The investment of energy is all on me.  If I don’t invest, then the bond, and the hope of our success, will fall into disarray.  That is the nature of the universe.

So, I pose this to you.  Are you investing energy into your relationships? If you want to see them grow, to not fall into disorder or disarray, then invest that energy.  It’s worth it.

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Precarious Preconceptions

The other day I learned, yet again, about another incident involving an aggressive dog.  It was a dog-on-dog incident, and in the end, one dog required a trip to the emergency veterinary hospital to have her ear stitched up.  The situation was not uncommon, but it was startling in that the attack was truly unprovoked and was an ambush.

What’s most surprising is that these dogs have known each other for almost four years and have been on countless walks together.  In fact, according to those involved, the dogs had just completed an almost hour long walk during which the victim, a spayed female, had walked next to the aggressor, a neutered male of similar size, for almost the entire walk.  For the purpose of reporting this story, I’ll refer to the female dog as Moxy and the male as Jack.

The attack took place at the end of the walk.  Approaching the house where Jack lives, the owners of the dogs wanted to see what Moxy would do when she saw some inflated Halloween decorations near the front door.  The group walked up to the decorations and Moxy looked at them, a little on edge.  Jack was turned around facing Moxy, but off to her side.
In an instant, Jack latched onto Moxy’s head in a violent assault.  Moxy was blind-sided by the attack, which lasted a couple seconds before both owners could pull the dogs apart.  Moxy had a serious injury to the side of her head and ear, and she was taken to the emergency vet for treatment that required sedation and many stitches. 

Both owners were mortified by the incident, and Jack’s owner is making efforts to correct the issue.  The unfortunate aspect of this story is that it’s just another example that can be used to misconstrue how some breeds are more predisposed to aggression than others.  You see, one of the dogs was a Rottweiler, the other was a Golden Retriever.

* * *

Now be honest, when you learned the dogs’ breeds, did you automatically assume that the aggressor was the Rottweiler?  If so, then you are guilty of having precarious preconceptions about dog breeds.  Because the truth of the matter is that the aggressor was the Golden Retriever, the victim was the Rottweiler.  In fact, it was my Rottweiler, Carly, this past Saturday evening.
Carly's stitched up wounds while still under sedation.
Yes, I presented this situation in a veiled manner to prove a point.  We all are guilty of being prejudiced in one form or another.  With dogs, this prejudice is a result of our own personal experience but also, predominantly, it is skewed by the media in both news and entertainment.  How often has a news story covered a vicious dog attack and shown a stock graphic of a snarling Rottweiler or Pit-Bull only to find out the dog was some arbitrary mix? 

In over twenty years of rescue work and serving as an expert witness and instructor on canine behavior, I’ve seen aggression show up in every breed.  A friend of mine who worked in animal control for many years in a town of over 80,000 shared that retrievers were one of the main breeds implicated in dog bite incidents.  Does this mean that retrievers are naturally aggressive?  No more so than any other breed. 

The reason for the high number of bite incidents, based on my experience, is twofold:

  • First, the breed with the most bite incidents are almost always the most popular and numerous in that geographic area.
  • Second, the dogs with the aggression issues are almost always owned by people who, though aware of the problem, put in little to no effort to correct it.  

Recognizing and acknowledging those two realities, it becomes clear that aggression is not a breed issue but a human issue.

So where do we get these precarious preconceptions?  Emotions.  Media outlets are masters at playing on emotions—hooking your emotions ultimately translates into higher ratings and ad sales.
Sometimes those emotions are tied to past events.  An attack as a child by a specific breed of dog can leave a terrible emotional scar.  For me, the first time I was bitten was by a Golden Retriever when I was five.  I was playing in a friend’s front yard when the dog approached.  I did what I was taught in school.  I let him sniff my hand, and when I saw his tail wag I knew he was friendly (a fallacy that is, sadly, still taught).  When I reached to pet the dog’s head, he bit my face.  Thankfully there was no permanent damage and I don’t hold this incident against the breed.

What is interesting is that when I talk with someone who has a prejudice towards a particular breed of dog, the first thing I notice is how emotional they are about the topic. 

Now please don’t take this wrong, but I need to let you in on a little secret.  Emotions make us stupid.  More specifically, the more emotional I am, the less rational I become.  That’s just biochemistry.  Strong emotions limit our ability to access the rational part of our brains.  Thus, emotions make us stupid. 

So, if I’m chatting with someone, and the topic of Pit-Bulls comes up, and that individual becomes suddenly enraged, I know that trying to rationalize with them is a wasted effort, at least while they are so charged up.  The time to address prejudices is not when you or the other person is stuck in the heat of an emotion, but only when both parties are able to look at the facts of the matter.

A great example of this occurred in January 2009 when a state legislator tried to introduce a bill that would ban “Pit-Bull type dogs”.  As you might imagine, there were a lot of very emotional people both for and against this bill, with the majority falling in the latter category.  People in western culture are, after all, very emotional about their pets.  

With standing room only, I was one of a handful of people allowed to testify before the subcommittee.  The man who spoke before me, a representative of the Humane Society of the United States and a dear friend, gave an excellent presentation on the fallacies of identifying a dog’s breed type based on appearance.  He showed that it would be nearly impossible logistically and financially to test dogs and classify them as “Pit-Bulls”. 

When my turn came, I stood before the committee, looked at my notes, and realized that I couldn’t use them.  I understood the focus of my notes was all about breeds and the misconception that some are more aggressive than others.  Instead, I improvised and made my presentation on the true heart of the problem: the owners. 

Dog aggression is not a breed problem.  It is a human problem.  Over 30,000 years of cohabitation between humans and canines shows that dogs are amazingly forgiving and show considerable restraint with regard to aggression stemming from their natural instincts.  Over my entire life I’ve seen nearly every breed of dog show some form of extreme aggression.  The problem always goes back to the numbers of breeds in an area, the culture of the people that own them, and whether that regional culture is one that has a shared positive value for human and canine lives or not.  People who don’t value and respect the human-canine bond, well, those are the ones that create the conditions for high rates of aggression in particular breeds.  Improvising as I did at the subcommittee hearing, I tried my best to explain this issue.  Thankfully they were not emotional about the topic and listened to reason, killing the bill.

So back to the original topic.  Do you have precarious preconceptions regarding particular dog breeds?  If so, ask yourself why?  I know for me, having worked with as many dogs as I have, I can say that all dogs have the potential for aggression.  The responsibility is always on humans to be aware of that potential and make constant daily choices to mitigate the risk. 

The world is full of horrific examples of precarious preconceptions towards specific dog breeds.  Let’s all take a deep breath, let the emotional charge dissipate, and base our biggest decisions on facts.  To solve canine aggression issues, we need to look at and calmly address the base behaviors of the individual animal and not write off the breed as a whole. 

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

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

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