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.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Christmas Gift

To say my dad had a big heart, especially for family and children, would be an understatement, he was a pediatrician after all.  However, that big heart rarely extended to animals.  He was old school in that animals were just that, animals, things to perform a task with little affection being shown. Provide for their needs and use them as you will, anything else is wasted effort. I remember once when he was giving me a riding lesson he stated,

“Never be nice to your horse in the mountains cause it’ll get you killed.” 

He learned horsemanship from old cowboys where a heavy hand was the norm.  To be clear, my dad wasn’t cruel, he just rarely showed any affection for an animal. Try as I might to emulate that creed I just couldn’t.  Instead, I always connected with the animals on a deeper level than what appeared to be the case with my father. That isn’t to say I didn’t jerk a rein hard when the horse was being obstinate, it’s just that I preferred to work with the horse rather than against it whenever possible.  Perhaps it was the narrow mindedness that teens sometimes possess, but I just never saw my dad having that same point of view. Then one Christmas night he proved that he was much more than a heavy hand, when it came to horses, and that I should never look at the exterior gruffness of a person, but rather try to see the heart beneath.

It was early evening on Christmas Eve or Christmas day and dinner had ended.  My younger siblings were playing with toys or the latest football video game that had become a tradition at our house.  Whatever the case, most everyone was in the living room when I heard dad call me from the kitchen,

“Troy, come help me check the horses.” 

Always preferring the company of horses or dogs over humans, I left the festivities and joined my dad.  From the entry hall we went out into the cold garage and started putting on layers of wool and Carhart coveralls to fend off the single digit temps that we knew awaited us outside. 

“Is everything okay?” I asked as I zipped up my Carharts, knowing full well that for my dad to go outside on Christmas was unheard of.  He mumbled something about checking the horses’ water and feed, though I knew that was false, as I had set out a round bale for the herd just the day before and they still had plenty of hay.  I didn’t press the issue, though, as I had learned to just go with it and not question everything my dad did. Once outside, the chill snapped at any exposed flesh as the snow creaked with each step of our boots.

“Go get one of the kid’s sleds and meet me over at the tack shed”, Dad ordered.  I obeyed as I watched him trudge through the foot deep snow that had drifted across the path to the small log cabin serving as storage for all our saddles and horse related gear.  Digging out a long red plastic sled that had been snowed over, I dragged it to the shed with the long rope that was tied to the front.  “Here, help me out”, Dad requested, handing me a fifty pound bag of oats and then another one of alfalfa nuggets. Being the one responsible for the care of the horses and all the tack, I knew that these bags of feed were recently purchased and not by me.  It was then that I realized what my dad was up to. 

In silence we walked down the snow packed road toward where the horses stood huddled around the mound of hay, the laden sled dragging behind with both dad and I sharing the effort.  Breathing caused the cold to sting our lungs and form icy clouds with each exhale.  For almost three hundred yards we walked until dad was content with the spot.  The horses were in another field about a hundred yards from us, huddled around the swath of hay that I had spread out with the tractor the day before.  We were free of the bright lights that illuminated the house and now stood in the dark field with a sliver moon and a river of stars above us.

“Stomp down the snow”, Dad instructed me as he pulled out the big folding Buck knife he always carried.  As I formed a trench with heavy steps of my boots, I heard the tearing of the bags and saw dad start to pour out a long line of oats in the boot formed trench.  I went back and did the same with the bag of nuggets. As I finished, my dad let out a shrill whistle that echoed off the mountains surrounding us. 

The low rumble of thundering hooves was heard across the snow as the dozen horses responded to the call.  They had heard it before.  The whistles always coincided with food.  I used a different whistle than my dad but the effect was the same.  At the head of the herd were our two Belgian draft horses, David and Goliath.  After them came our various saddle horses, icy bellows blasted from their nostrils as their hooves shook the earth through the deep snow.  It really was a beautiful sight, the clear night sky above, a partial moon making it almost like daytime with the blanket of snow, and through it all a thundering herd of horses. 

Stomping hoofs and showers of snow halted the advance as nostrils sucked in the aroma of the oats and nuggets.  The herd ignored us as they necked down to their Christmas treat.  I watched as my dad went to each horse, patting their necks affectionately, and then quietly wishing them a Merry Christmas.  I had done this before, sneaking out during Christmas to wish the dogs and horses a Merry Christmas, but always solo.  I would load up my pockets with alfalfa nuggets to give as gifts but dad had taken it to a much higher level, as was his nature.  Once the food was consumed, the horses milled around for a little while longer, sniffing us to make sure we hadn’t secreted away another treat for them.  Satisfied that the food was gone, the herd meandered back to the hay they had left for their unexpected gift. 

Without a word I grabbed the rope to the sled, and together with my dad, walked back to the house.  The silence of winter always appealed to me but that night it was even more powerful.  I saw my dad differently that night and it forever changed my view of him as a person, as a horseman.

Going back into the house, the blessed silence of the outdoors was replaced with the noisy merriment's we had abandoned an hour earlier.  No one noticed we were back, and for that matter I don’t think anyone realized we had departed.  Neither dad nor I said a word, as none were needed.

Merry Christmas everyone.  May your family, your pack, your herd, all be blessed.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What the hell do I have to be afraid of? I have Bo!

After founding Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue in March 1997, I began working closely with the Humane Society of Gallatin Valley in Bozeman, Montana.  Any Rottweiler that came into the shelter was my responsibility to evaluate, train, and find a home for, and it was no different when I came across a dog named Bo.

Part of my duties at the shelter were to do home checks for any Rottweilers that people wanted to adopt.  On one such occasion, while out in Three Forks, Montana, I was told by the applicant that I should check out a Rottweiler just down the alley from them.  They said that all the neighbor kids threw rocks at the dog every day after school and he really wasn’t cared for by the owners.  Finishing my home check, I drove down the alley and found an eight foot square pen made of sheep fence with a couple pieces of plywood rigged up in a failed attempt at a shelter.  Inside the pen was a dark dog with the markings of a Rottweiler.  I say dark dog because his coat was not the typical black but rather it was gray with dirt and grime.  Stepping out of my car, I started walking toward the dog causing him to slip into protection mode, his barks alerting the owner who was working on something in the yard. She walked over to me as I neared the pen. I introduced myself, saying I was with Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue and just loved Rottweilers and stopped to see hers.  She explained how Bo was her son’s dog but he could no longer keep him.  While we talked, the dog pushed his head through one of the deformed squares of wire. I could tell he was craving for any kind of human affection, but I didn’t dare approach as his eyes told me he was very protective of his space. The lady even warned me, telling how one of their relatives had reached in to pet Bo, only to be rewarded with a trip to the emergency room.  Bo’s eyes are what struck me most and when I see a picture of him today I experience the same feeling each time.  His eyes were intense and powerfully intelligent. Not the intelligence that you see with some dogs, a higher level, such that I swear the dog was thinking more than most humans I interacted with.  Deep in that powerful stare, behind the anger and rage of being kept in a small pen, there was a glimmer of desire.  The desire to be loved, to be a dog in a home instead of in an isolated cage.

Inside the kennel lay an empty water dish, its bottom and sides covered in green algae. I mentioned the dog needed some water and the lady shrugged her shoulders as if not caring but, perhaps motivated by my glare, grabbed a hose and filled the dish, not bothering to clean it out.  

At this point in my life I was well trained in various martial arts and the use of weapons. This is important because at that moment, it took every bit of restraint I had to not unleash each skill I had on the insensitive excuse for a human that was filling the filthy dish with water.  I kept telling myself that my goal was to save the dog and nothing else.  I had decided that very thing the first time I had looked in Bo’s eyes.  Even if he was aggressive and needed to be put down, I couldn’t leave him there to rot his existence away. Better to end life with someone who cared than to waste away unloved. With that in mind, I continued the conversation and learned that they didn’t want the dog and were thinking of selling him.  It took about twenty minutes of polite conversation before I convinced them to surrender the dog to the local shelter the next day. I say polite because that is one skill I learned in rescue.  Focus on the dog and saving it, regardless of what you want to say to the people.  Be professional, be polite, save the dog. With her promise on the deal, I left. While driving back to Bozeman I called the shelter and let them know that Bo would be coming in the next day. I also let them know we would need to handle him with care.  Thankfully the staff were top notch so I wasn’t too concerned.  Yet as I drove, the rage of seeing Bo in those terrible conditions still boiled inside me.  It took a long time for that rage to go away but sadly, in rescue that rage easily returns when you see the terrible things people do to dogs on a daily basis. The only counter to that is when a dog is saved. When a dog everyone had given up on is turned around and becomes an amazing member of a family and society.  This roller coaster ride of rescue is best summed up in one sentence which I share with anyone wanting to get involved with rescue.  The negatives outnumber the positives, but the positives outweigh the negatives.  The good things may be less frequent than all the bad things but when the good things happen they remind you why you do what you can to save a dog.  One of the best quotes I’ve seen that captures this is: “Saving a single dog won’t change the world but it will change the world for that one dog.”

Flash forward six months.  After Bo came into the shelter, under the expert care of the staff and myself, he became the shelter mascot.  Because he had a strong distrust of people and kids he was difficult to place but that was okay with the staff, who all grew to love and trust the Rottweiler who helped them with their chores every morning.  I will tell more about Bo and his long stay in future blogs, but there is one story that shows how strong an impact a dog can have on a person.

Jamie was a kennel tech at the shelter.  A young lady in her late teens or early twenties, she was perhaps a hundred pounds, if wearing heavy clothing and soaked with water.  She was a thin, gentle gal, who loved all animals, especially Bo.  Now, the shelter back then was located next to the East Gallatin River, with a labyrinth of trails local fisherman used to access the stream. Others that used the trail were homeless people who had taken to setting up camp in the thick underbrush. This homeless population became an issue when some of them began harassing others and even attempting assaults.  The police were concerned enough to give a warning to all the shelter staff and volunteers.

During this time, the shelter had just a couple fenced yards to put the dogs into during cleaning time and a limited number of volunteers to walk the dogs. Dogs like Bo were classified as gold star dogs because of their behavior issues, so only qualified staff and volunteers could walk them.  To offset the lack of exercise time for dogs like Bo, the staff would walk them early in the morning and then let them hang out inside while they cleaned the facility. Sometimes additional walks were provided by qualified volunteers like myself during the day. Finally, before the shelter would close, the staff would walk them again. 

On one of those walks, when it was still dark out, Jamie had taken Bo out on the trails by the river.  This was after one of the warnings by the police about the homeless people causing problems.  Jamie told me the next day that she was terrified as she walked and spent the entire time looking every direction, thinking she was going to be attacked around every corner.  Then an epiphany hit her.  Everyone knew that Bo was protective of his territory as well as those he cared for, so much so that when the staff were being threatened by an irate customer it was decided to keep Bo behind the front desk until the situation was resolved.  With this knowledge, Jamie stopped, Bo stopped and looked up at her.  Looking at the Rottweiler at her feet she said out loud.
“What the hell do I have to be afraid of? I have Bo!” 

With new confidence, Jamie proceeded on her walk as if there wasn’t anything in the world that could harm her.  You know what?  She was right.  Anyone that knew Bo, anyone who spent time with that amazing dog, knew that he would give his life for ones he loved.  What really was amazing about him was not only that devotion but also his restraint when he had to be aggressive, but that is another story. 

Bo ended up being at the shelter for almost a year before a home was found.  If I hadn’t already owned two dogs, Bo would have been mine.  He not only gave Jamie and the staff confidence when walking him, he also was the reason I met someone who would end up being one of my best friends.  All this because we shared a love of Rottweilers, particularly a steely eyed one named Bo.

For more information about Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, go to and don’t forget to check out my novel, Stranger’s Dance, on Amazon. Bo was one of several dogs that helped inspired the character of Stranger. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Horse Named Jane

Many people don’t realize that I was adopted and that, as an adult, I tracked down my biological mom to ascertain some medical information.  Though I had no emotional interest in a relationship with her, we did become friends and in the subsequent years I learned how different my life could have been if she hadn’t given me up for adoption.  If she had kept me I would have grown up in upstate New York in a depressed industrial town where drug and alcohol abuse was the norm.  Instead, by putting me up for adoption, I grew up on a ranch at the base of the Continental Divide west of Helena, Montana doing things that most people only dream of.

Something I’m most thankful for in growing up where I did, was the interactions I had with the animals of the ranch, especially the dogs and horses.  Being an introverted child and not always welcome with my brothers in their activities, it was normal for me to be out by myself exploring our 200 acres with a dog or two by my side.  These outings regularly included visiting our herd of horses who seemed to tolerate the short human who would wander through the forest of legs and swishing tails as if I belonged there. 

One of my herd favorites was my mom’s horse, Jane.  A tall chestnut with a wide white blaze that ran from mane to nose down her beautiful head.  She was a natural cutting horse who had an intelligence beyond some of the others in the herd.  For those unfamiliar with ranch life, a cutting horse is one used to separate cattle from the herd.  A good cutting horse is nimble and quick on the hoof, and often they know the task better than their rider which makes for a fun ride. Even with this skill, Jane was a forgiving horse for a novice that might climb on her back. Tolerating jerking reins with the patience of an old mother when teaching her children.

What set Jane aside in my memory is not only her tolerance of me as rider and my visits to the herd, but her trust in her riders. Often when something startles a horse they panic, transitioning into flight mode, the primitive survival instinct that has served equines for eons.  Jane on the other hand was calm in the face of chaos and one instance stands out among all others.

During the summer months we leased land from the U.S. Forest Service on top of MacDonald Pass to graze our cattle while putting up hay on our ranch. This involved a cattle drive in the spring to drive them up and then another one in the fall to bring them back down. During one fall roundup, the family loaded up the horses into our old Chevy stock truck and drove up the long and winding road to the top of the pass.  Normally we would unload near a campground just west of the beacon that graced the top of the pass but for some reason that gate was locked and we had to go to an alternate place.  That happened to be the parking lot of the now closed Frontier Town.  It was the only place that provided an embankment suited for unloading the six horses safely. The problem with the location was that it was in a fenced in area with a cattle guard at the entrance.  My parents didn’t seem too concerned as there was a barbed wire gate next to the cattle guard that we would use.  So we unloaded horses and prepared the saddles for a long days ride and then lead the horses to the entrance.  My dad dropped his lead rope to his horse, Buck, and tried to open the gate.  Normally a gate would have a wire loop at the top that you would just slip off the post but this one had actually been wired closed.  So with gloved hands my dad struggled to undo the twisted steel. Wanting a better angle at the task, my dad stepped across the long metal bars of the cattle guard to the other side of the fence.  My mom was helping on the side the horses were on and had also dropped her lead rope to Jane.  Buck, seeing his rider on the other side, decided to join him, and Jane, not to be left out, followed in line.

For the city dwellers reading this (thank you by the way), a cattle guard is designed to allow vehicles to drive over but prevents livestock from crossing it.  This is accomplished by have long beams of steel running perpendicular to the road with about a six to eight inch spacing over a pit about three feet deep.  This lets wheels drive over but because of the gap, livestock won’t dare cross it.  At least that is the intent.

Buck, fear be damned, walked right across that cattle guard as if he was divinely inspired and walking on water itself.  By the time my parents saw what was happening, Buck was across and Jane was half way there when the worst happened.  As if a trap door had opened under her, Jane dropped like a stone with all four legs spearing down between the beams. Like any normal horse she started to panic and I remember my dad rushing over and yelling

“Whoa Jane!”

Jane did just that.  Propped there quivering, her belly the only thing keeping her vertical as her legs dangled in the metal trap.  Slowly, calmly, my mom and dad undid Jane’s saddle and removed it.  Then, all while talking gently to Jane, they rolled the big horse on her side so all four legs were free of the beams.  Then as a family, we pushed and pulled Jane across the cattle guard onto the dirt where she promptly stood up and shook excitedly, happy to be free of the snare. Other than a few scrapes, Jane was fine and after we got the gate open we all were on our way again to continue with the day’s work as if nothing had happened.

After my parents divorced several years later, Jane stayed with the herd at that ranch which my dad kept.  She became my horse until her years caught up with her and her time ended.  She was an amazing horse who will always hold a place in my heart.  Never before have I seen a horse who trusted her riders so much as to allow what I saw that day.  She really was something special.

In my first novel, Stranger’sDance, I wanted to honor Jane and other horses that had been a big part of my life by giving them parts in the book.  It is the least I can do for so many years of friendship. My second novel, which is almost finished, gives such honor to an amazing horse named Comanche by having him be one of the main characters. The goal being in all my books, to show how animals impact our lives in powerful, wonderful ways. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Sleepless Night and a Dog Named Bear

In January 1997 I had been a proud Rottweiler owner for just over two years.  I can’t say I knew what I was doing when I first got them but to say I experienced a learning curve is an understatement.  Learning cliff perhaps. Regardless of the efforts to learn how to be a dog owner, I was certainly infected with the Rottweiler bug.  It is a nasty contagion, the Rottweiler Bug, one that makes you think that any canine that isn’t a Rottweiler is, well, just a dog.  I know that other breeds cause this same illness but I still think they are mere colds compared to what I was infected with. 

As part of that illness, I found myself gravitating toward fellow Rottweiler people.  Think of it an alcoholic meeting up with other alcoholics but with no interest in breaking the addiction, in fact, more is encouraged.  One such venue for that was a chat group called Rottie-L, best described as an electronic social center with almost one thousand members from all over the world, all of whom were addicted to Rottweilers.  It was there that I had my first exposure to the world of Rottweiler Rescue.  I kept seeing posts of dogs needing transports from one rescue to an adoptive home or from a shelter where it was at risk of being euthanized and needed help getting to a rescue. While following these posts in early March, I saw one post that encouraged people to go to a certain website to see who was doing rescue or transports in your state.  I clicked the link for Montana and saw that there was no one listed for the entire state.  I thought to myself, I got a truck with a topper, I can help transport if needed.  So doing my good deed for the day I entered my name and contact information for providing transports for the state of Montana. 

Going home that night I actually had a proud feeling, as though I had done something good for the world by just typing my name on a website.  As my Rottweilers, Taz and Mickey, greeted me at the door, I proudly told them that I was now helping other Rottweilers as if they cared. They were only interested in getting pets from dad and dinner.  Still I felt a little bit self-righteous as I went to bed only to find myself unable to sleep.  Laying there I felt Taz and Mickey lying next to me, Mickey down by my legs snoring as always and Taz with her head across my shoulder breathing hot breath across my neck, a nightly ritual that I had learned to tolerate. One thought kept passing through my mind: If no one was doing transport in Montana, who is doing rescue?  This really bothered me because I wondered if something happened to me then who would take care of my dogs. 

The next morning I posted on Rottie-L asking about what was involved in starting a rescue.  I was very blessed to have two amazing women, Grace Acosta of Gulfstream Rottweiler Rescue in Florida, and Jan Cooper in California, share their knowledge of rescue.  After about a week of research I decided to go and talk to the local animal shelter.

Now it is important to understand that I had resided in Bozeman, Montana since 1990, so for seven years living there I had not gone to the animal shelter once.  Even while residing in a trailer house right next door for four months, I still never saw its front door.  So when I pulled into the parking lot I really wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into and felt a bit of trepidation. As I exited the car, the air was filled with barks of dozens of dogs somewhere beyond the cold concrete exterior. The entire setting was not exactly inviting but I reminded myself that I was just there to talk to them about Rottweilers.  There was no intent on a commitment. Seriously, I was just there to talk.

Just as I reached the door it flew open and I nearly collided with a woman who was rushing out.  She paused at nearly running into me, but wasn’t overly startled. She had salt and pepper hair, glasses and the distinct odors of caffeine and chocolate. 

“May I help you?” She asked politely.  I later learned her name was Vicki. Someone I would come to count as a dear friend over the years.

“Yes, my name is Troy Kechely and I’m thinking of starting a Rottweiler rescue.”  It is very important to point out that I said ‘thinking of starting’ not that I was starting one.  Vicki beamed a smile and grabbed my shoulders and I swear to you, I thought she was going to kiss me right on the lips.  It was the first time I was scared in rescue. No, scared is not right, terrified, mortified, well you get the idea.

“Oh we are so glad you are here, we have this Rottweiler…”  Vicki dragged me through the lobby and back through a labyrinth of narrow hallways to one of the kennels.  All the while throwing out words at a thousand miles per hour. Words like ‘cage aggressive’, ‘growling’, ‘vicious’. Words that I certainly wasn’t ready for let alone equipped to handle.  Stopping in front of a chain link kennel I was greeted by a one hundred pound male Rottweiler slamming his body against the gate, teeth flashing between barks that were so deep and terrifying that I was glad I had urinated prior to coming there.  
“Bear acts all tough but he’s real friendly once he’s out of his kennel.” Vicki yelled over the baritone barrage as she reached to undo the kennel latch.

“You’re going to let him out!” I shrieked in a tone way to high for a tough Montana man to ever admit too.  That was the second time that I was scared in rescue.

With the latch released, Bear bounded out, nub wiggling excitedly as he sniffed my legs and nudged my hand for affection.  I was dumbfounded. Vicki went onto explain that when he was petted he would growl and the owners thought that Bear was being aggressive and would hit him to punish him.  They surrendered him because they didn’t feel he was safe.  She didn’t believe them though, insisting they were just typical stupid people. A common view of humans shared by Vicki and most people who get involved in rescue work. 

As I petted him, sure enough, I heard a rumble, but having owned Rottweilers for a few years I knew that it was just the Rottie Rumble.  Think of it as a cats purr. The males seem to do it the most but when a Rottweiler is happy they will give a rumble.  You have to be around them a bit to know what is a happy rumble versus a not happy rumble but there was no doubt that Bear was giving the former. 
For the next several weeks I took my lunch hours from work to visit the shelter and play with Bear. One day while out in the yard with him, Vicki came out and said,

“I don’t know what you are doing with him but keep it up.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“His cage aggression, it’s gone. No barking and growling when people go by now.” 

I really didn’t know what I had done as I know I wasn’t doing any training, mainly because I didn’t know how to.  All I was doing was playing with him.  That was it: time, attention, exercise, consistency.  All were the ingredients to taking a stir-crazy Rottweiler and making him into an adoptable dog. 
Bear, the first dog that BSRR helped save.
After a month Vicki asked me to review an application to adopt Bear from someone.  I had been learning enough about rescue to know that part of the adoption process involved an interview and home check so that is what I did.  The young lady was a professional barrel racer on the rodeo circuit and Bear would be with her where ever she went.  I approved the adoption and gave Bear a hug as he went onto his new life.  He was my first rescue and I learned more in those six weeks of working with him than with any other dog since. 

Remember that addiction involving Rottweilers? Well there is a higher form of it.  It’s called rescue, and I got nailed with it hard that fateful day back in March 1997 when I thought Vicki was going to kiss me just because I thought of starting a rescue. Little did I know that I would volunteer at that shelter for almost ten years, during that time I learned the art of handling aggressive dogs and behavior modification. Even developing course material for all the shelter staff and volunteers and eventually teaching around the nation. Oh, and that rescue I was thinking of starting, well it grew into Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue.

I’m not involved with the daily operations of BSRR any longer, focusing instead on my writing efforts, but thanks to amazing volunteers over the years it has saved over one thousand dogs since that first day and I owe it all to a sleepless night and a dog named Bear.

For more information about rescue and Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, go to and don’t forget to check out my novels, Stranger’s Dance and Lost Horse Park on Amazon.

Friday, November 13, 2015

These Aren't Normal Dogs

In early October 1994 a coworker told me that her sister had a female Rottweiler who was about to have puppies and she was going to buy one. Like a fool, I committed to purchasing one as well, though I had no idea why. Perhaps it was just another step to adulthood since I had a good job and was in the process of purchasing a home. Regardless of the reason I had made the commitment. Being a typical stupid twenty-something male I then told her to pick out a big aggressive one.  Looking back I shake my head at my ignorance.  Seriously, what was I thinking? I had never seen a Rottweiler in real life, and my only experience with dogs was our ranch dogs who were more like four legged free loaders who followed us around on the ranch during chores. My knowledge of dogs was so limited that the first thing I did was go out and purchase a book called Rottweilers: A Complete Pet Owner’s Guide.

With a newly read book and not much else, I waited expectantly for my dog to appear.  I had already decided that I would name my dog Taz regardless of the sex.  Being an avid fan of the Tasmanian Devil on the old Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons, the name seemed a logical choice. During that time I learned that my coworker couldn’t keep her dog where she lived so I agreed to keep her at my house, another fateful decision.  So here I was expecting two eight week old Rottweilers with not a clue as to what I was getting myself into. The weeks after my fateful decision flew by, and the pups were born October 28, 1994 with no males available so I knew I was getting a female.  The pups weren’t available until after Christmas so I arranged to visit my mom out in Portland for the holiday, figuring I would be limited on my travels once I became a puppy parent. After Christmas I flew back home on December 26th, the very day the dogs arrived. There before me were two black and tan balls of fur and curiosity. Taz and Mickey were my first experience with puppies, let alone Rottweilers, and the lessons I would learn from them would transform my life in ways never imagined. 

Over the next twelve months I went through the painful process of house training and learning of the destructive habits of puppies.  After a year my coworker realized she couldn’t keep her dog so I was now the proud owner of both of them.

It was while playing with them and simply watching them grow and explore that I realized there was something different about them from other dogs I had known.  They were thinking, scheming at times, they were, for lack of a better description, not normal dogs. It was then that I started down the path of researching more about the breed and their unique traits. They certainly were not like the mutts or cattle dogs from my ranch experience.

As Taz and Mickey grew older I found myself changing my lifestyle to accommodate them.  I quickly learned that if they were bored or not exhausted from exercise then they became destructive.  To this day I believe that there is no more destructive force on earth than two bored Rottweiler puppies. So, long walks and play sessions became the norm.  This grew the bond between us, so much so that I found myself wanting to get home from work to spend time with my dogs instead of going out with friends. The reason was simple enough, I was finding my time with dogs more enjoyable than humans, or at least humans who didn’t like dogs. 

My dad struggled with my new devotion to my dogs, not being a man that thought more of dogs than, well, just dogs.  I was starting to see these powerful, intelligent, exuberant pups as companions, even starting to refer to them as my kids, something I never thought I’d do. This disagreement came to a head one weekend when the dogs and I drove the two hours back to the family ranch west of Helena, Montana.  Taz and Mickey had accompanied me many times before and had always stayed with me in the house, but for whatever reason my dad said my dogs couldn’t stay inside anymore.  I told him that my dogs sleep indoors with me and dad made it clear again that they were not welcome in the house.  I said, ‘okay’, and didn’t discuss it again during the night.  Come bedtime, I went outside with my dogs and all three of us spent the night sleeping in my truck.  The next morning my dad saw the dogs and I exiting the truck and asked where I slept.  I told him in my truck and he asked, amazed, and why I would do that when there was a perfectly good bed in the house for me?  My response floored him.

“I told you, the dogs sleep where I sleep.”

I don’t recall the exact words my dad replied with but I’m sure ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ were mixed in his tirade. My dad never grasped the connection that had formed between my dogs and me.  It was similar to the bond I shared as a youth with the ranch dogs, barn cats, and horses on the ranch.  Those I will detail in future blog posts. It wasn’t that I was adverse to my dogs sleeping outside, it was just that I had come to realize that my world was full of many things: family, friends, job, hobbies, and many other things, but for my dogs, their entire world was me.  I had never had a living thing so trusting, so dependent on me for its existence, and it wasn’t something I was willing to discard or treat in a cavalier fashion. For that I was willing to make sacrifices, including sleeping in my truck.

Months passed and during that time I heard all the rumors about how Rottweilers became aggressive and turned on their owners as they got older.  I couldn’t imagine those being true as I watched my now 18-month-old dogs play.  At nearly 90 pounds, though, they were starting to be intimidating even if still exhibiting some of the uncoordinated antics that puppies do.  Then one summer night my worst fears came to fruition. 

My dogs slept on the bed with me and while in a deep sleep I heard deep growls unlike anything I had heard before. I opened my eyes and in the darkness I could see and feel the shape of one of my dogs standing over me.  I heard the growl again.  Dear God, they are going to kill me!  I couldn’t believe that the rumors were true. I struggled to figure out a way to fend off this beast who was standing over me growling.  My arms were pinned under the covers; I truly felt helpless.  I heard the growl again: deep, throaty, and menacing.  Then I heard something else, voices outside my open window.  My condo was right next to Montana State University, so a steady stream of students passed at all hours of the day and night.  As my eyes, ears, and mind adjusted to consciousness I realized that Taz wasn’t growling at me but she was protecting me, giving that ominous growl that Rottweilers do oh so well. I finally freed a hand and patted her side, telling her it was okay.  Seeing I was awake, Taz went back to the playful, loving pup she always was.  Again, I realized my dogs were not what I had known dogs to be.  One minute sleeping, then the next a fearless protector, and then back to loving companion. 

I have never forgotten that night and the lesson learned about the loyalty of dogs.  Over the following years I learned a lot from Taz and Mickey.  I also made a lot of mistakes, which thankfully didn’t result in me having to put them down or losing my house in a lawsuit.  The biggest lessons were, first and foremost, the understanding of how a canine pack functions. It is critical that we interact with and communicate with dogs in ways they understand, as dogs, and stop trying to interact with them as if they are humans.  This was where the name of my consulting business, Think Dog Consulting, originated.  For me to have a healthy relationship with my dogs I had to think like a dog.  The second lesson was patience. Getting angry over deeds done hours before did nothing to help train the dog.  I learned to roll with the punches, so to speak, and remember that Taz and Mickey were learning as much as I was.

Taz died unexpectedly at age four, the cause never determined.  Mickey, the dog who was never supposed to be mine, ended up being a faithful companion and protector for ten years. I miss them both very much, as they taught me more about life than is possible to convey here. They also were the reason I expanded my interest in Rottweilers and eventually started Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, that story I will detail in my next blog.

There are many other stories to tell of Taz and Mickey and I hope to address those in future blogs.  If you want to experience a wonderful story about the bond between humans and dogs, check out my novel, Stranger’s Dance, on Amazon or by order through any local book story.

The Beautiful Bond

Welcome to the inaugural entry of my new blog, The Beautiful Bond. Every week or so, will follow real life examples which detail the amazing bond that forms between animals and humans. Mind you, most of my stories will revolve around horses and dogs, and an occasional cat, not to take away from the companionship that people receive from other animals.

Growing up on a ranch in western Montana, I spent all of my childhood and into my college years, working with, and being around the ranch animals, especially our dogs and horses.  Growing older, I ventured into the dog ownership world myself, a subject for another blog post.  Little did I know that fateful decision would take me down a road that would lead to the founding of Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, a 501c3 non-profit group that now covers five states. As a result I became very involved with the local animal shelter in Bozeman. I learned I had a gift for working with difficult dogs though, in all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing when I started.  With a career in engineering, I approached all the behavioral problems of the dogs I worked with in a methodical way.  That started with trying to understand how dogs thought and behaved, leading me to developing training material on dealing with aggressive dogs: teaching animal shelters, rescues, law enforcement and animal control officers all over the country through a company I started called, Think Dog Consulting.  I’ve had the pleasure of educating hundreds of people over the years and also the duty of being an expert witness in several court cases.  Over time I really started to become intrigued by canine-caused bite injuries.  That opened a whole new door of material to teach.   Though I have shut down Think Dog Consulting, I am occasionally requested to provide classes to various agencies around the region.  The reason I stepped back from that work was a simple one.  When I started I wanted to keep humans from being bitten and dogs from needlessly being killed. At the time there was a clear need for my material but now, thankfully, many others have started providing training like mine, much of it free. Once I saw that the need was being met, I gladly stepped back with no regrets.

My passion now is writing, with my first published book originating from my Think Dog Consulting work.  It was an educational handbook titled Management of Aggressive Canines for Law Enforcement.  The handbook is no longer in print, however it really set the groundwork for me to pursue deeper writing efforts.  In 2012 I started serious work on my first novel, Stranger’s Dance, which was published in June 2015.  This novel, and the next several future novels, involve the human struggles we all face, but in each story, an animal becomes the catalyst for change and healing, as I’ve seen hundreds of times in real life. 

The following blog posts will be memories of my life events and isn’t intended to be used for educational purposes.  Instead, this is to emphasize how animals enrich our lives, even saving us from ourselves and the darkness that the world throws at us.  Because many of the stories are from my own experience, I will do my best to be as accurate as I can, though I’m sure the fog of time will vary some details. Accept this as an advance apology for those times.  Along with my own experiences, I will tell of people I’ve known over the years who have influenced me through their experiences with animals.  When possible I will request that they write the stories themselves or at least provide me a summary to work from.  Again, the goal is to emphasize the beautiful bond between animals and humans. Overall this blog is meant to be fun, entertaining, and enlightening.