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.

Friday, July 29, 2016


Back in 2005 my friend Angie, a dog trainer and fellow founding member of Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, and I were asked to teach a canine behavior and handling class in Casper, Wyoming. Not only was I excited to take my course material outside of Montana for the first time, but I also looked forward to the opportunity to visit my grandmother, Virginia, who was in a nursing home there. It had been longer than I care to admit since I had last seen her, and I knew that her Alzheimer’s disease was taking its toll and her eyesight had left her years before. The night we arrived, I stopped by to visit Grandma and while there, I asked for permission from the head nurse to bring Angie’s dogs, Taq and Ame, to visit my grandmother the day after the class.  The head nurse granted permission, even after I explained that Taq was a very obedient Schutzhund-trained Rottweiler.  The nurse, I believe her name was Judy, was still okay with the visit as dogs were always popular with the residents at the home but they rarely made visits. She was especially excited to have Ame, Angie’s Toy Fox Terrier, there since smaller dogs were better to have around frail bodies. To have the opportunity to bring dogs in to visit my grandmother was very special to me as she had always had a dog in her home, usually a stray that had wandered into her care and stayed for the rest of their life.  Because of the love that Grandma showed those strays, I give credit to her for instilling in me the love of dogs at a very young age.

My grandma and her dog, Lucky, back in 1997
The class the next day was enjoyable but long, with Angie and I teaching for over nine hours straight. By the time we finished class and grabbed a bite to eat with Kathy, a fellow BSRR founding member and the person who had set up the class, it was too late to go visit Grandma. 

The following morning Angie and I said our goodbyes to Kathy and her dogs and loaded Taq and Ame into my truck with the intention of getting gas and then spending a few hours at the nursing home, before making the long drive back to Montana.  Heading out of the parking lot I turned to Angie, “I really appreciate you going with me and taking Ame and Taq to see Grandma.  This is going to mean a lot to her.”
Angie (left), Ame, Taq, and Kathy and her dogs after our class in 2005.
“No problem Troy. Besides, this is good for Taq and Ame,” Angie said with a smile.  I had known and worked with Angie and her husband, John, for many years, and Angie and I had previously come to the conclusion that we were siblings from a different mother given that our views on dogs and life in general were nearly always in sync.

Pulling into the nursing home, I saw Taq bounce around in his kennel and wondered if his energy level was going to be an issue.  I smiled knowing that Taq’s nickname was ‘The Criminal’ due to his regular mischievous antics and propensity to get into trouble.

“Do you think Taq will be okay with all of this?  He has never done this before, gone to a public setting like this, right?”  I asked as I shut off the engine.

Angie shrugged her shoulders.

“Well if you can’t handle him I can take him and you can walk Ame,” she said, her smile betraying her sarcasm.

“Umm, no thanks. I’ll let you walk the rodent and I’ll stick with the real dog.” 

She knew full well that I didn’t consider Ame a real dog but more of a hyperactive rat with a collar.  In Ame’s defense, though, she isn’t bad for something that I worry about stepping on.  Unlike some small dogs, Ame isn’t a yapper as Angie doesn’t tolerate it, and Ame actually thinks she is a Rottweiler because that is what she grew up with. Still, I preferred to have a big black and tan troublemaker at the end of the leash.

 “Now don’t go picking on Ame.  She is a sweetie and you know it.  Besides, she will be a bigger hit in there than Taq.  Everyone knows that older people like small dogs.” 

“Well, we’ll see which dog gets the most attention, now won’t we?” 

While still in the parking lot, I put Taq through some basic obedience to remind him that he needed to be on his best behavior. I call it getting the dog into ‘work mode’, and I use the same method with any high drive dogs I work with.  The German commands did their magic on him as he sat and downed instantly upon command.  Angie and John’s years of training were shining through at that moment.

I saw Judy as we walked through the front door, and she rushed from behind her desk to introduce herself to Angie and the dogs, well, more specifically to the dogs.  I think she might have acknowledged us humans, that were attached to the leash, after a few minutes of petting the pups. She said we could sit at one of the couches in the visiting area while they retrieved my grandmother.  As we sat at the couch I could see that Taq was a little nervous, but his training and regal attitude overcame that nervousness.  There is something about the breed wherein the dog seems to know that it isn’t just a dog but a Rottweiler.  Taq’s head went high and he calmed down as he took in all the activity going on around him.  Angie sat on the couch and tried to calm Ame who was her normal neurotic self, her four-pound body bouncing across Angie’s lap.  Seeing the two dogs together made me shake my head. Taq’s head was easily five times bigger than Ame’s entire body. One was trained in tracking and bite work and the other was simply an ornament (I’m sure I will catch hell from Angie on that comment). They really were a true contradiction of canine companions.

Judy soon arrived with my grandma, pushing her gently in the wheelchair that she was confined to due to hip problems and her lack of eyesight. 

“Hey good looking,” I said to Grandma, my normal greeting for her since I was in high school, “I brought a surprise for you.”  Grandma smiled a little at my voice as I gently took her hand and moved it over to Taq’s massive head.  I watched as the contact with his warm fur flowed through Grandma’s fingers.  Her eyes opened up and she turned her head to try and look at the dog.  She softly moved her hand across his fur, feeling his shape.  I could see a tear form in her eye as she caressed his ear.  Taq looked at me for approval and then looked back at Grandma.  He seemed to know that he was doing a job and had to be calm.  Angie then asked if Grandma wanted to pet Ame and proceeded to place her in Grandma’s lap.  A bigger smile came across Grandma’s face as she petted Taq with her right hand and Ame with her left.

Soon people began to migrate toward us.  The energy of the dogs seemed to pull on everyone there.  One by one, both patients and nurses would come by to see Taq and Ame.  The air of loneliness that had permeated the place upon our entrance was gone, if only for the brief time of our visit.  Off to my left I could see a frail old man sitting in a wheelchair.  He was about fifteen feet away but made no effort to come closer.  I could see that he was staring intently at Taq, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was afraid of him.  As a nurse was loving on Taq, I asked her about the man in the wheelchair.

“That’s Harold.  He came here about a month ago.  He’s a very quiet, and I don’t think he’s had any visitors.” 

“Do you think he is scared of Taq?” I asked.

“I don’t know, let me go see.”  The nurse walked over to the man, who in his prime, would have been just under six feet tall but now looked as though he couldn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds, his body diminished under the torment of time. 

“Harold, Harold, are you okay?”  The old man nodded yes.  “Do you like those doggies, Harold?”  The old man raised his left hand slightly, and the tremor of his muscles in response to the effort belayed the difficulty of the simple movement.

“That’s Shadow.  That’s my Shadow.”  The nurse looked over at Taq and me as the man’s words pierced my heart.  I glanced at Angie and saw that her mouth was open like mine because of the intensity with which those simple words hit us both.

“Harold, did you have a dog like that once?”  The nurse asked. Harold nodded yes.

“That’s my Shadow.” 

I felt my heart tighten in my chest, realizing the connection and memories that Taq was evoking in the man’s mind and soul. 

“Sir, would you like to pet him?”  I asked as I stood and began walking Taq over to him, leaving Angie and Ame with Grandma.  Taq strained a little at the collar, pulling me toward Harold, the Rottweiler seeming to sense something positive in the old man.  Taq, without any command from me, sat next to the wheelchair and lay his head on the armrest.  The withered, vein-marked hand trembled as it gently stroked Taq's head. 

“My Shadow.  My Shadow.  You are such a good boy.”  The nurse and I looked at each other through tear-filled eyes.   For ten minutes the man petted Taq’s head and spoke of how good a dog Shadow was.  I didn’t even try to explain that Taq wasn’t his dog. In that moment Taq was Shadow, and who was I to deny that pleasure to Harold. 

After a while a voice could be heard on the intercom stating that the morning meal was going to be served soon.   Angie nodded at me indicating it was time to go.  We had a seven-hour drive to Bozeman ahead of us and it would take her another two hours to get back to her home in Helena. 

“Sir, I am sorry but I have to take Ta… Shadow back to his kennel.”  The man smiled and patted Taq’s head one last time.

“You be a good boy, Shadow.  Remember, I love you.  You be a good boy.”  As the nurse pushed Harold’s wheelchair away he looked back at us and I saw his hand raise up slightly in a goodbye wave.  I went back to sit with Grandma for another ten minutes.  Finally, kissing my grandmother goodbye, Angie, Ame, Taq, and I headed out of the nursing home.  I was silent as I walked into the sunlight with Angie.  Taq was in a perfect heel until we were outside and then he reverted back to his normal, criminal self and began exploring the flower beds in search of one of the countless squirrels in the area. 

“That was a tearjerker wasn’t it?”  Angie broke my thoughts with her words as she loaded Ame into her crate.

“Yeah, I’m not sure what to say about it.  Thanks again for letting Grandma see the dogs.  I know it meant a lot to her, and it seemed to mean a lot to everyone else, especially Harold.”

“No problem, Troy, besides after that I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.” 

I motioned Taq into his crate.  With a smooth, athletic leap he cleared the tailgate and entered his crate.  I petted his head.
Taq waiting patiently while Angie and I taught our class.

“You be a good boy, Taq… I mean Shadow.”  I smiled at his temporary renaming.  Closing his kennel, Angie and I climbed into the cab and headed toward the interstate for home.  I regretted having to leave my grandmother, as I wondered when I would get to see her again, yet those few hours with her and the time with the man who missed his dog, Shadow had changed me as well.  Like Angie, I knew I would never be the same.

I was able to visit my grandmother with a dog one more time before she passed away on January 27, 2010.  That dog was my boy Griz and I will share that story in a future blog.  Taq passed away on March 26, 2008 and was Angie’s last Schutzhund trained dog. Though both my grandma and Taq are gone, the memory of that day, a man named Harold and his dog, Shadow, is one that I will always hold dear.

Do you have a story about the power of dogs in reaching people? Share your story in the comment section below.

Since starting this blog in November, 2015, it has been viewed more than 3,100 times.  Thank you everyone for your interest and telling others about it. If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to check out my Facebook and Twitter pages.  You can also learn more about me at my website  There you can also purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance.  

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Benefits of Dog Ownership

I’m sure you’ve all seen the lists on the internet that detail the supposed benefits of dog ownership.  Some of those lists are researched and very accurate where as others are based on not-so-scientific methods.  This one will fall under the category of the latter. 

Since owning my own dogs, going on 22 years now, I can say that they have provided me a lot of benefits along the way. I’ve also observed the benefits that dogs have provided other people as well.  The following are some examples of those:

Anti-depressants and stress relief
Research has shown that petting a dog helps lower blood pressure but I’ve seen that it has a much broader impact.  For example, I had a friend who suffered from depression.  She shared with me once that her depression was so bad at one point that she didn’t even want to leave her bed, even to eat.  What got her up was her dog.  Her struggle with the grips of depression were not strong enough for her to neglect her dog.  Even though she wanted to hide under her covers all day, her dog needed to eat, be walked and played with, and be loved. She saw that another life was dependent on her and that reality pulled her through that very dark time.

Another friend works in a very high stress career where travel for long periods to dangerous places is required.  When he is home though, he shared that even with all the stress, when he was in bed and his dog would lie next to him, his head across my friend’s chest, all the worries and memories went away with each pet that my friend gave his dog.

The prior blog about Jamie and Bo, is just one example of how the presence of a dog can instill confidence in a person.  Another one is a young lady I know who was almost the victim of child abduction.  I’m hoping she will be kind enough to do a guest blog about that situation and how an amazing dog named Adonis helped her through that, but for now I will speak of her current situation.  After the attempted abduction, my friend has justifiable fears of certain situations.  She has learned that by having a dog with her cancels those fears and allows her to live a very full life.

The other example that I find fascinating is the use of specially trained dogs to help victims of violence or sex crimes have the courage to testify in court against their attackers.  Here is a link of one such example:

Getting your butt out of the chair
This last one I’ll share is a personal story.  As a writer, one of the standard piece of advice I’ve received is “Keep your butt in the chair!”  This simply means that to succeed as a writer you have to write.  Figure out a way to sit down and write every day.  Most people don’t succeed at writing simply because they let life keep them out of the chair. 

Back in 1996 I was working on my first attempt at a novel. I finished it eventually but was told that the work needed to make it ready to submit to a publisher was going to be massive.  So, I shelved it and I might someday return to it but for now I’m content that it was a test run and can leave it be.  While writing it though, I became rather absorbed in the story and would spend as much time as I could working on it.  At that time I was living in a small condo so my desk was in my bedroom with the chair situated such that my back was very close to the foot of my bed.  As I was typing away one evening, I felt the gentle push of a paw on my back.  I don’t know if it was Taz or Mickey, my first two Rottweilers, but I ignored it and kept working on the story.  Then came another nudge, a bit more forceful but gentle enough not to break my flow of typing.  Without looking back I told my dogs to wait and that I would take them for a walk in a bit and charged ahead with whatever scene I was so absorbed in.  Then it arrived.  A hit to the back of my head that was forceful enough to send my glasses plunging to the keyboard and to leave my head spinning a bit.  Fumbling to put my glasses back on, I turned to see Taz and Mickey standing on my bed, butts vibrating in excitement at gaining my attention and their eyes making it very clear that the time for a walk was now.  Needless to say, we went for a walk. 
My first Rottweilers, Taz (front) and Mickey, hogging the bed.
Even now as I work on my third novel or these blogs, my dogs are masters at getting me out of the chair, or, at a minimum, pausing long enough to give some ear rubs or play a quick game of tug.  They have taught me that all too often we become so absorbed in things that we forget to take a moment and enjoy life.  Even if that moment is only a walk with your dogs or a spirited game of tug.  

If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to follow my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  You can also learn more about me at my website  as well as purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Holding a Grudge

“Nothing holds a grudge like a female Rottweiler.”
The above saying was coined by my friend Vicki one day at the Humane Society of Gallatin Valley after an incident occurred involving Queen, one of our long-stay Rottweilers. Queen had exacted a rather violent act of revenge on another shelter dog, Mate, who seemed to have a knack for irritating all the other canine tenants at the shelter.  I’m not sure what Mate said to the other dogs in his flurry of intense barks as they passed by his kennel, though I suspect it was far from friendly and likely would have made a sailor blush. I just know that none of the dogs liked Mate, especially Queen. 
Little 85 pound Queen loved her tires
The incident in question occurred following many weeks of Mate’s tormenting. Because of his behavior, Mate was kept in an isolated part of the shelter while the rest of the dogs were moved to and from the outdoor exercise kennels.  After the other dogs had their turns, Mate would be brought out to the exercise yard.  When one of the staff went to move Queen, she slipped loose and made a beeline to the part of the shelter that held Mate.  The two dogs proceeded to exchange verbal insults until Mate, foolishly, stuck his nose through the gap in the doorframe of the kennel.  Queen latched on and pulled Mate out of the kennel by his face, bending the doorframe in the process.  Before she could do any serious damage, the staff caught up to her and separated the dogs. 
Thankfully, Mate was fine outside of a small cut on his muzzle, and he was adopted a few weeks later, allowing the shelter to return to normalcy, if there is such a thing in the animal care world.  Now, what is important to understand about the altercation is that Queen was friendly to all of the other dogs in the shelter, and I used her regularly to teach kids in elementary schools about dog behavior.  She really was a good dog, except when it came to Mate.

Vicki’s bit of wisdom that day has been proven true time and time again in my life. Not only do female Rottweilers hold a grudge but they are jealous, spiteful creatures who are not afraid to express their cantankerous behavior or their angst at a particular situation.

When I first started teaching dog behavior and handling classes, I was only doing so for regional animal shelters.  When I was asked to do a class for a large veterinary clinic and boarding facility in Laurel, Montana, I was honored and a bit concerned, as I knew my audience would be experts in dogs, at least in the medical aspects.  Thankfully, the class went well and those that attended were impressed with my material and how well-behaved my dogs, Mickey and Griz, were during the demonstrations.  Now, I should have known that Mickey was angry at me for being used during the handling demos.  She gave me ‘the look’ several times when I led her out in front of the class.  At the end of the class, before leaving for the two-hour drive home, I let Mickey and Griz out into one of the big exercise areas of the facility so they could relieve themselves.  I watched both dogs do their business and then loaded them up to leave.  Upon arriving home, I offered to let the dogs out into my backyard so they could relieve themselves again, but Mickey just looked me right in the eye and then urinated in the middle of my living room.  Please note that Mickey had been with me for almost seven years at that point, was fully house trained, and could hold her bladder for ten hours if needed.  What she did was deliberate and a very clear message to me.  I heard her loud and clear, and never again did I use her in my demonstrations.   
My girl Mickey taught me a lot about how Rotties hold a grudge
When my girl Belle came along, I knew she would be even more intense that Mickey had ever been.  Belle, being protection trained and rather dominant, tended to view everything as hers, including myself.  To say that Belle was a jealous creature would be an understatement.  If I left the house with a female friend, I knew there would be a price to pay later.  Thankfully, unlike Mickey, Belle didn’t exact her price by marking.  Nope, being the bitch that she was, she preferred to destroy things.  She didn’t destroy just anything, nor did she display typical destructive behavior that could have be associated with separation anxiety. No, she was very specific, finding something of value to me and hiding it, only to return it later, or she would chew up something and leave it for me to find in a very obvious spot.  One of the best examples I can recall was when I left the house in the car of a female friend of mine.  When I returned, I found that Belle had taken a plate out of the sink, dropped it to the floor, breaking it, and had taken the big pieces and left them in a pile in the middle of my living room, twenty feet away.  Another time she took utensils out of the sink and laid them in a perfect line in the living room again, the line pointing to my driveway, where I had been picked up. She also managed to chew up an unopened can of tuna, and if it hadn’t rolled under the couch, I’m sure she would have dined on it in its entirety.  This was, again, in response to me leaving the house with a female friend.  Now, if I went to work or left on my own, no problem, Belle wouldn’t do a thing.  Her revenge always resulted because of me spending time with another female. 
Belle and I on one of many road trips together
My current female Rottweiler, Carly, has shown very similar behaviors to Belle’s, though she has expanded her revenge to include the times I leave to walk dogs   with a friend who lives a few blocks away. I notice a look on Carly’s face the moment I close the door, and I know that there will be retribution because I am walking somewhere without her.  As a result, much to the humor of my friend, I now drive the two block distance to his house.  You see, Carly is okay if I drive away, as that is normal. I go to work, or to the store, and I always come back.  But to go out the front door without her, well, apparently in her code of conduct that is not allowed.
My ever jealous Carly
Could I mitigate these behaviors? Sure, I could crate or kennel my dogs, but I would rather not.  Having had many female Rottweilers, I’ve learned to accept these quirks in their behavior and even enjoy them to a certain extent.  I do make efforts to minimize the likelihood of Carly feeling as though she needs to exact revenge, but I know that it will happen again at some point.  She is, after all, a female Rottweiler, the jealous, grudge-holding creatures that they are.

Do you have a dog that holds a grudge?  Share your story about dogs holding a grudge in the comment section below. If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to check out my Facebook and Twitter pages.  You can also learn more about me at my website  There you can find links to where you can purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Empty Bed

This last weekend I had to travel to Billings on business but was fortunate to spend time with my friends, Steve and Rose, who recently had to put down their Rottweiler, Tasha.  During our talks, Rose shared about Tasha’s quick decline and final day but also about how fortunate they were to have had her eleven years.  Tasha was two years old when they adopted her from the shelter in Bozeman after they approached BSRR about getting another dog when their first rescue had passed away. As with anyone who has lost a four legged family member, the hole left in their hearts was evident with moist eyes and broken voices as Tasha’s final day was relived. Rose then told about that evening how she couldn’t look at Tasha’s bed and removed it from their bedroom, wash it and then stored it in the basement. I knew exactly how she felt.
Though it is never easy to put a dog down, it seems especially difficult to move on after doing so with a dog that you had shared your life with for many years.  When my boy Griz finally passed in 2012, he had been with me thirteen years. That first morning when I walked out of my room I did what I had done thousands of times.  I looked at Griz’s bed and started to say “Good morning Grizzy bear.”
I barely got the first word out when I froze and stood staring at the empty bed.  I knew not to look elsewhere as the night before, my veterinarian had helped me load his body into my car for me to drive Griz to the pet crematorium that evening. All I was left with was the empty bed. 
For the days and weeks afterwards, I gave as much devotion as I could to my remaining rescue, Grace, but knew I needed to open my home to another dog soon.  Even after doing so, Griz’s empty bed haunted me and it was while walking Grace and my then new dog, Bradum, that I came up with the idea for a poem. 

I didn’t want to do something that was specific to Griz but rather to all the dogs I had walked through life with but were now no longer there.  It grew beyond that to where I now send it to anyone who loses their dog and is struggling.  To let them know that their pain is normal and that they are not alone.  So I share it with you now and encourage you to share it as well.  I do this because if there is one thing I’ve learned as a dog owner, it’s that the love we have for our pets is only equaled by the grief we experience when they part from us. 

If you want to know more about my efforts as a writer, be sure to follow my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  You can also learn more about me at my website,, as well as purchase my first novel, Stranger’s Dance.