Beauty and the Beast

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Bond With My Dad

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

My Bond With My Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Troy B. Kechely

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Worth of a Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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