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Fayhee goes to the dogs

John Fayhee with his dog, Casey. Fayhee's new book, "Colorado Mountain Dogs," is a photo-heavy look at mountain dog life.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go…

M. John Fayhee

‘Colorado Mountain Dogs’

Booksigning & Talk

Explore Booksellers, Aspen

Monday, June 23

5 p.m.

M. John Fayhee has written about seemingly every aspect of mountain-town living and the Colorado backcountry — and now he’s taking a dog’s eye view.

The former Mountain Gazette editor and columnist’s new book, “Colorado Mountain Dogs,” is a photo-heavy tribute to dog life in the Colorado high country, which he calls “the heart of canine heaven.”

It includes short essays on topics like the naming of dogs, ski touring to spread a dog’s ashes and the perils of trail running with a pooch, and it identifies Colorado phenomena such as the “OD” (office dog).

Fayhee relates a story about a dog owner getting out of a citation for having a dog off its leash at the Maroon Bells by claiming that the animal was Native American and therefore exempt. And there’s the tale of “Quandary Dog,” famous for regularly trekking solo up the Quandary Peak Trail in Breckenridge.

Its photo spreads feature dogs in all manner of mountain adventure — on top of fourteeners, crossing streams and swimming in lakes, rolling in snow, carrying water on the Colorado Mountain Trail, plunging in Maroon Lake and ascending the Great Sand Dunes.

Local dogs in these pages include Carbondale chef Mark Fischer’s dog, Bwana, atop Mount Sopris, clowning in a pair of sunglasses. The late Slinky, Aspenites Catherine Lutz and Mike Sladdin’s shepherd mix, is pictured charging through powder on Ridge of Bell. Farland Fish’s dog, Gnomie, is captured going off-trail at the Aspen Cross Country Center.

Fayhee, author of previous titles like “Colorado Mountain Companion” and “Smoke Signals,” put together the new book by culling from more than 2,500 mountain-dog photos that he received for the Mountain Gazette’s annual mountain-dog issues, which ran for five years before the magazine went all-digital and Fayhee quit in 2012.

Tracking down photographers for reprint permission, he said, “was definitely like herding cats, though that’s an odd analogy to use for this book.”

For the stories and essays in the book, he contacted Coloradans who had written for the Mountain Gazette and who he knew were dog people.

The book is dedicated to Cali, a dog Fayhee calls a “- country dog all the way,” whom the writer found in the Summit County Animal Shelter when he was writing for the Summit Daily News. Fayhee is currently on a book tour with Casey, another rescue dog, making stops at mountain-town bookstores and camping along the way. Fayhee and Casey come to Explore Booksellers in Aspen today.

So, after several months assembling the new book and collecting stories about Colorado mountain dogs and their people, why does Fayhee think there’s such a unique dog culture in the Rockies?

“It sounds like I’m cheapening it, but it’s almost like an accessory,” he said. “People in the mountains always have to get the mountain car, which these days is an Outback, they have to get the Patagonia clothing, the skis, the mountain bike. You have to have those possessions to live in the high country, and a dog seems to be one of those.”

Also, Fayhee said, because a lot of mountain-town folks don’t have kids, have them later in life,or are retired with their children grown and gone from home, dogs often become part of the family in a way they don’t elsewhere.

“It’s one of the least kid-intensive parts of the country,” he said. “People do look at their dogs to fill a surrogate-child role.”

He was surprised, also, to find how many people ended up with dogs by accident here and not by seeking them out in a shelter.

“It’s not just humans searching for dogs; it’s about dogs looking for the right human,” he said.

Because many of the photos come from Mountain Gazette dog issues from years ago, Fayhee said, at least half of the animals immortalized in the pages of “Colorado Mountain Dogs” are no longer alive.

“I was in a bar last night (in Summit County), and this guy who had a photo in there was teary-eyed looking at it,” he said.

This book also may be Fayhee’s swan song for tales of the West, he said. After a career in Colorado and now New Mexico writing locally and regionally focused stories, he’s looking to broaden his scope. Fayhee recently signed with a New York book agent and is shopping two book proposals to national publishers — one about second-place finishers, silver medalists and sidekicks, another about animal sanctuaries.

“I’m tired of writing about the West and reading about the West,” he said. “I’m tired of outdoor-recreation stuff, though I might have pigeonholed myself to a point where I can’t extricate myself.”

atravers@aspentimes.com


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