St. Bernards make shop owner’s life heaven | AspenTimes.com

St. Bernards make shop owner’s life heaven

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

If you know Jim Oliver, you know his dog.

Waldo the St. Bernard, who lumbers around the Clark’s Market shopping center, is hard to miss, unlike Oliver, the soft-spoken owner of the Aspen branch of Mailboxes Etc.

Oliver has many a yarn to tell about the three St. Bernards he’s owned while living in Aspen over the past 10 years. But Oliver himself has a colorful background beyond the enormous dogs he’s known for here in Aspen.

He grew up in Vancouver, Wash., and stayed there until his early 20s. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, and then after a couple of years of active duty, he became a special forces member while residing in Oregon for the next 10 years.

For about five of those years Oliver raced motorcycles professionally, riding his bike on the weekend and making enough money to pay for his motorcycle equipment. From Oregon, Oliver moved to Louisiana, where he became a professional diver ? welding steel underwater for oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

He and two friends later started a steel welding and fabrication business together based on his underwater experiences, until Oliver picked up and moved to Philadelphia, where he ran a business importing furniture from England.

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It doesn’t end there ? he then moved to Houston and worked as a business consultant while he searched for a business to purchase in Aspen. At first trying to land a deal with a local restaurant, Oliver jumped at the chance to purchase the local branch of Mailboxes Etc., where he has stayed for the past decade.

But the shopping center wouldn’t be the same without Oliver’s oversized dogs. They have become mascots of the Mill Street Station and are some of the most well-known pooches in town.

Oliver’s love of St. Bernards began when he spent time skiing Mount Hood in Washington, where the Timberline Lodge employed two of the massive dogs to entertain guests. It wasn’t until Oliver got to Aspen that he finally sought his dream dog, and along came Sampson.

It was the holiday season about seven years ago when Oliver’s new, rambunctious St. Bernard puppy first played in the shopping center courtyard. The snow was deep that year, Oliver said, and Sampson would play in the snow among the Christmas trees in the courtyard’s annual lot.

“People would be in there picking out a tree, and Sampson would pop out of the snow in there,” Oliver said. “It was like his own snowy forest he was exploring in.”

In a strange turn of events, Sampson disappeared when he was just 4 months old ? a mystery that Oliver has never solved. At the time, Oliver and others considered causes like coyotes, the perils of thin ice collapsing over swift-moving waters or even dognapping.

A $1,500 reward was offered for Sampson’s return, but Oliver’s first dog was never found. About a year later, Oliver was ready to make a commitment to another dog. He found his new puppy, Hoss, from the same breeder in eastern Colorado.

Hoss quickly became a 250-pound dog who patiently sat while small children and puppies climbed over him in the courtyard, and who would unknowingly block the entrance to Take 2 Video with his girth while taking a nap. As a puppy, Hoss had surgery for hip displacement problems, and was just one day away from another surgery last November when he died of a heart attack.

Hoss was just 5 years old, and shopping center patrons memorialized the well-known dog with a wreath and candles next to his favorite sitting place. Oliver said in those last few days of his life, Hoss could not move because of the hip displacement, and struggling to move caused his heart problems.

This spring, Oliver managed to find Waldo, a St. Bernard puppy born in Ohio. Waldo had to take a plane trip to Colorado to meet Oliver, but the shopping center tenants and customers have been celebrating Waldo ever since.

Having arrived as a cocker spaniel-sized puppy, now 9 months old, Waldo is edging closer to Hoss’ enormous girth. Oliver said Waldo probably has 40 to 50 more pounds to gain.

“They’re big, gentle, clumsy dogs,” he said. “They’re so independent ? they’ll sit and wait for someone to come pet them rather than get up to be petted just because you call their name. But they love the attention.”

Waldo gets frequent visitors, even when he’s napping in a back storage room of Mailboxes Etc., and Oliver just directs the traffic to where the sleeping dog lies. Vacationers still unaware of Hoss’ death have come to visit the center. They were saddened by the news but delighted to meet Waldo.

“I think I’ll stay here in Aspen for Waldo’s lifetime, and then maybe it will be time for a change,” Oliver said. “This is such a unique place, and all of the people are great.”

Faces of the Roaring Fork is a new feature of The Aspen Times that will appear each Thursday. The goal of these stories is to put the spotlight on people in the Roaring Fork Valley who don’t usually make the pages of our daily newspapers.

Stories will focus on “regular folks” who have interesting stories to tell. We hope they will run the gamut: people with unique hobbies, people who have overcome some obstacle in life to pursue a dream, people who quietly help others in need, etc.

And that is why we are turning to our readers. Though we have plenty of stories in mind, we are sure there are many, many people out there worth writing about who will never cross our radar screen. So we are asking our readers to tell us about folks they know who deserve a little recognition, who have interesting tales to tell.

Anyone with ideas should call Editor Mike Hagan at 925-3414, or send e-mails to hagan@aspentimes.com. Thanks, in advance, for your help.

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