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High country canine living

Meredith L. Cohen

One of the first things I wanted to do when I moved to Aspen was adopt a dog.My dog, the mighty and beloved six-pound Roxanne, died in 1999 at the age of 13. The pain I felt when she passed away was so overwhelming that for a long time I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the emotional stability to bring another dog into my life. But, time has passed. I’ve really missed having a dog and as soon as I can find a permanent dog-friendly house in which to live, I’ll be ready to take the plunge again, especially after seeing how Colorado dogs lead lives far superior to four- (and many two-) legged creatures possibly anywhere else.Most people in most places say they treat their dogs as if they were children. People here demonstrate that principle with little exception. As pre-adolescent boys would never be left without parental supervision at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, the prevailing local belief is that nothing screams animal cruelty and abuse louder than going out sans canine companion. My heart still aches at the memory of the desperately glum look on Roxanne’s face whenever she realized she was being left home all by her lonesome. Exiting the house and hearing her frantic wails was almost as painful as the fictitious root canal scene in the non-fiction memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” Outings were often cut short in order to release the sad little pooch from the confines of her kitchen prison.Were Roxanne still alive and left alone at any time in my kitchen out here, however, social services would have locked me up ages ago. Dogs out here don’t get left home alone. Ever. They’re common sites in offices, stores, banks, napping on the sidewalks in town and despite what the health inspector says about “sanitation” and “the law,” some restaurants, supermarkets and bars. Oh yeah, and inside cars.No matter if it’s a 92-degree July afternoon or a three-degree December night, local dog owners have no qualms leaving their pups in cars. The range of explanations is perfectly reasonable, really: “The windows are cracked,” “I’m parked in the shade,” “Spot really enjoys napping in the car,” “Lady has a thick coat so she just loves the cold.” Never mind the inevitable horrific news story every summer and/or winter about a child suffocating or freezing to death after being left unattended and locked inside an automobile in the bitter cold or the scorching heat. Like the tail-waggers at Krabloonik, all dogs in the high country are tough breeds.While it’s not barbaric to ditch a dog in a car, clearly it is an abomination to suggest attaching a leash to its neck. Just take a jog along the Rio Grande Trail in the summer or a hike up Smuggler in the winter. No matter that Pitkin County has a silly little “law” saying any dog off its property must be on a leash no longer than 10 feet in length and any dog outside on its own property must be in voice and sight control of its owner or keeper, or contained in such a way that the dog cannot leave its property – dog owners know that leashes stifle their dogs’ sense of freedom and spiritual well-being (not to mention the psychological damage sustained by being paraded in public as a mere pet). Coyotes, moving vehicles and “the law” be damned – dogs in the West have every right to roam without restraint. While off leash, the vast majority of dogs keep to themselves and are so happy running, sniffing and relieving themselves to bother with other trail users. When stranger harassment seems imminent, most dogs dutifully obey the commands of their owners and heel. Some dogs, though, are more independent and tend to ignore orders when the urge to jump up on, growl or nip at passing hikers arises. But, as everyone knows, those are the dogs that are merely “very friendly,” “just saying hi,” “not likely to bite,” “getting some exercise” or “a puppy.” And, their owners are always justified in forgoing leashes since “no one else puts a leash on their dog.”Furthermore, everyone knows that with leashes come collars and with collars, identification tags. If all dogs wore tags, chances are they would be easily reunited with their families if they wandered off or got lost. And, if lost dogs were easily returned home, the local radio stations wouldn’t be able to fill their airwaves with lost dog announcements (presumably leaving them with nothing but dead air). Plus, how else could entrepreneurs make extra money if not for trying to earn the reward dollars promised on the signs posted throughout town by people who’ve lost their dogs? Oops, I mean children. Yup, there’s nothing like living the dog’s life in Aspen. We should all be so lucky. Meredith Cohen thinks it’s time to share the love and pass the X Games hosting duties to another mountain resort. As Billy Joel sang so eloquently in “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” I can’t take it anymore. Questions or comments may be e-mailed to meredith_cohen@hotmail.com.


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