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Seth Sachson: Guest opinion

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Editor’s note: The city of Aspen’s Definitely Aspen project is partnering with The Aspen Times to run monthly columns from residents about what makes Aspen special and what elements of Aspen’s small-town character speak to them. The Definitely Aspen project is meant to celebrate Aspen’s character and community. You can find out more about the project and writing a column at http://www.definitelyaspen.com.

Growing up in the Dallas suburbs, every breath I took revolved around dogs. I walked dogs, bathed dogs, searched for lost dogs and dreamed about dogs. Eventually, in the spring of 1992, I found myself with a degree in psychology with an emphasis in animal behavior and a big decision: What was I really going to do with my life? My loving, supportive parents suggested that I follow my dreams.

My dreams were of the Aspen of my childhood, where my dad taught me to ski and where I learned to love the outdoors. From the wildlife to the welcoming, friendly people to the beautiful huskies roaming the streets, Aspen called my name.



My dreams were primarily about dogs, and Aspen was the most dog-friendly town I’d ever experienced. My favorite poster from Aspen was printed in 1975 and depicts two dogs supposedly mating in the middle of a snowy Galena Street. The caption read, “Have Your Next Affair in Aspen.” Although the double entendre was somewhat lost on me in my childhood, the cool mountain-town scene with the dogs in the middle of the street was not lost at all. I hung that poster on my wall in Dallas for years, and it hangs in my home in Old Snowmass today.

One Aspen dream, in particular, was to be a dogsled musher at Krabloonik in Snowmass Village. I grew up skiing Snowmass Mountain and spent the majority of the day on Campground so I could watch the dogs fly by as they pulled passengers across the slope. I inevitably ended every ski day playing with the sled dogs watching the staff care for and work with the dogs. I even covered my bedroom walls at home in Dallas with photos of the sled dogs and trained my dog to pull me around the neighborhood on my skateboard.




So, in the spring of ’92, I packed my car with all of my possessions as well as my best friend, Jackson, a 2-year-old Australian shepherd mix, and headed to – where else? – Aspen, the epicenter of the dog world.

I was hired as a musher at Krabloonik, but I was not allowed to live on-site with Jackson. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that finding pet-friendly housing in the Aspen area was, and still is, an incredibly daunting task, so I slept in my truck with Jackson while I searched for an affordable place to live. Jackson was my anchor. I never would have been inspired enough to set out on my own for Aspen had it not been for Jackson, and there was no way I was going to separate from him in order to secure a place to live. After a long month full of a lot of leads, but no home, I decided to leave the valley.

While driving out of town, I spotted a funky red farmhouse on Brush Creek Road with mountain bikes scattered across the front porch and a yard full of playful dogs. I pulled over and knocked on the front door. A beautiful woman named Suzanne Gouda appeared in the doorway and greeted me with a big smile. I told her my story, and within minutes, I was inside with Jackson and offered a room in a household filled with six people and seven dogs, including Josh Landis and Kato and Mike McKee and Lucy. In one day, I was transformed from a visitor to a resident.

I would not have knocked on a stranger’s door in search of housing in any other town, but in Aspen, it seemed right. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, people help one another in our community and encourage success. The energy in Aspen is powerful and supportive, especially for young people pursuing their dreams.

After living here for 20 years, I know now that my instincts were correct – the canine culture is strong. The banks hand out biscuits, and the postman delivers mail with his golden retriever. The dog’s status in Aspen spans from fashion accessory to hunting partner, with every role between. Brad Benson and his Airedale, Zoot, are in charge of Aspen Skiing Co.’s search-and-rescue program, and Rita Cohen and her Great Pyrenees, Valentina, founded Aspen Valley Hospital’s Pet Enrichment Therapy Program. Needless to say, Aspen is dog, and dog is Aspen. I really can’t imagine one without the other.

My true transformation from tourist to local has been a fantastic 20-year journey that has included my full-time career as the director of the Aspen Animal Shelter, and I don’t believe my story could have happened in many other towns. We, in Aspen, enjoy nurturing success. From our animal shelter to our school system to our Senior Center, and everything between, we work hard to maintain a healthy community. Aspen accepted me with open arms, and I work hard every day to show my appreciation and behave accordingly.

I moved to Aspen to follow my dreams, but little did I know that my dreams not only were about dogs but also included becoming part of the fabric of a community. The unconditional love of a dog is spectacular, but there is something equally fulfilling about the conditional love from one’s neighbors. I strive to be a friendly, productive member of the community each and every day because of the expectations we place on one another to be respectful, concerned and involved in the causes of our valley.

I moved to Aspen to “mark my territory,” but I’ve learned from my experiences in Aspen that it is more fulfilling to be part of the pack.


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