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  • Writer's picturekiehart

I brought the car to a stop and gasped! A bear was sleeping on the front stoop of the A-Frame VRBO cabin. The property was vacant this time of year as the snow on the peaks was mostly melted and it was too early for water activity on the river. Sure, bears were often seen in our mountain neighborhood especially since the elderly lady at the end of Jack’s Alley started hanging bacon strips on her clothesline. Bears roamed the Poncha Springs’ streets the night before trash collection, too. But to see a bear asleep in the open was rare. Maybe the creature was dead.

I was already late for work, so I kind of forgot about the bear until I headed home at the end of the day. Like I said, bears were commonplace in the neighborhood and if you left them alone, they’d leave you alone. As I approached the cabin’s property, the bear was still curled up in the same place. I pulled into the driveway and startled the creature. When it raised its head, my heart dropped in my stomach. It was a dog! A big, brown dog!

I called Eileen, “You’re not going to believe this, there’s a  big brown dog at the A-Frame cabin, he’s probably lost and he looks scared. Bring a water dish and the van.”

My wife and I had several dog dishes and blankets. Last year, within six months of each other, we said goodbye to our two beloved Aussie/Border collie dogs. We were still grieving.  When my wife arrived with the water dish, we slowly approached the animal. He was larger than any dog I knew. My wife said, “He looks like the same breed as Irwin’s dog.”

“Same breed, maybe, but he is much larger, like a bear.” I watched as Bear attempted to stand. He appeared hurt and unable to walk. He lapped the water in his lying down position. If we were going to take care of this dog, we’d need help getting him into our van and to our yard. Eileen went to fetch Irwin.

I sat with Bear and petted him, I talked to him softly but he was quivering; he shirked away. I wondered if this large animal would turn on me. His dark eyes looked so sad, we couldn't just leave him alone.

A few minutes later, Irwin carried Bear into the backyard. We cleaned the dirt and bits of gravel from Bear’s bloodied paws, Irwin grimaced, “Looks like this poor fellow was either being chased or was chasing something for a good while.” Irwin and Eileen applied some antibacterial crème, and I wrapped all four paws in clean socks.

“He’s an English Lab, like my Jasper.” Irwin said, “but this fellow is huge!”

“Yeah, like a bear,” I laughed.

Irwin went home and returned with dog food, “Just in case Bear is with you for a while.”

Now Bear was interested in the bowl of kibbles. He gobbled the contents of the dish. Belly full, paws wrapped, Bear’s tail thumped as he stretched out on the cool shaded grass.

I called the sheriff’s office and after taking our information, the deputy said he’d get back to me.

We sat on the grass and took time to get acquainted. He could not stand without expressing pain. I had no idea what we’d do as night approached; coyotes were near and could easily jump the barbed wire fence encircling our backyard.

And then the sheriff’s office called. A missing dog report had been filed at 3:30 that afternoon by a person named Mike. According to the deputy, once convinced that if Bear were found and turned in, he’d be notified. Mike headed to Kansas. The deputy assured Mike that Salida’s no-kill shelter would hold Bear until he returned.

But the shelter would not open for several hours, we needed a plan for tonight. Bear looked at me with his huge dark eyes, as if to say, ‘We’re friends, I won’t hurt you.’

We called the number the sheriff gave us and Mike answered. “Oh my god, yes, that’s my dog,” he practically shouted into the phone. Mike took our contact information and said, “I’m turning around now, I’ll be there in six hours! Can you keep him? He’s an outside dog so he’ll be fine in a garage or the yard if it’s fenced.”

The plan would bring Mike to us in the middle of the night. “Mike,” I offered, “when you get here, we have a spare room, you can crash till morning.” Mike seemed grateful.

My wife and I took turns eating supper and doing chores inside the house, one of us constantly with Bear. It was summertime, so there were a few hours of daylight on our side, however, with each passing hour we began to wonder if we should let this bear of a dog into our house. As an outside dog, would he freak out and attack us? How could we lure him inside? The dogs we had in the past were much smaller and we’d had them for so long we’d forgotten those initial feelings of being uncomfortable with an unfamiliar dog.

“Should have asked his name,” my wife said. “Well, it’s Bear for now.” Bear gulped down more water and as the sun set behind the mountain peaks, Bear stood and, without coaxing, slowly followed us into the house. He settled on the living room rug and was soon fast asleep. My wife slept in the recliner to keep an eye on Bear, in case he needed to go out at night.

At two-thirty my phone rang. It was Mike. “I can’t drive anymore, I’m falling asleep at the wheel, I’m going to pull off and get some shut-eye before continuing. How’s Duke doing?”

“Oh, Duke, so that’s his name?” I laughed, “Well, he’s not an outside dog anymore, he’s sound asleep and snoring on the living room rug.”

"That's a first! You don't mind? I’ll be at your house by 7 a.m.”

When Duke the Bear woke, he gingerly went to the back door and then the yard to do his business, he returned to a full bowl of kibbles which we think he swallowed without chewing.

As the big black truck pulled up a few minutes after seven, Duke raised his head and whimpered loudly.

The dog greeted Mike with a wagging tail and some whining. Mike buried his face in Duke's neck, he looked so relieved. “Duke must have fallen out of the back of the truck when I rounded the corner at the 50/285 intersection. I didn’t realize he was gone until I got to Buena Vista, 30 miles away. I came back searching for him, but couldn’t find him, so I filed the report and headed back to Kansas. I knew Salida had a no-kill shelter and just hoped someone would find him and turn him in.”

Mike loaded Duke into the back seat of his truck. I noticed the truck bed didn’t have a tailgate, no wonder the poor fellow slid out. It’s common for ranch dogs to ride in the backs of trucks in the mountains, but it’s dangerous without a tailgate.

Mike promised to visit the next time he was in the area. Three days later we received this photo of Duke after his vet appointment in Kansas.

We never did see Duke the Bear again, but we’ll forever remember that summer day in 2016.

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  • Writer's picturekiehart

Updated: Jan 4

In the 1960s and 1970s, our daily newspaper ran Ann Landers’ advice column and Erma Bombeck’s humorous takes on everyday life columns regularly and for whatever reason, Mom was fixated on these women and their ‘words of wisdom.’ She clipped hundreds of the columns and pasted them into scrapbooks for future reference. Mom loved receiving Bombeck’s paperback books as gifts over the years and I recently came across "The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank," which had me in stitches. Landers and Bombeck possessed a no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach to life. For 2024, I am sharing one of my favorite Bombeck pieces with you. Some of it is a bit dated, but you’ll get the gist overall. The piece is titled, " I Would Have."

I would have talked less and listened more.


I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.


I would have eaten the popcorn in the “GOOD” living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.


I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.


I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.


I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.


I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.


I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life.


I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.


I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.


Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment realizing that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.


When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”


There would have been more “I’m sorry’s” but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute…look at it and really see it…live it…and never give it back.


What could you add to this list?

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2024! May you seize every minute of every day!



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  • Writer's picturekiehart

Seasons Greetings Friends, As a child, I never had a dog. My parents insisted animals belonged someplace other than the inside of a house. Most of the people in my Calico Lane neighborhood didn't have pets either. In the late 1970s, my first dog was Jodi, a short-haired St. Bernard. During those four years, I didn't learn much about dogs other than big dogs have big poops and St. Bernards drool a lot. However, when I was in a dark mood, Jodi would sit next to me on the back porch steps and I'd tell her all about my sorrows. Back then, she was my best friend and I didn't know it. When Eileen was a teenager, her family had a mixed breed named Snoopy. Much later, Eileen was gifted a Bichon puppy that she named Rocky. When I met Eileen, Rocky was already quite old, but he accepted me. He would sneak up behind me and let out a sharp, loud WOOF that would send me to the ceiling. He was a great camper and loved snuggling in my sleeping bag. Rocky moved with us to Colorado in 2000 and lived another two years. His sixteen years were filled with fun outdoor activities and good health. He's buried under the Aspen tree in our yard in Poncha Springs with the backdrop of Mt. Shavano. It wasn't long before Eileen and I rescued a 3-year-old Australian Shepherd (who we named Jake). Jake was a working dog who had most likely fallen from the back of a rancher's truck and eventually found his way to Salida's no-kill shelter. There was something about the way Jake looked at us, as if pleading "help me." He was timid and shell-shocked and spent the first few months hiding in the corner of our den. Eventually though, with patience and training, his 'old soul' self became a wonderful addition to our household. Jake loved car rides and mountain hikes and was gentle with children and the elderly, as if he could sense their vulnerability. His younger days as a ranch dog shone through at night when he preferred to stay out late and keep an eye on the livestock in the pasture behind our house. Dogs 'pick their person,' and Jake became Eileen's dog most of the time. He tolerated me in the loving way dogs do with other humans in the home. A couple of years later, at a property Eileen was appraising, a young Border Collie with the same pleading eyes followed her around the house. Eileen said to the owner, "If you ever want to rehome that dog, call me." A few years later when the Border Collie, named Arrow, was about seven, Eileen got the call: "Do you still want my dog?" We decided we were a one-dog family. But before summer's end, Arrow's owner called again, begging that we take her. Arrow came for a playdate with Jake and once she accepted Jake as Alpha, she fell into place and we became a four-pack household -- with eight times the work! Arrow was a fence jumper, a squirrel and deer chaser, and she didn't get along with children. She was aggressive around other dogs and some people. It took a year of constant training and working with her, and although she remained an unpredictable bitch (and we kept vigilant) she made us laugh and protected us. She attached to me and tolerated Eileen. Jake and Arrow were buddies and crossed the rainbow bridge in 2015. Arrow first, in January, and then Jake -- who we believe died of a broken heart -- six months later. Both were about fifteen years old. We never stopped loving and missing them. Their ashes are in matching tins and will be combined with our ashes and tossed to the winds when that time comes. It's been a long eight years without a dog in our house. Although we talked about 'another dog,' the reality is we are in our 70s and lack the energy (and possibly the years) to tackle a puppy-to-adulthood commitment. An older dog -- at least one who is housebroken -- would be best. Most older dogs, at least those locally who need rescuing, are large breeds. After dealing with the St. Bernard and 70-pound Jake and 50-pound Arrow, we decided to keep our eyes open for an older and smaller dog.

A month ago we visited the Olympia Animal Shelter on Marvin Way and met Seuss (name given by the shelter), a twenty-pound mixed breed. No one knows her history or from where she came. She has the same pleading eyes as Jake and Arrow. We re-named her Suzy. She's food-motivated, and so answers to that name as long as there's a treat involved. Suzy looks to be a small mixed breed with a Doberman bark. Best guess is that she's roughly 9 years old, showing some grey and missing some teeth. Her front right paw is a bit wonky, but it doesn't slow her down on her daily zooms around the backyard and she walks at our pace on the leather leash that once belonged to Jake. She's adorable, especially when she puts herself to bed at night atop Arrow's Spiderman comforter. She loves belly rubs and car rides and seems to have some of the quirks and traits our other dogs had, plus a great deal of her own! As we step over chew toys and around dog beds, we remind ourselves not to fall! For however long we have Suzy, she'll be loved and cared for. And, yes, Suzy will probably receive a gift-wrapped bone for the holidays! Wishing you and yours a peaceful winter season!

Cheers, Judy

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