An ode to the canine life

Book on Colorado mountain dogs charms

Courtesy of Graphic Arts Books

John Fayhee’s always had dogs, he says, in part because it’s behavior for a good citizen — rescue a mutt that might otherwise have a grim future at the end of the line in a shelter and give it a life that includes lots of time in the mountains and it’s giving that dog a winning ticket for the dog lottery. But there’s also a question of what having a dog around adds to your perspective.

“I like being out in the world and seeing what the dog is curious about, because that usually means I should be curious about it too,” Fayhee says. “The other end of it of course is, you can’t be slack when you have a dog, you can’t say ‘Oh screw it, I’m not going to go for a hike today,’ or ‘I’m going to go out and have a beer instead,’ because you’ve got this 50 pounds of quadruped staring at you, looking at you like you’re the biggest piece of shit on earth if you don’t go out. So especially, I’m 58 now, so I don’t have the energy levels that I used to have, and then having a 4-year-old dog looking at you like, ‘What do you mean we’re not going for a hike?’ so I go out six or seven days a week. Probably one or two of those times, I probably wouldn’t go out of either laziness or tiredness or whatever, except I’ve got these brown eyes staring at me.”

When the Mountain Gazette, the much-beloved now online-only magazine on mountain life Fayhee was editor for in its last years in print, came upon the idea to do a photo issue dedicated to mountain dogs, he thought it would be a one-time deal, Fayhee says. But the issue was so well received, they did it for four additional years. In that time, he acquired some 2,500 photo submissions of mountain dogs. As his book, The Colorado Mountain Companion, was wrapping up, the publisher asked that standard publisher question: what next? Fayhee mentioned the photos and the idea took off.

He rounded up some Mountain Gazette writers, put together a few piec es himself on dog life — his previous book, Smoke Signals, includes two essays on dogs he’s owned, one on when he had to put down his last dog, and one on his current dog, “and how she had the unenviable task of replacing the world’s most perfect dog,” he says — along with some wisdom on owning, naming and photographing your dog. Colorado Mountain Dogs is a collection of those writings and photos to the best in the submissions from Colorado for loosely grouped categories from water dogs to class clowns. Submitted essays include one from Boulder resident Matt Samet, who writes about an improbable mountain dog: a basset hound.

“When you see a basset hound galumphing through grass, his belly dragging the high-reaching blades and his ears tipped in bracken, your first thought probably isn’t, ‘There’s the mountain dog for me,’” Samet’s essay begins before detailing the impressive summit list of this most unlikely of wilderness-going canines.

Fayhee contacted all the photographers for permission to reprint their photos and cutlines to go with them — a tedious project alleviated by, what else, the company of the dogs in the photos.

“When you’re sitting there staring at a stupid damn dog with a stick in its mouth out in the lake, it’s hard not to be lightened,” he says. “It just lightens my day when I look at it, and I hope that people get that too.”

Fayhee will be speaking about and signing his book, Colorado Mountain Dogs, at the Boulder Book Store at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 19. At each stop on this book tour, he’s partnering with a local rescue group. In Boulder, that group is Summit Dog Rescue, an all-breed rescue that focuses on mid-size active dogs, but works to save dogs from Colorado’s kill shelters whatever their breed or size, in hopes they may all have a chance to grow to have happy lives that include walks in the woods.