After three weeks of picking up the dog bowl to fill it with water, only to remember that she was no longer there, it got old. We swore we’d wait to get another puppy after our 11-year-old shepherd-husky died from cancer, but, then, an adorable photo of five speckled Australian shepherd mixes at the Aspen Animal Shelter popped up on Facebook.
We just went to look and hold one; we brought Chopper home.
He wasn’t one of the speckled pups in the picture, but he was part of the same litter—11 dogs rescued from a reservation in New Mexico and transported to Aspen, via Lafeyette, Colorado’s RezDawg Rescue. They’re likely a mix of border collie, blue heeler and Australian shepherd, all energy and wits, not a lot of bubbly charm with strangers.
Now 4 years old, Chopper has hiked mountains and skied peaks. He hates swimming. He walks around town, getting treats from the people at Alpine Bank, Carl’s Pharmacy and Of Grape & Grain. We joke that dogs adopted from the shelter hit the jackpot, but isn’t that true for adopted pups everywhere? To answer the question about what happens to dogs “rescued in Aspen,” I tracked down his littermates to see if they, too, were living their best lives.
Cute puppies and longing-for-a-home dogs may be the poster canines of the Aspen Animal Shelter, but Seth Sachson is its face. To say the valley native is passionate about his job as the director of the shelter is an understatement. “Sure it’s fun to tell stories of dogs leaving on jets and in limos, but it’s also cool for the guy who works at the local pizza shop, and we get to see those dogs adopted every day,” he says. “That’s what I love: Everybody loves dogs. And dogs don’t discriminate who they love.”
The shelter, located by the Aspen Airport, adopts out several hundred dogs per year. (It also fosters cats, birds, rabbits, goats, ducks and even had a coyote pass through its doors.) Pets come to Sachson through all kinds of situations: divorce, death, moving, shifting family dynamics, allergies. “You hear everything, and every day is like a reality show,” he says. “The shelter is weaved into the fabric of the community.”
If that’s true, Chopper’s litter is a sample slice. Take Elle, for example. She belongs to the Turbidy family and gets to call the Aspen Golf Course her backyard, where a 2.5-mile dog-friendly cross-country ski trail provides lots of exercise in the winter. “My daughter saw the puppies posted on Facebook and wanted one. We said ‘no way,’ but then we went to see them and were done. We surprised her with Elle,” says Alicia Turbidy.
When the Turbidys adopted Elle, they also had a 13-year-old dog who “trained her,” she says. The two got more than a year together, and Elle learned most things she knows from her furry mentor, including walking off-leash. Now’s she’s always by the Turbidys’ side, which may include a trip to the Caribbean next year, where the family spends their summers.
Elle could end up at the beach, but her littermate Colonel is now living there full-time. His owners, Anderson Clark and Brian Douglass, moved to Aspen to manage the White House Tavern when it opened. Colonel was a familiar face at its front door. But the business partners moved to San Diego to open their own restaurant, Common Stock, and now Colonel spends his time chasing waves—and horses, as he hangs out some days on a working barn in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. “He gets to be around horses, and that’s the best life for him,” says Clark.
Because the litter has blue heeler, or cattle dog, as part of its mix, the instinct to herd is innate. Luckily, Sunni McBride’s dog, Oscar, lives on a ranch in Old Snowmass. “He likes to chase around the animals, but he doesn’t like to work,” says McBride. She says her family, which includes an 11-year-old and two teenagers, has adopted every dog they’ve owned from the Aspen Animal Shelter. When they lost one, Sachson called to give them the heads up about this litter. “It took awhile for the other dogs to get used to having a puppy around,” she says. “But I think he has a happy life.”
Every owner interviewed says the same thing about the dogs’ characteristics: They’re high-energy, wicked smart and a little weary of people, mostly men. For Joni Keefe, who owns Diesel, and Corinna Czink and Jason Cook, who own Copper, they saw that as an opportunity, and both families—unknown to each other—enrolled their dogs in the same agility training course. Copper is also practicing to become a hearing and service dog. “I feel like she’s my child,” says Czink. “She has been a great addition to our family.”
Cook, who works at Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, brings Copper to work with him sometimes, and Diesel goes to Coldwell Banker Mason Morse with Keefe. “He is with me all the time,” she says, adding that he also plays at a ranch where she has a horticulture business. (If there’s a common link here, it’s the ranches.) That public interface means they are both social and, dare we say, involved in the community.
Ikal, another pup, belongs to a family who lives in Blue Lake, and they say she’s an incredible family dog. “We love her so much,” says Leo Murrieta, adding that Ikal loves to play with his kids.
As for Chopper’s other siblings? One reportedly lives on Cozy Point Ranch, and another moved back East with his owners who were Realtors, says Sachson. An obstetrician owns another and helped her sibling find a home as well.
Sachson says that he follows the trajectory of most of his adopted dogs—”whether they leave in a station wagon to Denver or a private jet to New York”—especially if they remain local. Besides rescuing animals, the shelter offers grooming, boarding and retail, so it functions as a full-circle operation, in which proceeds from the services fund the adoption process.
He loves to tell stories about the faraway places his pups have landed, from bringing up 13 dogs on a Gulfstream from Texas to finding a dog for the CEO of a major media company. (It ended up being a Great White Pyrenees, who didn’t bark and could live in a Manhattan condo.) In fact, he loves the matchmaking process, or “dating,” and at a person’s request, will wait until the perfect dog for them comes into the shelter before giving them the call.
And bringing a new dog into the family is a lot like starting a relationship; all parties have to jive. A friend once told me that you get the dog you need at that point in life. With Chopper, that equated to a good family dog who needed lots of exercise. People may say that Aspen dogs have it good—and they do—but it’s usually the family who feels like they got lucky.