Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beaver Brook Trail

Next to eating, one of a lab's favorite activities is a good hike with his owner. And for a busy lab owner, a pooped pup is a blessing, especially if he's still young and energetic. As a new resident of Colorado, I jumped at the opportunity to write a column for Lab Gab so I could get to know the area. Unfortunately, my lab, at 13 years of age, is retired from long hikes, so I am grateful to Safe Harbor alumni Mason, his brother Cody, and their owner Tim for treating me to my first hike.

It was only 3 days after the "March Blizzard of 2009" when we headed up to the Beaver Brook Trail on Lookout Mountain. The trail is in the Windy Saddle Park, part of the Jefferson County Open Space system. There was still a lot of snow on the trail, but with the dogs in the lead, we headed off on our adventure.

Not far around the first bend, we were looking down at the top of North Table Mountain. Occasionally we could see Hwy 6 cutting through the deep canyon below us, and a mile and a half in, we had a vantage point looking west for a view of the snow capped peaks in the distance. You'll have to keep your eyes on the trail while in motion, so be sure to stop often to appreciate the views, listen to the quiet, and snap a picture.

The trail winds along the edge of the mountain, much like the switchbacks you drive up to get there. At times you are on an open stretch on the side of a hill, and not long after, you will be in the cool shade of the trees. At one point, the trail crosses a small stream of water coming down the mountainside, at least at this time of year. One stretch is strewn with boulders, and another has you grabbing for a handhold on a very large rock with natural steps.

It is a very scenic trail with a great variety of terrain. There wasn't much change in elevation in the first mile and a half, so it wasn't a physically challenging trail. However, it was narrow in places with a couple "cliff hangers", so wear sturdy shoes and watch your step. With a slick layer of melting snow hiding rocks and other obstacles, it was slow going - the 3 mile round trip took us 3 hours, moving at a leisurely pace. The full trail is 8.5 miles one way.

Just short of the one mile point, there's a steep step down off a large rock. Look before you leap - old or small dogs may have to be lifted up it on your return trip. With the snow cover, we couldn't see if there was a suitable by-pass, so for some hikers and/or their dogs, this might be a good place to turn around.

If you make it to the 1.5 mile marker, carry on just a hair further to a large rock that has been beautifully sculpted by the elements. It sits prominently out on a point and makes a pleasant picnic spot. The views are nice, but keep your dogs leashed and away from the edge - it's a long way down.

To reach this trail, go west on 19th Street out of Golden. Turn left on Lookout Mountain Road, and after you pass the stone pillars on the sides of the road, it is 3.2 miles to the parking area at the trail head. It's a small parking lot and not well marked, so watch your odometer. If you reach Buffalo Bill's grave, you went 1.7 miles too far (ask me how I know!). It is the first official parking lot you come to, on the right side of the road, inside a tight turn, and it looks more like a scenic overlook.

Dogs are required to be leashed on this trail, and while I may occasionally report on leash-optional trails, owners of rescued labs should be very cautious letting their dogs off leash. Labs live to run, and they may be on their best behavior with you for months, hiding their true personality until one day they see the open road and run like the wind. Ask me how I know! (See previous post "Lily Danced".)

Lily Danced

A Celebration of a Beautiful Dog and Her Love of Life

Lily joined Network and I when she was 5 ½ years old. A product of a broken home, suffering from an overdose of food and underdose of love and attention, she was living in an outdoor kennel at the Healdsburg Animal Shelter for a couple months when I was volunteering there. She seemed like one of the best dogs at the shelter, a pure bred yellow lab, but she was terribly overweight. Strong as an ox and stubborn as a mule, the usual crowd of dog walkers couldn’t manage her and her odds weren’t good for adoption. I volunteered to take her through obedience school hoping it would increase her chances of finding the right home. I took her out on a weekend pass to get to know her a little better before the class started, and never took her back. The first hour in my home, it seemed like she was meant to be there.

On a proper diet, she quickly lost the excess weight, and a beautiful and proud lady emerged. If you ever went on a walk with us, you’ll remember how she pranced. Her passion was her soccer ball. As a goalie, she let few balls go by. If you ever watched her play, you will remember The Dance. As I prepared to kick the ball, Lily would watch my eyes, but still adjust to any change in direction. Her feet were dancing constantly, ready to move as soon as the ball moved. If I stood on the step above her, she would do a twisting back flip, snagging the ball out of the air as it soared above her head. Tennis balls also provided hours of entertainment. She would chew and dance and chew and dance, brushing her teeth on the soft green fuzz, eventually putting the ball on the ground to be kicked. If you tried to pick it up to throw it, you risked losing a finger. And if you ever heard the CLACK! of her teeth that often accompanied The Dance, you have respect for the power in those jaws.

Like many pets, Lily went by other names during her life. Houdini was one of the names I called her. One of the first times I left her with a dog sitter, she surprised us by launching herself up and over the back fence, at least 6 feet high, and running away across the vineyards. Other escape routes were open doors, open windows, closed doors, bank vaults. You name it, my little Houdini could find a way out. Once out, she would run. And I never tired of watching her run – it was either a carefree gambol from house to house until she made it down to the park a block away, or it was with all the power and grace and beauty of an Olympic sprinter. She also loved chasing birds. A romp on the beach turned into an hour long ordeal involving a flock of birds and the realization that I might be leaving her at the beach. Another visit to a friend’s ranch resulted in a 45 minute swim around and around and around a pond where she was trailing a couple ducks. Her last big run was in May at Sea Ranch when she got her old bones up over a short gate and took off across the meadow to play with a passing dog.

For the first year that she was with us, Lily was engaging in play, but at rest she was remote. After playing she retired to a pad across the room and left the cuddling to Network the Couch Potato. After a whole year, long after I had accepted her for what she was, she started to come closer for pets and love. Over time, she became very sweet and loving indeed. Through patience and consistency, I was able to win her trust and respect, and eventually a look from me was all it took to keep her from heading over the back fence.

Like a trooper, Lily endured the growing discomforts of Cushings Disease throughout 2005. After a final confirming diagnosis in July, we were told she had about 2 months left, so we set about to enjoy the rest of the summer as if any day might be her last. Playing soccer was too hard on her swollen joints and weakening muscles, so we played The Hose Game. When water sprayed out of the hose, she would wrestle it like a snake. My water bill for the month will be charged to the “Pet Supplies” account in Quicken.

By mid December, 5 months later, her body was a wreck, but her spirit was still strong. Faced with the growing odds that she would have a traumatic crisis, I made the hard decision to let her go peacefully. On December 19th, 9 days before her 12th birthday, surrounded by the wonderful people at Windsor Animal Hospital, who fed her chocolate kisses as she energetically wolfed them down, she laid her head down with chocolate still on her lips.

Country Singer Lee Ann Womack sings a beautiful song called I Hope You Dance. Lily Danced.