John Cardillo, who helped start Spiffy Dog Pet Products with partner Edward Watson, never has to leave his dog Alex at home when he goes to work. Alex and a pair of golden retrievers owned by Watson are fixtures inside the company's combined office, warehouse and retail outlet.

Photo by John F. Russell

John Cardillo, who helped start Spiffy Dog Pet Products with partner Edward Watson, never has to leave his dog Alex at home when he goes to work. Alex and a pair of golden retrievers owned by Watson are fixtures inside the company's combined office, warehouse and retail outlet.

Dog-gone ski town

Steamboat produces distinct breed



Kelly Martin says her dog Scruffy is one of her best friends and a big part of her family.


Dog owner Vic Puleo shows off the hardware needed after his standard poodle, Onyx, was struck by a car in the front of his Steamboat Springs home. It took more than four months and countless visits to the vet office to get Onyx back on his feet - something Puleo says was worth the time and money.


Lynette Weaver and her Bernese mountain dog, Mica, work with students, including kindergartner Kai Frenken, as part of R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs). The children improve their own skills by reading to the dogs.


Diana Childs, shown with the five border collies she currently owns, helped start a rescue dog organization when she lived in Cheyenne, Wyo. The organization comes to the aid of aging ranch dogs that no longer can keep up and otherwise would be put down.


A dog jumps into the Yampa River during a past festival in Steamboat Springs.

Canine Commerce

The Steamboat surplus of dog-driven compassion and support has fueled more than a few unique niches in the local economy. Some contractors have fielded requests for tiled-in, raised-platform dog washing tubs for their home-building clients, and other owners find ways to pamper their pooches however they can.

That means gourmet canned Turducken, dried cow tracheas, frozen raw turkey necks, all-natural shampoos, doggie diapers, liver biscotti, peanut-butter-filled bones and Doggles dog-specific eye goggles.

Dave Terranova has to keep stock of the local demand for any and all of the above items, no matter how high the spoil factor may seem.

Regardless, the foundation of Terranova's pet supply store, Paws 'N Claws 'N Things, remains the food people feed their dogs.

"People treat their dogs differently here," said Terranova, who moved to Steamboat from Delaware. "Since the pet food scare recall last year, people's eyes are really opening to the good, bad and ugly of what's in dog food."

After nearly three years in the Anglers Drive location, Terranova has gotten to know the ins and outs of the stream of show dogs and sled dogs that peruse his aisles. For him, the family dog is an integral part of life.

"I could never see life without dogs," Terranova said. "I feel like our oldest golden (retriever), Cody, has helped raised our three kids - no less a part of our family than our kids."

On the other side of town, the two goldens on the floor of Spiffy Dog Pet Products, Lucy and Ellie, and their German shepherd colleague Alex aren't as much customers as they are the inspiration of the small local business's R&D department.

Ten years ago, the dogs' owners, Edward Watson and John Cardillo, respectively, were making lightweight watchbands out of a quick-drying nylon "aerospacer" material. At the time, the bands were part of a line of primarily whitewater kayaking accessories that the pair produced as Fat Eddy's Threadworks.

"John said to me, 'Make my dog a collar out of that,' and I laughed at him, but then we ended up adding it to the Fat Eddy's line," Watson said.

It didn't take long for Watson and Cardillo to feel the power of the mighty pet industry and the demand for their breathable Air Collar. It remains the cornerstone of a product line that includes other safety products, harnesses, travel bowls and toys.

After this Spiffy Dog line took off in 2002, the co-founders/owners turned it into the focus of their work. The Steamboat Outdoor Group acquired the growing business in 2006, and now Spiffy Dog ( is distributed to more than 700 independent specialty pet stores in the U.S. and Canada.

But the original impetus for the business - keeping their dogs happy - is what keeps the product line growing.

"We'd be disconnected from our people if we lived in a city," Cardillo said of the local core market. "Folks will be dropping in with ideas all the time."

Watson's own passion for hunting and his experience with Fat Eddy's ski patrol harnesses helped him develop ideas like the Shock Collar Remote Control Harness in Spiffy Dog's new Hunter Dog line.

Although most of the manufacturing is now done overseas, the prototypes are born out of a sales office/manufacturing space only a stone's throw from the Yampa River. Near the same river pool, in fact, where Spiffy Dog hosts the ever-popular Crazy River Dog challenge every June at the Yampa River Festival and where a new crop of aquatic mountain dog jumpers find themselves wishing for a quick-drying collar.

"Can you imagine life without dogs?" Watson posed. "I can't - they keep your sanity and drive you crazy at the same time."

Sometimes a dog isn't just a dog.

In a town with easy access to open spaces, the furry quadrupeds can become an extension of their owners. And not just the kind that's allowed to mount up on the tailgate every so often. Steamboat is a town for dogs that get to ride along in the front seat.

Maybe it's because more of the drivers here share something - something primitive and fundamental way back in their minds - that they know their loyal companions are also always ready for.

Vic Puleo felt that shared urge to get outside and romp around.

After his brother had a scare with a heart attack, Puleo motivated himself to be more active, walking for a minimum of an hour a day. He needed a dog to match his enthusiasm and keep him going.

But when his then-girlfriend insisted on a standard poodle, Puleo spent more than a few nights sleeping on the sofa, firmly resisting the poodle campaign - worried that friends would think he was "a little light in (his) loafers."

Puleo gave in. By the time Onyx was fully grown into "the smartest, coolest, most athletic backcountry hound," he was keeping up on 15-mile hikes in the Flat Tops. Puleo had not only forgotten his negative poodle stigma, he was fighting to keep Onyx when the relationship with his girlfriend ended.

But it wasn't until January 2006 that Puleo realized just how much he had let his guard down and how far he would go for his dog.

Coming home to an open door without Onyx's regular greeting, Puleo looked everywhere, only to find his dog deep in a basement closet he had never ventured in before.

"He had a shattered left rear leg, a puncture in his chest and the other leg was stripped to the skin," said Puleo, who guessed that a car weaving through high snowbanks had hit Onyx and that he had retired to the closet to die.

Puleo took him to Steamboat's Pet Kare Clinic, where Dr. Paige Lorimer came in on a Friday night to sedate Onyx and wrap the wounds. When Lorimer returned to the clinic in the morning to find Onyx curled at the door, Puleo realized just how attached of a pet he had. The drugged-up, broken animal was driven enough to break out of a locked, steel-caged kennel to try to find his owner.

That loyalty was why Puleo was willing to spend the next four months taking Onyx to the clinic nearly every day to have the cast and the stitches redressed. And that's not all Puleo was spending. The initial surgery to install a 6-inch aluminum rod in Onyx's leg had to be redone after the rod, and with it the bone, bent, followed by a third surgery last fall to stave off infection and remove the rod for good.

Puleo knows his 8-year-old dog is too important to worry about the money spent on his care. Now, Puleo, his fiancee, Kelly Martin, her dog, Scruffy, and Onyx curl up every night in the same bed, where the humans debate exactly how the dogs will be employed in their upcoming summer wedding ceremony.

'It's a dog-friendly town'

Diana Childs has more than a bed full of dogs to worry about. Her soft spot for old herding breeds of ranch dogs that couldn't keep up and would've otherwise been put down motivated her to start rescuing dogs when she lived in Cheyenne, Wyo. She rescued so many dogs that if she couldn't place them, she'd just give them to her children.

Now, when Childs and her husband, Stacy, celebrate Thanksgiving with the family, they must wade through "a carpet" of the family's 12 dogs.

The Childs established a foundation to help owners spay or neuter their dogs if they could not afford to do so on their own. Diana estimates the foundation has helped provide operations to nearly 500 dogs. But in the four years Diana has been in Steamboat, she's noticed less of a need and, in general, more compliant and respectful dog owners than she experienced in Cheyenne.

"It's a dog-friendly town," Childs said.

Working for off-leash spaces

But not all dog owners share the same sentiment. Frank Cefaratti still thinks Steamboat has a ways to go. From Cefaratti's office at Mountain View Car Wash, he knows his nearly identical black Labs, Jack and Hoover, are waiting patiently outside his door for his cue, and maybe for their daily swallowing of a soft-serve ice cream cone. He also knows what they really want is wide open spaces in which to run free.

So Cefaratti has taken the reins of RDOGS (Responsible Dog Ownership Group of Steamboat), helping establish a trial program through the city for off-leash times in a pair of Steamboat parks.

Cefaratti sees the "dog-friendly" label much like the ski area's hope to present itself as skier-friendly - a designation that comes with responsibility guidelines.

"If we can get people to be aware of the certain places, times, certifications and rules - especially with cleaning up, hopefully this pilot project will lead to a dog-specific park," Cefaratti said, pointing to other Colorado cities and resort towns boasting such amenities. "With the growth of this city, in 10 years, if we don't do something now, we'll have a problem."

More than a companion

Cefaratti needs look no further than Cathy Shryock to find the epitome of his hopes for Steamboat dog owners - responsible ones who can control their animals. He also sees the "wild side" dogs can unleash in their owners, causing them to bend a rule or two on behalf of their favorite canines.

Shryock recognizes that she can't just walk her two rescued Australian shepherds, Boomer and Poudre. She keeps them busy as therapy dogs. And her border collie/McNab mix puppy, Breeze? Well, that's her agility dog.

"They're incredibly intelligent animals - the more you do with them, the better they are," said Shryock, who works as the assistant program director of Heeling Friends, a volunteer network of dog-owner "Pet Partner" teams that make visits to hospitals and care centers throughout the Yampa Valley. "They like to please, so you have to teach them new skills."

Part of this desire to teach extends to other trainers. Shryock will serve as the vice president of a new organization, the Yampa Valley Canine Connection, which awaits approval as a nonprofit agency.

"We'll have a youth dog drill team, but it's mainly to promote education and good ownership of dogs, not necessarily a structured or costly training program as much as giving people a chance to have fun with their dogs and learn obedience and agility," said Shryock, who also instructs Rally-O (a showmanship and obedience competition) for Routt County 4-H.

So when Shryock can't get out to her private, outdoor agility arena in the winter, she can be found coaching her collie over obstacles at the Routt County Fairgrounds arena. Although the informal weekly practices have cultivated her own "circle of dog friends," the competition training helps produce a more personal, mutually beneficial relationship.

"The dogs enhance my ability," Shryock said. "Even on my worst days, they force you to get outside when I wouldn't do it otherwise."

A few of these relationships can cut deeper than others.

Barb Clark knows that a friendly dog can trigger instant emotional reactions in others. She employs her Bernese mountain dog, Vernors, as a therapy dog for the R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) program. This offshoot of Heeling Friends, developed by Utah-based nonprofit Intermountain Therapy Animals, takes partner teams to elementary schools, where individual students bolster abilities by reading out loud to the dogs.

"Their body language relaxes, you see the student become more calm, and you see their anxiety disappear," said Clark, who acts as the program coordinator.

Although the comfort her dog provides can be shared informally in the program, Clark thinks that, every so often, you find that one dog to forge a lasting and true man's-best-friend connection with.

"You may have dogs your whole life, and there's only one you really bond with," Clark said about Vernors. "It's what I call a heart dog - you have an animal you really connect with, more than a companion."

Special treatment

Sometimes that connection creates equal, if not better, treatment than the other, bipedal family members receive.

Jane McLeod said her friends joke they want to be reincarnated as one of her family's dogs. Five years ago, McLeod and her husband Allan White's 11-year-old collie, Rory, was diagnosed with a painful and peculiar form of irritable bowel syndrome that resulted in an imaginative culinary course of action to get Rory on his feet again.

"We'll cook a base stew of white potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips and leeks, and then you can add poached chicken, cottage cheese, tofu, yogurt, fruits and veggies," McLeod said about the bi-monthly people-food batches that are frozen and thawed as needed. "It's the Zone Diet equivalent."

But McLeod and White aren't counting every potato stewed at their ranch in South Routt. They are not the only ones providing.

"They're so loyal and trusting and enthusiastic," McLeod said of the family dogs. "They give back more than I could ever give them."

Off-leash offerings

In November, the city of Steamboat Springs agreed to institute a trial off-leash program for dogs in certain city parks. Off-leash times and locations include Spring Creek Park from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, and Rita Valentine Park from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and 5 to 7 p.m. Fridays.

Dog owners who want to take advantage of the off-leash recreation areas must attend a certification program offered at the city's Parks, Open Spaces and Recreational Services Department office on Howelsen Parkway. The program includes a video defining voice and sight control, and agreement with a "Manners in Off-Leash Areas" document. Call 879-4300 to schedule a time.

Open space supervisor Craig Robinson reminded dog walkers that city ordinances require pets to be leashed when not in these areas and owners to dispose of their dog's waste.

Little beef cookies

Melanie Smith, co-owner of Pupcake Barkery (1890 Loggers Lane, Unit E, (970) 870-WOOF suggested this simple recipe to whip up some "little beef cookies" for your favorite hound.

What you'll need: 2 1/2 ounces of baby food, 1/4 cup of powdered milk and 1/4 cup of wheat germ

What to do: In a bowl, mix the ingredients. Roll into small balls and place on a baking sheet. Flatten with your hand or a fork. Bake in 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until brown. Cool completely and serve.

Makes about a dozen cookies.

Extras: A regular 2 1/2-ounce jar of meat-flavored baby food should do the trick. Smith likes using a fork to flatten the balls to make a little design. She says it's pretty simple, but you can add shredded cheese in, as well - just be sure to grease the pan well if you do that because the oils in the cheese can make the cookies stick to the pan. Other extras to try in the cookies are vegetables such as diced carrots and celery.


techno_babble 9 years ago

I live on a corner lot...

If dog poop were a valuable commodity, I would need armed guards.

I think having a dog is just another status symbol for many Steamboat residents.


ColoradoNative 9 years ago

We're no more a dog down than any other town in America.


corduroy 9 years ago

i pick up other dog's poo when I'm out with my dog not every dog owner is oblivious.. when rains come that poo gets into the Yampa, and you swim in that.. it evaporates and rains back down and we drink it.. think about it before you don't pick it up. If you odn't have a baggie, there's always some garbage lying around I've found.. wash your hands later

I won't get into the off-leash thing, generally my dog is never on one and right by my side.


hubiem 9 years ago


water evaporates, poop doesn't. if dog poop was the worst thing in the yampa you would be doing good. what about the thousands of acres of cattle ranches that are completely covered with cow poop? when it rains cow pop washes into the yampa as well. along with deer, elk, moose, bears, foxes and all the other wildlife in the yampa valley. dog poop is a very small percentage of the poop in the yampa.


stmbtprof 9 years ago

God Bless Diana Childs and others in Stmbt for all the good they have done for our canine companions. Stmbt used to be a great down town and I could take my dogs with me everywhere and i was welcome...I think some of you sourPUSSES could use a dog so you wouldnt be so crabby and you would have a friend.


hubiem 9 years ago

do you think people complained about horse and cattle poop when they used to drive cattle through downtown to the stockyards? did anyone yell at the cowboys to clean up after their animals? i doubt it. people just knew to WATCH WHERE YOU STEP.


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