Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Buck the Wonder Dog was never happier than when he was dashing through a frigid mountain stream, unless he was retrieving a piece of lodgepole pine from an Alpine lake.
Ranking close behind mountain streams on Buck's list of life's greatest pleasures was having a good roll in a summer snowdrift.
Nearing the top of an arduous hike to 10,000 feet, he would dash for the first snowbank we encountered. After using his snout to plow a furrow in the soft snow, he would sample a mouthful. Finally, he would flip on his back and wriggle his spine in the snow.
I cannot begin to describe the obvious joy he took from July snowbanks. It must have been the equivalent of a double-dip ice cream cone with sprinkles.
Buck came to us after he was found wandering lost in the vicinity of Steamboat Lake. The vet estimated he was about a year old, but we've never really known his birth date.
I discovered him at the animal shelter. You probably know someone who tells virtually the same story.
When I walked down the concrete aisle between the cages, all of the dogs were yapping furiously to catch my attention - all of them but one.
I stopped in front of Buck's cage (I guess he had another name that I will never know) and he locked his gaze onto mine. He sat calmly and wagged his tail. I hope it wasn't too big a letdown when I left him behind. He could not have known that I asked the lady at the front desk to call me if anyone showed interest in the quiet, medium-size dog with short hair the color of a mule deer in early summer.
I went home and told the boy and his mom that I thought I'd found the dog they wanted. I asked them to go back to the shelter and see if they chose the same one.
Buck charmed them the same way he charmed me, and we brought him into our lives.
I had never really bonded with my family dogs as a teenager. So I didn't know how a pooch could steal your heart. Buck, who we believe was part Lab and part Australian kelpie, became our partner in so many of our outdoors adventures.
The dog trudged up 14'ers with us, never complaining. He could swim through 2 feet of powder on Rabbit Ears Pass. He sprinted joyfully through the edge of the surf in Oregon, and he even acknowledged my prowess as an angler. When I landed a brightly speckled trout, Buck would respectfully sniff it before I released it.
Buck didn't have many flaws, but he sure had one strange quirk. Whenever he fetched, he stopped just short of returning the object I had tossed for him.
Strangers often asked me, "Can I pet your dog? What kind of dog is that?"
If I was in a mischievous mood, I would answer: "He's a Wilson hound."
Invariably, the response was, "I've never heard of a Wilson hound."
Then, I'd lower the boom.
"A Wilson hound is any dog that lives to chase tennis balls," I'd say with a straight face.
It was true about Buck. He was obsessive when it came to chasing balls and flying discs. That was his occupation.
As a young dog, he could leap higher than my head to snag a soft flying disc out of the air. At the moment he closed in on a bouncing tennis ball, it was the most important thing on Earth. He was willing to sacrifice his body to lock his jaws on his quarry.
However, Buck almost never returned a ball, or a stick, or a disc to my hand. Instead, he would drop it 6 feet away and look at me as if to say, "What, you lazy dog? You're not willing to walk the last few steps to pick it up?"
My response was always, "Bring it!"
He would pick the tennis ball up and move it about 1.75 inches closer to me and repeat that tactic several times until we'd reached some sort of compromise.
Still, it was easy to forgive Buck that one inexplicable streak of stubbornness. After all, he was the faithful dog who trotted to the end of the driveway every day to fetch the morning paper and bring it into the kitchen.
I took Buck to the vet's office for the final time Monday afternoon.
I hope he's in a mountain meadow right now. I hope he's sniffing rodent tracks at the edge of the snowline, where a little stream leaps spontaneously out of the snowbank.
If that's where Buck is, then I know he is happy.
- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail email@example.com