Dog Days in Aspen

Four Local Dogs and Their Humans Who Share Extra-Strong Bonds

Whether cheering up patients, working rescues, inspiring books, or serving as a special companion, these pups deserve a big paws up.

By Sarah Kuta July 5, 2021 Published in the Summer/Fall 2021 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Little Dog, Big Mission

Teddy with Richard de Campo

For longtime Aspen architect Richard de Campo, finding his dog, Teddy, was a happy accident.

About six years ago, de Campo and his wife began searching Petfinder for rescues. They wanted a small, female dog who was located somewhat nearby. One day, they spotted a sweet-faced pup who matched their search criteria—a cute little female living in Carbondale.

As it turns out, “she” was actually “he,” and he was living with a foster family in Fort Morgan, a 600-mile round-trip drive from Aspen. But it was too late: de Campo and his wife were already completely smitten with the dog, whom they named Teddy. The logistics worked themselves out when a convoy of volunteers helped transport Teddy across the state to meet his new parents. “We think it was his guardian angel who got him listed as being from Carbondale and as a female, because otherwise we never would’ve found him,” de Campo says.

Luckily, Teddy’s listing photos weren’t misleading—the 10-pound poodle and long-hair Chihuahua was even sweeter in person. Before the coronavirus pandemic temporarily halted Aspen Valley Hospital’s pet therapy program, Teddy brought his cuddly, healing demeanor to patients and employees there once a month. In the meantime, de Campo and Teddy have been hitting their favorite hiking trails together: Hunter Creek for shorter outings and the Hunter-Smuggler Loop when they’ve got lots of energy to burn.

“He really likes people, and he’s just really sweet,” de Campo says of Teddy’s hospital visits. “He’s got really soft hair that adds a cuddle factor for patients. It’s a destresser and a nice break in their day.”

To the Rescue

Meka with Lori Spence

Meka is one of the Aspen Skiing Company’s top employees. Every morning, she excitedly bolts out of bed, eats breakfast, and puts on her uniform. Once she arrives, she’s completely dedicated to her work, ready and willing to spring into action.

Just like her human counterparts, Meka the avalanche rescue dog plays an integral role in ensuring the safety of guests at Aspen Highlands and, when needed, throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. Though she hasn’t won employee of the month just yet, her commitment to the job has not gone unnoticed. “She tends to whine on the chairlift because she’s so excited to go to work—just to be up there and join in the ski patrol,” says Lori Spence, Meka’s mom and Aspen Highlands’ interim ski patrol director. “She’s a very enthusiastic employee.”

Together, Spence and Meka have been keeping skiers and riders safe for the past four years. Though she hasn’t had to rescue anyone yet, Meka, a 45-pound black Lab, is one of 10 dogs on the SkiCo payroll who are specially trained to sniff out avalanche victims. When she’s not on duty at Aspen Highlands, Meka loves to swim, hike, bark at skunks from her back deck, and scramble up the slopes with anyone who will skin along with her.

“She’s super stoked,” says Spence, who’s in her 36th year as a ski patroller. “Her tail is high; she’s such a happy dog. It’s just nice having a great companion, that ‘your dog’s your best friend’ kind of thing. We go most places together, and we’re a team.”

The Yellow Labs Who Inspire Books

Fraser and Ranger with Jill Sheeley

In the early 2000s, Aspen writer Jill Sheeley began hearing some heroic stories about her dog, Fraser. One neighbor called to say that Fraser had saved her dog’s life. Another said Fraser saved a little girl from drowning in a backyard pond. Yet another said Fraser broke up a vicious dog fight. “After about the third one, I took these stories of Fraser and his antics, and I wove them all together,” says Sheeley, who’s lived here since the early 1970s.

Sheeley’s popular “Fraser the Yellow Dog” children’s book series follows a fictional Fraser and his human companion, a little girl named Courtney (named after Sheeley’s own daughter), as they overcome avalanches, blizzards, rafting accidents, and other outdoor mishaps in the Roaring Fork Valley. Fraser died in 2008, but his spirit lives on in Sheeley’s books; she’s working on a new Fraser holiday story at the moment.

Today, she also draws inspiration from another yellow Lab, Ranger. The sweet, mellow 9-year-old loves to romp in the snow, take walks along the Roaring Fork River, and lick up crumbs outside of Paradise Bakery & Café.

Though he doesn’t garner nearly as many phone calls from the neighbors as Fraser once did, Ranger is Sheeley’s constant companion as she writes, edits, and dreams up all the new, fun adventures a little girl and her dog can have together. “He’s a very cool guy,” says Sheeley, who also serves as Aspen Sister Cities president. “He loves to sleep—until he goes outside. Then, he’s Mr. Motor Man.”

A Very Special Canine Companion

Benson with Amanda Boxtel

Between stay-at-home orders and social distancing, most of us have felt disconnected during the coronavirus pandemic. But for Amanda Boxtel, who has used a wheelchair since sustaining a permanent spinal cord injury in 1992, it was especially isolating.

As he always does, though, Boxtel’s 7-year-old golden retriever, Benson, helped her make the most of a bad situation. Most winter days during the pandemic, Boxtel and Benson went to Crown Mountain Park, where Benson burned off some energy and played slip-and-slide on the snow. He often introduced Boxtel to other park regulars, too.

“So many people know my dog and they go, ‘Oh, you’re Benson’s mom. What’s your name?’” says Boxtel, who leads the Bridging Bionics Foundation, a nonprofit that helps people with neurological impairments regain mobility in innovative ways. “Having a disability can be socially isolating anyway, but having a canine companion really helps melt those barriers away. Having a dog has changed my wheelchair life in that way.”

Their relationship took on new significance last September, when Benson was diagnosed with an aggressive mast cell tumor on his nose. After three invasive surgeries and chemotherapy, Benson is now in remission, but Boxtel continues to cherish every moment she has with him—and vice versa.

“I live in gratitude for every precious day I have with my boy,” says Boxtel, who also cofounded Challenge Aspen, a Snowmass-based nonprofit that offers activities and programming for people with disabilities. “He is reveling in every day he is alive, and I love him to pieces.”

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