Larry Goldie
Submitted by Larry Goldie on
scoob_n_larr Scooby in her Prime near the Callaghan lodge, BC. Photo by Dave Waag

Ode to a mountain Dog

Originally Published in the March 2013 issue of Off-Piste Magazine

As I sat on the bench, sliding my feet into an old pair of Sorels, my gaze was returned by my best pal, laying on the rug and staring up at me.  I wondered how long it had been since her eyes had gone cloudy.   Rather than pacing around the entryway, tail wagging wildly as I got ready to go, (her practice for so many years), she now waited patiently, a Buddha like contentedness emanating from her trim, furry body.  Our ski days together are over, as the many years and many thousands of vertical feet have taken their toll on her joints.  The mere sight of me grabbing ski boots and backpack used to have her sitting by the door, using only body language to say “Don’t forget me, I’m ready to go, I love skiing!”  Now, she just follows me with her eyes, as her body lays on the warm rug, chin resting on the floor itself.   I realize that other than the gray around her muzzle, she still has the same puppy face she had fourteen years ago on the day we met.


I still remember the old timer’s parting advice as I left our local coffee shop on my way to the pound to look at dogs.  “Choose the dog that chooses you” he said as walked out the door.  The words felt cryptic to me at the time, but I filed them away in case they made more sense at some point in the future.

Once at the pound, they walked me down a long barking corridor with dogs of all sizes and breeds, panting, slobbering and barking as we strode past.  We stopped in front of a kennel containing about 8 young puppies.  This was the litter of dogs they had told me about on the phone and the ones they categorized as “Sheppard/Lab mix”.  Some had long hair, some short hair, some were tan and white, some black and white, some black, tan and white….these dogs were clearly multi-generational mutts.  The woman said I could take any of the dogs out of the cage, put them on a leash and bring them out front to walk around and get to know them.  Then she was gone.

I reached in to the barking frenzy and grabbed out the cutest dog of the bunch.  I pulled the puppy out and struggled to get the rest of the dogs back in the kennel and latch the gate.  When I turned to grab the puppy, he was cowering in the far corner of the aisle.  I put him on a leash, started toward the door when I noticed that I was literally dragging him along the concrete floor.  He didn’t want to come outside!  I picked him up, carried him out to the front lawn and set him down to play.  He seemed terrified of me and just sat there wetting himself.  Quickly, I decided that this was not the dog for me.

I brought the first puppy back and grabbed the next cutest dog in the kennel from the cacophony that emanated from the cage.  After carefully closing the cage the second time, I found this puppy racing up and down the aisles of the pound.  I put this dog on a leash and this little 10 lb puppy nearly ripped my arm off trying to drag me outside.  There was no chance of letting this dog off leash on the lawn, so when I tired of being pulled around, I returned yet again to the kennel.  This time I grabbed the next cutest dog and began the now familiar act of wrestling all of the dogs back while I latched the cage closed.  When I turned to look for this puppy, she was patiently sitting right beside me.  When I clipped her onto the leash, she pranced along right next to me, like the proudest dog on earth.  Outside, I took her off leash and she followed me everywhere.  It wasn’t until I had her outside that I recognized her from inside the chaos of the cage – she never fought for the front – she merely hung back and let out a single bark.   It was the simplest decision I never made – this dog just chose me!

And so began our partnership…  Later that year, I applied for a job ski patrolling at Steven’s Pass.  They had an established avalanche dog program that they told me Scooby could apply for as well.  They hadn’t previously allowed first year patrollers to have rescue dogs, but said they would give her a tryout.  I decided that we would only come as a package – either they took both of us or we would look elsewhere.  Just prior to the interview, I sat outside in the parking lot with my 9 month old puppy explaining the situation.  “Okay Kiddo, its time to be on your best behavior, got it?  I mean it now, this is really important.”

Inside at the interview, she crushed it.  She heeled like a champ as we weaved all though the then under construction ski lodge.  She held a down stay in another room while I had my interview with the patrol director.  She hopped up onto a chair and sat as instructed.  She barely flinched when the dog training director cracked two helmets together just a foot behind her head.  I was bursting with pride as they told me that she was well trained and would be welcome to join the patrol when the season began.

The highlights of Scooby’s rescue career were brief.  While we practiced many, many times at Steven’s Pass, the need never arose for her skills in an actual avalanche rescue.  One day however, one of the patrol doctors arrived on the mountain and headed straight in to talk to the Patrol director.  He had been involved in a car accident a few days earlier on the way up to the mountain with his teenage son driving.  The car had rolled, the sunroof smashed and much of the vehicles contents were scattered off into the forest.  Among these contents were the doctors wallet, including his hard to replace medical license.  He asked the patrol director if he could borrow an avalanche dog to see if he could find the wallet.  Scooby and I were chosen and headed down Hwy 2 with the Doctor to the scene of the accident.  After about 30 minutes of driving, I asked the question that hadn’t even dawned on me when we left the ski hill.  “Is there any snow where the accident happened?”  “Oh, no” the Doctor replied, “its totally dry there.”  Now Scooby had done article searches before, which were hard enough, as they only contain a fraction of the scent of a live person, but never had she searched for something that wasn’t hidden in the snow.

When we arrived on the scene, I got her excited for a search just like we had always practiced.  Once thoroughly wound up, I sent her off to do her thing.  Not feeling very optimistic about our chances, I began wandering around on my own hoping that I would stumble across the wallet.  The Patrol Doc had more faith than I did.  He followed Scooby around, and after about 5 minutes began shouting “She found it!  Here it is!”  Not really knowing what she was looking for, Scooby had flipped the wallet out from under a pile of wet leaves and moved on, believing that she was looking for a person, like in all of our other searches.  The Doctor was beside himself and insisted that we take all of the cash contained in the wallet for Scooby to have an endless supply of dog treats.


Scooby began skiing with me from the age of about 3 months.  I put her in my pack about half way through our first ski day, but never had to do it again.  While I would love to take credit for her skin track etiquette, somehow she just knew not to walk on people’s ski tails on the up track.  As we transitioned at the top, she would often sit at the start of the run, back to the group, as if she were eyeing her line while we took forever to get ready.  Most times she would wait until I told her it was okay to drop in, though I remember a few occasions when she would just launch onto the slope with a few bounding leaps before stopping to look back up with a guilty expression that I could relate to a little too well.

During her prime, Scooby would follow me anywhere.  On one particularly deep day on Silver Star Mountain, I was flying down a ridge line dropping little pillows, when the bottom fell out and I cratered after a 12 foot drop snuck up on me and crumpled me with a flat landing.  I had just gotten myself up out of the snow, when I turned to see Scooby in full sprint, launch off of the same drop and disappear into the snow beside me.  She quickly popped up, shook it off and sat down beside me to wait until we got going again.


As she began to age she learned that when we were yo-yoing a slope on a deep day, it was much quicker and more efficient for her to race down the uptrack.   Initially, she could almost beat us back down to the transition point while we waited for the rest of our group to finish skiing.  Over time, this became her preferred method of descent, though in the later years, we would be nearly done with our transition and even a snack before her head would appear over the track, checking on our location.  The occasional wince would register on her face as her stiff joints hobbled down the track with an expression that said “I’m going as fast as I can!”



As the years slipped by I was forced to admit that not everyday was an appropriate day to have Scooby come ski touring.  Once as strong as any ski partner I had, gradually her big days slipped to 5000’, then to 3000’, then to the occasional hour long tour just behind our house.  Slowly, even these backyard ski tours became too much, if the snow was too deep, or the crust unsupportive.  With a mindful grace that characterized her personality, she seemed content now to merely stroll around the block, savoring the olfactory world that we poor humans amble right past.


As I finish lacing up my Sorels, and open the door for Scooby, I watch her bound out into the driveway and onto the snow covered, dirt road.  As we begin our neighborhood walk, I consider the wealth of rich memories I have shared with this dog.  From skin tracks all over North America, to long days in the car, on snowmobiles and in helicopters, being lowered out of chairlifts and scrambling to alpine summits, she has followed me with a faith and devotion unmatched by any other partner I have known.  In a relationship, so uncluttered by words, yet infinitely rich in emotion and bursting with love, Scooby has taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life.  By being fully present in each moment, whether it’s the most epic ski run of the year or merely a stroll around the block with an old friend, the moments that matter most are the ones you are living, right here, right now.

Scooby, lost in contemplation.... Scooby, lost in contemplation....