The life of a High Country dog, especially one lucky enough to live in Summit County, is one to be envied by canines across the country and around the world. From skiing and snowshoeing in the winter to hiking, biking and paddling in the summer, our furry friends have it pretty good. So good, in fact, that photos of their exploits have become the inspiration for author M. John Fayhee’s latest book, “Colorado Mountain Dogs.”
As a longtime Summit County resident who helped get the Summit Daily News going in 1989, then started the Mountain Gazette a decade later, Fayhee is familiar with our community’s passion for its pets and their propensity for the good life.
“As I say in the introduction, if you’re a dog and you somehow find yourself living in the Colorado High Country, it doesn’t guarantee you have a good life, but it increases the odds,” said Fayhee, who has since relocated to New Mexico. “You see a lot of happy dogs chasing sticks at Rainbow Park” in Silverthorne.
Fayhee said the book allowed him to revisit a time and place in his own life. The author found his mountain canine companion of 13 years, a Summit Daily Pet of the Week, at the Summit County Animal Shelter long ago.
“I’m not sure dogs register the concept of beauty, but I think that they do,” he said. “It’s nice to revisit that. My dog in Colorado, we went canoeing on Lake Dillon, snowshoeing up French Gulch. I was living in New Mexico when I worked on (the book), but it was nice to take that stroll down memory lane.”
Finding the photos
Fayhee said “Colorado Mountain Dogs” started off as a “project of convenience.”
“For five straight years, we did an annual mountain dog issue” in the Mountain Gazette, he said. “We were going to do it one time and it was so popular we did it for five straight years. I found myself in possession of literally 2,500 dog photos.”
Graphic Arts Books had published one of Fayhee’s recent books, and the conversation began about the next project. Fayhee said he thought, well, I’ve got all these dog photos, and Colorado dogs are so much a part of the local landscape, so he proposed doing a photo book.
“I thought it would be an easy thing to do, whip it out in a few weeks — that’s not how it turned out,” he said. “I started out with 2,500 photos, and first of all, we decided to just do Colorado, not the Rockies or the West or anything like that. One-third of the photos were eliminated because they were from other places besides Colorado, and about one-third were eliminated because I no longer had contact information for them.”
Fayhee said when he was originally collecting the photos for the Mountain Gazette, a book project wasn’t on his mind, and so he hadn’t been particular about retaining email addresses and phone numbers of the submitters. After culling the out-of-state submissions and ones that were missing contact information, it became more subjective.
“Everybody thinks their photo of their dog is the best in the world,” he said. “A lot of them weren’t really good.”
By the time he’d fully committed to the project, Fayhee had about 500 photos in his pool, at which point he started working on further cuts, being careful to represent all kinds of dogs from all kinds of locales across the state.
“I really wanted to make sure that I got a diverse quantity of photos,” he said. “That appears on several levels: big dogs and small dogs, mutts and huskies and Labs — we got a lot of Labs; Labs and golden retrievers really dominate the book. I wanted to get a diverse array of dogs, activities — dogs in water, dogs in snow, dogs hiking. I wanted to get geographic diversity, so we have everything from Boulder to Durango, dogs from all over the state. I wanted to get a stylistic mix of photos, portraits, action, scenic, the whole nine yards.
“So it wasn’t purely choosing the 160 best photos. I wanted to preemptively navigate this thing so it had a lot of diversity in it.”
Adding the words
“Colorado Mountain Dogs” is about 60 percent photos and 40 percent words, Fayhee said, and Summit County is represented more than any other place in the book. Though it’s marketed as a photo book, the text certainly makes the book as much as the photos do, and when it came to providing the stories to accompany the photos, the author found help in a handful of places.
“I solicited essays from some of the Mountain Gazette alumni, people who wrote for me for years that I knew were dog people; there’s probably six or seven essays from them,” he said. “I probably wrote five or six things for the book, the introduction, chapters on how to photograph dogs, how to name dogs, how to train dogs.
“When I contacted all of these photographers to get permission to use these photos in the book, I asked them to send cutline information. A lot of them sent “this is a photo of Fido hiking,” but a lot of them wrote these long photo cutlines. The cutlines almost end up being as big a part of the book as the photos themselves. They cover the gamut from who what, when, where, why, all the way to Bob Winsett, a longtime photographer in Frisco. Bob wrote a two-page poem for his girlfriend’s dog. We said, what the hell, we ran the whole poem.”
Most of the work Fayhee did on the book was logistics, he said, and as much of a pain as it could sometimes be gathering everything together, when you get up in the morning for a month straight and spend your day going through dog photos, “it really doesn’t suck too bad.” The project had an aggregate of highlights, Fayhee said.
“There are a lot of people in the world who work the graveyard shift at 7-11,” he said. “When you deal with dogs photos for a month, that’s a pretty sweet gig. The organizational process was a pain, but in the end, it was dealing with people and their dogs — that end of it was really nice.”
Fayhee is touring to publicize the book, with some stops donating portions of book sales to local shelters and other organizations that support pets. When the author comes to The Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco on Friday, June 20, proceeds from the book will benefit League for Animals and People of the Summit (LAPS).
“We’ve carried John Fayhee’s books for years,” said Lisa Holenko, manager of The Next Page. “We were approached by someone associated with John to do a fundraiser for LAPS, and LAPS is just such an important cause around here and people are so passionate that it seemed like a great fit for us.”
LAPS will bring along some adoptable canines to entice dog lovers for the first half hour or so of the event, Holenko said, and then Fayhee will give a talk and sign books. Holenko said she thinks the book is a good fit for Summit County readers.
“It combines two of the things that are most important to our clientele,” she said. “It combines nature and dogs, and there’s so much passion for both of those and I think it’s going to be a very successful event.”