My Maine Coon is my main squeeze (column) |

My Maine Coon is my main squeeze (column)

Milo the Maine Coon cat, who is the writer's Summit County winter savior.
Kevin Fixler / |

Let’s face it, living in the mountains in the dead of winter can be tough.

It’s cold, seemingly never-ending, and — even if only about 70 miles from here to Denver — can feel pretty isolated. And during that first full-time, snow-packed season, it undoubtedly tested my mettle.

Right off a difficult breakup with my long-term girlfriend, and having lost my father just a year prior, a fresh start in the High Country was appealing. I’d grown up making the trek from the Front Range to Summit to snowboard and hike, and when a reporter position opened, I took the leap, packed my bags and headed for the hills.

It wasn’t but a couple hours into the final haul of belongings that I realized the immediate value of my feline associate. With the tunnel closed on a blustery night now two Novembers ago, I negotiated a slick Loveland Pass and finally landed in Breckenridge. Without a kennel, the weather-delayed journey that put my little mouser on edge and had him constantly shifting from the dash to under the passenger seat also encouraged his chauffeur’s lead foot.

Even in a place as beautiful as Summit, I’ve witnessed that until you’ve had enough time to fully involve yourself, it’s easy to fall into the cycle of wake, work, eat, sleep and repeat.

Blasting into Breck at twice Main’s posted speed limit, the welcome party, naturally, came with flashing lights and sirens. Glimpsing my stressed and crying sidekick after confirming the car was my own, the kind soul granted this newly minted local the elusive, yet highly desirable, get-out-of-jail-free card, and off we went to complete our trip.

Due to the county’s housing woes, I was actually almost forced to leave my dude back in Denver. After a tireless hunt, however, fortune smiled upon me and delivered a pet-friendly rental in the nick of time. Today it’s hard to fathom life without my green-eyed goof, and had that been the reality I’m not convinced I’d have persevered through that first winter — and that’s got little to do with him initially saving me a few bucks and points on my license.

You see, the Egyptians had it right. For little more than the cost of the sporadic bag of kibble, some litter and the odd hole chewed into your shirt, this delightful furball lends unconditional support with merely a purr and the bop of his head. Our pyramid-producing forbearers came to the conclusion eons before, and I’ve since wholly confirmed their findings.

Now, on more than one occasion, I’ve been accurately accused of being in love with my cat. I won’t go as far as to say that he saved my life, but having him around surely hasn’t hurt and it wasn’t long into our tenure before this Maine Coon became my main squeeze. Our link is one of mutual dependence — and as luck would have it, we’re both great listeners and rarely speak out of turn.

Our bond is also of comparable experiences and interests. Neither of us much cares for swimming, each of us is the product of divorce — I inherited Milo following the unfortunate end of a close friend’s marriage — and sleep is a common pastime activity. Sure, like your usual chums, we have our tiffs, like when I want to read a magazine and he’s not done lying on said magazine, but mostly we work through it.

I will admit at times he’s like a deadbeat partner who sits around all day while I head off to work each morning and slave away to fund our shared survival. But he’s also always there to greet me after a long day at the office or trip out of town, simply excited to reconnect and request a lap or chest on which to rest.

Still, the emotional hardships of what remains a relatively remote existence up here can take their toll and lead to some dark mental spaces. Even in a place as beautiful as Summit, I’ve witnessed that until you’ve had enough time to fully involve yourself, it’s easy to fall into the cycle of wake, work, eat, sleep and repeat.

Whether that’s the cause of the recent uptick in the county’s suicide rate the last three years is impossible to say. In just 2016, though, a record 13 people ended their own lives in our community — a 60 percent increase from the prior year. And as someone with histories of the double whammy of depression and alcoholism in their family, that’s not lost on me, and my brindle buddy who invariably wears stark white socks no matter the function helps keep me on the level.

Again, I realize the set of obstacles that can prevent pet ownership in the county, from spendy, nonrefundable domesticated animal deposits to HOA rules thwarting it altogether. But the local animal shelter has dogs, cats and even the random rodent in need of a home, and a place in your heart. Sometimes for as low as $10 for a mature cat, and typically around $100 for a kitten or adult pup, you too can brave the most ruthless of Summit seasons.

Once in a while traveling around Colorado I spot that “Who saved who?” animal rescue bumper sticker. From personal experience I can tell you I certainly know my answer. Bring on the rest of the winter.

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