Pets That Make You Smile

James Skeen laughs as he recalls the time his llamas almost tangled with some elk.

Pets are priceless. They’re our confidants, comrades and comforters — and the feeling is mutual. Known for nuzzling their humans for a touch, treat or trek around town, pets bring joy even in the most difficult times.

When we asked for entries to our 2020 Pet Story Contest, we weren’t surprised to receive a flood of fantastic narratives about our readers’ pet pals. Some told of animals that saved the day, while others noted their flippant behavior. All of the stories reported the myriad personalities of your pets. While every entry evoked emotion, the following stories brought about particular responses that declared them the winners. We hope you love them as much as we do.

The first place story was written by James Skeen of Loveland about an elk-llama stampede. Second place went to Margaret Schwab of Westminster and her intuitive Lab-golden retriever. The third place story was written by Debbie Wilson of Cotopaxi about a crime-solving cat. Also included here are a few runners-up and there are more at

By James Skeen, Loveland
Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association

James Skeen and his llamas Kona and Star.

Of all the ways I imagined I might die one day, I never conceived of dying in an elk-llama stampede, but as the elk and my llamas careened toward each other, the impossible was looking possible.

In 2008, following a grueling mountain hike, I told my friend Brian I was going get some llamas to backpack with. My friend smirked and asked, “What do you know about llamas?”

“Nothing,” I said, “but I’ll learn.”

Now, for 11 years I’ve owned, trained and loved my llamas; they are backpacking buddies, protectors, friends, garden fertilizers (llama poop is great) and bike riding pals.

When I got my first llamas and wanted to accelerate their conditioning, I started taking them on bike rides. Me on a bike with two llamas running behind me is a bit of a spectacle, but my neighbors got used to the routine. That routine almost ended catastrophically one day.

Coming over the rise of the dirt road with my llamas Kona and Star trailing my bike, I could see 18 bull elk in my pasture. With visual enjoyment, I continued pedaling toward my house.

I’m not sure who began sprinting first: the elk or my llamas. Either way, they started speeding toward each other on a collision course. My llamas, which had been lazily running behind me, were now pulling me at Mach speed. Likewise, the elk were tearing toward the road as if their lives depended on crossing before we passed. My 9th grade geometry skills calculated the possibility of collision and it wasn’t looking good! Just as it appeared that impact was imminent, my llamas pulled up. Eighteen hell-bent elk passed just feet in front of us.

I never imagined I might face my fate in an elk-llama stampede, but 20 years ago I never would’ve imagined having six wonderful llamas as pets.

By Margaret Schwab, Westminster
Sangre de Cristo Electric Association

Gracie, a Lab-golden retriever mix, helps keep her owner, Margaret Schwab of Westminster, healthy.

Years back I spent a year undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma. Gracie, my Lab-golden retriever mix, was 6 years old at the time and quite energetic, except when I went for a blood draw or chemo. After a procedure she would meet me differently. Normally she was exuberant and bouncy, but as I exited the facility she was happy yet subdued, gently walking inches away from my leg and matching my slow pace.

One day I became concerned with Gracie as she was drooling profusely and wouldn’t leave my side. I called a friend at work to come help me take Gracie to the vet. When my friend noticed my flushed face and perspiration, she said she was taking me to the emergency room, not Gracie, and I was immediately admitted.

While at the hospital we had a neighbor check on Gracie — no drooling at all. She was fine and resting peacefully at home. Evidently she was trying all day long to let me know something was wrong with me. Gracie turned 12 years old in July and she still gives me daily “pet scans.” What an amazing companion!

By Debbie Wilson, Cotopaxi
Sangre de Cristo Electric Association

Pooh the cat has gone from stray to home protector.

The town we lived in was quiet with nice wide streets and houses with huge backyards. Crime was nonexistent, and kids and pets ran freely. We were lucky to live next door to the Connelly family and their cat named Pooh. Pooh was a calico with four white paws — a stray that was adopted by the Connellys.

Pooh was incredibly smart with a wide vocabulary of mews to communicate with us humans. He had a great life and we all felt lucky to know him. We did not realize just how lucky until late one summer day when we invited the Connelly family over for a late lunch at our house.

We just finished eating when Pooh came running flat out to where we were gathered in the backyard. He was mewing frantically. He started running back toward his house and stopping, looking back at us. It was obvious he wanted us to follow him, so we did, more out of curiosity than fear.

Rounding the corner, we saw a truck parked in the Connellys’ driveway. As we headed toward their front door, a man ran out and jumped in the truck. He gunned it down the driveway and tore out into the street, almost hitting us in his haste to get away. We barely managed to call 911 and were afraid to go in the house, so we remained outside until the police arrived.

Inside, the police found garbage bags containing items to be stolen. Pooh the cat stopped a robbery and was rewarded with much affection as well as gourmet cat food and all the treats he could ever want.

By Denise Copple, Loma
Grand Valley Power

Diva sticks close to home after taking a ride in the engine compartment of a pickup.

Our cat Diva was a kitten under the age of 1 when she had an eventful experience that probably cost her some of her cat lives.

We live in the rural Colorado city of Loma and my husband commutes daily to Orchard Mesa for work; this is an approximate 20-mile, one-way trip. He went to work that morning but left midday to go to the nearby grocery store to pick up something for a potluck at work. He came out of the grocery store and saw a kitten resembling ours walking a short distance from his truck.

He is not a cat fan, so he thought about getting in his truck and leaving. His guilty conscience got the best of him though and he called out, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty. Here, Diva.” The kitten immediately responded by coming toward him. My husband scooped her up and brought her home.

The reality of her adventure is that Diva got up underneath his Ford F350 truck and rode the 20 miles to his work. She probably was so traumatized that she did not get out from under the truck until he left work. At that point, she probably said enough is enough and had her second ride for the day … inside the cab of the truck this time. If she could only talk and tell us of her tale.

Today, Diva is a healthy cat of 13 years and we love her and her diva-like attitude. She doesn’t venture far from home these days.

By Sweetie Marbury, Durango
La Plata Electric Association

Leo, a German shepherd, came to the rescue of owner Sweetie Marbury when a bear got too close.

It was 11:30 p.m. on a cool summer night in Durango. The old apple tree was blooming but there was no peace in the still air — the summer brought bears every night into the alley behind my house. Leo, my coal-black German shepherd, was always on guard duty. I kept pots and pans on the deck to bang at the bears as they haughtily strolled past my fence. But on this night, all would change in a heartbeat.

I heard the crash and saw a black streak dashing out the doggy door. I ran and picked up the pots and pans and began yelling at the invader. In a flash, a 600-pound male bear was in the yard and Leo was attacking him. Towering more than 8 feet tall, the intruder stood up to get a better view of Leo the Warrior. He swung at Leo and then came down on all four of his massive legs — Leo was in pursuit. The bear was now coming directly at me, but Leo, my faithful protector, would have none of it.

Leo growled and howled deeply, loudly and threateningly, and then darted up the stone steps, charging the bear repeatedly. The bear roared powerfully; I screamed emphatically. Leo put himself between the bear and me, and then drove the trespasser through the crumpled fence and out of the yard.

I didn’t sleep that night and neither did Leo. At attention on the deck, my warrior awaited the next attack; protecting his home was his duty. Leo, my gentle giant, kept watch as the stars turned into blue sky.

By Don Small, Fraser
Mountain Parks Electric

Pandora, a black Lab, proved she can find more than tennis balls when she fetches a pet turtle.

Everyone knows that Labradors like to retrieve, and our 9-year-old dog, Pandora, who looks and acts like a black Labrador even though she’s a mix, is no different. She loves to play fetch and can hold three lacrosse balls in her mouth at once. She even runs down the driveway and gets the newspaper for us every morning, which we appreciate, especially when it’s raining.

We have a small stone pond outside our front door. Among the many inhabitants is a water turtle, named Shelly by our granddaughter, that swims over to me when I wave to it and feed it.

Pandora is always curious and likes to watch me feed Shelly.

“Pandora, that’s a turtle,” I’ve said to her many times.

The pond has a slow leak, and from time to time I have to add water to it. One day last summer, I accidentally left the hose running in the basin when I went to bed. The next morning I realized the pond was overflowing its walls, releasing Shelly into the yard. My wife and I walked around the property searching for her, looking in the flower beds and the grass.

Eventually my wife gave up and I was about to do the same when, on a lark, I said to Pandora, “Go find the turtle, Pandora!” She ran off and I continued to search. Suddenly I turned around and found Pandora standing proudly next to me, gently holding the turtle upside down in her mouth.

Shelly was none the worse for her big adventure and quickly returned to perching on her favorite spot in the pond. Of course we gave Pandora some treats as a reward for rescuing Shelly. That day we learned her retrieving skills went far beyond balls and newspapers. She is amazing.

By Lane Eskew, Fort Collins
Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association

Carrie Eskew with mama Shine and baby Jam. Photo by Lane Eskew.

I’m not a doctor or a nurse, but here I knelt next to a struggling mother donkey who depended on me to save her life.

Shine, a miniature donkey, had a sweet disposition throughout her pregnancy — she never changed behavior like many other pregnant donkeys do. She was overdue and in the same sweet and stoic mood, so my family had to monitor her closely for any signs of labor. Finally, one clear dawn morning, we saw the telltale white “water balloon” (amniotic sac) emerging from Shine. But we also should’ve seen the baby’s front feet in the sac; it was empty. This was a bad sign.

Shine had no strength left to stand, so she laid down in exhaustion. I had read about having to manually deliver a foal in an emergency, so my daughter quickly called our vet. He coached me through the process and told me to reach in and pull the front hooves out. “What?! With these big hands?” I questioned.

The vet assured me that my hands were no bigger than the foal that was trying to come out, so I boldly went for it. The front legs were jammed and turned, hindering the baby from emerging. When Shine went into another contraction, I maneuvered the tiny hooves in the right direction and soon the baby slid out. He twitched with life a couple of times as I wiped his face and he took his first breath. Life prevailed!

Shine looked back at her newborn, and her shiny brown eyes widened with loving surprise as she leaned back and smelled the foal — and they immediately bonded.

Today, the little jack and mama are as healthy as ever. After our experience, it wasn’t difficult to name the new boy: Jam!