My partner would seem at first glance to be an equally unlikely dog for high-mountain climbing. She was an irrepressible Australian terrier full grown weighing 20 pounds with 4” legs. Her name is Emme.
The breed was developed in Australia by its early settlers. They needed a hardy, fearless dog that could work in all kinds of weather. Aussies were bred to control and exterminate rats and snakes in gold mines and sheep stations in the Outback. They were used as watchdogs, shepherds and companions to the people living in these stressful outposts.
The breed standard for Australian terriers tells only part of the story about how tough and determined our Emme showed herself to be:
“small and sturdy with either a blue and tan, or all red coat that is harsh in texture. They have a keen and alert expression and confident spirit. They are versatile in their work and living situations. They are suitable companions in most environments.
With a spirited, mischievous personality, the Aussie jumps into life with attitude. She is strongly attached to her family. She may be small, but the Australian terrier has the confidence of a large breed. She is a watchdog and will bark to alert her owners of the approach of anyone or anything new and different.
“Bossy” is the Aussie’s middle name. She wants to be the dominant dog in a multi-dog environment. In fact, she’ll happily take over the role of pack leader among people, too. Even though she stands a mere ten inches tall and weighs about 14-20 pounds, this is one confident breed. The spunky Aussie will challenge other dogs, including those much bigger than she is.”
After reading the standard description of the Australian terrier I thought it might have been guilty of a little bit of hype. I thought, “How could they fit so much dog in such a small body?”
In the case of Emme, all of it was an understatement.She was a challenge as a puppy. She was headstrong, alpha, in control and wicked smart.
In her earlier years, she was tried at “traditional” doggy activities.
As a two-year old, Lucky Lady Emme attained Champion status on the dog show circuit and earned the title Ch. Lucky Lady Emme. But it was plain to see she was not interested in showing.
She took a turn at motherhood. Being a beautiful example of an Australian terrier, she was bred to a Champion, and had a litter. The 5 pups were great, two of which became Champions in their own right. Emme was a dutiful mother, but it was easy to tell, this was not her calling either.
It was when we started hiking with her that she really came alive. Wherever we went, she would climb to the highest local point and look out with her “Aussie smile.” I was always huffing to keep up. In winters she loved the snow and insisted on making first tracks even in snow well above her head. She just leaped through it like rabbit, never getting cold, never tiring.
As our hiking intensified, the higher we went the happier she was – and in Colorado, “altitude” takes on a whole new meaning. We tried a thirteener, a mountain over 13,000 feet, called Mountain Boy and she excelled. I then got up the gumption to try one of the highest mountains in the continental U.S., a fourteener near Buena Vista, Colorado called Yale Peak. She took that in her stride, as it turned out, much better than me.
In order to continue with her mission, I had to get more physically fit, lose weight, and solve a few other issues.
We climbed fourteener after fourteener until Emme had done sixteen of them, with me never lifting her once over the rocks, through the streams and up and over boulders. We faced hot sun, summer snowstorms, ice-covered rocks, high winds, hail and thunderstorms, nothing deterred her.
One summer we set out to attempt climbing four fourteeners in one day on a fund-raising where Aspenites made pledges per peak that Emme would summit – she did them all and raised over $15,000 for the Aspen Animal Shelter and AKC’s Canine Health Foundation.
Emme was a dog that never quit in heat, rain, wind, snow, thunder and endless rocks underfoot. She lived for these climbs, she confronted foxes, countless bigger dogs, obstinate cows and even a few bears. She had no idea she was a small dog and she constantly astounded other climbers who couldn’t believe she’d climbed with no assistance. She was a dog with a purpose, a joy and in command.