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Amazing Animals of ColoradoIncredible True Stories
By Shirley, Gayle C.
FalconCopyright © 2005 Shirley, Gayle C.
All right reserved.
Bum and Shorty
"The poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend."
Lord Byron, 1808
The people of Fairplay have a soft spot in their hearts for burros, because Prunes isn't the only one to have inspired a monument in this sleepy mountain town. At the southwestern corner of the courthouse lawn sits another memorial: a granite tribute to the devotion between a burro known as Shorty and a mongrel dog called Bum.
This strange alliance began on a cold starry night in the fall of 1949, when Bum discovered Shorty drowsing in a pasture at the edge of town. Homeless and shivering, the short-haired mutt nestled up against the shaggy burro, and they kept each other warm for the remainder of the night. From then on, they were constant companions.
Like Prunes, Shorty had worked in the mines around Fairplay since his birth in 1906 at a small gold mine in Mosquito Gulch. Although he has unusually short legs-hence the name-the burro didn't seem to mind hauling heavy sacks of ore to the mills and dragging lumber to the mines to build the shafts. He worked at the South London and High Twelve mines for several different owners until the Fairplay district began to peter out in the 1930s and 1940s. Shorty's last owner was one of the many miners who left to seek a new life elsewhere. No longer in need of a burro, hesimply left Shorty behind.
For many years, the sturdy animal fended for itself, living off the lush grass that grew on nearby hillsides. But as it aged, its eyesight began to fail, and it had trouble foraging for food.
It was about this time that folks noticed a scrawny stray dog roaming the streets of Fairplay. Its build and coloration suggested it was part Dalmatian, but the rest of its pedigree was indecipherable. As so often happens, it won the affection of two children who begged to make it their pet. They named it Bum because it had "bummed" its way into their home, and they gave it all the loving attention that every pet deserves.
Their father, however, didn't like dogs. Sometimes he kicked Bum or pelted him with sticks of firewood. Finally, the poor mutt could tolerate the cruelty no more. He fled the house and went back to his vagrant ways.
Bum's encounter with Shorty was serendipitous. He seemed to realize that the aging burro couldn't see, and he willingly assumed the role of seeing-eye dog. Every morning and evening, he led his new friend from door to door to beg for food, with Shorty following his scent. The Denver Post once described their extraordinary ritual.
"Folks noticed that often the dog would go to a door, scratch and whine until food was offered. He then would pick up a choice bit, carry it to Shorty, standing a few paces away, and drop it at the burro's feet-as if to say "Look, pal, try this morsel I brought you! . . ."
"When the food was slow in coming Shorty would sound off with a loud bray, while Bum would stand by the kitchen door, head cocked to one side, ears erect and bright eyes looking expectantly for the door to open."
The pair's rounds grew to predictable that people often had a plate of leftovers ready when they came. The cook at the Hand Hotel even went a step further. She tossed Bum and Shorty warm pancakes and biscuits taken right off the platter that was about to be served to the paying guests.
When winter arrived, the two animals made the fortunate acquaintance of Johnnie Capelli, the courthouse janitor. He realized that they needed shelter from the bitter cold, so he made a bed of hay for them in his garage and parked his car outside. One particularly cold night, he smuggled them into the heated courthouse and let them sleep in the jail. He had to come to work early the next morning to free the inmates and clean out the cell before the sheriff showed up.
The seasons passed, and life was fairly easy for Bum and Shorty. They made many friends among the townspeople, and they were often met with smiles as they ambled down the sidewalks.
One late spring morning, the odd couple was making their early breakfast rounds when a chipmunk darted across a vacant lot on the opposite side of the street. Driven by instinct, Bum scrambled after it and was soon absorbed in the thrill of the chase. Shorty, of course, didn't realize that his buddy was only momentarily diverted. He stepped off the curb to follow Bum across the street-just as a car hurtled around the corner. It hit the burro and raced away, leaving him broken and bleeding in the gutter. Shorty died before anyone could come to his aid.
Not sure what else to do with it, someone loaded the burro's lifeless body into a wagon and hauled it to the town dump. For the next day or two, folks missed the regular visits of that inseparable pair. Even Bum seemed to have disappeared.
It was Capelli who finally realized where the dog must be. He drove out to the dump and found him keeping a lonely vigil at Shorty's side. When the janitor tried to coax Bum into his truck, the dog growled at him and refused to budge. Nothing, it seemed, could persuade Bum to abandon his best friend.
Finally, Capelli tried to convince the city marshal to bury Shorty, but the officer refused to use taxpayer money that way and offered to burn the carcass instead. The janitor went back to the dump and succeeded this time in getting a rope around Bum's neck. He took the mournful dog home with him and locked it in the garage until the cremation was over.
The people of Fairplay were touched by the bond between the blind burro and his devoted friend. They took up a collection and raised enough money to erect a monument etched with their likenesses. It read simply:
AGE 45 years - 1951
"HIS BELOVED PAL"
Shorty's ashes were buried beside the monument, and folks planned to lay Bum to rest there, too, when the time came.
The time came all too soon. One summer day, only weeks after Shorty's death, Bum stood on the courthouse lawn, waiting for a semi-trailer truck to pass by so he could cross the street. One account suggested that, in his grief, he may have wanted to die, and so he didn't dodge as quickly as he could have. Another speculated that he just didn't realize the length of the trailer. Whatever the reason, Bum trotted into the street too soon, and the great dual wheels of the rear axle struck and killed him.
Bum was buried at Shorty's side. And there the pair remain today-inseparable in death as they were in life.
Excerpted from Amazing Animals of Colorado by Shirley, Gayle C. Copyright © 2005 by Shirley, Gayle C.. Excerpted by permission.
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