Saturday, January 8, 2005
He walks into your life, half-preacher, half-cowboy. Before he steps into your house, before he meets your dog, Sand Reed already has looked you up and down, inside and out, and he's ready to teach you about yourself.
Sand Reed is better known in Routt County as Dogman, but if his title was more accurate, people would call him "human man," he said. "Ninety percent of what I do is train humans. I just put Dogman on my card to make people feel better."
Reed has a deep, raspy, radio-ready voice and a persona to match. His speech is full of thoughtful observations about the world, advice and rhetorical questions.
"Humans have the lowest threshold of loyalty of any species," he said. "That's not just my opinion. It's Cain and Abel. It's Caesar. It's the high divorce rate. If the right temptation comes, even if we've been friends for 20 years, I'll stab you in the back.
"That knowledge leaves a hole in people's chest. They want to heal that wound. They want to fill that void. They need a horse or a goldfish or a dog. I've watched people do this for over 40 years."
He doesn't advertise much, and his phone number isn't in the Yellow Pages, but news about Dogman somehow reaches every pet owner who has a problem getting his or her dog to pee outside or stop barking at night.
They hear about him at barbecues, on the hiking trail or in the gym, and they call him, usually desperate. He doesn't carry his cell phone, so the first call usually gets sent to his voice mail. The song "Happy Trails" plays in the background as he tells you to leave your name and number "and tell your little pal that everything is going to be OK."
Reed has a compassion for animals, but it's not a touchy, feely, wouldn't-hurt-a-fly kind of compassion. It's a don't-be-afraid-to-get-in-the-dog's-face kind of compassion.
He gets up at 5 a.m. every morning, brews coffee and turns on the television. On one such morning, he was watching a Denver station's news broadcast.
"They did an 8-minute segment on dogs with separation anxiety syndrome," Reed said. "I thought, 'This is terrible.' And when I went into the office that day, there were 18 messages from people who thought their dogs might have separation anxiety because they're pulling up the carpet or chewing up the pillows.
"I grew up in Alabama, and if I threw a tantrum like that, do you know how my daddy would have separated me from my anxiety? You got to kick that dog's butt."
Which isn't to say that Reed ever raises a hand to hit a dog, ("Hands are for praising," he said.), but he knows how to instill fear in a dog.
Reed's philosophy with dog training is "keep it country." In other words, keep it simple.
"We're not even honest with our family and friends. We have to go through the back door with everything," he said. "Just say, 'I love you. I forgive you. But don't do that.'"
The training Reed offers isn't for the show ring. It's for "the real world."
The first thing he tells a dog owner is, "The dog didn't ask to be yours. He was sitting with his mom and brothers and sisters and you picked him up, put him in your car and imposed your world on him. You owe the dog. The dog doesn't owe you.
"You owe the dog to teach him the rules so he can (have a good life) and not just stay at home on a chain."
When a pet owner hires Reed, they pay a flat rate of $400. That money buys Dogman for the rest of the dog's life.
"I'm committed for 15 years. I have plans for your puppy you don't even know about," he said. "I tell people when they hire me, 'you just hired a pest.'"
If Dogman hasn't heard from you for a while, he calls. To hire Dogman is to enter pet-owner boot camp, and despite his nickname, it isn't a boot camp restricted to dogs -- Reed has trained all types of animals.
"I'm not a horse whisperer. I've yelled at a thousand, but I've never whispered to one."
Reed grew up in a coal mining camp in Alabama where all the houses were built the same size and color, and there was a row of outdoor toilets behind them. He was the last of 10 children.
When you're that poor, you don't have pets, he said. "You feed your family." In the center of the mining camp was a kennel for hunting dogs, and boys were expected to take care of the dogs and clean the kennels. Most of the boys hated it, but not Reed.
Reed made his first $3 when he was 10 years old, training a miner's dog. He still remembers the dog owner's name -- Earl Lamont.
"That was my first $3. How could I ever forget?" he said.
Dogman can be reached by calling 734-7198.