Homesteading With The Right Partner: Dogs

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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There are so many excellent articles written under this heading about “how to” and “experiences in homesteading” it is hard not to be redundant. I prefer to write about those unwritten topics such as in this blog. The seldom spoken about topics that are sometimes taken for granted.

Wildfire. We have resided remotely at 9,800’ elevation full time for over 23 years. Our nearest neighbor is about one mile away and due to a wildfire last year we live in a small oasis of green within an extensive burn scar area. We always knew wildfire was a possibility but hoped we would never experience one. Residing in the mountains of a semi arid state like Colorado there is always the risk of wildfire but it was something we had hoped to avoid.

Recovery takes a long time. Going through the third worst wildfire in Colorado history is terrifying and stressful. Fortunately Carol and I went through the experience with each other which is better than experiencing it alone. There were various service groups which assisted but it takes a long time to get over a wildfire disaster and the service groups leave shortly after the disaster. We then had to lean on each other for our continued survival.

Living the dream together. All the hard work we have endured over the years to make a better life for ourselves could never have been accomplished without a good partner at my side. It has always been my dream to live as we do now but it was a totally new concept to Carol who has spent the majority of her life in cities. Moving to the mountains was a huge transition for her but she has adapted well and found new skills she never anticipated. Being able to live out a dream is pure happiness but having someone you love sharing it with you is beyond description. 

Carol gives 100% effort. When we first discussed mountain living, my wife, Carol, said she was willing to give it her very  best effort. Therefore, we set forth with the planning and had Carol shown any reluctance or uncertainty I doubt we could have prevailed for over 23 years. It is not just being able to cope with all the strenuous work required but someone to encourage you and pitch in and share the load when the going gets tough.

Sharing hard tasks. As I sit here typing on my laptop and looking out the window watching the snowfall, I am reminded that this type of lifestyle is enough to seriously challenge anyone, but having a good wife by my side to help carry the load sure does make life here much easier. Tackling the difficult or often routine tasks together is just about as good as it gets. We have firewood to cut, haul, split and stack, approximately 260 inches of snow, on average, to move and shovel, plus homestead maintenance, which all goes much easier when shared.

Time for entertainment. When we prepared to homestead remotely, we had taped movies on VCR tape to watch when we finally settled into our new lifestyle. We had two boxes of them and a few years ago, we tossed them having never watched any. Life lived remotely and heating with a woodstove doesn’t leave much time for watching movies, going out to eat or engaging in other social events. It seems on our homestead there is always something that needs doing so things get pushed aside like watching movies. Just recently we have set aside Sunday afternoon as movie time and so far it has worked out after 23 years of preparation.

Radical lifestyle change. The life we now live is so far removed from our previous lifestyle in the various cities where we had lived. Having a good partner by your side is instrumental in maintaining this lifestyle and we do it together because we love this lifestyle. Having a willing and selfless helper is what makes living here on the side of the mountain so rewarding. 

Dogs as part of the family. Having a willing and capable partner to help out on our homestead is clearly instrumental but also having our three German Shepherd dogs to assist is another asset that warrants mentioning. Living remotely we have numerous predators that roam our area and the dogs senses are very acute. They warn us of anyone coming around and any predators in the area. When we let them out in our fenced in backyard and all noses go into the air we know there is something to pay close attention to.

Canine warning systems. The dogs are our early warning system and it would be very difficult for anyone to sneak up on us without their letting us know. While Ruby is deaf that doesn’t mean she isn’t an integral part of the early warning system. Her sense of smell is acute and being deaf she is always more aware of her surroundings. Our canine family look out for dangers to protect us from and we look out to also protect them. Life lived remotely is a cooperative effort between Carol, myself and our dogs. There have been times that we have suddenly and unexpectedly come upon a predator. Having our dogs with us on leash has been beneficial in those situations.

Close encounters. I specifically recall one time before we had fenced in our backyard. I had taken our dog Ben on leash out back to do his nightly business. Suddenly, his hackles rose up and he gave a low growl that sounded like it came from the very pit of hell itself.  It was the type of deep growl that would stop anyone or anything in their tracks. We went immediately inside and I later went out and checked for tracks in the snow. We were within 8’ of what appeared to be a large mountain lion standing in the shadows at the corner of our house. We have had many such incidents in 23 years here in the mountains.

From the first day we moved here until today there is always something demanding work or effort and life is interesting and always changing. Very few days are the same. Both Carol and I were thrust into a completely different lifestyle but neither of us would change anything about it.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site. They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce’s remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.


Gain a deeper understanding of your canine friends through in-depth breed profiles that showcase how working dogs think. From familiar breeds such as the Border Collie, Corgi, and Dachshund to the lesser-known Akbash, Puli, and Hovawart, Janet Vorwald Dohner describes 93 breeds of livestock guardian dogs, herding dogs, terriers, and traditional multipurpose farm dogs, highlighting the tasks each dog is best suited for and describing its physical characteristics and temperament. She also offers an accessible history of how humans bred dogs to become our partners in work and beyond, providing a thorough introduction to these highly intelligent, independent, and energetic breeds.

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