It seems that most places have memories and tales of an animal that stands out in the hearts and minds of the locals. In England it was Olly, a cat that lived at the Manchester Airport. In Japan it was Tama, a cat that was made stationmaster at a train station. In Colorado it was Shep, a stray dog that came to live at the tollbooths along the Boulder-Denver Turnpike (or the Denver-Boulder Turnpike depending on which way you are going).
It was way back in 1950 that the powers that be in Colorado decided to link US Route 36 between Boulder and Denver. The story goes that during the construction a black and white shepherd mix dog showed up and started to mooch scraps from the lunches of the workmen. No one knew where he had come from, though the stories whispered of a puppy lost from one of the local farms. Of course, that was all just conjecture.
The men adopted the dog . . . right after he had apparently adopted them. He was a part of their daily routine. Oh, occasionally he disappeared for a day or two, but he always came back. Eventually construction was complete and Shep, as he was now known, would hang out with the tollbooth operators. At first the dog was timid, but one of the tollbooth workers finally managed to coax Shep inside one cold, dark night to sleep inside the heated booth. Shep was also welcome company to the man during his lonely job.
At the beginning of each shift Shep would run out to greet the new shift. He also took up greeting the cars that came through the tollbooth and accepting the toys and treats that were offered to him by admiring motorists. Other motorists would pay a little extra for their toll to help with the purchase of Shep's food. People who came through on vacation year after year would pull over to get their picture taken with him. He was a local celebrity in these parts back then.
The only glitch in this system came in 1958 when Shep limped into one of tollbooths suffering from shotgun wounds. He had most likely gotten too close to livestock at the wrong farm and paid the price. A local veterinarian in Broomfield (the town closest to the tollbooths) treated the dog for free.
Shep lived a long time for a dog, but he gradually succumbed to the ravages of old age. He became blind, deaf, and barely able to move. In 1964 his caretakers made the difficult and merciful decision to put him down. The highway superintendent himself dug the hole on a slope of land near the tollbooths for Shep's grave. The Green Mountain Cemetery in Boulder donated a headstone and foot stone for the little grave. The headstone read "Shep, 1950-1964, Part Shepherd-- Mostly Affection." The foot stone simply said "Our Pal." A small wrought-iron fence was placed around his resting place.
I was just a small child when Shep passed from life. I have vague memories of putting money in the bucket for Shep's food, but try as I might I don't remember Shep himself. That could be because I was afraid of dogs back then. At any rate it became routine for me to watch for Shep's grave every time we went to Denver and back again. That could be quite a feat at 70 miles an hour after 1967 when the highway was paid off and the tollbooths removed. Shep's lonely little grave stood there for many years as a testament to the love of dogs. When the interchange needed to be reconstructed in 1971 the developers were careful to maintain Shep's grave in its location.
But with time comes change and almost 50 years later the interchange where Shep still lay needed to be reconstructed to make way for more traffic. The memory of the dog was still so strong that his remains and the grave were moved to a new location at the Broomfield Depot Museum. A group of local fans, many of them old friends of Shep, helped with the move. No one was going to let the memory of this beloved dog be tarnished of lost in any way.
When Shep passed away folks considered getting another turnpike dog to live in the tollbooths, but no dog could ever take Shep's place. More recently Shep was immortalized in his own storybook: Shep the Turnpike Dog by Charlotte Ann Havey. Some dogs are meant for ordinary lives while others are meant to live an extraordinary lives. Shep was definitely in the latter group. RIP dear Shep!
Images via Colorado Public Radio