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Belgrade outdoorsman involves cat, dog in active lifestyle
Crystal Images Professional Photography photo With his owner Andy Tuller at the oars, Ash, a black Labrador-border collie mix, hangs on as their raft drops into a rapid on the Gallatin River in 1999. Ash was adopted from the Gallatin Valley Humane Society by Andy Tuller. Tuller said when he first met Ash he told the dog to sit and he did. 'You're mine,' Tuller said he told Ash. Since then, the two have been on many outdoor adventures, including windsurfing, mountain bike riding and kayaking. Kim Ross photo As their raft flips over, Andy Tuller's dog Ash tries to highside, a technique to keep the boat from flipping, as Tuller flops out the back. They were floating on the Yellowstone River last year. Ash likes to go floating, but he prefers to stay out of the water.

Out of a desire to keep his hyperactive dog busy, Andy Tuller takes his black Labrador-border collie mix with him everywhere — even kayaking, windsurfing and rafting.

Tuller, 40, of Belgrade lives by his company's motto "work hard, play even harder." He owns and operates Outa Ware, an outdoor clothing manufacturing business. When he's not working, he's field testing his products.

So it was only natural when he got his black and white puppy about five years ago that the dog would have to adapt to an active lifestyle. Tuller just didn't realize how enthusiastic his pup would turn out to be.

Part of the reason why his 6-year-old dog Ash, now weighing about 60 to 65 pounds, is an accomplished sport pooch is due to neurosis, Tuller said.

"Being a pound puppy, he was always afraid of being abandoned," he said.

But at first, his fear of water outweighed his fear of being deserted.

"He's got a dual personality," Tuller said. "He loves the water, but he's afraid of it."

To break Ash's initial fear, Tuller motivated him with what he wanted most — to play fetch. Tuller started by tossing a stick over a small creek. Ash wouldn't cross. So Tuller led him across the 4-inch deep water on a leash. Then one day on the Blackfoot River, Tuller tossed Ash's ball into the water and the dog dove in.

"I was amazed he went in," Tuller said. "It was all about what was more important to him — playing fetch."

Even though he's been initiated, Tuller said Ash is still somewhat cautious. He now watches the ball float down the river to calculate the closest jumping in point.

Ash isn't the only active animal in Tuller's life.

His cat Echo used to kayak with him, even riding on his head once. She has also rafted the Beartrap Canyon section of the Madison River, kayaked the Gallatin River and gone on an extended float trip in the Missouri River Breaks.

Unlike Ash, however, Echo outgrew her desire for water trips. She now prefers to stay home. But she still goes on walks with Tuller and Ash. The two aren't Tuller's first amazing pets. He had another cat that hiked to the top of 11,166-foot Lone Mountain with him. He also took a cat on a backcountry ski trip.

"I figure expose them to as much stimuli as possible," Tuller said. "If you are going to bring dogs or cats with you though, you need to start them at an early age."

Ash's exuberance to always be in on the action has led to some humorous incidents. Tuller said Ash jumped off his raft into a wave his kayaking friends were surfing, simply because they were ahead of the raft.

"Ash always wants to be in the lead boat," Tuller said.

Once, when Tuller was windsurfing, Ash wouldn't wait on shore.

"He swam out to me, I had no choice but to load him onto the board," he said.

Because he owns his own outdoor clothing manufacturing business, Tuller has accessorized Ash with some custom gear. Ash has his own bright yellow lifejacket, which relieves some of the dog's inhibitions about the water. And Tuller designed dog saddlebags for Ash so he could carry his own food on backpacking trips.

Although actively involved in Tuller's sporting life, Ash isn't completely humanized. He still sleeps outside the tent.

"He guards us from wild animals," Tuller said.

Brett French can be reached at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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