Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. It’s been almost nine months since the Cold Springs Fire swept over Sherwood Drive, destroying Charlie and Bretlyn Schmidtmann’s home. It was also the last time they saw their Saint Bernard, Geno.
Charlie, a captain with the Nederland Fire Protection District, was the first firefighter on the intersection of Cold Springs Road and the Peak to Peak Highway where a campfire had been blown out of control by high winds.
Charlie knew the flames were roaring in the trees near his home, but his main concern at the time was doing his job, fighting the fire and protecting other homes.
When the wildfire finished its run up Sherwood and across Ridge Road, taking out seven other homes, Charlie and his wife Bretlyn realized that their labrador retriever had made it out and was okay, but there was no sign of Geno, their Saint Bernard.
The weeks following the fire were chaotic and stressful, but even during the evacuation and mop-up in the next week, Geno became one of the major concerns, as an entire community joined the search for the dog, hoping he had made it to safety.
He was never found. For months, Geno’s picture was plastered all over the mountain community, keeping his memory alive in local and visitor’s mind. Although there were several “sightings” they never panned out. Charlie and Bretlyn continue to work on the minutia that follows losing a home; an arduous, expensive endeavor and recently after nine months, they are waiting for a building permit, so they can now start over again.
Charlie has been with NFPD for 18 years. He joined in 1999, became an EMT and then an EMT Intermediate. He says he joined the department because, “Rick told me to.” At that time, Rick Dirr was the assistant chief and when Charlie moved to Nederland, Rick, now the chief, said he should check out the volunteer fire department. He went through the EMT training and then for seven years worked for Pridemark Ambulance. He also graduated from nursing school in 2004. All this time he was a NFPD firefighter.
While working on the roof of a house he was building, Charlie had the misfortune of falling off the two-story building. He spent the next 22 month on crutches and underwent nine surgeries. His last operation was last year.
When he was able to go back to work, he was hired to be a Boulder County 911 Dispatcher. Once he learned the computer aspect of the job, he became a trainer and in two years he was a tactical dispatcher. In his third year, he was named “Trainer of the Year.”
During this time, he continued volunteering for the NFPD. In 2009 he became a full-time captain and has now become a paramedic.
“This past year has been daunting,” says Charlie, “But a lot of friends have helped out, pushed us to get it done. My firefighter friends and Bretlyn’s hockey friends.”
Bretlyn’s hockey teammates contacted the Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation which exists to help players and their families in times of crisis. It began in 2011 and since then has provided resources and acts of human kindness that have changed the lives of their recipients.
Bretlyn’s hockey friends contacted the foundation and on Oct. 8, they invited Bretlyn to a fundraiser. One of the players brought a Saint Bernard puppy who enchanted everyone as he galumphed around looking for tidbits and pats. At the end of the night, her friends told her that the adorable puppy now belonged to her and Charlie.
Watson had a home and the Schmidtmann’s had a furry bundle of fun and joy. Since Watson joined the family, he has set up a blog called Watson the Dawg, which has followed his rapid and amazing growth. The Blog begins with “My name is Watson. I am going to a family that needs me. I hear they lost their St. Bernard in a fire last summer.
I am excited to start my journey.”
Watson came with his name, but it seems appropriate. Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ crony, is described as serving the important function of catalyst for Holmes’ mental processes, someone to whom the detective could make enigmatic remarks.”
According to Charlie, Watson is actually the chatty one, sometimes making drawn-out gruff warbling sounds like Chew Bacca. He likes to sit on the back of furniture, he loves his brother Clyde and he is a couch potato.
Bretlyn says, “Watson has been such a joy and comfort, that we want to share this wonderful gift. We are training him to be a therapy dog, and when he is old enough, he will volunteer some of his time providing comfort, reducing anxiety, encouraging learning and promoting wellness for those who need it.”
Charlie says it will be awhile. Although Watson responds well to basic commands like sit and stay, he has a huge problem keeping his mouth shut. He gets excited and he barks. He’s hungry and he barks. He sees a friend and he barks, but he also runs around in circles and jumps in Charlie’s lap. He just needs a little bit of time. After all, he’s just a kid.
Charlie says he always thinks of Geno, that other dogs have shown up after years of being missing, and it could happen again. “I will keep him in my heart and memories. I don’t want him to be forgotten.”
Once the Schmidtmann’s get their building permit, they will begin again. Charlie is a contractor and says with help from his friends he will begin work on a new house, putting his construction company on hold. Insurance money and GoFundMe funds will pay for the inflated price of rebuilding. “There are no deals on the labor or work. I have been blown away by how high the bids are. It seems like people don’t need the work. If I wasn’t a contractor or didn’t have great friends, I would be in such trouble.”
Watson is oblivious to his people’s problems and does what dogs do, he has fun and he loves everybody and every other dog and life is good.
Charlie said he was almost the perfect dog, “We thought he was going to be a dry mouth St. Bernard, but then his spit catchers grew in.”
Watson shows no concern about the slime effect.