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Pumpkin Watch 2021: Worland Man’s Biggest Pumpkin Nearing 1,600 Pounds

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Worland man growing giant pumpkins is preparing for the official weigh-off in the contest to determine the state’s biggest pumpkin in less than two weeks, and his largest gourd is estimated to weigh nearly 1,600 pounds.

Jay Richard told Cowboy State Daily this week that his largest pumpkin, Maci, weighs about 1,570 pounds. If he is correct, Maci will officially break the record of the state’s largest pumpkin.

This is a gain of about 25 pounds from the week prior, a significant slowdown from the hundreds of pounds the pumpkins would gain each week during the summer. Richard noted that the slowdown is due to cooler temperatures in Worland, where it can get down into the mid-20s at night.

“I had plastic and blankets covering as much as I could [of the pumpkins at night],” Richard told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “So far, so good.”

Currently, Andy Corbin of Cheyenne holds the title for Wyoming’s heaviest pumpkin, weighing in at 1,491 pounds to take the 2020 title.

Richard previously explained that Maci’s genetics come from two pumpkins that set records in the states of Alaska and Wyoming. Corbin actually crossed the two genetic lines and gifted Richard with a seed.

His other pumpkin, Sally, is estimated to weigh about 1,225 pounds. Richard will harvest Sally on Thursday and then head to Utah for that state’s weigh-off.

“My friend who owns Tractor Guys here in Worland will bring a machine out to lift them for me,” Richard said. “My utility tractor will not even budge them.”

He got nostalgic for a moment, looking at a photo of one of his pumpkins from his early days of growing the gourds. At that time, growing a 600-pound pumpkin was the dream.

“I thought that was amazing, and truthfully it was,” he said. “But now I’m planning for next year. Bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger!”

He doesn’t have a weight goal for next year’s pumpkins, but said he knows he could have gotten several hundred more pounds out of Maci the pumpkin.

“I will definitely say I left a lot in the patch with this plant and I know there is more in the genetics than I got out of her,” he said.

Two weeks ago, one of Richard’s three pumpkins, Patty, split open due to its extensive growth.

“And then there were two,” Richard said after Patty’s demise. “Patty is doomed, she goes to the pigs [Tuesday]. I tried but she is toast.”

“That’s all folks,” Richard said after disposing the pumpkin. “She was pumpkin soup today. Really sad, the wall thickness was amazing, even where she split. Even with this much gone, my tractor ( 900lb capacity) couldn’t lift it any higher than this. She was heavy!”

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More Than $1M Raised For Rylee McCollum’s Wife, Newborn Baby

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than $1 million has been raised for the wife and newborn child of a recently killed Marine from Wyoming.

As of Monday, nearly $1.1 million has been raised for the family of Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum of Jackson through various fundraisers and GoFundMe campaigns.

McCollum was one of 13 soldiers killed in Afghanistan last month as the U.S. military pulled out of the country after 20 years of fighting.

The GoFundMe “Love for Gigi,” a nickname for McCollum’s wife, had raised more than $232,000. The “Rest Easy USMC Rylee McCollum” had raised more than $66,000.

The largest GoFundMe campaign, “Rylee McCollum’s Child Education Fund,” has raised more than $685,000.

Chronicles Distilling in Cheyenne hosted a fundraiser for the McCollum family, raising more than $73,000 in the process.

Distillery co-owner Chase Lesher was a machine gunner in the Marines and served in Afghanistan, and his brother, co-owner Aaron Lesher, also served in Iraq in the Marines, which made them want to host the fundraiser.

“The news of the Marines and sailor that lost their lives during the bombing…angered us greatly,” Chase Lesher said in an announcement for the fundraiser. “Finding out that one of the Marines…was from Wyoming and had a wife with a child due within a month made it even more emotional for us.”

Two bars in Ashland, Montana, a town of less than 1,000 people, came together to raise another $2,000 for the McCollum family, according to a social media post shared by Chronicles over the weekend.

“We were honored to participate as we have young veterans working for us and we are very much in love with our country,” a letter from The Office Bar and Otter Creek Saloon said.

McCollum’s daughter, Levi Rylee Rose McCollum, was born one week ago and weighed 8 pounds and 10 ounces. She was born at the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton in California.

“Welcome to the world my sweet baby 🧡 i love you with my whole heart,” a social media post from McCollum’s wife, Jiennah Crayton, said.

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Wyoming Airmen Help Afghan Refugee Family Deliver Baby

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming airmen delivered a baby last week for an Afghan refugee family, the Air Force announced this week.

Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer N. Ballenger and Tech. Sgt. Shyloh A. Vallot, airmen from the 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne, are working on a temporary assignment in New Jersey as a part of Operation Allies Refuge, an ongoing military operation transporting at-risk civilians, interpreters and other visa applicants out of Afghanistan.

On Sept. 10, the women were on duty at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Air Force Base in New Jersey when they were told by one of the guests that there was a medical emergency nearby.

The guest at the facility being used to house refugees turned out to be the husband of a woman who was expecting a child. His family had left their home in Afghanistan.

While the man did not speak English, he made it clear to the airmen that his wife was pregnant and needed medical assistance.

However, there were only male doctors on staff in the area that night and Afghan custom dictates that female attendants must deliver children. Neither Ballenger nor Vallot had any advanced medical training, but they knew exactly what to do as mothers themselves.

Bringing along a 16-year-old Afghan boy to act as a translator, Ballenger and Vallot followed the man to his wife.

They found her on the third floor of a barracks wing being used to house some of the guests temporarily.

The mother’s contractions had already begun and she was close to giving birth.

Ballenger and Vallot rushed to the mother and rendered aid. Donning gloves and masks, both women tended to the mother as she struggled to deliver the child.

Holding the newborn, Ballenger ensured the baby was healthy and could breathe properly as she helped clear the baby’s airway. The baby’s cries were a relief to everyone in the room that night.

“This is probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Ballenger. “These people trust us; they came here for safety, for stability, and for a better life.”

The baby girl is alive, healthy and, because she was born on American soil, an American herself.

“It just makes you realize how lucky we are to have what we have,” Vallot said. “They want that so badly, they were willing to get on a flight to who knows where, and to come to an unfamiliar country, not even knowing the language, that’s how much they want this.”

“That is how much they trust us,” said Ballenger.

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Worland Man’s Giant Pumpkin Crosses 1,500 Pound Mark; Should Break State Record

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Worland man growing giant pumpkins in hopes of winning glory and a state record has a gourd that weighs more than 1,500 pounds, he believes.

Jay Richard told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that Maci, his heaviest pumpkin, is measuring about 1,554 pounds and Sally, his lighter one, is estimated at around 1,178 pounds.

“Growth has slowed way down and the plants are getting tired, but they’re still adding a few pounds,” Richard said. “I know Sally will be lighter than the tape says, because of the sound she makes when I ‘thunk’ her.”

Richard explained that Maci’s genetics come from two pumpkins that set records in the states of Alaska and Wyoming.

Andy Corbin of Cheyenne, who currently holds the title for Wyoming’s heaviest pumpkin at 1,491 pounds, crossed the two genetic lines last year and gave Richard a seed.

If Richard’s current estimates are correct, Maci the pumpkin wouldn’t have to grow any further to break the state record, but he’s hoping to keep it on the vine as long as possible until the official pumpkin weigh-off on Oct. 2 in Worland.

“I hope she doesn’t disappoint,” he said.

The slowdown in the growth of Maci and Sally is due to cooler temperatures in Worland, as nights can get down to 38 degrees sometimes, Richard said. He added he will likely harvest Sally from the vine in about 10 days.

“We have had some good heat lately and clear skies. Hoping they’ll add a bit more weight,” Richard said.

Last week, one of Richard’s three pumpkins, Patty, split open due to its extensive growth.

“And then there were two,” Richard said after Patty’s demise. “Patty is doomed, she goes to the pigs [Tuesday]. I tried but she is toast.”

“That’s all folks,” Richard said after disposing the pumpkin. “She was pumpkin soup today. Really sad, the wall thickness was amazing, even where she split. Even with this much gone, my tractor ( 900lb capacity) couldn’t lift it any higher than this. She was heavy!”

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J.C. Penney Statue Finds New Home In Kemmerer

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By William Billingsley, Kemmerer Gazette

Last Saturday, Kemmerer held its first-ever Golden Rule Days to commemorate the official unveiling of the J.C. Penney statue downtown in Triangle Park.

Hundreds of visitors attended and enjoyed the day’s many festivities, which began with a cornhole tournament hosted by Nomad Cornhole, a non-profit organization based in Kemmerer that generally donates most proceeds to local organizations.

Shortly after the tournament began, J.C. Penney historian David Kruger (from the University of Wyoming) led curious visitors and townsfolk alike in a downtown walking tour, talking extensively on the humble origins of J.C. Penney, how he came to get involved in retail, and his eventual visit to Kemmerer, a town that he would continue to come back and visit all throughout his life.

After the tour concluded, the day’s ceremony officially began with myriad speeches by distinguished local individuals, such as mayor Bill Thek or city administrator Brian Muir.

Other distinguished guests included two of J.C. Penney’s grandchildren, Shelly and Leigh Guyer, who also spoke on what the event meant to them and how they remember their grandfather.

Other individuals were also recognized for their significant contributions to the city of Kemmerer, either through their financial contributions to the community or their role in aiding the statue’s relocation from Plano, Texas.

After the ceremony was all said and done, the annual community picnic began in earnest for the hundreds in attendance while the band Proclaim began setting up for the crowd.

Speaking about the event after the ceremony, city administrator Brian Muir spoke on how this event came together: “I initially got a call from the J.C. Penney corporation back in January, asking if it would be possible to donate the statue to the city [from its initial location in Plano, Texas].”

According to Muir, the city received a great number of suggestions for potential locations for the statue, but they ultimately settled on the Triangle Park downtown.

“One of the things that we wanted to do was attract people to come into the Triangle with the statue’s placement, to have something catch their eye and have them stop to investigate” Muir said.

Additionally, Muir mentioned that this was not the end of the statue’s dedication, noting that there were still some further additions and embellishments that needed to be added to better highlight the statue’s significance.

Looking toward next year’s celebration, Muir was optimistic for the scale of how things may look next year, but noted that it would ultimately depend on the day’s fundraising and the decisions of the future council.

He also reflected on how he thought the event went: “I think that, if you plan well, it goes well … and I don’t know how I’d be happier with how things turned out … I appreciate the community for really coming out to the celebration itself instead of just coming out for the food, as the place was full at 5.”

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Worland Man’s Giant Pumpkin Nearing 1,500 Pounds, Could Be New State Record

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Worland resident Jay Richard’s giant pumpkin “Maci” is nearing the 1,500-pound mark after putting on nearly 200 pounds since he spoke with Cowboy State Daily a week ago.

Richard told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that his largest pumpkin currently weighs 1,468 pounds, just 23 pounds lighter than the pumpkin currently holding the record as Wyoming’s largest, which was grown by a Cheyenne man and weighed in at 1,491 pounds.

“It’s holding steady at gaining 13 pounds per day,” Richard said. “The vine is a mess but is holding up so far.”

This is the vine attaching the top of the pumpkin to the ground, not unlike a (giant) baby’s umbilical cord.

This growth has slowed somewhat, with last week’s growth averaging around 25 pounds per day.

“The other two, Patty and Sally, are measuring over 1,000 pounds but have slowed quite a bit,” Richard said.

Richard found a soft spot near the vine late last week, which could have spelled disaster and the end of his giant gourd, but with some quick thinking, he managed to clean and treat the slimy spot and will keep a fan running on it 24 hours a day until the end of the month.

The official weigh-off to name a new champion pumpkin will take place in Worland on Oct. 2, and Richard’s goal is to win the title for the heaviest pumpkin in the state. But, he has to keep Maci on the vine until at least the end of the month in order for it to be as big as possible.

Following the weigh-in, there will be a giant pumpkin drop. Last year, the pumpkins were aimed at a large inflatable ball painted to look like a coronavirus germ.

People are take pieces of the shattered pumpkins after the drop. The giant pumpkins are perfectly fine to eat, although Richard previously told Cowboy State Daily they might be relatively flavorless.

For the last few years, Richard has been growing pumpkins from Atlantic giant pumpkin seeds, which can produce pumpkins ranging in size from a few hundred pounds to nearly 1,500.

He grows three giant pumpkins every year, planting them around mid-April and taking them off the vine in late September.

This year has been particularly good for his pumpkin crop, with the heat being the best weather element for his gigantic squashes. The warm days will be key for his pumpkins to get as large as possible before the weigh-in in October.

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Wyoming Rancher To Take Part In Latest “Survivor” Season

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Converse County rancher will be one of 18 cast members competing for a $1 million prize on the latest season of “Survivor.”

Brad Reese, 50, owner of the Rockin’ 7 Ranch in Shawnee, Wyoming, (between Douglas and Lusk) is one of the 18 cast members for this season of “Survivor,” which was filmed in Fiji earlier this year. The season was originally slated to be filmed in 2020, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, production was delayed by one year.

According to a cast biography on Entertainment Weekly, Reese’s hobbies are “hunting, fishing, helping others pursue their passion and achieve their dreams.”

“I’m a private pilot and enjoy flying. I’ve nearly died from a rattlesnake bite, been blown up by a propane tank and I like to live life on the edge,” Reese said in the bio.

He said his biggest accomplishment is his family, as he and his wife of 21 years have raised four children.

“I have all the skills of a typical rancher — hard-working, common sense, but I’m completely different because of my social skills,” Reese said, when asked why he thought he could win the latest season of the long-running reality show. “I believe I can build multi-dimensional alliances and win trust with most people, but with laser vision towards the end goal.”

According to the Rockin’ 7 Ranch website, Brad Reese is the fourth generation of his family to run the ranch, where guests take part in guided hunts for elk, buffalo, mule deer, antelope, white-tailed deer and coyotes.

Some of the other contestants this season include a former NFL player, a neurosurgeon and a stay-at-home mom.

The new season of “Survivor” will debut Sept. 22.

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Wyoming Gets Special Feature On “Good Morning America”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The state of Wyoming found itself in the spotlight on “Good Morning America” this week as the program aired a five-minute piece covering various highlights of the state.

Wyoming was the latest state to be featured on the GMA segment “Rise and Shine,” which gives each state a spotlight episode to share some highlights as the U.S. comes out of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Wyoming is so interesting [because] it’s the least-populated state and during COVID, it fared better economically than many other states, in part, because their tourism motto last summer was ‘Wyoming Is Wide Open,'” reporter Becky Worley said. “From the views we’ve seen this week, boy, is it.”

The first stop on the tour of the state was the ski lifts at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort that take people to an altitude of 9,000 feet in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The resort’s waffles also got a mention as Worley got an order with peanut butter and bacon.

Worley also interviewed Idaho skier Kai Jones, who regularly skis at the mountain resort.

Next, Worley headed to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which she described as Wyoming’s “landmark watering hole.”

“[This bar] is famous for its genuine saddles for bar seats, as it is for Western dancing,” she said.

After the stop in Jackson, GMA headed to Cody to feature the Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, which produces up to 40,000 pounds of wool a year.

“[When COVID hit], we started marketing more to our online customers with kits where they could knit and they got everything delivered to their door, everything they needed to create a project and that really took off,” mill owner Karen Hostetler said. “People were knitting a lot in their houses and so that kept us going really well.”

Worley also visited a dude ranch and a horse sanctuary on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The segment did not feature any visits to Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks because both were inundated with visitors.

“There’s something you can’t help but feel as you experience all the majesty that is Wyoming,” she concluded.

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Woman Breaks Fremont Lake Open Swim Record

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By The Pinedale Roundup

PINEDALE – Minutes turned into hours as Paige Book kicked and dipped her arms into Fremont Lake’s deep clear water, propelling herself across the lake’s nine-mile-plus length. Book’s goal, Sandy Beach, lay miles away, invisible in the vast expanse of open water.

Exhaustion, aches, pains and anxiety competed for space in Book’s mind. Rather than allow the debilitating thoughts to overwhelm her mind, Book turned her attention to the lake.

Massive granite boulders, billions of years old, surround the lake. Thick pines dating back centuries dotted the slopes. Peaks towered in the distance, shoved skyward by colossal earthquakes 25 to 30 million years ago.

“I got to share time with something ancient,” Book said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about how long the lake is going to be there and has been there and how long my life is and how small I am in comparison to the lake.”

The still water plummets more than 600 feet in the U-shaped valley formed by retreating glaciers.

“When you’re looking down in crystal clear water, you’re thinking, ‘How far am I seeing right now?’ I contemplated what life could be below.”

Taking in Fremont Lake’s natural wonders eliminated the ticking clock in Book’s head.

“I was not really aware of time because I’ve never swam that far,” she said. “I’ve done triathlons, but definitely nothing as long as Fremont Lake. I didn’t have a clock in my mind, thinking, ‘Oh gosh, when is this going to be over?’ I was just relishing in how beautiful the lake was and enjoying my time out there.”

Book’s friends, Brandon and Joshua, escorted her in kayaks. They shouted out when she reached the halfway point.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow – I’m already halfway done,” Book said. “‘What a bummer! I want this to last longer.’ But then you remind yourself you have plenty of swimming left.”

Brandon and Joshua tracked the passing time down to the second. Seven miles into the swim, Book’s friends realized she was approaching the last stretch timing in well under five hours.

Fremont Lake’s open-water record set by Pinedale’s David Rule in 2016 was within Book’s grasp.

“With about two miles left, the people crewing for me were telling me that I had an hour-and-a-half to swim two miles to beat the record,” Book said.

Fighting fatigue, Book decided to go for it. She dug deep and sped up her pace.

“I was definitely feeling like I was pushing myself, like I could hold on,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘Wow, I’m amazed I can swim this far.’”

Five hours, 5 minutes and 10 seconds after plunging into the lake on Monday, Aug. 2, Book completed the swim across one of the country’s oldest, and deepest, lakes. She beat Rule’s record by nearly 25 minutes.

“It’s going to take some time for me to soak that in,” Book said. “I felt really proud of myself and was surprised by how fast I could swim.”

A tired, weather-beaten cyclist stumbled into a Pinedale shop frequented by John Kelly on a late spring day.

“I first met Paige three years ago when she stopped for coffee in the middle of a solo bike ride from Oregon, where she had just finished a college degree in environmental studies,” Kelly recalled.

Kelly and Book realized they shared an affinity for swimming and the outdoors. Kelly talked about his experience swimming Fremont Lake. In 2011, Kelly swam the roughly nine miles to Sandy Beach in 6 hours, 37 minutes. He braved the cold without a wetsuit.

Kelly inspired other swimmers and was thrilled to share the experience with them. He guided Rule on his record-breaking swim in 2016 and the two swam the length again in 2017.

Kelly saw potential in Book. He invited the cyclist to stay an extra day in Pinedale to visit Sacred Rim.

Book caught her first glimpse of Fremont Lake on the drive to Elkhart Park. The idea to swim the lake crossed her mind more than once.

“Fremont Lake – as soon as you see it, you’re in awe,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

Book returned to Pinedale last summer and stayed a full week. Between excursions into the Winds Rivers, Book ran into Kelly at the same coffee shop.

“We talked about the lake again,” she said. “It kind of re-sparked the idea in my mind. I asked John, ‘Do you think I could do it?’ and he said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Book returned to Steamboat Springs where she worked as a waitress, determined to tackle Fremont Lake the following summer.

She hit the indoor pool in Steamboat over the winter, racking up thousands of laps. When the weather warmed, Book swam in a reservoir, practicing in a wetsuit and learning how to establish a line of sight in open water.

During the weeks leading up to the big swim, Brook swam laps at least two hours a day, five days a week.

Kelly guided Book through the process, checking in with her monthly.

“In addition to discussions of frequency, duration and intensity, my primary guidance was to follow your joy, listen to your body and approach the swim with respect and reverence,” Kelly said.

Book is no stranger to open water.

“I did swimming for a few years in high school,” she said. “I’m from California, so I spent a lot of my time in the ocean where my mom taught me to swim.”

Book is unfazed by towering whitecaps and sea creatures lurking in the deep. Cold water is another story.

Book visited Kelly and met Rule several months before the swim across Fremont Lake.

“When I was last in Pinedale – it was around May 2 – the lake was still frozen,” Book said. “The most intimidating thing was thinking about the cold.”

Kelly set August as the date for the swim when the lake is a few more degrees above freezing.

Book, Rule and Kelly spent the day before the swim plotting out the course. The lake seemed endless, stretching deep into the Wind Rivers.

“John drove us up (Skyline Drive) and we looked at the lake from a few different viewpoints,” Book said. “It was intimidating. You can’t see the whole lake at once. You look to the right, and you see a portion of the beginning of the lake. You look to your left, and you can barely imagine the beach at the end. I definitely had some nervous thoughts.”

Kelly arranged with Audrey Odermann at Lakeside Lodge to rent a pontoon boat bright and early on Aug. 2. He ferried Book and Rule across Fremont Lake as the sun rose above the eastern ridge.

Book and Rule waded into the lake and dove in. Pinedale’s notoriously moody weather cooperated and the water was smooth and clear – almost welcoming.

“I never got too cold, which I’m surprised to say,” Book recalled. “My friends had a blanket waiting for me on the beach, but I didn’t need it. I wore a full body wetsuit and I was full of adrenaline, so I think that was a factor.”

Kelly kept watch from the pontoon boat with Shalesa Harber and her children Elliette, Agnes and Baines. Weather reports predicted storms. Instead, they subsided to history.

“We were very lucky,” Kelly said. “The weather was amazing.”

The swim passed by more quickly than Book expected. Boulders came into view, marking the approach to Sandy Beach. Ecstatic, cheering friends and family emerged on the shore.

“John’s definitely been the anchor for me in this experience,” Book said. “My mom showing up to watch and my dad coming the day before was just epic. My friends and my boyfriend Gib were so supportive and believed in me.”

Kelly said Book hit the water like a pro.

“During the swim, Paige’s long preparation was apparent,” he said. “Her stroke was precise and relaxed, and her endurance was very well-developed.”

For Kelly, helping another young person achieve a remarkable feat was reward enough.

“It was my dream to crew for Paige and David,” he said. “It was the best day in my life.”

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Wyoming ‘Top Dog’ Corrections K9 Officer Recovers After Surgery

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

There’s nothing worse for a hard-working dog than when the body starts shutting down. But it’s good to know when that happens, there are friends in the wings just waiting to help out.

Just ask K9 Officer Hunter, who is currently recovering after having his toe amputated. The 10-year-old black lab recently retired after spending more than five years busting bad guys and sniffing out drugs for the Wyoming Department of Corrections.

During his career, Hunter had thousands of deployments across five prisons, three halfway houses and 23 probation and parole offices with handler Jory Shoopman, an investigative K9 sergeant. 

Hunter also worked in the community doing home searches for probation and parole checks and in county jails and schools where there were no K9s on staff.

His biggest bust involved sniffing out $11,500 in meth, heroin and fentanyl during a home visit for probation and parole in Laramie County. His work with the DOC earned him “Top Dog” Kyle Hall Memorial Award for Outstanding Narcotic Detection in 2016 and 2019 from the U.S. Police Canine Association’s Region 14, which covers 13 western states.

However, Hunter’s health started going downhill in 2017 after he was diagnosed with fragmented medial coronoid process, a condition that required surgery to his elbow to remove bone fragments in the cartilage. He also started having seizures two years later for which he now takes medication. Ultimately, it was the arthritis in his elbow that forced him to retire after more than five years with the department in June 2020.

That August, he got a sore on his toe that wouldn’t go away despite repeated treatments with antibiotic. Finally, it was determined the toe would have to be removed.

It was then that Shoopman reached out to Project K9 Hero for help paying for Hunter’s surgeries. Jason Johnson, who founded Project K9 Hero in 2016, said the organization was created to help retired K9 officers and military working dogs. To date, the national organization has helped 142 retired animals, including Rocky with the Campbell County Sheriff Office in Gillette.

The organization stepped in and covered the K9’s $868 surgery. It turned out the lump on the toe was cancerous, so the surgery essentially saved the dog’s life.

“We decided to help Hunter because he had significant medical needs that were a financial burden on his handler,” Johnson said. “Once retired from the state of Wyoming, there is no funding in place to help heroes like Hunter with medical care after their service. That’s the reason I founded Project K-9 Hero, to help retired Police K9s like Hunter have the retirement they deserve.”

Shoopman was grateful to Project K9 Hero and Johnson, who Shoopman says regularly calls to check in on him. 

“They truly care,” she said. 

Now, Hunter lives with Shoopman, who has gone on to work in the field with K9 Officer Zeke, who also nabbed “Top Dog” award in 2020 and 2021. 

Hunter was Shoopman’s first partner after she became a handler in June 2015. Hunter had been a rescue dog and received training at a K9 school in Iowa. 

Shoopman met Hunter during her interview for a K9 handler position. Hunter sealed the deal by coming up and putting his head in her lap to get a head scratch.

Their fate was set. The pair spent the next five years traveling all over the state working. Shoopman said by far, their favorite assignment was school visitations where Hunter was lavished with attention by hundreds of kids. 

“He’s a special dog all around,” Shoopman told Cowboy State Daily in an email Monday. “He has a high drive to work and is very smart. Our bond is very strong, and we have a mutual trust.”

Sometimes Shoopman brings Hunter to work to visit, but now, mostly Hunter naps in the sun, plays ball and sleeps in his recliner as he rides out the dog days of summer.

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