By Dawne Belloise
Locals know, and visitors can easily see, that Crested Butte is a dog town that loves its furry family members. Growing up in town since the age of 13, Mikah Fontenot’s passion now is working with dogs. It was 2018 when Mikah started working for Oh-Be-Dogful Pet Ranch, a local dog day care center. “It made me realize that working with dogs in some capacity was what I wanted to do full time.” This led to moving to Oklahoma City to get the experience to further that career path and then returning home to Crested Butte.
Mikah’s family moved to CB from Oklahoma City after spending a couple of winter skiing vacations here. Please note that Mikah’s preferred pronouns are they/them. They began skiing at the age of three and switched to snowboarding at eight, “It was really cool to get my own gear when I was 13,” they said about moving here. “We needed a change of scenery and the schools in Oklahoma City were pretty bad. They don’t have a great level of education so my parents decided to make the move,” which they did in February 2009. They came from a class that was the same size of the entire CB high school, but Mikah recalls that, “Moving in the middle of the school year helped a lot. If we had moved in the summer, it would have been harder to meet people and everybody was pretty welcoming here. I definitely had more freedom moving here.” Mikah notes that in the city, kids had after school programs until parents got off work, but a childhood in CB was completely different. “There’s a more of an opportunity to run wild and free. Any teenaged kid is going to be happy that all of a sudden their town fosters freedom over more of a security that you have to have in the city.”
Mikah graduated from CBCS in 2014 and by that time was pretty jaded about living in a small, isolated town. Attending the University of Oklahoma for a year, Mikah didn’t really have a plan as far as studies, but had been a big sports fan of the school and looked forward to its big state school culture where they could go to football games and sports events. However, they discovered, “It was too big and too easy to party and not focus on studying.” So they left, “I wanted to come back to CB. College wasn’t where I needed to be and I didn’t know exactly what the next step would be, but my family was here.” Mikah returned in the summer of 2015.
They were working at Bonez when winter arrived and Mikah became a full-time lift operator. That summer, and the following one, they worked up at the Adventure Park. They decided to go back to school at Western Colorado University (WCU) for the 2016/17 school year. “It was much more conducive to my personal learning style. The biggest class at WCU was just as big as the smallest classroom at Oklahoma University.” Mikah also loved that they were able to balance employment with club sports, playing rugby and baseball while working at the resort for that coveted ski pass.
“It was great to be back. I realized that I had taken for granted living in a small community when I left the first time.” But some classes were at 8 a.m. in the dark of those frigid Gunnison winters and Mikah decided, “I was over the cold. I was also in a long-distance relationship with a Texas girl so initially I was going to transfer to a Texas school but we ended our relationship.” However, Mikah decided the change would still be beneficial. “I did a short stint of culinary school because I decided that I liked cooking. I made it through the first semester and thought, why I am paying for something that I can get paid to learn?” They went full time into restaurant work for almost a year in Texas before winding up back in CB, and Mikah noted, ”It was the pull of the valley and my desire to be back here.”
They worked at various restaurants in town as well as for Crested Butte Mountain Resort as a lift operator. “I actually liked working the T-bar because it was mostly locals.” Mikah was primarily working the High Lift and sometimes North Face Lift during the winter of 2018/19. “I was just hanging out, I was happy living the life.” In 2019, after enjoying the job working for Oh-Be-Dogful, Mikah headed to Oklahoma City where they felt there was more opportunity to expand that type of training. “The city was a place I was familiar with and it’s one of the more overpopulated states for overcrowded dog rescue and puppy mills. I knew I would be able to find employment in that area of work. I really liked working in the rescue side of things at Oh Be Dogful and there are so many homeless dogs in Oklahoma City, so it seemed like a good place to go.”
Mikah did various jobs like dog walking, dog sitting and a day care similar to Oh Be Dogful. “I started working at a place that did aquatic therapy for dogs which was really awesome. We’d help dogs with tendon tears or hip problems or who needed to lose weight. We had heated pools and depending on the dog, I’d be in the water assisting them with the swim. Some dogs are self-sufficient enough to rehab themselves in the water, so we’d just be supervising. I’ve been face to face in the water with some pretty crazy dogs. Some dogs would be brought in not necessarily needing physical therapy but having had a traumatic experience with water, so they were afraid for whatever reason. I’d essentially be a swim coach to break that fear. It was the coolest job I’ve ever had. If I had an angel investor, I’d start something like that here. I think it would do so well in this valley since dogs are always getting hurt here because of the active lifestyle and limited therapy, in addition to the rehab options,” Mikah says. “Not all dogs like going outside in the winter but they still need exercise, and swimming for 30 minutes is equivalent to running three miles for a dog.”
And if you’re wondering about all those dogs doing what dogs might do in a small, contained body of water, “The pool I worked with had an excellent high-tech, saltwater filtration system, because yeah, dogs.”
Mikah still works at Oh Be Dogful as well as The Breadery a couple nights a week. They’ll also be at Bjorkstand Hats on Elk. “When I was in Dallas, I learned to shape hats and work on them. In the back of my mind, I thought it might be one of those odd jobs I can have in CB.”
Mikah was in Oklahoma when the pandemic started, in a relationship and due to COVID, “We moved in with each other earlier than we would have, before we really got to know each other.” When the relationship didn’t work out, Mikah moved back to CB in the fall of 2021, smack in the middle of COVID. “I felt safer here. Being part of the LGBTQIA2S community in America these days is difficult, if not downright terrifying.
“I’ve been saying for a while now, with the way the world and especially this country is devolving, it’s either Crested Butte or somewhere in Europe for me,” they say of their choice of residence. “I don’t see myself living somewhere else in the U.S. Parts of that relationship helped me to conclude that I am a trans woman. Coming to that realization while being in a place like Oklahoma was a wakeup call. CB is the safest place I could possibly be within the U.S.”
Mikah explains, “There’s gender that’s on a spectrum and sexuality in its own separate spectrum, and then your romantic interest as well is on its own spectrum. So there’s gender, sexuality and romanticism, all on separate independent spectrums. You can have a romantic interest but not want a sexual relationship, that’s asexual. It’s all mutually exclusive. I figured it out in the fall of 2021 and came out in June and no horribly negative experiences came from it. There were good and bad but more good reactions than bad. It’s not easy being a trans person in the dating world in CB or anywhere,” Mikah adds. “Being in a small community makes it that much more difficult but overall, it’s been positive beyond expectations. This community has been very accepting. The biggest skepticism I’ve had is from people from Oklahoma and Texas. Most people assume I’m just a gay man based on the way I dress and the fact that I don’t wear makeup. A lot of trans women learned how to be really good at makeup to feel more like themselves but that’s just not me. I have no desire to delve into that.”
Mikah feels it’s the people, environment, weather and activities that keep them here. “I would refer to it as a black hole because it always pulls you back in, and not in the best of ways. That’s what I used to say but now I really understand the more widely accepted metaphor of Neverland and Peter Pan. You drive into this valley and into a bubble and you stop aging,” they smile. “If there’s anything I’ve taken away with me from all the times I’ve left the valley, it’s that you shouldn’t take anywhere you go for granted because I gained valuable experience in those other places that allowed me to find jobs in the valley that are fulfilling to me.”