Sitting at the top of the steps I could hear my parents in the entryway below. I slowly scooted down the stairs on my butt, inching closer to the bottom, one step at a time. I made sure no one could see me by keeping up towards the wall, just enough to stay out of sight. The door was open and my Dad was saying hello to my grandparents. I could hear the jingle of tags on his collar, and the light scratch of toenails on the floor. It was the day we were waiting for, the day we were getting my cousin’s dog. His name was Skipper.
I couldn’t quite see him yet, but I imagined that I’d see a small, cute, friendly little puppy. But as my Dad tells me about that first encounter with Skipper, I took one look at him and ran back upstairs. Guess my Dad could see me waiting on the steps after all, and could tell I was a bit afraid of him. Skipper was not at all what I imagined, or expected for a family dog.
This story is inspired by a few mementos from my dog Skipper. I found them inside this little box I’ve kept. There’s two dog tags, a key chain and a piece of blanket he used to love.
How we got my cousin’s dog Skipper
Skipper first belonged to my Dad’s sister. My uncle was in the navy. At the time my aunt and uncle were relocating their family all the way to to Scotland from Virginia where they currently lived. In the navy there is a rank called a “Skipper” so I guess that’s where they got the name from. Anyway, they found out that Scotland had never had rabies before. The law stated that any incoming animals had to be quarantined for six months to make sure they didn’t have rabies. My aunt and uncle didn’t think Skipper would survive that or thought it was just too over the top to put him though. So, they decided to ask us if our family would adopt him instead.
And we did. That’s how we got him.
I was only four at the time. I know this because one of the dog tags I have is from 1987 and has Virginia Beach, VA on it. It must have been the tag he came to us with. After checking with my sister Sarah, she reminded me it was January 26th or 27th. Only she’d remember this. She was six, the same age as him. So, he was not a puppy.
He was also a mutt, a mixed breed, but we thought probably a basenji. This was not a type of dog I’d ever seen or heard of. I think my Dad actually busted out the encyclopedias at one point to try and narrow it down.
Skipper howled to Happy Birthday and trains.
One of the traits that helped us determine his breed, or at least part of his breed, was that he howled. Yup. He howled to the piano, whenever we’d sing “Happy Birthday,” and to the daily train that came a couple blocks down the street behind our house.
He’d sit back on his haunches with his head straight back, neck up in the air, and howl. He’d take a breath, dip his head down and lift it right back up to howl again until the noise would stop.
It was actually pretty funny and the one thing that made me warm up to him.
Don’t ring the doorbell though.
The one thing that I really didn’t like about Skipper though was how he barked whenever someone would come to the door. He would run really fast to the door and practically smash his nose, mouth and teeth up to the side window that was right at his level. My mom had a lace curtain that she had made and used mini tension rods to keep in place there for privacy. He tore that up pretty quickly. She had to hem it up halfway just to accommodate his crazy spells.
So, he came to us not really trained at all. He had bad manners and was as stubborn as could be. He had “baggage” I guess you could say. My aunt had warned us though. They had found him, and assumed he’d been abused in the past because of his highly reactive nature. If the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” was ever true, I feel like this was the case for Skipper. He was just not gonna change his ways.
But I do have some funny memories of Skipper that I’d love to share. So here they go:
When Skipper got into our Easter baskets
Most every holiday that I can remember we’d pack up ourselves for a couple nights and stay at my grandparents’ house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Once we got Skipper, we always brought him along.
the first Easter we had him, we went to mass and left Skipper free to roam my grandparents’ house while we were gone. We didn’t have a kennel or anything like that for him. I guess my parents didn’t really think about it or know that people sometimes used those. Anyway, Skipper found our Easter baskets that were filled with candy, specifically a lot of chocolate candy. He ate an entire large size chocolate bar made in the shape of a bunny and more!
Fortunately he just got sick I believe, but nothing more. We were lucky considering chocolate is actually very poisonous for dogs. This was quite early on in our caring for him and we were 1: getting used to his behavior tendencies and 2: learning about taking care of a dog, period.
Here’s a picture of how we traveled with Skipper in the car. This was a Christmas quite a few years after that incident, but anyway. And yes, not at all safe. I’ve also used this picture in a previous post, but it’s just too good to not re-share again!
Now it looks like Skipper and I are buddies here, and by this point I’m older so yes we’ve gotten more used to each other. But my sister Sarah was his favorite for sure. Everybody knew it. She’s gonna hate me for saying it, but I think they both had a stubbornness that sorta meshed. I mean, she was also just very affectionate and loved on him a lot, but whenever I’d try to do that he’d often growl and show his teeth. I’m not sure why that was, but Sarah could snuggle that dog unlike anyone else.
My dad’s sister was always really good with him too I guess, and she loved Skipper even after they gave him to us. She’d send us Christmas gifts and include items for Skipper. She knit this red sweater for him one year.
That’s Sarah hugging him on the floor, not me.
An encounter with a Skunk
We always let Skipper out to go to the bathroom on our deck, which was to the back of our house, off the family room. There was a tie out cable that we’d hook to his collar. He’d go down the steps, past the line of tall pine trees, and do his business just a few feet from the deck on the side of the house.
But for some reason, one night he got let out in the front of the house. I don’t really know why. I guess perhaps one of my sisters had friends they were saying goodbye to or something, but either way he was let out or got out. Now, it just so happens that down the sidewalk that night there was a skunk.
Yes, a skunk!
It was simply walking down the sidewalk. Now, we lived in a neighborhood, not some rural area you’d maybe expect to see more animals like this. I sure had never thought we had them around. I vaguely remember the street light illuminating the scene just enough for us to catch a glimpse. But as soon as Skipper got outside he ran towards it and it sprayed him good.
And we all smelled it.
He started backing up and shaking his head, almost sneezing and dipping his head down like it got in his eyes. He didn’t really bark or anything, but we started screaming and yelling for my folks. “Skunk! Skipper got sprayed by a skunk!”
Not sure what to do, someone said to get tomato juice. So my mom or somebody ran inside to look for some. But no one wanted to get close to him. Whoever came back out said we didn’t have tomato juice, but we had spaghetti sauce. So we dumped a whole jar of that chunky mess on top of him, and started sloppily rubbing it into his fur. All the while letting out moans of disgust and trying to cover our noses.
Now I don’t know if you know, but Skunk smell up close is even more potent and strong than when you drive by one that someone has run over on the street. It’s like ten times more strong and uncomfortable to be around.
The spaghetti sauce did very little to help. I’m sure we gave him more than one bath too, but really only time helped it dissolve.
During that time, I distinctly remember him sleeping in the hallway in his bed where he normally slept upstairs. Mom never allowed him to sleep in our rooms. But, it smelled like a zoo for weeks when you’d step out to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Poor dude. He was so rejected by us for a while until he smelled better. My eyes sting just thinking back on it.
As you can see by the grey in his face, most of the pictures I have of Skipper are of his later years.
He actually lived a really long time. Sarah says till June or July of 1998. So about 17 or 18 years! I had him for almost all of my school age years, up until my junior year of High School.
Towards his senior years we had to make a few adjustments though. One was putting a ramp out back on the deck for him to get up and down the steps better. My Dad built that and even put green turf on it. Here’s a picture:
That worked pretty well.
But we also had to get him a pretty expensive surgery after he tore his ACL in his leg just from getting up from a sitting position in our basement. I was there when that happened. It was really random and he just sorta yelped a little. But I remember when we found out it was gonna be like two grand for the surgery we were really surprised. At his age though it was either do that or he was going to have to be put to sleep. But at this point, he was such a part of the family so my parents paid for the surgery. I can’t imagine what we would have done if we couldn’t afford that, or what someone else in the same situation would do if they couldn’t.
I guess that was a moment I knew that despite his quirkiness and tendencies to growl and be grumpy with me, I loved him. He was my dog, and a part of our family. That prolonged his life another couple years I think, and I’m thankful.
All dogs go to heaven.
I don’t want to write the end to this story, so I won’t.
I’m simply reminded how incredibly lucky we are to have pets that add so much value to our lives for often way shorter of a time than we feel is ever needed or wanted. It makes me feel somewhat comforted believing that dogs truly are one of humans’ best friends. Even if they have “baggage” we love ’em anyway, and they love us. They’re always at the door wagging their tails and so happy to greet us no matter what. That will always be a terrific memory, and way to come home any day.
Do you have a favorite pet memory?
I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below.