I have a dog named Stella. She’s a lovely little thing — a seven pound Maltese rescue from a puppy mill — and I’m happy to have saved her from a life of pumping out puppies for a ruthless breeder. As special as Stella is though, my favourite will always be my first dog, good old Skip. However, to be entirely honest, I have to tell you that Skip was actually my second dog, the first having had a very brief existence.
WORD OF CAUTION: The faint of heart should jump directly to *** this paragraph now.
When I was about ten I received a black and
white puppy from a litter produced by my aunt’s dog, Violet. Digging into my deep well of creativity, I called him Rover. Because it was winter time, Rover lived in the barn. Thirty cows lived there too.
In the mornings I would go to the barn to feed Rover, and after school I would go to play with him. One morning I entered the barn and gave my usual call. Instead of a fluffy ball of energy barreling toward me, I was met with the silent stares of the cows. I called and searched, and at last I found him. Instead of sleeping in his bed, he’d apparently made himself comfortable in the soft bedding straw beneath a cow and, you guessed it, the cow had lain down, never knowing he was there. I screamed all the way back to the house, nearly beside myself with anguish and terror, and in the days that followed I relived that incident endlessly.
*** Safe to resume here *** About a year later I was allowed to adopt a puppy from a family friend. Skip was a beautiful redhead, about the colour of Lassie. He had to live in the barn too, but he was barricaded while I wasn’t there.
Throughout his first winter, I visited my little dog morning and evening, and on Saturdays I spent entire afternoons with him. Not satisfied to stop at simple tricks like “shake a paw”, I started to teach him to jump over objects.
During the winter the cows were tied up in the barn in two long rows facing each other, and the fronts of their deep mangers formed walls to make an alley up the middle. At first I put a low barricade across this alley and
taught Skip to step over it, rewarding him with a biscuit when he did. As he grew the barricades became higher, and eventually he was able to jump over a bale of hay. By the end of the winter he could jump over barricades two bales high, set like hurdles the length of the alley.
When the nice weather came, I made the happy discovery that teaching Skip to come to me as he jumped the hurdles in the barn worked well when he was exploring outdoors. Sometimes I’d see him in a far-away field and I’d call. His head would go up and he’d come — lickety-split is really the only way to describe his joyful run — and he’d lean against my legs, panting as he received the ear-scratching I gave him as a reward.
Dad also loved Skip and they’d take long walks in the evening. He taught Skip how to heel, and he stayed right there, rather than running off on his own.
We’d had Skip for six or seven years by the time I was in Grade Twelve. That was the year our family moved from our expropriated farm to an acre lot my parents had purchased in a small community north of Markham. We wondered what we’d do with Skip. He couldn’t be allowed to roam free, with neighbours nearby and a road right in front of the house, yet he couldn’t be tied up after spending his whole life wandering as he pleased.
Sadly, the decision was made for us. One icy March day, a few months before our summer move, my mother looked out the window and saw Skip, back legs nearly useless, pulling himself toward the dog house. In those days, calling the vet about a farm dog was unheard of. It was obvious he was badly injured — she wondered if he’d slipped on the ice and hurt his back — and she called animal control instead. When they arrived, Skip seemed to know they were up to no good, and Mom, with tears running down her face, had to help coax Skip from the dog house. She cried like a child as they took him away, her anguish as acute as my own when I found out about Skip’s fate.
Since then I’ve had several dogs, and I’ve loved them all. Stella knows that, but if you don’t mind keeping a secret, I’d prefer you not tell her that it’s Skip who holds the most special place in my heart.