Skipper, Pepper

Dear Mark,

I am a writer living in Virginia who has recently become a big fan of yours, not just because of the Sprite book but because of the Conservative passion you hold for the Constitution. Although you probably won’t read this, Sprite inspired me to compose these next few paragraphs:

A Schipperke is a small black dog born without a tail. His foxy face captures emotions like no other and his almond eyes can melt your soul. I’ve had two Schipperkes in my life. One broke my heart twice, one healed it.

Twenty years ago the unimaginatively named “Skipper” came into my life and decided he owned me, not the other way around. Schipperkes are remarkably territorial and tend to bond with only one individual for their lives. I don’t think, really, that they understand the master / pet relationship. An old line about cats can credibly be recast as: “Most dogs have masters, Schipperkes have staff.”

A financial reversal after Skipper had been with us for five years put me back on the road selling and gone for two weeks at a time. Skipper, as loving and loyal as he was, transferred his “ownership” to my wife. It wasn’t instantaneous. The shift from me to my wife was gradual, but it happened. When I realized what was happening, I was devastated. I no longer had “my puppy” following me around everywhere. We were still friends. We were still close. But that special bond we had was severed. I have to admit my spirit was weakened. I told myself, “get over it,” but I was hurt.

Five years after that found my wife and me and the vet standing over a limp form on a metal table, all of us, tears streaming and me sobbing, my face buried in his soft, black fur, my heart broken again.

For the next five years, working toward retirement, I won’t say I was an emotional zombie but the edge had been taken off many former pleasures. It seemed as though colors were duller and even foods more bland. I lost weight in tiny, almost unnoticeable increments until I was 25 pounds lighter. Our cat, a big male endearingly tried to stand in for Skipper. I say this because he assumed Skipper’s formal place on the bed and even Skipper’s occasional perch on the back of the sofa. He even followed my wife around the house, never leaving her alone. Me, he ignored, as he had always done. He was faithful in his stand-in duties for five years, until his peaceful death.

I finally retired three years ago. I found myself unconsciously checking the “pets for sale” page in the local paper. They never had a Schipperke, of course – too rare a breed. I wasn’t sure I even wanted another dog anyway. And why a Schip? Wouldn’t that just bring back memories? Then one day, there it was – a private breeder in Kentucky was going to be attending the big horse show some seventy miles north and he had three Schipperke pups for sale. On a whim I called him. Sorry, the male was already taken but he had two females left. I drove up the next morning.

I found the pups in a wire enclosure outside the caravan the breeder and his wife had driven in from Kentucky. I could tell they weren’t show dogs, as Skipper could have been if his legs were just a tad longer. They certainly didn’t have Skipper’s family background of present and past champions, but they were definitely Schipperkes. Proud dad stood off to the side, imperious as most Schip males are, while the pups play-tussled on the grass. I reached my hand into the low enclosure and one of the pups trotted over and gave it a lick.

When I picked her up and looked into her eyes I felt what I can only call a “lurch” in my chest. Thinking I ought to at least inspect the other, I put the first pup down and picked it up. No magic. I returned the second pup to the enclosure and picked up the first. She stayed in my lap through the business part and the social part of the sale and, when we finally got in the car to drive back to Roanoke, she climbed out of her box and into my lap again. There she stayed for seventy miles until I turned into the parking lot of my wife’s office and “Pepper”, for the first and only time in her life, got car-sick.

Pepper is three now and the car has become her golden chariot. She is feisty as any Schipperke and ruler of the house, yard and my now healed heart.

Thanks, Mark, for all you are doing for America,

Donald from VA