Hold on to the memories of our animal friends. Let your heart reach out and touch the things that happened to those we loved so dearly. Take a deep breath and make a carbon copy of your feelings. And then ask yourself, “Why are these memories so important?” Think about where these thoughts have taken you. It is often on a journey of pride and laughter, but also one of worry, sighs and tears. The experiences of living with our animal friends can happen in ways that are unexpected, wild and fast. These endeavors have greatly enriched my soul. Then reach out and kiss those feelings goodbye.
Our German Shepherd Dog, Skipper, was a very special nine-month-old puppy my husband Joe had given me October 9, 1967. It was the second day after we married. Skipper was my first German Shepherd Dog. The beautiful shepherd came with many fine qualities. He was exceptionally gorgeous, displaying a rich dark black and tan coat, black eyes, a beautiful masculine chiseled head, and a heart designed to give full devotion. He lived most of his life with us on a small farm in Welch, Minnesota in the late sixties and early seventies. He was fantastic with our horses, cows, cats, dogs, puppies and children. Skipper was with us for nearly eight years until one day he was taken down in a dog fight. He was attacked by three large dogs. This was deeply heartbreaking, and it brought such a magnitude of sadness. He couldn’t recover from his wounds.
Skipper was buried on his farm in 1975. We now believe without question that his spirit still roams that place he so dearly loved and protected.
Let me go back in joyful memory to when Joe first brought Skipper home to me. There had to be no other person in this entire world as happy as I was at that moment. Since I was a very small child, all I could see were dogs and horses. Some years later it was Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Bullet and other famous canine friends I loved so much. Even though both of my parents were raised on farms, neither one of them wanted to continue to have animals after they married. All I cared about as a child was anything that had fur on it. No dolls for me. Dogs and horses were my greatest love. As the years went by with my parents, I did have the privilege of a few cats, a bunny, fish and turtles. Weekly visits to my grandmother and grandfather’s farms brought me much joy with their dogs and other farm animals.
I have to smile. Some years after Joe and I married, my mother and father then got their first German Shepherd Dog, a puppy they named Kelly. I guess it just happened for them. They were at the right place and time, and Kelly picked them for her new family. She was a beautiful black and silver. Mother and father were blessed with this stunning, healthy, good tempered companion. They experienced many fantastic years with Kelly. As she lived her life, she gave much joy to many. I truly believe each and every animal born is a blessing for those who love them.
When Joe left that early morning the second day of our marriage to search for our first German Shepherd Dog, he had no idea how the day would start or end. When I think back, how could he even think he could just go out and get any German Shepherd Dog to bring back home with him? He knew of no German Shepherd Dog breeders in the area, nor any other source to achieve this goal. But for some reason, when he left the house that day he believed that he was coming home with a German Shepherd. We still reminisce about this amazing goal he set out to accomplish. Joe drove right to a rescue place he knew of not far from our home. When he arrived, he got out of his pickup, and just looked around for a while at the kennels that held quite a few different breeds. Then a caretaker approached Joe and asked if he could help. “Yes, I would really like to find a German Shepherd Dog to take home with me today,” Joe replied back. “It can be a female or a male, it doesn’t matter.” The caretaker thought for a moment and said, “Gosh, at the moment, when I think about it, we don’t have any shepherds at this time.”
So Joe looked around some more and came upon a gorgeous Malamute staring back at him with incredibly intense ice-blue eyes.” Joe really was impressed by his handsome face and large masculine size until the dog did a low rumbling growl at him. “I don’t think you need or want this dog because we have found him to have some serious aggression issues,” the caretaker said in a firm voice. Being a bit disappointed, Joe said, “I’m just going to walk around for a while and keep looking.” The caretaker followed behind. Joe was becoming more aware of what he was hearing in the background. It was loud enough for him to take notice, but not until he was there for some time did he realize the barking and whining was coming from a pump-house not far away. Joe asked the caretaker, “Why do you have a dog locked up in there?” “What kind of dog is that?” The caretaker looked a bit sheepish at that point and was having a bit of a problem finding the correct reply. “Oh yes, by the way, hmmm, now that I think about, we do have a shepherd that just came in and we put him in the pump-house for the time being.” Surprised at the caretaker’s suspicious answer, Joe asked immediately to see the dog. When the caretaker brought the beautiful intact German Shepherd Dog puppy out of the pump-house, it was love right from the start. The dog was very exuberant and, of course, immensely pleased he was finally out of his little prison. Oh yes, this was a weird situation, and Joe didn’t want to ask any other questions except for one more, “How much are you asking for him?” “I’m asking thirty-five dollars,” the man said. “Will you take twenty-five dollars?” Joe replied. And the caretaker said, “Yes.” The young shepherd jumped willing into Joe’s pickup, and off they drove. When I first saw my dog, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I really can’t say to this day why we named him Skipper. The name just came up from what I remember; we both agreed, and that was it. By the next day, the puppy was coming to his new name, Skipper. Life was good.
I was delighted this young shepherd was so sociable with my palomino mare, Goldie. It was almost like Skipper had possibly been with horses before. We had many wonderful rides together. Skipper would run along with Goldie and me in beautiful open fields near a lake where we lived. My new puppy seemed very happy, and I was so pleased with him. I never tied Skipper up, and he always stayed near the house or in it. He was always friendly with strangers that would drop by. Maybe at that time I felt he was a bit too friendly for a German Shepherd Dog, but he was young yet. As a matter of fact, he was so friendly at times I worried someone would take him. But one day Skipper proved himself to be worthy of a great watch dog. The oil man came to fill our tank that was down in our basement area of the small house we were renting. As the man parked his truck in the driveway, he rolled down the window and asked if he could get out of his truck. I said, “Sure, Skipper’s okay with everyone.” Skipper followed me up the steps, and we were standing together on its small porch waiting for the oil man to bring his hose to the back door and down the basement steps. When the man took his second step up to the porch Skipper wouldn’t let him come any further. He got between me and the oil man and that was as far as he was going to let him go. Skipper displayed a curled lip and gave a fierce growl to back it up. The man was furious with me and slowly backed away. I apologized for my dog’s reactions. I read Skipper’s message, and immediately brought him into the kitchen area where we waited together while the man finished filling the tank. So, that’s when I learned about those famous last words, “Its okay. My dog loves everyone!”
Some months later, Joe gave me a nine month old registered dark bay quarter horse stallion named the Kid. I raised, trained and showed him in halter and western pleasure. Skipper and the Kid became best friends. Skipper would travel to almost every show with the Kid. It was always a complete joy to share Skipper’s beauty and uniqueness with others. I actually had taken Skipper’s awesome temperament for granted, just thinking that this was the true nature of all German Shepherd Dogs. I was only twenty-one years of age and yes, I had a lot more to learn about my animals and life in general.
We continued to share many awesome times together. Joe and I came home one day when Skipper was about a year old, only to find he had totally torn my whole house apart. He ate an entire pound of butter plus bread to go with it. He shredded all my new towels and pillows. There wasn’t one thing he didn’t miss, right down to a favorite large teddy bear my late grandfather Sater had given me when I was a teenager. That bear was totally unrecognizable. I do have to laugh at this now because I saw the remains of the bear scattered all over the living room floor. But the funniest of all, with thousands of bits and pieces lying about, placed neatly in one corner of our living room were the bear’s two eyes and nose next to each other. They were actually making a face all by themselves on the floor. I’ll never forget that. How in the world did Skipper do that?
In May of 1997, just before we made our big move from Minnesota to Arizona, we wanted to drive by our old farm one more time. We had fourteen wonderful years of great memories there. Joe and I left on a quiet Sunday morning to visit the old farm. As we were nearing the scene of many memories we had left behind, we drove slowly along the old fence line we worked so hard to put up for our horses back then. We were amazed to see that the fence was still standing, but the rusted wire leaned heavily on its weary wooden posts. We finally stopped by the beginning of the long-winding driveway that led to our custom built house and barn. By now, my heart was beating with excitement and along with that, some sadness fell upon me as many memories raced through my mind. The numerous trees that lined the farms driveway were now unrecognizable. Their growth made our handmade archway at the end of the drive look insignificant. The archway, still standing, now had a slight lean due to its period of enduring years.
Within seconds of our stop by the long driveway, we couldn’t believe what we set eyes upon. There before us stood a mature beautiful black and tan German Shepherd Dog. He stepped slowly out of the thick woods. The shepherd just stood there looking at us with his long full tail wagging slowly back and forth in anticipation. He carried a stunning head with black eyes that seemed to look attentively into our souls. This was the exact thing Skipper would do when we would come home and stop at the end of the driveway to retrieve our mail. It absolutely took our breath away. I looked at Joe and said, “Can you believe what we’re looking at?” “I know,” he said with a big sigh. The shepherd, with his welcoming body language, was a carbon copy of our late Skipper. With all the many breeds, coat colors and genders, how could this particular dog display himself at precisely this exact moment in time?
Many years after Skipper’s death, Joe and I feel that his spirit manifested itself in a way we’ll never forget. Losing Skipper like we did has left a very deep, dark hole in our hearts, and it seems to have haunted us forever. I couldn’t stay one minute longer by the end of that driveway. I asked Joe to drive on as I started to shed tears. The beautiful shepherd watched us drive slowly away. I looked back one more time in disbelief as the dog receded into the thick wooded terrain he came from and disappeared.
Ghostly image in 1967
Kathy & Skipper
Treasures of Skipper
Please soften my last memory of you,
For your departure was all too unkind.
Your photos from the past ache in my heart,
A German Shepherd Dog you were so fine.
Glory in all things you accomplished,
Set free your legend to tell.
For you were revealed in your lineage,
And I gloried in their wonders as well.
A spirit so powerful yet lost in a flash,
Brought back in that one special day,
One day meant to be so long ago,
In this memory you’ll always stay.
You were of grand elegance,
A masculine dog hence defined.
My dog of much gentleness and spirit,
A German Shepherd Dog of infinite design.
© Kathy Sater Partch