On Sunday morning, our family dog Skipper went to the farm, as my wife is inclined to say when around children and talking about the brevity of pets.

Skipper, the Fishin’ Technician’s sidekick for the past 15 years, accepts a cuddle from the late Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, during a day’s fishing with former Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington in 2006. Skipper died Sunday after a lifetime of fishin’ with all kinds of Technician guests, famous or otherwise.
NNSL file photo

I say family dog because as far as my six-year-old daughter is concerned that’s what he was. She has no understanding of a Skipper that might have had a past life as fishing guide sidekick to the stars.

To her he was just an old dog who shed lots and stole away cookies from insufficiently clenched hands. But the realization he was not coming back after I started up the truck to take him to the vet had launched an avalanche of grief nonetheless. It was her first time experiencing a death in the family and it pains me now, having endured this miserable experience – family sobbing and gathered around our expiring pet – knowing that it won’t be her last.

These last couple years, as Skipper was rapidly aging, I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to write about him when he died. Most people love their pets but there is usually nothing newsworthy about that. Their loss is a personal sadness every pet owner must go through.

But then I started looking though old columns and photos and it occurred to me that, at least for a while, during the Technician’s hay days from around 2003 to 2010, Skipper had become somewhat of a public being – although, apart from the head scratches, I doubt he appreciated it.

I have been writing this column in one form or another for just under 20 years. Skipper was around for 15 of them. He partied with Sloan, snuffled with Olympic medalists and took treats from all sorts of politicians (well, who hasn’t, I suppose).

Back then, when I was more inclined to seek out notable fishing companions, he was critical to helping me break the ice. You try convincing a boatload of groggy rock stars that good times await while heading out onto the water at eight in the morning. Skipper made all those encounters more bearable – particularly for me. Everybody likes a friendly pooch and Skipper was one of the friendliest.

He was not an especially bright dog, or well-behaved. The first time I tried walking him off-leash he immediately bolted for the thickets near Willow Flats. I got a call from bylaw about an hour later telling me he had been picked up by Long Lake.

I’m eternally grateful to municipal enforcement for their leniency. Skipper was a notorious escape artist, a fact that caused me no end of embarrassment and shame. One morning, after three straight days of Skipper escaping and running amok, I lingered at home awhile to try and catch him in the act. Nothing was happening so I went outside and started calling to him from the street. A second later his head popped out over the six-foot high wooden fence. Over he went. Next moment he was at my side. He scaled that fence like a bear chasing a squirrel up a tree. How did he do that!

In any event, I certainly earned my share of unlawfully-at-large tickets. I paid a few. More often than not, a bylaw officer would show up at my home, Skipper in the back seat of the cruiser, and return him to me without charge after a wild day in the city.

Skipper was of typical Northern sled dog lineage – I think. In all truthfulness, he was ill-suited for the home. He never lost his appetite for trash and he shed enough hair when summer came to knit another dog.

The day I brought him home from the pound in 2003 I had intended to adopt the black Labrador retriever I’d seen in the SPCA ad. I was admiring the dog when I felt the paws of a desperate animal scratching at my back through the bars of the kennel across the aisle. We were fishing buddies from that moment onward.

Like me, he loved being outdoors and for years he was my constant companion as we explored the North together.

Over the last few years, these trips became less and less frequent as the family grew and he grew older. Last year, we did make it out to the East Arm one last time, all the way to Utsingi Point. It was like old times. Fish caught were thoroughly licked while Skipper wallowed in the shallows and panted under the hot sun.

It is this memory that I hope endures. He was a family dog but he was my dog first – during some of the wildest, most interesting years I have lived. You will be missed ol’ Skips.

Mike Bryant

Mike W. Bryant is the managing editor for NNSL Media. He started working for Northern News Services as a general news reporter in 1999. He is the recipient of numerous national and provincial journalism...

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