September 21, 2014

Places I’ve Played: Tippy the kleptomaniac

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Woo-Woo the varsity dog

By Bill Skiff

The dog days of summer will soon be upon us. In 1978, the dog days took on a whole different meaning. I know as our family was one of the victims.

One morning, on Butternut Road in Williston, we find a small dog looking bewildered at an empty spot on her family porch. She begins singing, “Where oh where has my dog dish gone, where oh where can it be?”

Down the road we find powerful Poo humming this same song. Poo is a frustrated retriever whose mouth is currently filled with a can of tennis balls. He dreams of the day when tennis cans would grow wings and feathers so his retrieving activities can feel more natural.

On the other end of the road lives Sadie and the Rebel. Sadie was a mild-mannered collie who took the daily disappearance of her dog dish with the grace and eloquence of an Elizabethan queen. Rebel, however, was a different story. He was a rugged mongrel whose head could barely be seen above the ditch he produced over the years by running back and forth in the same spot.

Then there is Woo-Woo, our small Texas born terrier, who adjusted to the rigors of New England life with all the energy and spirit of a Dallas cheerleader. She was a three-varsity-letter canine who played soccer in the fall, caught snowflakes in the winter, and chased frogs in the spring.

For weeks, neighbors had been frustrated by the morning disappearance of their dog dishes. No one could find them. Soon, the problem was referred to as, “the morning mutt mystery.”

The culprit turned out be Tippy, a large shepherd. He lived alone in a house up on the hill. Over the years, he had taken on many of the characteristics of his owner: friendly, well versed in the geography of the area, traveled a lot, was semi-retired and losing his hair.

But Tippy was unhappy. He felt rejected by the other dogs. So he stole. Yes, he stole dog dishes. He took them off neighborhood porches and carried them home. He stole not because he was hungry, but because he craved canine companionship.

Tippy’s dish-content was a problem for residents on Butternut. Every morning they could be seen trying to find new dishes for their dogs. Although Tippy’s owners made daily afternoon rounds replacing the stolen dishes, the morning problem remained. Most neighbors know you by your car, but Tippys’ owners knew you by your dog dish.

Finally, with the help of a veterinarian social worker, Tippy’s dish-content was solved. Neighbors began to include Tippy in their daily dog walks—and he was given special attention when he showed up on porches eyeing dog dishes.

It was rumored that one neighbor nailed their dog dish to the porch floor.

Note: During the next few weeks I will be taking a break from my column. I plan to enjoy the summer, gather new material and travel. I am looking forward to returning in the fall to continue sharing my thoughts on growing up in Vermont. Thanks so much for your comments and helpful ideas.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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