Sweet sixteen

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By: Dr. Jack Stephens

What a great age! Sixteen, second only to twenty one as a magical day. How I looked forward to reaching sixteen and being able to drive – a milestone year for most, a year that brings much to look forward to.

Sixteen is also a milestone year for our pets, but for a different reason. Sixteen for them is more like reaching our 90th birthday. Skeeter, my special little angel man, turned 16 on January 25th.

He lost his hearing a couple of years ago and is basically blind now, with slight light vision in his right eye only. We were able to stall his inevitable blindness for nearly two years with “Nu Eyes.”

His front leg shakes more often. He sleeps more. At times, he becomes disoriented and shows signs of senility. He now has less control of his bladder, and although much more onerous for my wife and me, we recognize that it is something that comes with the aging process and we simply have to prepare and allow for it.

Skeeter, a miniature pinscher has been my constant companion and pal for nearly sixteen years now. He came to me at six weeks of age after the loss of my special Spanky, another miniature pinscher that helped me through my ordeal with cancer in many special ways. I did not want another dog, certainly not that soon. My shock and grief at losing Spanky were overwhelming.

After all, what dog could ever replace my dear Spanky? I felt it would be unfair to other dogs to bring them into my life, where I would constantly compare them to Spanky. No dog could ever measure up to the companionship and mystical ways of Spanky.

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Fortunately for me, my wife and our special breeder, Norma Cacka, forced Skeeter on me, despite my ungracious attempts to repel this little six week old puppy. Alas, my self pity and grief was not meant to be.

Skeeter very quickly captured my heart, even though he was nothing like Spanky. In fact he was not only very different, but almost the opposite. Day by day, he became even more endearing and more special to not only to me, but to the community of my acquaintances and nearly the entire Veterinary profession.

Skeeter moved me to a higher plane of bonding with a pet. Skeeter soon traveled everywhere with me, whether it was a short trip or cross-country. He goes to the office with me daily and occasionally on vacations. Skeeter has indeed been a constant companion. In fact he became the “icon” for pet insurance. I remembering overhearing people say, “There’s Skeeter, the insurance dog.”

Skeeter has had a special life, meeting many movie stars and dignitaries, even Walter Cronkite, who was enamored as everyone else has been with Skeeter’s demeanor and dignity. Skeeter is steadfast and loves everyone, while Torrey, my other constant companion can be difficult and might even bite people, letting them know to leave her alone. Not Skeeter, he is comfortable in a room with hundreds of people, walking among them, mixing, being picked up by anyone, and petted by anyone. He will sit for hours on a stage, as he did twice during veterinary graduation commencement speeches and cancer survivor events that I participated in. He is the epitome of stoic behavior, friend to all, calm and loving.

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Skeeter is special in many ways, and his accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but a few bear sharing. His accomplishments are remarkable when you consider he only weights nine pounds and is a dog. The following is a testament to this mighty little package of dog, now sixteen years of age!

-Two Commencement Speeches, first at University of Missouri and later at Texas A&M Veterinary schools, where he sat on the stage in a chair during the entire exercise with his own cap and gown. He stoically sat for hours on stage next to me or on the podium. While I spoke, he simply starred at the audience or dozed.
He participated in several other speeches where he sat on the podium in front of hundreds.

-Honorary Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (DVM) from the University of Missouri Veterinary School

-Broke the no pet barrier for Veterinary Conferences

-Honorary Board member of the Western Veterinary Conference, the largest veterinary conference in the world

-Scholarships in his name at two Veterinary schools

-Skeeter Foundation named in his honor that promotes research that provides scientific proof of the physiological benefits of pets and pet therapy visits to hospitals and nursing homes

-Hugged by movie stars too numerous to name

-Logged so many flights he should have his own frequent flyer card

-Chairman of Pet Relations for Pets Best Insurance

-Photo hung in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas for several years, in the hallway of stars
Funded research to validate the positive benefits of pets in humans

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-Most importantly, this wonderful dog has been a steadfast, loyal companion for sixteen years to this person awed by the positive powers of pets and animals on human health and well being. Happy Birthday, my dear friend.

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