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A Fish Out of Water

Story ID:5130
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Quenlin TX USA
Year:2007
Person:Skidboot
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A Fish Out of Water

A Fish Out of Water

December 24, 1992, David Harwig, a Texas cowboy, sat in his living room.
His life was hard. David shoed and trained horses and worked his ranch. When time
allowed, he entered calf-roping competitions with some success. It was a rough life. Although still a young man, David already had two hip replacements.

The hard work was the last thing on David’s mind on that Christmas Eve. He
sat in his chair and fretted. Christmas was hours away and he didn’t have a Christmas gift
for his wife Barbara.

The phone rang. “Hello?”

“David?”

“Yes?”

“It’s Butch ...Butch Jones.”

“Well Merry Christmas, Butch. What can I do for you?”

“David, do you work Christmas Eve? I got me four horses that desperately need
to be shod.”

“I ain’t got nothin’ else going on, Butch. I’ll come right over.”

“Much appreciated, David. See you in a few.”

David hung up the phone and called for his stepson. “Russell, I got me four horses
to shoe over at Butch’s place. Wanna to tag along?”

David and Russell climbed into their truck and headed down the dusty road. It
was a trip that would change David Hartwig’s life forever.

***************
David set up in the barn, sheltered from the cold December wind. He worked
quickly and efficiently – years of experience guided his callused hands. As he worked
on the last horse. Russell came up to him. “There’s a mamma dog with a bunch of
puppies over there in the corner.” Russell pointed.

David slipped off his apron and followed Russell. The mamma and her puppies
were huddled in a dark corner of the barn for warmth. She was blue-gray with black legs
and muzzle, all the characteristics of a blue heeler, a breed used to herd cattle.

Russell picked up one of the pups. “Maybe mom would like one for Christmas.”

David’s eyes lit up. “That’s a good idea, boy.” He ruffled Russell’s hair and
smiled. “I just bet your mom would love one of these little guys. I’ll ask Mr. Jones if
he’ll sell one.”

“I can do better than that.” Butch said, stepping up behind them. “I’ll give you the
whole bunch.”

They negotiated an agreement. Butch scratched his chin, “Since it’s for Barbara,
you can have the pick of the litter, but once the others are weaned, you have to take the
momma too.”

"Fair enough.” David shook Butch’s hand. “What breed are they?”

“Well, she’s a stray, but we’re mighty sure she’s a Blue Heeler. We don’t know
anything about the daddy.”

***************

David and Russell stared at the puppies and selected the biggest pup with lots
of color. On their way home, David turned to Russell, who held Barbara’s gift in his
arms. “What if we got the wrong one?”

“What do you mean?” Russell petted the little dog.

“We didn’t pay much attention.” David pulled to the side of the road. “Let’s
go back and take another look.”

Back in the barn, they stood looking at the pups once more. One stood away
from the rest. He watched David and Russell approach and didn’t move when Russell
returned the pup to its mother.

“What do you think of that one?”

Russell walked closer. The pup growled. “He thinks he’s tough.” Russell said.
“Let’s check him out.” He trapped the pup close to the wall and grabbed him up before
he could escape. “This little guy just bit me. He sure is something! This is the one.”
Russell smiled at David.

On the way home, they discussed names for the new member of the family, and
settled on “Skidboot”, which are the padded leather boots attached to the back ankles of
calf-roping horses. They are made tough, just like the little pup.

David walked up the front steps of his house with Skidboot hidden inside his
jacket. Barbara appeared at the door. “Thank goodness! I was worried.”

“A horse kicked me.”

“Oh no!” Barbara placed a hand to her
breast. “How bad is it?”

“He kicked me right here.” David pointed to the lump under his jacket and
then unzipped it. Skidboot slipped his head free.

“David! You scared me half to death.”

“Merry Christmas, Barbara.” David smiled. “This is Skidboot.”

***************

Christmas morning – the den was a disaster. Presents and wrapping paper lay
scattered on the floor from one wall to another, and Skidboot was just beginning. He
grew, explored and got into trouble. He chased cows and horses, and began to get into the
neighbor’s garbage. One morning, David discovered the carcass of a chicken Skidboot
killed and dragged home. Skidboot was sentenced to a pen David built to keep the dog
from roaming. They even considered giving him away.

Whenever he had free time, David let Skidboot out and played with him.

One evening, David sat watching television with Skidboot at his side. David
picked up a toy and threw it across the room. Skidboot started to get up, but David said,
“Wait!’ Skidboot stopped. David told him, “Go get it!” Skidboot ran, but David said,
“Whoa!” Skidboot stopped. “OK, you can get your toy.” Skidboot grabbed it. In just
five minutes, David trained his dog to move forward and stop on command.

David and his dog worked together every day. “I’m not teaching him tricks,”
David said. “Skidboot understands what I’m saying.”

Skidboot learned to back up on command, turn to the right and to the left, and
sneak up on his toys and not touch them until David counted to three.

David took Barbara’s dog with him to rodeos. During breaks, David and
Skidboot entertained the other cowboys with tricks. A gentleman who ran the rodeos
approached David and asked if he and Skidboot would tour with the show.

Skidboot’s career was launched. They toured and Skidboot learned new
tricks. He mimicked David. They crawled and rolled together in the dirt. Barbara’s dog
even learned to raise his right or left paw and to touch things with the paw David asked
him to.

They were asked to perform on a local Television show called “The Inside Addition”. Their show caught the attention of the president of the Texas State Fair, who
made them an offer to perform for their audience. Skidboot was a hit.

David always tried to do something new. At one show, he handed Skidboot a
coupon for a free hotdog and told him to go to the booth at the end of the arena and get
his dinner. Skidboot took the paper in his mouth, ran to the booth, placed his paws on
the counter, and to the amazement of the crowd, handed over the coupon for his hotdog.

Skidboot performed on Letterman, Leno, and Oprah. David tagged along. They
won first prize on Animal Planet’s “Pet Stars” - $25,000. When Skidboot flew, he had his
own seat on the plane and entertained the passengers with his tricks.

After years of touring, Skidboot’s age began to show. Although willing, he began
to tire easily. One day, David heard him yelping. He’d gotten too close to a horse and was
kicked in the head. As he lay close to death, cards poured in from fans around the world.
Skidboot touched the hearts and imaginations of both the young and old and they wanted
to let him know they held their favorite dog in their prayers.

During his recovery, the veterinarians determined Skidboot suffered with
macular degeneration. He was going blind, which was the reason he got too close to
the horse.

After Skidboot recovered from the kick, he and David performed a show for a
group of school children. Skidboot went on stage, walked to the edge, dropped five feet
to the floor, and landed on his nose.

David picked him up, placed him back on the stage, and Skidboot gave what
David thinks was the best performance of his life. David said, “If God gives me a thunderstorm, I’m going to thank him. If he gives me a blind dog, then it means me and
Skidboot have more time together. I will hand-guide Skidboot everywhere he needs to
go. I love this dog.”

On March 25, 2007, at the age of fourteen, Skidboot was near the end. David
knew his companion was ready to leave him. They called the vet. With David at his side
and his favorite blanket to cover him, Skidboot moved on.

Skidboot was an amazing dog. He did incredible things. He will be remembered
by people the world over. What many don’t consider is, Skidboot changed David – a
hardworking cowboy, made famous by his loving companion – part blue heeler and part gift-from-God. Fame and fortune are no substitute for the partnership, the understanding,
and love David found with one special dog.

David remembers standing on a busy sidewalk in Manhattan with Skidboot at his
side. He looked up at the towering skyscrapers, thought of home and the dog at his side. I
followed that dog all over this country. On that busy New York street, I realized how far
removed I was from my life on the ranch. Skidboot enjoyed every minute of it. Me? I was
a fish out of water.

Michael T. Smith

Skidboot – A remarkable dog: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24aWW_6PEHo
Skidboot has left us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDNl3Z87ylg&feature=related

I spoke to David recently. He was in the middle of a roping competition. He still lives
and works on his ranch in Texas. They have several new dogs, and in his spare time,
David trains them. “Their smart dogs,” David said, “But I doubt there will ever be
another Skidboot. He was one of a kind.”

Michael T. Smith