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Tippy Toes, a black schipperke-beagle mix with two white front toes, was born in 1972 during the Fourth of July festivities at Sweetbrier Farm in Easton. A litter of two boys and two girls arrived thanks to the barn’s resident schipperke. Back in the 1970s “schips” owned by top trainers were all the rage on the East Coast horse show circuit — before the corgis moved in.
Soon, Tippy’s mother ran out of milk. He ended up at our home at several weeks old. My mother hand fed the little black nugget until he grew into an adorable puppy. Fittingly, I first met “the little captain” — the translation of the Belgium breed’s name — at summer camp in the Adirondacks when my parents came to pick me up in August. He confidently strode out onto the dock overlooking the deep blue waters of Long Pond.
Soon after, his brother Floppy Ear joined our family. He was the last pup at the barn that nobody wanted. I identified with his lot in life, since I too had always been picked last to join the kickball team. One day, while visiting the Newtown building lot of our new home the brothers took off in tandem. I ran after them down West Farm Ridge Road. As fast as my long legs could carry me, I hung a left down Hundred Acres, but I was no match for galloping dogs on a mission. I stopped, gasping for breath, and watched them disappear down the middle of the road deep into fox hunting country past some of my favorite stone walls jumps. I eventually gathered them up. But before we moved to Newtown, Floppy escaped the property in Trumbull and was killed by car on a nearby busy street. For some reason, Tippy didn’t go with him that day.
Best Friends Forever
Tippy became my constant companion. For fun I set up an obstacle course of lawn chairs and broom sticks in the front yard, jumping him around like a grand prix horse. Today, they call it the sport of agility. I even made a Puissance high jump. My Dad built standards with little nails as the jump cups so I could easily raise the striped bar, an old croquet post, to nearly three feet. My parents even drove me to obedience classes where we trained and eventually earned ribbons in class competitions. I remember one score of 198 out of 200. Not bad for a barn puppy born out of wedlock.
Once I began driving, Tippy became my co-pilot. Sitting in the front seat, head out the window, as we drove to yet another barn to ride yet another horse. At one barn, he used to pop out of the car and hop into my open tack trunk to sleep nestled among saddle pads. He learned a large vocabulary. I spoke to him like a friend communicating with full sentences. He always seemed to know exactly what I was saying to him. Going off to college in California was difficult. Tippy stayed behind.
Fortunately for Tippy, I didn’t stay on the West coast for long. I enrolled in a local university and he came back to live with me. By this time Tippy was known in our family as the “whiz kid.” He had this knack for knowing who the male head of the household was, whether at my Mom’s house, my Dad’s house or my house. He’d sniff out the patriarch’s bed pillow and leave his wet, yellow signature. Even to this day, when I visit my Dad, he points out Tippy’s signature on an old brass plate on a wooden trunk.
During college I lived about a mile from my Mom’s house. Each morning I would feed Tippy, let him out in the front yard to spend the day, and drive off to college. Within the hour, he trotted back to Mom’s for yet another meal. Then midday, he would commute back to my house, even crossing the busy street that took his brother’s life, and be sitting in the front yard for my arrival. This went on for months, until one day a friend driving to my house spotted Tippy mid-commute, stopped and opened his car door. Tippy jumped in for the ride home. Once home, we found him rummaging through discarded brown bag lunches in the back seat. He loved food so much, he once surprised me by leaping across the room and taking a slice of pizza from my hand. All I was doing was sitting on the floor, pointing at the front door with the hand that held the pizza, so someone would go answer it. Tippy answered the call!
Tippy’s most harrowing escape out of the back seat of a car was detailed in a November column when my hatchback flew open on Interstate 95 as we crossed the Merrimac River Bridge from New Hampshire into Maine. He jumped out. That vision of him running down the middle of the bridge toward the car was the mirror image of his Hundred Acres Road dash years earlier.
As Tippy aged, he switched gears from the horse show to the dog show circuit, where he found a whole new flock of friends who thought he was a purebred schip with a tail. His antics even prompted me to buy a purebred and start showing and breeding schipperkes. But all good canine friendships come to an end, and four months shy of his 18th birthday, his life ended peacefully. His final resting place? Beneath my favorite jumping stone wall at the end of Hundred Acres Road. It was officially named, “The Tippy Memorial Jump” as we popped open the bottle of champagne.
Lisa Peterson — lifelong equestrian, show dog breeder and award-winning podcaster, communications professional and journalist — writes about horses, hounds and history at LisaUnleashed.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.