Schipperke Breed Magazine - Showsight


Let’s Talk Breed Education!



R ecently, an international judge wrote about facing some issues, saying, “Conformation judges are subject to Standards’ confusion every time they judge. Some- times this comes from poorly worded or poorly translated standards; sometimes it comes after standards are changed, in those cases, often for not so easily understood reasoning. However, in this international age of conformation judges adjudicating across multiple jurisdictions, we judges are now confronted with differences between standards for the one breed, and differences in where dogs are allocated in their groups, again sometimes without logic.” He goes on to say, “The AKC, KC (UK), NZKC, SAKC, ANKC and CKC all classify dogs into 7 groups. The FCI classify into 10. Between these classifica- tions there are major differences and even within jurisdictions there are differences of opinion about classification. Personally, I think the best existing Classification is the FCI and I think this could be tweaked and revised with input from the other jurisdictions. I have suggested this and many say there is no appetite for it. However, we have seen recently where the efforts of the Chair of the Whippet Breed Council of the UK and the President of the FCI agreed for the FCI to revert to the UK Standard as a Country of Origin of the breed. An Old English Sheepdog is an OES no matter where it is exhibited yet we have 4 versions of the breed Standard: UK, FCI, ANKC and Canada is proposing a change. Why? We also need to consider the entire clas- sification of Dogs.” This entire idea is of interest to the Schipperke breed, as the question of the origin and the Group to which they would best fit has often been in contention. In Belgium, they were originally classed as a Terrier, in the US they were placed in Non-Sporting, but in modern FCI, they are considered a herding dog. Others have noted that they best belong, by type, to a group entitled, “Northern Breeds.” Recently, some breeders in Europe wrote an article quoting the history of the breed and genetic discoveries, and how they feel it should impact the breed and the Group to which they belong. We would like to call your attention to the need to correct the FCI Standard for the Schipperke in accordance with recent sci- entific findings of genomic analyses, which matches the historical data recently published about the breed. Recent genomic research has revealed that the Schipperke is genetically related most closely to the Pug, Brussels Griffon, Papillon, and then to the Pomeranian and Schnauzer; but is only distantly related to the Belgian herding dogs. This supports historical observations, and makes it necessary to clarify the breed characteristics in order to correctly reflect and represent the true history and character of the Schipperke. With deep roots back to the 17th, and possibly even the 15th century, the Schipperke is a stable breed of its own merit, that has

An antique dog medal from the Belgium/France area, that shows three breeds: a Papillion, a Brussels Griffon, and a Schipperke, which are found close to the Schipperke on the Dog Genome wheel.

been genetically distinct for a long time. Yet, its relations with other breeds offer key clues to its inherent and contemporary char- acter. The currently most comprehensive study of genetic relations among dog breeds has been offered by Heidi G. Parker, Dayna L. Dreger, Maud Rimbault, Brian W. Davis, Alexandra B. Mullen, Gretchen Carpintero-Ramirez, and Elaine A. Ostrander (2017): Genomic Analyses Reveal the Influence of Geographic Origin, Migra- tion, and Hybridization on Modern Dog Breed Development , in Cell Reports 19, pp. 697-708. As shown in the diagram on page 698 in that article, the Schipperke is most closely related to the Papil- lon, Brussels Griffon, and Pug, and then the Pomeranian, Volpino, American Eskimo Dog, and Schnauzer. There is a great genetic distance to the French Briard or Belgian herding dogs like Bouvier des Flandres, Malinois, and Tervuren (found directly opposite in the diagram, indicating that they are not at all closely related to the Schipperke). The Schipperke has a history filled with many stories, some based on historical facts, others with mythical origins. An exam- ple is the breed’s name of Schipperke, which has been a matter of great debate. While there is a long-standing tradition that it means “little boatman” or perhaps “little captain,” in Belgium, the most popular view is that it is a corruption of the term “scheperke” and was always intended to mean “little shepherd.” This idea may have been fueled by temptations to construct a rather romantic heri- tage where Schipperkes traced their ancestry to rural herding dogs. However, there is little evidence that the Schipperke was ever used for guarding sheep on a large scale. Instead, historical sources indi- cate that early Schipperkes were linked to guarding canal boats and urban craft shops of shoemakers and butchers. The Schipperke


i n t r o d u c i n g . . .

Rayna & Kaylene Scotton

Bred by Kristin Morrison of Fullmoon Schipperkes

Rayna C h . F u l l m o o n L i t t l e R a y o f S u n s h i n e

Owned by Kristin Morrison and Katharine Baptiste

Handled by Kaylene Scotton

Photos by Jordan Isom and Dawn Bannister




Dating to the 1870s, this Flemish painting depicted a horse fair. To the far right, a little Schipperke is walking on to the scene. Its little stub tail is very like the natural bob tails seen on many Schipperkes today. The original painting is in color, the dog’s tongue is out and he is wearing a collar.

Drawn and signed by Louis Vander Snickt, a leading early Schipperke fancier in Belgium, and dating to 1888, it shows Schipperkes hunting rats with other Terriers.

6. Chasse et Péche , March 9, 1890, “...the only way to judge dogs, especially schipperkes, because they step so lively ( “steppent” ). Our impression was that English amateurs do not remember enough that the Belgian dog is the boatman’s dog, living in the open air, coat hard and abundant, resistant, ears always raised, pointing in all directions, straight legs, a cat’s foot, tireless and leaping about. He must also be able to defend himself, and even kill a pole cat. We want the old dog of the boats...” 7. Chasse et Péche , February 7, 1892, “We made our first descrip- tion of the boatman’s dog after a model example born around 1842, on the farm of M. Remy DeVulder, of Marialierde, where the breed had existed for a long time.” 8. Chasse et Péche , January 29, 1893, “…fully agrees with the founders of the Belgian Club and all those who have been invited to provide information. The schipperke is above all an outdoor dog, his place is day and night on the deck of the boat of which he is the guardian; he must be strong enough and biting ( willing enough to bite ) to be respected; he must be able to resist the weather. He has the innate passion for hunting moles, which he approaches cautiously under the wind, then, at the right moment, after a leap, falls exactly with the two front paws into the gallery and cuts off any retreat of the mole.” Finally, in the Chasse et Péche , September 30, 1894, we read the first mention of the idea that Schipperkes may be connected in any way to shepherds, “…if the little dog had not always been and was not still currently the watchdog of the boats from which he gets his name of “schipperke” (little boatman), you could have written “scheperke” (little shepherd).” This is a drawing by a famous early Belgian artist of “Spitz,” a Schipperke which was said to show the proper early type of the breed. Shown on a barge in Belgium, the drawing dates to the mid-1880s and appeared in the leading Belgian dog magazine, Chasse et Pêche.

was, up until the 1880s, always described as a city-based “dog of the boatmen” or “small boat dog.” An article in Chasse et Péche (March 13, 1892) mentions that the name was invented in 1880 for an international dog exhibition in Brussels. There are many more historical articles that support this theory, as follows: 1. Chasse et Péche , May 24, 1885 was titled, Le petit chien de batelier ou Schipperke , and begins the article by saying, “A little black devil, but without forked feet and without a tail, such is the dog of the boatmen.” And it goes on to say, “They are found much on the boats of the canals and rivers of Flanders; they do not dirty the bridge and do not knock objects down by means of their tail, since they do not (have one).” 2. Chasse et Péche , June 28, 1885, begins by saying “Since the Brussels show, and also since we published a portrait of that lively little guardian called the boatman’s dog...” 3. Chasse et Péche , February 19 1888, states, “We had convened last Sunday in Brussels with all the experts who can give informa- tion on the Schipperkes or small dogs of boatmen.” (This was a meeting of 50 experts of the breed from this era, and no mention of Schipperkes being little shepherds was made.) 4. Chasse et Péche , November 5, 1888, “In his country he lives more in the open air than in the kitchen. He is the guardian of the boats and, as such, he stands on the bridge and the path where the boats are hauled in an atmosphere charged with humidity; in the street one sees him perched on the back of the horse or the trunk of the truck; everywhere, in the boat, around the boat, in the stable, the cellar or the attic, he makes war on mice, moles, rats and even pole cats.” 5. Chasse et Péche , March 24, 1889, “These little dogs had noth- ing to do with the trade of butcher or cobbler; but at one time they were the dog of a boatman, they rendered services on the boat, in a word, they were part of the crew.”


A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...

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directly from the shepherd, miniaturized, made smaller […] as a result of long residence in the unhealthy towns” (a letter from Th. Delame, published in Chasse et Péche , September 30, 1894). What then started as a hypothetical and rather wishful idea (“if the little dog had not always been and was not still currently the watchdog of the boats from which he gets his name of ‘schipperke’ (little boat- man), you could have written ‘scheperke’ (little shepherd)”) soon became a dogma for some, though with meager empirical support. Inventing a pastoral origin was a highly ideological way to purify the breed, in line with the ideals of National Romanticism. 3. There was a wish to link the Schipperke more closely to other Belgian breeds, including the Belgian Shepherd dogs (BSD), in a nation-centered spirit, according to which all Belgian breeds should be closely interrelated. One can fully understand the national pride of identifying the Schipperke as a true Belgian breed, but that pride should not allow anyone to misrepresent the well-documented genetic and ethological character and the social and cultural history of this wonderful breed. Against such Romanticist temptations, we must consider the genetic and historical evidence; it is important to accept the mainly urban heritage of the Schipperke, as well as its close transnational interrelations with Dutch and German breeds like the Pomeranian and the Spitz, in accordance with the recently reconstructed genomic indicators. Today, DNA research offers a welcome way to finally decide which genealogical heritage should be given most credence. To conclude, these cultural and historical considerations are thus clearly supported by the scientific evidence from current genomic research. Today’s Schipperke dogs have generic traits that reflect this combined genomic basis and cultural history. These observations make necessary for the Belgian Kennel Club and the FCI to correct the Schipperke Standard, so as not to contradict undeniable genetic facts and correctly represent the true character- istics, history, and behavior of this wonderful Belgian dog breed. The current FCI Standard, formulated in 2009 by Dr. Robert Pollet et al. ( ), should be revised to a standard that more closely resembles the 1988 FCI Standard, leaning on a tradition dating back to 1888 when the original points of the breed were recorded. Several 2009 formulations mistakenly link the Schipperke to Belgian Shepherds, and this should be corrected: General Charles Lee and his dog: This sketch dates back to 1770, and the dog in question was said to be from “Pomerania” but could easily have been purchased from people who traveled from the Belgium region. The sketch is a “caricature,” meaning certain characteristics were exaggerated. Yes, this dog contains many classic Schipperke breed traits: the ruff, the culottes, square body, head type, upright, prick ears, and body type. It shows a tail type found on the majority of undocked Schipperkes today.

Two important points can be read into this last comment. First, that the Schipperke was “still currently” a boat dog, which can be considered a personal testimony, and second, that the idea of the word “scheperke” was an invention, created in 1894, and it was distinguished from Schipperke—and Schipperke was still clearly defined as “little boatman.” The Chasse et Péche article that speaks of the origin of the name was published March 13, 1892, and says, “The honor to have given a name to the Schipperke and to have highlighted it belongs to Mr. Le compte of Beauffort, which alone in 1880 on the occasion of the great exhibition canine international de Bruxelles, created the class...” Before this time, the breed was known by many names (skupperke, Chasse et Péche , February 7, 1892; spits; Lysen, The American Journal , February 23, 1889; Old Flemish Spitz, Edwin H. Morris, Popular Monthly , 1890). After speculations of a shepherd lineage turned up in the 1890s, these competed with the boat dog theme. This theory was primarily supported by the linguistic similarity of the Flem- ish words for “little boatman” (schipperke) and “little shepherd” (scheperke). Different authors chose either interpretation, and in the FCI Standard of 2009, the latter won and eradicated all traces of the former. Even though this pastoral idea contradicts factual evidence—including the recently discovered genetic relations—it gained support for multiple reasons: 1. One input was the coincidental linguistic similarity between the Flemish words for skippers and shepherds, which made it pos- sible to construct an imaginary identification of the Schipperke as a herding breed, though, in fact, it never did, and still does not, possess the typical characteristics of such a breed. 2. There was evidently a misguided desire to create a rural origin of the breed, as this may, for some, have been seen as more noble than the practical urban contexts in which it actually had thrived. One of the first historical sources to suggest a shepherd lineage typically had a rather Romantic argument that the Schipperke “…descended













Dog Genome Wheel created at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health.

3. Further changes required (back to the pre-2009 stan- dards) concern the shape and look of the Schipperke. Let us just mention three examples: a.) The shape of the head, which is more fox- than wolf- like. The Standard from 1888 to 1988 correctly stated that the head “approaches in type that of the fox,” whereas the 2009 revision uses the term “lupoid.” b.) The croup should be no “Guinea pig rump,” as the 2009 Standard claims. c.) The tail is normally “high and proud” (an article in Chasse et Péche , June 10, 1894), curled over the back rath- er than “preferably hanging down,” as the 2009 Standard wrongly suggests. With such changes, the FCI Standard would again con- form with both the scientific facts and the unique history of the Schipperke. Thanks to Per Jensen, Professor of Ethology at Linköping Uni- versity, for providing the genetic information; and to Dawn Ban- nister, author of The Historical Schipperke , for priceless feedback and encouragement. Chasse et Péche articles can be found in the book, The His- torical Schipperke , by Craig and Dawn Bannister, Copyright 2017. Historical Schipperke pictures used with permission.

1. The etymological roots of the name should be changed to “little boatman” or left open, as “small skipper” or “small boat captain” are well in line with historical evidence, and hence, are more plausible than “little shepherd.” There can be no doubt from the earliest articles on the breed that the name was chosen to mean “little boat dog.” With its deep genetic roots, the Schipperke cannot be described as originating from sheep dogs, and the idea of the Leuvenaar as a shared ancestor is highly contested and must be deleted from the Standard. It may well be worth mentioning that the breed has deep genetic roots, possibly even back to the 15th century, and that it was exhibited not just in Spa in 1882, but also existed as a distinct breed in Brussels by 1880. 2. Concerning the basic identity of the Schipperke, it should not be stated that it is “a sheepdog” with “sheepdog characteristics and tem- perament” and related to Belgian Shepherds, as all such formulations blatantly contradict genomic findings. Instead, its historical connec- tions to boat life and urban workshops should be mentioned and not concealed. The original 1888 Standard correctly described this little dog as “a faithful guard, whom we meet with so often on our canal boats,” whereas the 2009 version repeatedly defines it as a sheepdog without even once mentioning the historically crucial role as boat guard. The character of the breed was defined many times in the origi- nal Chasse et Péche articles, and this is the temperament and character that breeders should still strive for.

2019-11-22 Johan Fornäs, PhD at Göteborg University, Professor Emeritus at Södertörn University; Schipperke owner, Sweden;; +46-(0)703402242; Agneta Johansson, BA and Teacher Diploma at Göteborg University, BA at Skövde University; Schipperke breeder since 1968 at Kennel Corinna in Skövde, Sweden;; +46-(0)707528201;





L ike many breeds, the Schipperke is facing a heated debate about being shown “au natural”, when tradition- ally their tails have been docked. While in some breeds the difference is minor, Schipperkes have made a trademark of being a “tailless” breed, to the point that many exhibi- tors (seeing their tails for the first time), are often astonished to see they even have one. Per- haps some people think this only because the term “tailless” is used in the first paragraph of the Schipperke standard, rather than “docked”; but in truth, there are countless descriptions of this breed found throughout history that do describe this breed as being born this way. And in fact, by tracing back the original articles writ- ten on the Schipperke, one discovers that this is no accident. Even Schipperke fanciers might be startled to learn that this breed was never originally intended to be a docked breed at all! In the 1880s, far from being a prolific breed in Belgium, the early fanciers saw the breed as nearly extinct, though there were quite a few early breeders who knew of legends and gave descriptions of the breed, which had been pop- ular 50 years prior (1830s). One early breeder was a man from England; who, coming to Bel- gium about 1875, began hunting for Schipper- kes to “find out the truth about the little fellows being born without tails”. Early fanciers hunted out examples of the breed that were true to the “old type”, with one early breeder even visiting the Brussels market every Sunday for 3 years before he found his famous Schipperke, who he named “Spitz”. At this point, the breed itself had several names, including Spitz, Old Flemish Spitz, and Schupperke . The official name for the breed came in 1880, when a prominent figure, the Count de Beauffort, created a class for the “Schipperke” at a dog show. His description included “sans queue”, or “without tail”. In 1885, one of the earliest complete descriptions of the breed was published, and it stated that “this dog (breed) is born without a tail”. Another breeder stated that years prior, a Schipperke born with a tail was a sign that they were not purebred. Yet when the first standard was written, they opted to be frank and stated in their notes that “we do not know whether fifty years ago there were more Schipperkes born without a tail than in our own day. Those to whom the tail has not

A top-winning Schipperke bitch in Finland.

A Flemish painting dating to the 1870s. To the right is a small dog with a short tail, carrying something in it’s mouth. Likely an early bob tail Schipperke.

been docked, have it covered with a brush and wear it trumpet (turned up). One out of six of them is born without a tail, according to some, oth- ers not one in twenty-one.” For their standard they chose the description “tail absent”. Some time after this, one prominent fancier suggested that “It shall be proposed to the Club that the member in question undertake to inform the secretary of the date of the breeding of his bitches. In the five days following the birth, it will be noted before witnesses, how many are born within the range of having a small tail, with a full tail, and are born without a tail.” So this was a key component of the breed, though they felt it was important to first establish the old type before selecting out examples that were born tailless; stating, “The tail comes last.”

282 • S how S ight M agazine , J anuary 2019

An illustration of the first docking legend, from the 1920s.

A naturally tailless Schipperke.

The first Schipperke to make her way to England was Flo, and she was a bob tail. More Schipperkes made their way to England over the next few years, gaining popularity as the breed was born without a tail. A few were sold to the English by the Belgian fanciers, but many others by dog brokers, and they became so popular that Belgian brokers began to breed them to “pay their rent”. In England they became show dogs and eventually were bred; and, to their owner’s surprise, most of the puppies had their tails! Some of these early lit- ters were even killed, as the breeders thought they were not “real Schipper- kes”. One English breeder sought the records of the early Schipperke litters and stated that out of 323 puppies, 16 were born tailless, 120 with stumps, and 187 with full tails. In Belgium, the fanciers were real- izing more and more that this was not a trait that could be bred true, and in 1889 the first “docking legend” appeared: two cobblers got into a fight over their dogs, and in a fit of rage, one cut the tail off of the other’s dog, and it was so sharp looking, docking became a fashion. This theory was championed by the president of the Belgium Club. 1889 was also the year when Schipper- kes reached their height as a fashion- able dog, being sold in record numbers to England (the Belgian fanciers were unconcerned with this, stating that “the traffickers have rendered us the service of cleaning the streets”). Meanwhile, in England, the dogs were stolen by the crews of outgoing American vessels, so they could be sold in New York! In New York a poem was published in the little dog’s honor, which said in part, “We trust, O skipper! you may jog/Along with joy divine/And feel you’re fashion’s chosen dog/ For 1889.” While the idea of the Schipperke being a naturally tailless breed of dog began to crumble, it came to a crashing halt beginning in 1891, when Belgium’s premier vet, Prof. Reul, wrote an article

which appeared both in Belgium’s dog magazine and in a veterinary journal. He stated that the Schipperke as an “anury” (tailless) breed was a legend which had to go. Most Schipperkes were tail- less for the same reason the fox-terrier was - they are docked! While he con- ceded that there was the rare Schip- perke born without a tail, he also stated that to compliment his owner on the clever amputation of the tail would be an insult; and that he had seen written guarantees of dogs being born without a tail that he himself recalled docking! This article had long reaching repercus- sions, with articles published years later stating “The Schipperke has not been a great success. He took well at first, and the fact that he was born without a tail was all in his favor. Then came the dis- tressing rumor that this was not a fact but a fiction, that in truth he has no tail for the same reason that a fox-terrier has a short one, and this rumor has robbed him of much of his distinction.” Yet as time went on, the Schipperke kept a core of fanciers that preserved the breed. Docking legends arose, as well as theories of why they might be born tailless. The idea that repeated docking eventually resulted in them being born without a tail was fairly popular. Oth- ers thought perhaps he wore his tail off by rubbing it on the boats! Others concluded that by wagging his tail, the Schipperke would knock himself off the boat, or worse, he would capsize the boat, and thus it was docked! Yet throughout their history, breed descrip- tions will often include that they (or some of them) are born without a tail... and this, of course, is true. The Schipperke’s bob tail comes from the T-Box mutation, which is dominant. This means a bob tail parent will throw 50% bob tails, and two full tails will not throw a bob tail. It can- not be bred true for two reasons: first, the bob tails vary in length from almost full to appearing to be tailless. Second, you should never breed two bob tails

together, as any puppy which inherits two copies of the gene will die in utero or shortly after birth. Even if you did, each parent would carry a normal gene, so 25% of your puppies could have full tails. So while bob tails and even natu- rally tailless dogs have always been a part of the Schipperke breed, it is very clear that full tails have also always been a part of the breed. These days in Belgium, docking is illegal, so the FCI standard has been changed to include a description of the tail. While they pre- fer a strong connection to the Belgian Sheepdog and their low carried tail, they acknowledge that most Schipper- kes today have a tail which curls over their back. Bob tails are uncommon in Belgium, but they can be shown there. In Finland, the bob tails are very pop- ular, though it is illegal to breed them together. Many people have asked what sort of tail is a Schipperke supposed to have if undocked? Well, we have bred them without regard to the tail for 100 years... so there isn’t one. One Schip- perke breeder judge has stated that if you hold your thumb up before your eyes and cover the tail, you can easily judge what the dog would look like if it had no tail. Meanwhile, in America, the debate rages on within the breed... should docking become optional, with natu- ral tails no longer being a fault? Many long time, prominent breeders support the movement (while others are quite opposed), and many of those support- ers are choosing to no longer dock, and are showing their tailed Schipperkes. At this point, we have one fully tailed Schipperke champion in AKC, with a few others having their majors. So if you see a tailed Schipperke at a dog show, don’t be surprised, most are born with tails! Moreover, most of us who have them are happy to answer your questions, so please feel free to stop us and ask about the breed, and, of course, their tail!

S how S ight M agazine , J anuary 2019 • 283


I had never had a dog, and “Nittany” was just simply amazing from the day I brought her home until I lost her. I suppose that in order for you to understand the insanity that Nit- tany’s life was and what necessitated her being tossed into it, I need to start with a little background on myself. I was Nittany’s two-footed mama and it was my life that dictated hers. My name is Autumn, and I come from a very unique family. During WWII, my family fled Germany after my great-grand- father wouldn’t fire the Jewish personnel who worked for him. Evidently, the first time, the Nazi’s asked. The second time, they ordered, and the third time people were shot or beaten and hauled off to camps. My great-grandfather disappeared into Dachau, nev- er to be seen again—not even to be properly buried. So, the rest of the family left Germany for the US where they would be safer. When they arrived in the States, my grandfather, grandmother, and her brother all volunteered with the US military. My grand- father and great uncle served as translators, and my grandmother was a nurse. My great-uncle died serving with the Army, but after the war, my grandparents settled in Amish country up north. My grandmother continued to work as a nurse at the VA until she was in her late seventies, never leaving her soldiers who needed her. My grandfather started the largest dairy farm in the area, providing milk for a three state area. My mother and her siblings were raised there with a heavy ideal of patriotism, and the knowledge that freedom isn’t free, and that we all owe a debt. My mother, after nursing school, joined the Navy before she could be drafted, and she served in an evac hospi- tal in Vietnam. My father, as well, was raised the same way, and he joined the Sea Bees straight out of Williamson before he could be drafted. He went on to serve three tours in Vietnam, and was even there during the Tet Offensive. My mother went home after her tour in ‘Nam, and while serv- ing in the Naval Yard, lived at home with my grandparents. As the first grandchild, I was doted on and spoiled, but I was per- ceptive enough to understand that there was stress with my father still away—although until I was ten I didn’t truly understand it. I thought everyone lived like my family; three generations under

one roof, with parents who were in the Navy and frequently gone. It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I knew differently. Education was demanded in our family, and anything less than perfection wasn’t accepted. My grandfather had been an opera sing- er in Germany, with a modicum of fame before he fled. So, he was multilingual, and through music, introduced me to the true beauty of language. By the time I was six, I spoke English, German, and Italian fluently, because they were spoken in our home. I was taught to read before I started kindergarten with the Nuns at age four. I was like a sponge, I couldn’t learn enough fast enough—there was just so much out there! By eighth grade, the Catholic school let my grandparents know that by ninth grade I was going to need special schooling because they couldn’t keep up with me. They had three Nuns who refused to teach me anymore because I had upset them with my questioning of what and how they were teaching. The Monsignor helped my grandfather find and get me into the only school in the area that offered the program I needed. It meant high school in the morning and university in the afternoons. Uni- versity also offered the vocal instruction I would need since I had inherited my grandfather’s gift and was already singing opera in a clear colatoro soprano voice. The only problem I had with public school was being a year younger than my peers. I couldn’t do all the things they were doing and sometimes I felt left out. I had to take a language in school in order to graduate, but since I spoke German fluently, I was forbid- den to take it. So, I had to choose between French or Spanish. I chose French because there were novels in my grandparents’ library that were in French and I longed to read them. Like all the other languages I already spoke, I picked it up so quickly that by the end of my sophomore year I spoke and read it fluently as well. During my junior year, shortly after I turned sixteen, a tragedy hit not just my family, but our country as well. My uncle was killed while he slept when the Embassy in Beirut was bombed with no warning. I remember feeling like all the air had been sucked out of my body, and the ground beneath my feet shook. I knew what the cost could be for serving my country to pay the debt of my freedom. But my uncle was the first close loss I had experienced.


While it devastated me, it also galvanized me. One of the prereq- uisites to take part in the school I was attending was that you had to be made an emancipated minor at the age of fifteen because you were required to travel from the high school campus to the university campus daily, and that way the school wasn’t responsible for you. I knew that I would be graduating halfway through my senior year, so I took my ASVAB test and scored nothing lower than a ninety-five on all portions. All branches courted me, and I listened to them all. One afternoon, I went to the Marine Corps recruit- ing station and signed my contract. I was put in the delayed entry program until I graduated and turned seventeen. When I got home that evening, I quietly put my signed contract on the table during dinner and told both of my grandparents and my parents that I would do my service before furthering my education. I had enlisted in the Marines and would be leaving for boot camp after gradua- tion, instead of university. My mother shocked me—she told me I was an ass and left the table. My father, on the other hand, looked me in the eye and asked me why I chose the Marines. I looked at him and told him I saw no reason to settle for second best. I watched as he swallowed impish mirth before he told me that it was okay. Nothing more was ever said. So, three weeks after I turned seventeen, I left for boot camp and began my Marine Corps career. Halfway through boot camp they found out that I had a strong gift for language, and began the back- ground checks for my security clearance. At the end of boot camp, I had a Secret, Top Secret, and was waiting on a Category One. By the end of my first school I not only had my Cat One, but was now being sent to immersion school for Russian, and on to Intel school. In less than a year I was an Intel Linguist. I spoke three lan- guages already and was finishing immersion school for the fourth. After school I was sent to a duty station close to my husband’s, and learned very quickly that any time there was a conflict in any coun- try where one of my languages was spoken (or was allied to one that did) and where we had boots on the ground, I was deployed to a grunt unit there to serve as translator and to gather intel. There were things I saw, things I experienced, things we did that no human being should. I was so young and so much of it haunted me, but I said nothing. At twenty, I watched the CH-46 carrying my hus- band go down, pilots and crew all perished. I escorted his body back to the States, and then on to his family home. After the funeral, I requested and was granted a humanitarian transfer closer to home. I think the Corps had been waiting for an opportunity just like this. Within weeks, I had Yankee White and Eyes Only clearances added and found myself at the Pentagon. We affectionately called where we worked at the Pentagon, the War Room. A dungeon room, no windows, no brightness, where we spent our shifts intercepting, translating, and decoding messages, then assigning them the importance they afforded and made sure they went to the right desks. I quickly became the go-to because of the number of languages I spoke and my ability to pick up dialects in those languages. Because we were there, it didn’t change the frequent deployments to hostile theaters. And by the time I was twenty-six, I was leaving three children with my sister when I left. When I returned from Iraq for a third time, Desert Storm had really started becoming a full-scale war, and I was greatly changed. I started being unable to handle life. I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t leave base (thankfully, I had a house in base housing), and I kept looking for where the next danger was coming from. I lost a lot of weight and I wasn’t able to take care of my children the way I needed to. In short, after fifteen years of hostile theaters, the Gulf War, and Desert Storm, I had full-blown PTSD.

A few months later, we also found out that I had breast cancer. My career with the Corps came to a screeching halt. My God- father, a Vietnam vet himself, took stock of what was going on with me and gave me the greatest gift I was ever given. He knew that with PTSD, an illness, and losing my career and the safety of everything I had known, I was going to need help. So, calling a breeder and the training classes necessary down here, he put every- thing in place, never saying a word to me. He bought me a Schipperke pup and arranged for her delivery, and paid for the classes for her to be my service and therapy dog. I received a call from the local pet store one day in early spring. I didn’t understand why they would be calling because I had not bred my Siamese, so they had no reason to call. So over lunch, two of my younger Marines and I ran out to the mall where there was not only the pet store, but also the store that was engraving plaques and specialty gifts for a retirement ceremony that was upcoming. When we made our final stop at the pet store, the girl went into the back and came out with a small, round ball of black fur with the brightest eyes I had ever seen. Under her arm she had a rather bulky folder. When she went to hand the animal to me, I backed up and asked her just what she had and why she was giving it to me. I had never had a dog and had absolutely no idea why she wanted to give it to me. My Corporal reached out and took the pup so that the girl could talk to me and give me instructions. When she opened the folder, on the very top, was a letter from my Godfather. He had explained that he was giving me a service dog to help me because he loved me. The last thing he wanted to see was me falling apart and losing everything like so many veterans. I sat there stunned, trying to wrap my mind around everything. The veterinarian who worked with the pet store sat down with me and explained everything he thought I needed to know about the breed, what to expect, and how to work with her. The paper- work had the pup’s papers from the breeder, the records of all her shots, and her physical. The other paperwork was all of the instruc- tions I would need for her to attend classes, not just for service dog training, but also therapy dog classes. The catch was that I had to attend the classes with her. Just listening to all the information and taking in all the responsibility was overwhelming. I could feel myself starting to panic. I looked at the puppy my Corppral was holding. She was so tiny—small enough to put in the cargo pocket of Cammie trou- sers. He was talking to her and it looked like she understood every- thing, every word he said. In all the chaos and noise, she was calm and aware. I reached for her, and the moment I held her it was instant love. She cocked her head, looked right into my eyes, then she just snuggled into my chest.


I dropped her off at home on the way back to work, snuggling her into the large kennel I had for my cat to sleep in when she’d had a litter. I lined it with soft blan- kets and laid her down so that she could sleep. When I got home a few hours later, I was surprised to find my female Siamese curled up with the puppy, and looking very annoyed when I woke them to take the pup out to potty. For the first two weeks she followed me around, meowing and nervous chittering while I carried the pup around. On first sight, my children had mixed reactions. My boys picked her up, looked at her, and handed her back, walking away. My daughters, on the other hand, were enchanted, squabbling over whose turn it was to cuddle her, sing to her, and dress her in old doll clothes that hadn’t seen the light of day in years. It was difficult to explain to them that the pup was going to be a working dog, not a pet for them to run around with or have in their rooms. The discussion about a name for her was similarly heated. My boys had no interest in naming her. Their consensus was that she was too small to even be a good playmate. They kept telling me that if I was going to buy a dog, I should have got- ten one big enough to play with outside. I let them know that she had been a gift. I hadn’t bought her. This, however, made no difference. My oldest son looked at me and told me to call her “Beans” because she wasn’t worth a hill of beans, and he left the conversation. My youngest son told me to just name her “Spalding,” since she wasn’t going to be any bigger than a football, and he left the conversation as well. But my girls were having heated discussions about who had the perfect name that I should choose. Being in high school and middle school, they were both avid readers, and names from classic literature and modern prose flew around the entire ninety-six while we were all home. Finally, late in the evening the day before I was due to be back on duty and then back to school, while we were watch- ing a movie and there was a rare moment of quiet, the baby got her name. My young- est daughter wasn’t paying attention to the movie. Instead, she was looking at the logo sticker of my university mascot on the top of my laptop. She asked quietly if we could name her Nittany Lion. “Nittany” was the name of the American Indian princess that my university had chosen to represent their courage and bravery, which would be fitting, considering she was destined to be a service dog. I was intensely aware

“‘Nittany’ was the name of the American Indian princess that my university had chosen to represent their courage and bravery, which would be fitting, considering she was destined to be a service dog.”

have liked the squeaking sound because she chewed one of the eyes off so that it wouldn’t make any noise. Nittany was in my daughter’s room one afternoon and stole the stuffed Hammy from Toy Story. She didn’t chew on it, she slept with it. I now had a dog who had a teddy bear complex. Wherever she went to sleep, she had Hammy with her. I made sure that she had a bed in every room because she followed me everywhere, from room to room, no matter what I was doing. If the cat was already in the bed she want- ed, she would look at me and cock her head sideways, looking for reassurance and to make sure it was alright. And after I nod- ded, she would simply crawl in beside the cat, snuggling up with her. The cat would grumble a little, move over some, and then start washing Nittany before going back to sleep beside her. Often, there was a puddle of seal brown Siamese and thick black Schipperke fur in one of the beds, mak- ing it impossible to know where one baby began and the other ended. I only kenneled Nittany for the first couple of days. Once I was sure that she wouldn’t have accidents, she slept in my bed with me. She started out with a pillow for her to sleep on, complete with a baby blanket to cover her. In just a few nights, she was snuggling up against me, with only her head on the pillow and her body under my covers. It was like having a new child. When she was six months old, I took her out to meet the trainer who would be teaching the classes she was scheduled to start the following week. The instruc- tor was nice enough, explaining what to expect and answering my questions. Mean- while, his wife loved on Nittany and mea- sured her for her service dog training vest.

that all four children were now looking at me, waiting for me to accept it or shoot it down, at which point my boys would tease the “mickie” out of their sister for what, in their opinion, was a dumb suggestion. Looking down at the pup sleeping hap- pily on my lap, I thought about it. I told her that the pup had no tail and little round ears that didn’t even stand up. She looked more like a bear cub. With squeals of excitement exploded, both girls at the same time were yelling, “Nittany Bear, Nittany Bear.” I picked the puppy up and looked in her face, asking her how she liked the name Nittany Bear. She cocked her little head sideways and looked at me with those bright, inquisitive little eyes and seemed very content. Looking up, I told the kids that Nittany Bear it would be. The squabbling was over and the baby now had a name. Nittany was already housebroken. So, it was other commands she had to be taught and it was surprisingly easy because she picked up everything so quickly. In the meantime, Nittany’s ears came up, her snout started to lengthen and slim down, and her pretty little face took on the beau- tiful fox-like appearance. She was looking more and more like a dog every day. Nit- tany, however, wasn’t like other dogs. She didn’t bark, didn’t chew anything up, never had accidents in the house, and was so calm and quiet that I would have to look down in order to make sure she was still there. We bought her tons of toys, but she really didn’t play with any of them. She picked out a small, squeaky bath toy that looked like a frog, and it was funny to see her trot around the house behind me with the frog hanging out of her mouth. It was almost as big as her face! She must not


hand commands as well. This meant even more learning, not just for Nittany, but for my children and I as well. I had to make sure the kids were using the proper terms and hand signals so that Nit- tany wouldn’t get confused. Thankfully, the kids were good about taking the time and worked hard to make sure that they didn’t cause any problems, setting us back. I had planned on putting in an electric fence. However, before her official classes started, the kids were teaching her basic com- mands and walking the perimeter of our yard every time they took her out so that Nittany would know where her boundaries were when she was outside playing with the kids. With the training classes and all of us working with her at home, reenforcing what she was being taught in class, it wasn’t necessary to put in any type of fence. After the first two months of her training, I was told that she was to go everywhere I went and always in her vest. She understood very quickly that if her vest was on, she was working. The hardest thing for me was getting across to strangers that she had a vest on. She was a working dog, please don’t touch her. It was amazing how rude people were, especially those with small children who wanted to pet her and pick her up. Nittany was very good with that, she would sidestep closer and “chuff” the people under her breath. No barking, growling, or anything threatening; just that soft chuff, letting them know the child had crossed the boundary—please pull them back. Since a majority of my time was spent at work, I slept on one of her pink baby blankets, so it would smell like me, and placed it in one of her smaller beds. I took her into the office when the only ones there were the Officer of the Day and the Staff Duty, both of whom made rounds to all the barracks in the area. I figured that this would be the best time to give her a tour of the building and let her inspect my office. I placed her bed with the blanket in it in the cubby hole beneath my desk. This was the ideal place for her to be. She could see and feel me, and she could see everyone who came into my office. As long as I was calm and not getting upset, she stayed there quietly. The moment she felt me tightening up, she was assessing the danger and keeping me on an even keel. She had been coming into the office with me for over a month, and anytime I walked out of my office for anything, she was right with me. One afternoon, I was headed down the hall to get a cup of tea and we passed my Executive Officer. We were going in oppo- site directions, and right after he passed us he asked rather loudly, “Why is there a potbellied pig in his building?” I struggled not to laugh and told Nittany to sit. She sat down and fixed him with that bright, inquisitive look as if she were saying, “A piggy? And I don’t get to see it?” I politely informed him that Nittany was my service dog. I knew he had received the memo about her being here, because he had signed-off on it just as everyone else had. He asked me just how long she had been coming in with me, and I told him that she

Nittany was calm, but I could feel myself getting overwhelmed with everything I was being told was expected from me and all that I was going to have to do while going through the classes with her. Not to mention all the homework that I would be taking home for my children and myself ! The first day of class, I walked in with Nittany heeling on my right side with a pretty purple harness and leash set that my daugh- ters had bought her for her first day of school. Nittany was so proud of her “pretties,” chest puffed out so that everyone could see. When I stopped to sign-in, she sat down by my foot, waiting quietly for her next command, and took stock of everything and everyone around her. I was worried that she would take off towards the other dogs wanting to play. But she never moved. She just calmly waited for me to give her a command. One of the younger instructors walked over and asked if he could help me. I looked up from the forms and told him who I was and that Nittany and I were there for the class. He laughed in my face and told me that Nittany would never be a good service dog; she was just too small and high-strung. He told me that she would never graduate and it would be better to get a refund before the class picked up. I looked at him, a man who was more than a foot taller than me and out-weighed me by more than a hundred pounds, and calmly informed him that he was wrong. She was no less than the larger dogs. After all, when I had stood on those painted yellow footprints on Parris Island, the drill instructors told me that I would never be a good Marine. I wouldn’t even make it through boot camp. They had been wrong and so was he—and we would prove it! The stipulation of my total involvement in her training proved to be a genius move on my Godfather’s part. Not only was Nittany learning what she needed to learn in order to become the service dog I needed, I was being retrained as well. I was extremely focused on what I was doing. I tuned out everything that wasn’t pertinent to what I was doing. And for the first time in a long time I wasn’t dwelling on anything that would upset me and set me off, causing an anxiety attack. Nittany had no fear, and I used to wonder when she was going to decide to go play with the Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers, Dobermans, and Great Danes in the class, resulting in injury or her becoming an hors d’oeuvre for the much larger dogs in the class. Thankfully, she never did. She always stayed by my side, watching, and would occasionally sleep while the instructors were instructing us, explaining and demonstrating exactly what they wanted and needed the dogs to do. I noticed that most of the dogs did the same thing Nittany did. But once we stood up, all the dogs were up and at attention, ready to go. Nittany was so intent and eager to please, she learned the commands within the first half dozen tries. The classes were intense and long, but Nittany stayed right on top of everything. She not only learned verbal commands, but

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