Skillet’s many last wishes: Animal shelter’s mascot checking off bucket list

Skillet dries off after a bath during a recent spa day at Wash Dog Grooming in Cody. The event is one of many on the 12-year-old pit bull's bucket list. Photo by Lauren Modler, Cody Enterprise.

By Lew Freedman

Cody Enterprise

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CODY — Skillet is a sensation. It’s a little late, but a star is born.

The 80-pound white dog is the darling of Cody right now, an outpouring of affection nearly swamping the Park County Animal Shelter as fulfillment of his bucket list gets underway.

As the 12-year-old pink-nosed pit bull copes with the cancer slowly sapping his life, the world is trying to make up for past neglect – and he has had his share of that.

“I’m pretty much just his social secretary right now,” said Stephanie Tarbett, the shelter manager.

Skillet has spent a goodly portion of his years in and out of this shelter, twice being adopted and then left behind by families who moved on without him.

The last time, more than a year-and-a-half ago, he was diagnosed with cancer and it was decided rather than be put up for adoption again, he was going to be spoiled rotten by shelter workers and volunteers. He is the king of the castle, where he pretty much is fed treats on demand.

It is a kind of doggie heaven, except for the looming threat of him really going to heaven pretty soon, though Skillet has outlived veterinarians’ projections.

To ensure Skillet, who has had an unofficial fan club (no dues or membership cards) for quite some time, gets to max out on fun, Tarbett and other workers brainstormed a wide-ranging bucket list.

The list includes a visit to Yellowstone, meeting a horse, riding in a convertible with the top down (of course), riding in a fire truck and a police car, hiking in the mountains, receiving a bark box or a box of treats in the mail (everyone loves mail that doesn’t solicit money), having a book read to him by kids, having a picture taken with 50 people, making new friends at a nursing home or assisted living facility, sitting for a professional photo shoot, being pampered in a spa and being in a parade.

Skillet’s designated priorities differ from those in the 2007 movie “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Besides the title, however, there are similarities. Those characters met in a human shelter (the hospital) where they were both being treated for terminal cancer.

They drafted their own ideas of things to accomplish before they “kicked the bucket,” as the phrase goes.

Shelter personnel are Skillet’s agents since he has yet to master wifi, making necessary reservations for gallivanting around the region. Gallivanting may be too strong a word.

“He has more bad days than good days,” Tarbett said.

It may be some of the medication Skillet takes for his illness is slowing the elderly gentleman down, said Valerie Swensrud, a shelter employee who accompanied Skillet.

Yet when motivated, Skillet still shows spark.

“He busted out of the back fence,” said Swensrud. “He was chasing a bunny.”

The rabbit eluded him and squeezed through another fence to the adjacent property. When the shelter workers tracked down Skillet he was vigorously digging a hole to get under that fence.

The shelter’s Facebook post announcing Skillet’s upcoming itinerary has been viewed more than 16,000 times. Messages and phone calls keep coming from people who want to accompany Skillet here or there.

Last Monday was supposed to tick off No. 1, a spa day. But a volunteer dog walker showed up with a fire truck the day before and preempted the schedule. Skillet did his best imitation of the dalmatians that used to be employed by fire departments.

Tristen Mooren lined up a four-hour program for Skillet at Wash Dog Grooming and Daycare. Skillet was not getting out of there with a hair untouched.

“It’s your day, buddy,” Mooren said.

First came the soap and water bath, rubbed all over by Jessie Bolte, then he was toweled off.

“Not so bad,” Bolte said to Skillet, who remained placid. For a Mack truck of a dog, Skillet is pretty much a pussy cat.

When Bolte rubbed behind an ear his reaction was more “Ahhh.” Then his coat was brushed. His toenails were then filed and clipped and nail polish applied.

“We have boy nail polish,” Mooren said.

Skillet went home with one nail on each paw painted purple and the others blue. “If it was the Fourth of July, we would do flags.”

It was suggested Skillet might smell beautiful by the time he left Wash Dog.

“There’s no might about it,” Mooren said.

Tarbett echoed the thoughts of a character created by comedian Billy Crystal when she said Skillet looked marvelous.

Tarbett, who is pulling together a scrapbook of Skillet photos snapped over the years, is impressed by the community love for the pit bull. Some people want to make donations in his name to help finance construction of the planned new shelter and there is discussion about naming part of it after Skillet.

“He is very, very popular,” Tarbett said.

So many people are taken by Skillet’s bucket list he may get to do some things more than once. But speaking of the Fourth of July, there was only one parade on the horizon, the Cody Stampede Rodeo showcase, July 3-4.

Guess who is scheduled to ride on the shelter’s float?