Life was lonely for Mary Jane McAdams. She lost her husband nine years ago. Two years ago, her mixed-breed dog died. Then her own health declined. “You don’t get over losses like that by yourself,” she says.
Enter Frosty, whom a friend sent to live with McAdams two years ago. “On his first night here, I told him it was bedtime, and he hopped right into my bed,” says McAdams, who shares her Corsicana, Texas, home with the 9-year-old American Eskimo Dog. “I talk to him, and he listens to every word. He understands, and he talks back with this mumbling sound.”
Frosty understands the importance of his job as a companion. “He’s just like a human to me,” McAdams says. “He probably thinks I’m a dog.”
McAdams’ health improved tremendously. “He’s made all the difference in my life,” she says. “He’s just what I needed.”
Bond for life
The strong bond Eskies form with their humans makes them superior companion animals and devoted guardians. Kim Senke-Rocka, co-executive director of Heart Bandits American Eskimo Dog Rescue in Fresno, Calif., thinks the Eskie picks the human. “We have a lot of people coming for one dog and leaving with another that is drawn to them,” she says.
Senke-Rocka feels like the pied piper: As many as 26 rescued American Eskimo Dogs follow her from room to room. “Everywhere I go, there’s a little white face looking up at me as if to say: ‘Here I am! I love you!'” she says.
Terri Walsh knows that devotion. Joey, her 5-year-old Eskie, sleeps by the front door until Walsh’s husband returns to their Newman, Calif., home after working the night shift. “Joey won’t go to bed until we’re all home safe,” Walsh says.
Leneia Rogowski, a breeder in Hyrum, Utah, loves the breed’s cuddle factor. “If I want to cuddle up with something that cares about me, I want an Eskie,” she says.
Eskies make good therapy dogs; they can sense when someone needs attention. Psychologist Anne Bishop (the breeder who sent Frosty to Mary Jane McAdams) of Dripping Springs, Texas, takes an Eskie to her office every day. “When a client gets upset, the dog will often go over and lay its head in the client’s lap,” Bishop says. “One even hopped up onto a client and licked the tears off her cheek.”
Penchant for mischief
Loyal as the breed is, people abandon many American Eskimo Dogs each year because they cannot anticipate the dogs’ cleverness, need for attention, and socialization requirements. “If you leave them alone without something to do and they aren’t happy, they can bark excessively, dig, escape, or be overly wary or even aggressive toward strangers,” Senke-Rocka says.
Their penchant for mischief can lead to trouble. A closed door means nothing to Rogowski’s 5-year-old Eskie, Dawn. “If it’s the kind with a doorknob, she uses her paws to turn it,” Rogowski says.
Such intelligence offers owners a challenge. “If you ask an Eskie to do something, they give you this look like, ‘Do you mean now?'” Senke-Rocka says.
Early socialization for this alert breed will help curb inappropriate aggression; a well-socialized Eskie will wait until its human gives the go-ahead before warming up. “Little kids want to run up and pet the white, fluffy doggie, but most Eskies don’t like that,” Walsh says. “They need to get to know you first.”
Not what they appear
The breed’s appearance and name deceive: The Eskie did not descend from working sled dogs, and it is not an American Eskimo breed. The dogs made their way from Europe when German immigrants brought the white German Spitz to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. The clever, fluffy white dogs quickly became popular companions and circus performers. The name most likely was changed during World War II when many German names were Americanized. Some fanciers favor a name change to American Spitz.
Accepted for registration with the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based United Kennel Club in 1913, the American Eskimo Dog is one of the club’s most popular breeds. A relative newcomer to the New York-based American Kennel Club, after only five years in the club’s Non-Sporting Group, the Eskie ranked 99 of 148 AKC-recognized breeds based on registrations in 2000. The AKC divides the breed into three sizes: Toy, Miniature, and Standard. The UKC recognizes two sizes: Miniature and Standard. All sizes share the same personality traits.
The American Eskimo Dog shines in the show ring. Bishop describes her UKC Grand Champion and AKC Champion Ryan as poetry in motion. “It brings tears to my eyes to see it,” Bishop says of Ryan. “You can put a glass of water on his back and he wouldn’t spill a drop.”
The Eskie also is ideally suited to performance events, such as obedience and agility. When Viv Toepfer of Stockton, Calif., first competed in agility with her AKC Champion and UKC Grand Champion Dusty, Toepfer was nervous. “I started running too fast through the course. I looked down, and Dusty wasn’t there,” she recalls. “I looked back, and there he stood as if to say, ‘Get back here and do this with me or I’m not going to do it at all.'”
Fanciers describe the Eskie as “dog beautiful.” “They are clean like a cat, and if you bury your face in their fur, they smell like fresh linen,” says breeder Sharon Shroeder of Cambridge, Minn.
Their snow-white coat keeps them cool in summer and warm in winter. “Never shave an Eskie,” Bishop says. “The long hairs act like an umbrella, reflecting the sun to keep them cooler.”
Above all, the beauty of the American Eskimo Dog lies in its ability to connect one-on-one with people who need it most. Linda Sutton of Friant, Calif., sat on a bench on a cliff overlooking the beach with her rescued Eskie, 3-year-old Princess. A stranger sat down beside them. Princess seemed to sense a need in the woman. She dashed to her side, reached up, and licked her face. The woman melted. “I needed that,” she whispered. “Thank you. Can I have another?” Princess warmly obliged. The woman stood up and said, “Have a good life.” As she walked away, she turned to Sutton. “You have a good life, too.”