October 29, 2009 in Washington Voices

Silent service still echoes after death

By Correspondent
Photo courtesy of Cindy Hval photo

Skip Partridge lost his voice to strokes but found a new outlet: taking his golden retrievers to visit hospitals and schools. He died Aug. 29 at age 66. Photo courtesy of Cindy Hval
(Full-size photo)

On the Web: You can read more about Skip Partridge at www.spokesman.com/ stories/2006/apr/27/pair-of-dogs- offer-warm-loving-therapy/.

Skip Partridge didn’t say much. He couldn’t. A series of strokes had left him with aphasia, and finding the right words became an agonizing process, fraught with frustration. However, he didn’t let his disability silence him. Instead, with the help of his two Golden Retrievers, he found a new way to communicate.

His canine friends, Dagwood and Darby, were certified service animals, and every month Partridge and his dogs made their rounds. They visited children at Shriners Hospital, patients at Cancer Care Northwest and hospice patients and their families.

Sadly, Partridge and his dogs will no longer make those rounds. He died on Aug. 29 at the age of 66. Partridge had overcome setbacks that would have caused many to give up hope. While working as a drug and alcohol counselor in 1987, he’d suffered the first of four strokes. A second stroke a year later left him permanently disabled. In addition to aphasia, he suffered paralysis on his right side and, at 44, learned to walk again.

I met Partridge three years ago, when I wrote a feature about him for the newspaper. Because questions requiring more than a simple “yes” or “no” were almost impossible for him to answer, I ended up spending a lot of time with him. Together we made his usual visits. What he lacked in verbal acuity he made up for with his warm smile and eyes that twinkled with mischief and fun.

He used sign language to communicate with Dagwood and Darby, but sometimes I swear those dogs could read his mind. Partridge had taught the dogs to kneel and say their prayers, and to find his car keys or a ball he’d hidden.

At Cancer Care Northwest I watched in amazement as listless patients hooked up to IVs brightened when Partridge and his dogs entered the room. At Shriners Hospital, the children cheered Dagwood and Darby’s tricks and eagerly stroked their silky ears, while Partridge grinned nearby. Everywhere they went, they left smiles in their wake.

And now Partridge’s death leaves tears. His longtime friend Shirley Osborne wrote to the newspaper about his death. She’d cooked meals for Partridge and helped care for the dogs when he was ill. She was by his side until the end. “When people found out how many strokes he’d had, he’d just say, ‘No problem.’ Osborne wrote. She continued, “I shall never forget you, Skip. You will certainly be missed by all the lives you touched.”

Another friend wrote, “I have to laugh though, you know he’d say, ‘Dogs, dogs!’ to us regarding any article, recollections or tribute.”

Indeed, Partridge dismissed any praise for his volunteer work. He’d point at the immaculately groomed retrievers and say, “Awesome!”

But dog owners know animals are only as awesome as those who care for them. Trina Poppens, a hospice social worker, had known Partridge for eight years. “He was selfless and giving,” she said. “He believed in people and encouraged them.”

Dagwood and Darby now live with Poppens, and though they miss Partridge, she said they’ve adapted to life without him. But, she added, “Skip’s death left a gap in Spokane. People still talk about him and miss him very much.”

In spite of his own adversity, Partridge reached out to others. And though his voice was silenced many years ago, his life spoke volumes.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists.

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