Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Charles “Mr. Billy” Rhoades smiles at Skip, a dog owned by high nextdoor neighbor Cathedral High School senior Kaylee Sanders. Skip spends most of his time hanging out with Rhoades. “Every time I come home from work or school, I wave to Mr. Billy and Skip is never far from him,” Sanders said. “That’s Skip’s best friend.”
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Charles “Mr. Billy” Rhoades smiles at Skip, a dog owned by high nextdoor neighbor Cathedral High School senior Kaylee Sanders. Skip spends most of his time hanging out with Rhoades. “Every time I come home from work or school, I wave to Mr. Billy and Skip is never far from him,” Sanders said. “That’s Skip’s best friend.”

The Dart: Dog loyal friend for ‘Mr. Billy’

Published 12:10am Monday, April 28, 2014

Editor’s note: The Dart is a weekly feature in which a reporter and a photographer throw a dart at a map and find a story where it lands.

NATCHEZ — If Kaylee Sanders’ dog, Skip, isn’t at her house, she knows exactly where to look for the seven-year old Shih Tzu mutt.

Skip passes the majority of his dog hours at Charles Rhoades’s house, Kaylee’s neighbor and unofficial dog sitter.

“They take care of each other and that’s Skip’s best friend,” Kaylee said. “If Skip could talk, they would just talk to each other all day.”

When The Dart landed on Pecan Way Wednesday, Skip was sprawled out on the driveway as Rhoades sat only a few feet away in his electric mobility chair.

The scene, Rhoades said, was a common one for the former International Paper employee who retired in 1985.

“I just like to sit out here and count the cars as they pass by,” Rhoades said, as he watched cars travels on Highland Boulevard. “Skip is always here right by my side.”

The bond of friendship formed spontaneously one day shortly after Kaylee and her family moved to their Pecan Way house from the Kingston area.

Skip, who is Kaylee’s first dog of her own, wandered across the yard one day only to find Rhoades, or “Mr. Billy” as she calls him, in need of a companion.

The rest, Kaylee said, is history.

“He just crosses back and forth between our house and Mr. Billy’s house whenever he wants, but most of the time he’s over there,” she said. “I never have to worry about Skip, because I know he’s in good hands with Mr. Billy.”

Since Rhoades’ wife died in 2002, the 83-year-old said he’s pretty much had the same routine each and every morning, varied only slightly in recent years by Skip’s presence.

Following his traditional morning routine inside the house, Rhoades steers his mobility chair out through his open garage to grab the newspaper.

It’s usually on his way back up from his driveway that Skip comes around the corner of his house looking for his companion, Rhoades said.

“As soon as he hears me poking around out here, he’ll come out and take his spot right there,” Rhoades said, pointing to an indented patch of grass where Skip often sits. “And that’s where he’ll stay all day.”

The main motivation that causes Skip to get up, other than the occasional treat, is for a wandering cat or passerby.

“He’s not much of a guard dog, but he’ll bark at someone if they walk by close the house,” Rhoades said, laughing. “That’s Skip for you.”

For Kaylee, a Cathedral High School senior who juggles a variety of extracurricular activities, the bond between the two allows her to feel at ease with leaving Skip alone if she ever has something come up at school.

“Mr. Billy is the best,” she said. “I never have to worry about Skip getting in trouble.”

The biggest decision weighing on Kaylee’s shoulders now is whether she will take Skip with her to Hattiesburg in the fall when she travels to attend the University of Southern Mississippi.

Kaylee plans on living in the student dorms the first year where animals are not allowed, so leaving Skip at home might be her only option, she said.

“It would probably only be for the first year, because I’m going to try and move out of the dorms after the first year,” Kaylee said. “I know he’d be in good hands here with Mr. Billy if I left him at home, though.

“They’re best friends.”