@TimesSquareDog

“Look, that’s my dog,” Ray said as he pointed to the TV at My Place Restaurant last week. The bartender spun around to see a promo for the 141st Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show which will air on FS1 and Nat Geo WILD on Feb. 13th and 14th. Those seated around the bar saw a few seconds of a Norwegian Elkhound ensconced high above Times Square on the iconic red steps. His smiling face, his purple collar, a stylistic club logo next to his handsome head blipped across the screen. Then he was gone as a multitude of beautiful show dogs strode by at Madison Square Garden.

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Linx on the Red Steps high above Times Square 

A woman seated next to Ray turned and asked skeptically, “Was that really your dog?” Proudly, Ray produced the proof in a photo of him kneeling next to his 10-year-old buddy Linx the morning of the film shoot.

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“Wait ’til you see his solo 30-second promo,” Ray said. This is just the first of several promos he will appear in, which will air on 22 channels across the Fox Sports network from now until the dog show. Did I mention that the Super Bowl airs on Fox Sports?

His 30 seconds of Fame

There were 20 purebred dogs assembled over two days to help promote the oldest, continuously held, dog show in America with a series of TV promos. Each breed was paired with an New York City landmark. A Bulldog on the Brooklyn Bridge, a Portuguese Water Dog in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park, an Afghan Hound at The Met, and Smooth Collies and a Leonberger on Broadway, among them.

It all began in Times Square one mild morning last December. We drove to Manhattan, parked, and walked Linx into, arguably, the busiest tourist place on earth. It was early when we arrived. Bark, bark, bark, bark all the way down Broadway from 47th Street. Linx was excited to be here! The throngs had not yet filled the urban space. A few looked on as Linx sat for his first picture of the morning with Ray, among empty chairs in the pedestrian walkway, with jumbo-trons, lights, and the New Year’s Eve ball looming in the background.

Then the film crew arrived and we got to work. Put anybody in the city with a film crew  and people will think they are a celebrity. Linx took notice immediately and began to strut his stuff for his new found fans. First, a quick trip up and down the red steps. Then across 7th Avenue. A very talented cameraman on roller blades between two taxis in the middle of the wide avenue captured his stroll across the crosswalk. Next up, weaving through bizarre characters down the great white way. Linx sauntered by the statue of liberty, a snowman, a princess, and a fake Rockette hawking tours. Not to miss out on a chance to expand his territory, Linx marked several light posts, garbage cans, and even a fire hydrant in Times Square. Well done for a dog who’s natural instinct is tracking moose in thick Norwegian forests. He had paused for the curious, asking to take his picture and even did a bit with a hot dog cart. Needless to say that was Linx’s favorite take of the day. I never did trust ‘street meat’ but he had no problem scarfing down the dogs.

The Red Steps 

At one point we popped Linx up on a marble island with the red steps and the TKTS booth in the background. By now, more curious tourists were watching him get ready for his close up. There were two men standing close by who had spotted the film crew, one with a skateboard. His cohort was trying to get the cameraman to film his friend in action. They were trying to get into Linx’s shot, “Yo, Bro, we are working here,” came the kind request from the cameraman to step out of the frame.

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I put Linx in a sit stay. “Can you take his leash off?” came the request. Yes, I had trained my dog in obedience, but remove his leash in Times Square! Luckily, I had packed a long 15-foot leash in my bag, and gladly attached that and snaked it around the back of his body, so it looked like he was just sitting there sans leash, taking in the sights of Times Square, like a dog on a sight-seeing trip. As we wrapped up that take, a man approached us and was thrilled to see a Norwegian Elkhound, not because it was unusual to see a Nordic dog in this urban jungle, but because he had once owned one and had bred a litter. The smile across his face told a story of his nostalgia for his long ago dog. He was then followed by two girls taking his photo to post on social media, where you can now find @TimesSquareDog on Instagram. Now, we were off for one more ascent to the top of the red steps.

While sitting atop the red steps and looking out across the sea of humanity forming below, I could see Linx taking it all in. People sitting nearby, wanting to touch his soft fur, were reaching out to pet him. Sitting next to him, looking at him, with the brilliant display of HD billboards surrounding him, how proud I was of his good-natured temperament after an hour and half of the TV commercial shoot. With Linx’s history with Westminster freshly minted, I thought back nearly 30 years to my first time showing at Westminster. Where Linx’s great, great, great-grandmother Roxanne did us proud. It’s nice to keep it in the family.

Tippy Toes~ A Yankee Doodle Dandy Dog

Tippy Toes, a black Schipperke-Beagle mix with two white front toes, was born in 1972 during the Fourth of July festivities at Sweetbrier Farm in Easton. A litter of two boys and two girls arrived thanks to the barn’s resident Schipperke. Back in the 1970s “Schips” owned by top trainers were all the rage on the East Coast horse show circuit — before the Corgis moved in.

Soon, Tippy’s mother ran out of milk. He ended up at our home at several weeks old. My mother hand fed the little black nugget until he grew into an adorable puppy. Fittingly, I first met “the little captain” — the Belgium translation of the breed’s name — at summer camp in the Adirondaks when my parents came to pick me up in August. He confidently strode out onto the dock overlooking the deep blue waters of Long Pond.

Soon after his brother Floppy Ear joined our family. He was the last pup at the barn that nobody wanted. I identified with his lot in life, since I too had always been picked last to join the kickball team. One day, while visiting the Newtown building lot of our new home the brothers took off in tandem. I ran after them down West Farm Ridge Road.  As fast as my long legs could carry me, I hung a left down Hundred Acres, but I was no match galloping dogs on a mission. I stopped, gasping for breath, and watched them disappear down the middle of the road deep into fox hunting country past some of my favorite stone walls jumps. I eventually gathered them up. But before we moved to Newtown, Floppy escaped the property in Trumbull and was killed by car on a nearby busy street. For some reason, Tippy didn’t go with him that day.

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Tippy on vacation in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine circa 1981

Best Friends Forever 

Tippy became my constant companion. For fun I set up an obstacle course of lawn chairs and broom sticks in the front yard, jumping him around like a grand prix horse. Today, they call it the sport of Agility. I even made a Puissance high jump. My Dad built standards with little nails as the jump cups so I could easily raise the striped bar, an old croquet post, to nearly three feet. My parents even drove me to obedience classes where we trained and eventually earned ribbons in class competitions. I remember one score of 198 out of 200. Not bad for a barn puppy born out of wedlock.

Once I began driving, Tippy became my co-pilot. Sitting in the front seat, head out the window, as we drove to yet another barn to ride yet another horse. At one barn, he used to pop out of the car and hop into my open tack trunk to sleep nestled among saddle pads. He learned a large vocabulary. I spoke to him like a friend communicating with full sentences. He always seemed to know exactly what I was saying to him. Going off to college in California was difficult. Tippy stayed behind.

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Fortunately for Tippy, I didn’t stay on the West coast for long. I enrolled in a local university and he came back to live with me. By this time Tippy was known in our family as the “whiz kid.” He had this knack for knowing who the male head of the household was, whether at my Mom’s house, my Dad’s house or my house. He’d sniff out the patriarch’s bed pillow and leave his wet, yellow signature. Even to this day, when I visit my Dad, he points out Tippy’s signature on an old brass plate on a wooden trunk.

During college I lived about a mile from my Mom’s house. Each morning I would feed Tippy, let him out in the front yard to spend the day, and drive off to college. Within the hour, he trotted back to Mom’s for yet another meal. Then midday, he would commute back to my house, even crossing the busy street that took his brother’s life, and be sitting in the front yard for my arrival. This went on for months, until one day a friend driving to my house spotted Tippy mid-commute, stopped and opened his car door. Tippy jumped in for the ride home. Once home, we found him rummaging through discarded brown bag lunches in the back seat. He loved food so much, he once surprised me by leaping across the room and taking a slice of pizza from my hand. All I was doing was sitting on the floor, pointing at the front door with the hand that held the pizza, so someone would go answer it. Tippy answered the call!

Tippy’s most harrowing escape out of the back seat of a car was detailed in a November Newtown Bee column when my hatchback flew open on Interstate 95 as we crossed the Merrimac River Bridge from New Hampshire into Maine. Here’s an excerpt:

Most Harrowing – We had just stopped at the rest stop for gas on I-95 in New Hampshire just before the bridge heading to Maine. We had three people and three dogs in my compact Datsun. My schipperke/beagle mix Tippy traveled in the hatchback area and I had just put him in his cubby and closed the hatchback after a dog walk. Off we went back on the highway and across the bridge. Halfway across the bridge, sitting in the back seat with my two other dogs, Rodney and Allision, I felt a breeze. The windows weren’t down. I turned to look behind me and saw that the hatchback was open! 

“Tippy’s gone!” I screamed. I feared he’d fell out of the car, off the bridge and plunged hundreds of feet into the icy Merrimac River. “Slow Down!” I said still screaming, not knowing what I would do stopping at mid-span. Then looking back across the bridge towards New Hampshire I saw a little black blur round the corner onto the bridge approach. In the middle of the highway, running as fast as his little legs could carry him, was Tippy in pursuit. “Stop! It’s Tippy!” I watched as my little dog got bigger and bigger. It was a miracle he wasn’t hit by traffic. In another blur, in the middle of the highway in the middle of the bridge a car door opened, a little dog jumped in, and a hatchback was slammed shut – twice.

That vision of him running down the middle of the bridge toward the car was the mirror image of his Hundred Acres Road dash years earlier.

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Tippy as he approached 18 years old, circa 1990

As Tippy aged, he switched gears from the horse show to the dog show circuit, where he found a whole new flock of friends who thought he was a purebred Schip with a tail. His antics even prompted me to buy a purebred and start showing and breeding Schipperkes. But all good canine friendships come to an end, and four months shy of his 18th birthday, his life ended peacefully. His final resting place? Beneath my favorite jumping stone wall at the end of Hundred Acres Road. It was officially named, “The Tippy Memorial Jump” as we popped open the bottle of champagne.

On the Road with Linx & Adele

Read Part I of “On the Road with Linx & Adele” as featured in The Newtown Bee

Part II “Barking Nights for Linx & Adele”

There are some things you just don’t think about until they happen. Day one on the road to Illinois was a long trek, 14 hours, including three stops for potty and water breaks,  from Newtown to Elkhart, Indiana. As we nestled into the Red Roof Inn for a good night’s sleep, it was anything but continuous. A group of camo-dressed hunters held a tailgate party right outside our room until the wee hours. Every time they laughed, my Norwegian Elkhounds, Adele & Linx, barked back. Have I mentioned that elkhounds are notorious barkers? Finally we were all fast asleep when someone was banging on our door at 5 a.m. Amidst more barking than before , I opened the door a crack, “Taxi,” said the driver.

“Taxi?” I said to a cacophony of canine vocalization.

“Yes, Taxi,” the driver offered again.

“No, Taxi,” I replied.

“No Taxi?” came his response as I closed the door.  Bark. Bark. Bark. Boy, this was going to be a long trip.

Mr. Sock

Linx hadn’t been on a long overnight road trip since 2007 when I took him to Canada as a puppy. This would be Adele’s first extended trip. Overall, they were really good dogs, but at night, the demons arrived to deprive us all of sleep. The next night was our first night at the resort, the day before the big national specialty dog show started with the Veteran Sweepstakes for the older dogs.

Crash! Bang! Rattle! Clang!  I woke up with a start in the dark. No barking, but I knew that Linx had exited the bed, the wrong side of the bed. He opted for the tight space on the right side next to the wall. He had somehow hit the metal dolly (what I use to pull cargo around the dog show) that I had propped up against the wall at the foot of the bed for storage out of the way. I guess it wasn’t out of the way enough. Linx settled back into sleep on the floor across the room.

Next morning, we all woke up, and I noticed Linx had some dried blood on his left rear paw. Upon closer inspection, he had actually pulled off his toenail. I went to investigate and found it on the floor next to the dolly. Then I got out my first aid kit and cleaned his paw. Next up, with the help of friends, we managed to get him bandaged in a donated clean sock and started him on antibiotics. He was no worse for the wear. But I needed to keep him from licking his paw, so the sock would stay on unless he was in the show ring. That night he proudly picked up a second place in his age group at the sweepstakes.

Crash! Shatter! Rumble!  That night, a bottle of Pellegrino I had in the mini-fridge froze solid and exploded! Woke us up and set off the dogs barking. Three nights, three disruptions. But we tried to sleep on.

A quick trip the next morning sent me to Target to purchase a 10-pack of clean socks. Linx  garnered the nickname “Mr. Sock” among his friends and looked quite fashionable in a rainbow of colors, until someone made fun of him wearing a lady’s pink ped on his paw. I kindly informed them it was for good luck. His next class the following day was a large competitive Veteran Dog class with an entry of 10 and that the first place ribbon in that class was pink and it had his name on it.

The next day as predicted, Linx, at 9 and half years old, the oldest dog in the class, walked proudly into the show ring, performed his best, and walked out with the first place pink ribbon under a Norwegian judge. It qualified him for the Best of Breed class the next day. That night all three of us enjoyed one long uninterrupted slumber.

Best Brace in Show

Refreshed, we were ready to tackle the final day of the national specialty. Early in the day, Adele captured a first in the Open Bitch class. Then came Best of Breed, where Linx gained an Award of Merit, one of only 15 given among nearly 200 elkhounds. But the real fun was just about to start. The last class of the show is called Brace. According to AKC rules, A brace is defined as two dogs of the same recognized breed or variety that are similar in appearance, performing in unison, and presented by a maximum of two handlers. Both dogs competing in brace competition must have at least one common owner. I’ve always opted to show my brace a single handler. I must be crazy!

Adele and Linx stepped into the ring. Our first test was around the ring.  Then we had to stop and stack. Linx on the outside, Adele on the inside. Then the individual exam, showing their bites. And the big test, down and back across the diagonal of the large ring with an outside turn. Stop for the judge for one last look and one more time around the ring. Then months of roadwork and training paid off as Adele & Linx became Best Brace in Show with the point of the judge’s finger. After another two days of a regional specialty and two days traveling home, Adele and Linx, finally got to sleep in their own beds. And there was no barking. Good dogs!

 

 

 

Jinx Arrives at the Rainbow Bridge

As a puppy, Jinx let out her first deep “Boo-woo” bark as a heavy rain hit the roof. So funny was this, watching her tilt her head at the ceiling to determine if that gush of water was friend or foe. She jumped up on sofa, looked out the window, and then came another, “Boo-woo, Boo-woo, Boo-woo.” The rain was an intruder and she needed to alert us!

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Adele, Jinx (center) and her son, Linx

This feisty Norwegian Elkhound girl, officially known as Ch. Elvemel For Your Eyes Only,  CGC, has traveled far and wide with me. We’ve been to dogs shows in Colorado, Kansas and Wisconsin. We’ve done media events in Manhattan that has landed us together in the pages of Sports Illustrated and New York Dog magazine. We’ve attended  AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Day events from New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina, the latter to earn her Canine Good Citizen title at 9-years-old. She became a champion show dog and appeared live from Times Square on a pet dental health month media tour while a vet brushed her teeth for major TV markets all before she was 2-years-old. And she made her last show appearance of the famed Morris & Essex Kennel Club in October.

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Jinx hangs out with Beckham and Leyna and their owner Gail Miller Bisher

She made friends of her own like Leyna, the Manhattan-based smooth miniature dachshund. Besides doing the Sports Illustrated photo shoot together, these two hounds traversed tri-state dog shows in search of championship points. Jinx even broke the mixed-breed barrier making lifelong friends with Flirt, an adorable blonde labradoodle from Westchester County. Jinx would attend parties and sleepovers with Flirt, playing in her owner’s “enchanted garden,” as we called it.

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Jinx at Flirt’s Enchanted Garden 

And Flirt came to visit Jinx in Newtown, as her owner Renee Richmond, came to help build a garden of Jinx’s own.

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Flirt visits Jinx in Newtown!

By 3-years-old, Jinx became a mother, giving birth to two lovely puppies, Linx & Minx. Minx went on to a wonderful home to become Elvemel All That Jazz. Linx, a.k.a. Ch. Elvemel Casino Royale, CGC, stayed with us. Just last week, he won an award of merit at the Norwegian Elkhound Association of America National Specialty dog show at 9 years old, doing his mommy proud.

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Jinx checks to make sure Ray has a good hold of Linx (left) and Minx, aged 7 weeks.

Wait ’til I Get Home 

But before leaving for the national specialty three weeks ago, I had a conversation with Jinx. I asked her, “Please, wait until I get home.” She knew what I meant. I kissed her before loading Adele and Linx into the van for our 10-day trip.

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She was in good hands with my husband Ray and still able to walk and manage herself. Then a week into my trip, Ray texted me to call him. Jinx had taken a turn and needed help walking and doing her potty business. I had Ray take her to the emergency hospital and put me on speaker phone with the vet. We all determined that she was not in a critical situation and she left the hospital with new medication.

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Jinx always liked the vet’s office better than Ray! 

Three days later on a Monday night, I was home, and reunited with Jinx. I immediately tended to her care, bathing, clipping and making her as comfortable as possible as she was incontinent now. The next morning I set out to Petco and bought her diapers (a first for me) to keep her dry. For the next 24 hours I stayed by her side and watched her mostly sleep and struggle to stand up. Tuesday night was rough. By Wednesday morning she refused breakfast. She could not stand up on all fours anymore. I held her up in order for her to eat breakfast to get her medication into her. Her decline had been swift. As she laid in the backyard, I came into the house and Ray and I watched her sleep.

“Jinx is not doing well,” I said. I took a deep breath and whispered, “It’s time.” Then I burst into tears, sobbing heavily into Ray’s shoulder. I called her vet and scheduled a home visit.

Saying Goodbye 

The rest of the day Jinx and I spent time together among the backyard gardens she loved to rummage through. Several times I would look over at her call her name and tell her, “We Love You, Jinx.”  Although she had lost the use of her tail, the tip of that once-tightly curled tail wagged ever so slightly.

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Jinx amidst clover in earlier years

All throughout the day as Jinx dozed on the grass, Mr. Cardinal, with his bright red plumage, flew around the property, with at least a dozen sightings. Jinx’s last journey across the yard was to my side as I sat in the lawn chair. I stroked her grey grizzled head and looked deeply into her dark brown eyes. She spoke to me silently and said, “It’s time.”

Jinx spent the few remaining hours of her life sleeping among her gardens. However, true to her stoic old bitch fashion, as soon as her vet, Dr. Fran Paulin, walked into the back yard, Jinx had to alert us to the intruder.  “Boo-woo, Boo-woo, Boo-woo” she barked. Her last bark eerily echoing that first puppy bark that made us laugh so long ago.

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Jinx always knew how to make us laugh and smile!

Jinx slipped away peacefully with respect and honor (thank you Dr. Paulin and Sarah). Ray lovingly prepared a grave for Jinx near Roxanne, her great-great-grandmother, and Burt, our first champion.  We brought her old pack mates, those Elvemel champions  who had passed before her —  Bruno, Basia and Obie — and placed their ashes with her.  We covered them all with earth and roses. We then drank champagne to celebrate their wonderful lives and all the unconditional love they had given us over the decades. We are truly blessed to share our lives with this wonderful breed.

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The next morning, as I stepped outside, a sadness came over me as I missed Jinx rummaging through the garden. Then, I looked into the backyard and spotted Mr. Cardinal sitting on a rock overlooking the Elvemel ancestral burial grounds. A smile of happy Jinx memories came over me as he flew away and disappeared into the clouds leading to the rainbow bridge.

Red Ribbons at the Redding Horse Show

“At virtually any daylight hour on almost any road in Redding, children in hard hats can be seen riding their ponies or horses to and from practice fields, pony club meetings or any of the many other horse gatherings in the town.” 

This was the scene in neighboring Redding according to Norwalk’s The Hour newspaper dated Aug. 10, 1976.  The reporter was painting a picture of the equestrian community as preparations were being made for the 17th Annual Redding Horse Show which was considered to be “one of the most sought-after local shows in Connecticut.”

Located on Cross Highway at the intersection of Route 58, the large pasture opposite Christ Episcopal Church dubbed Karraker’s Field, was used only once a year for the horse show. In fact, “…both the outside course and the ring are in such perfect condition that both horse and rider are able to perform at the peak of their abilities.”

The Hour continued, “The outside course is long and rambling, offering a true test of a hunter and with the added benefit of No Dust and good footing because of its infrequent use.” The show boasted a trophy and six ribbons in each class.

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Karraker’s Field ~ Site of the Redding Horse Show, a popular show in the 1960s & 1970s

This stop on the local horse show circuit was an annual fundraiser for the Boys Club of Redding, whose club house – built in the 1950s and destroyed by fire in 1996 – was down the road. The show even made The New York Times Horse Show Calendar each year. On August, 26, 1979, it read, “Today – Redding, Karraker’s Field, Redding, Conn. Regular, local, special and children’s working hunters; pleasure horses, equitation. 8:30 am.”

Riding the Outside Course

At the 1978 Redding Horse Show, I rode that outside course aboard Speculation my bay Thoroughbred fox hunting mount. This course, like most others at local shows at the time was held in a big field to simulate hunt country. But unlike the others which were up and down hills, around tighter corners and held daunting, solid stone walls in three heights, this one was flat, with well cushioned grass and lovely fences spread so far apart, each one was a long approach.

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Looking past the old riding ring towards the outside course

We were entered in one of the local hunter classes, maybe 20 or so entries. We neither practiced nor made an entrance circle. Simply, we picked up a gallop and off we went across Karraker’s Field in search of the first fence. In the middle of this pastural oasis was the judge’s stand, a wooden platform with a single folding chair from which to officiate.

There the judge watched as Spec and I galloped freely from obstacle to obstacle. No counting strides between coops and split rail fences. As we turned towards home, the red barn and riding ring cam back into sight. We had a blast! We won a red second-place ribbon.

Later that day we entered an equitation jumping class in the ring boasting perfect conditions. We loved the tight turns in that little ring. We had a blast! We won a red second-place ribbon. Finally, we entered an equitation flat class. Spec, a high-energy horse, was settled enough to for me to put in a red second-place ribbon performance.  My girlfriend from New York City had come to visit and proudly displayed my three red ribbons off the back pockets of her blue jeans. She was my surrogate trainer for the day.  Red ribbons waving in unison with her sashay.

Visiting Karraker’s Field

Two years ago I stopped at Karraker’s Field, a mere 36 years after my red-ribbon day for a look around. In the ensuing decades, the horse show had ended and the land donated by the Karraker family to the Redding Land Trust as open space. It was a peaceful place, yet the ghosts of horse shows still lingered. In the middle of the outside course, a collapsed judge’s platform lay hidden beneath a mound of prickers.

 

 

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The grass from the long and rambling outside course had made its way into the ring, only a post and hinge remained of the in gate.

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Only two corners of rotting fencing reminded me of the riding ring with the perfect conditions. The reminders of the Redding Horse Show seemed doomed to disappear into the dust.

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Then, last Fall the old red barn where entries were taken and numbers handed out for the horse show had a face lift thanks to a local boy scout. According to the Redding Land Trust site: “There is a corner in Redding Ridge, at the intersection of Cross Highway and Route 58, that has long been celebrated as Karraker’s Field, from the days when young riders assembled there for local horse shows to the open fields now preserved by the Karraker family’s gift to the Redding Land Trust. When Cooper LeBlanc, a member of Redding’s Boy Scout’s Troop 15, was searching for a needed community project to tackle in order to earn Scouting’s top badge of merit – Eagle Scout – he spotted a rotting red barn covered in weeds in the historic field.”

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Karraker’s Field Barn ~ recently fixed up by the Boy Scouts

When I drove down Route 58 on Monday, the barn with it’s bright red exterior called out to me, instantly igniting memories of my red ribbon horse show. I could even feel the wind on my cheeks as we galloped the outside course. Thank you Cooper LeBlanc and Troop 15 for preserving reminders of the Redding Horse Show.

The Fancy Ponies of Sweetbrier Farm

 

You never know who you are going to meet in the horse world! This week I interviewed a woman for an article I’d been assigned to cover for a horse magazine. As usual the first question is, “Where did you start riding?” And to my amazement she answered, “Sweetbrier Farm in Easton.” Here is where my jaw dropped, smile followed and my reply was, “So did I!” We checked our dates and thought we might have ridden there at the same time.

Then I started rattling off the names of school horses, Missy, Briggy, Worthington and Miller. Then she named some ponies, Bonnie, Sprite. And then I offered up the name of my favorite pony, the one who gave me my first blue ribbon — Marvel-Us.

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Marvel-Us and Me: Fall 1971 Sweetbriar Farm Schooling Horse Show, Reserve Champion

“Marvel-Us!” she quipped. She remembered that pony too. In fact, she had ridden her, once. As she recalled it, the pony would respond differently to each rider. Those who were nervous or tense, got the speedy treatment. Those who were calm and confident, got the dream ride.  She told the tale about how she watched as someone tried to ride Marvel-Us, getting the speedy treatment. Then she got to hop on during the lesson, and briefly got to experience the dream ride.

Missy and Marvel-Us

My memories of Marvel-Us, where just that, Marvelous! I first climbed aboard this little white pony mare as a 10-year-old. But I didn’t get to ride the dream pony at first. Fresh back from learning to ride at summer camp, I clearly remember my first lesson at Sweetbrier aboard this bay mare named Missy. I had mastered the walk-trot at camp, even showed in the lead line class at the camp show. But the wise instructor felt I was ready for that first canter. Missy obliged, a new riding thrill emerged and I was on my way.

Along that way, I learned to master the canter on an old horse named Miller, who was a retired racing trotter. There is nothing quite like trying to ask a horse to do something he was clearly trained not to do at any cost. But we persevered. Then we started tackling the cross rail jumps on those tried and true school masters, like Worthington and Briggy. As a child you are not quite aware of things like the horse’s age, but I do know that when I asked how old Briggy was, they told me, “Ancient.”

Fancy Ponies 

But then one day I got to ride Marvel-Us. I remember how effortless things seemed, like picking up the canter on her versus Miller, the king of trotting. Eventually, after another year I was able to join the advanced lesson on Saturday mornings. It was filled with fancy ponies like Dark ‘N Fancy, owned by the Humphrys, the farm’s owners. He was always ridden by a red-haired girl named Emily. This very cute large pony, was black with a speckled white blaze all the way down to his nose. His white stockings on his rear legs were matched up front by a near sock and what looked like a white splash on his remaining far leg just below the knee. His nickname was “Too Big” and I can still hear Emily call out to him as “Toooooooo Big.”

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Sweetbriar Farm Riders at the Fairfield County Hounds Thanksgiving Day Hunt at Greenfield Hill, circa 1973. From left: Lisa on Gingersnap, Emily on Dark & Fancy, Gerri on her horse, and Holly on Fleet Nancy

There was also Sprite, a dapple grey pony that loved to jump and occasionally stop! I do recall one of my worst spills coming off that pony, right on top of a very sturdy and hard vertical jump, landing on my back, like a gymnast performing a flip. But the first time I ever rode her, the barn let me tack her up myself. So proud was I as I entered the ring to mount up, before the instructor came over to explain I had put the saddle on backwards. Other ponies that joined us in that lesson were Bonnie, a cute bay pony mare, and BeBell, a rambunctious alibino pony, who was actually Marvel-Us’ daughter! Once I rode in a pairs class at a horse show on Marvel-Us with BeBell ridden by a girl named Diane.

And then Marvel-Us gave me the gift of our first few horse shows. Our first was a  schooling show at Sweetbrier, in the fall or winter, it was cold and the show was indoors. But bless you Marvel-Us as she took my novice seat around one of those egg roll jumping courses. It was my first blue ribbon. Later, next spring, took me to my first away show, a local recognized show, where we also garnered a blue ribbon in the pleasure pony class.

It was Marvel-Us who set me on the path of lifetime riding and a love of horse shows. Just like many, many other little girls who passed through the Sweetbrier gates in search of that dream ride. In fact, during my recent interview with the barn owner for that article, she admitted that seeing all those fancy ponies at Sweetbriar fueled her imagination to grow up and bred fancy ponies herself. Thanks Marvel-Us!

A New Year ~ Same Old Routine

Until you rediscover something, you don’t realize it’s lost. For the past decade I commuted into Manhattan five days a week. Two hours each way. Four hours a day I was locked on a train, away from home, away from my family and away from my dogs. Add to those 20 hours per week, another eight-hour stressful work day and maybe eight hours of sleep. During the weekdays, I was left with four hours per day to eat, keep up with personal hygiene and be with my husband Ray. Those were mandatory items. After that, came the dogs. Or course, there were the weekends, but frankly after a typical week, all I wanted to do was sleep, despite the nagging errands to be done.

Time spent with my dogs was fleeting. A pat on the head, a quick snuggle on the couch while being debriefed on their day from Ray. Despite all this, I added a puppy to our pack, which literally forced me to devote all my free time to socialization, training, grooming, and traveling to classes and events to make sure we had a well-adjusted companion. Now, I was really exhausted!

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At this time last year, I decided I’d had enough with my job, my crappy commute and being disconnected from my dogs, I’d so loving bred myself. All of a sudden, a few minutes at home each morning and evening turned into 24/7 with three Norwegian Elkhounds, ages 11, 8 and 8 months. Each day a pack of high energy, barking, furry friends invaded my coffee time wanting attention, attention and more attention! The household needed, “A return to normalcy” to quote Warren Harding’s 1920 presidential election campaign promise.

Setting Goals 

But what was normalcy for my dogs and myself? We both needed time to heal and heel! As I sat like a zombie on the couch, my dogs would gather, jockey for position, move in for the snuggle attack. Jinx would bat me with her paw to pet her. Stroking her soft coat felt calming. Linx would rest his handsome head on my thigh and look up at me with those big brown cow-like eyes. His gaze soothed me, as I took a deep breath. Adele would run around and play with toys, which made me smile.

This simple morning routine grew into playtime in the yard, walks around town, long grooming sessions and eventually back to training classes to meet new competitive goals. Adele barely managed to calm her puppy self enough to pass her Canine Good Citizen test. Jinx stepped into the dog show ring as a veteran.

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But it was Linx and I who worked the hardest with conditioning, training, grooming and showing to become my first champion in 30 years to have earned all his championship points from the Bred-By Exhibitor class (meaning I was the owner, handler and breeder of the dog). AKC sent us  a special medallion.

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A new routine at home had lifted a veil of canine hierarchy where Linx had played second fiddle to our older male, Obie, who had passed away two years earlier. I could see him enjoying each successive dog show with more self-confidence, more tail wagging and more enjoyment as he met each new judge and a slew of new fans. Linx had finally emerged into his own sparkling personality and overdue recognition.

A New Routine 

Beyond these competitive goals, we all gained something even more special. Our connection through daily routine has not only revitalized us, but grounded us in love. For them they now have an ever present outlet to share their unconditional love. Now, after Ray feeds an early morning breakfast before heading out to work, we have our morning coffee hour, completely with the bitches playing in the living room and Linx eating a bone. We have our ball retrieving in the yard followed by morning nap time (theirs, not mine).

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This peaceful downtime from barking out the front bay window let’s them get some sleep and let’s me get some writing done. After lunch, we may take a walk or attend to grooming. After dinner, they hang with both of us while reading or watching TV unless I have them signed up for an evening class.

But the biggest achievement this year, was a gift from my dogs. Their constant need for attention, physical activity and mental stimulation reconnected me to them. Sticking to our daily routine brings health and harmony to the household. While I’m eagerly mapping out our competitive goals for 2016, I’m also making sure our daily routine does not diminish having found that lost connection with my dogs. As we all make plans for the New Year, remember to connect — or reconnect — with your dogs on daily basis. They will thrive and love you for it. Happy New Year.

Prince – The White English Terrier That Lived at the Octagon House

Towards the latter half of the 19th century, the popularity of purebred dog paintings was at an all time high. Newly acquired pets by society were all the rage and many artists were commissioned to capture their likeness in oil on canvas. These purebred dogs, mostly imported from England, not only were comforting to the women of the house, but greeted the men returning from work with a wagging tail. Americans were following this “pet craze” as it was the fashion in Victorian England. Queen Victoria, an avid dog fancier, was especially fond of Pomeranians. Many in Great Britain and in the States emulated her by having pets of their own.

Prince - The White English Terrier - as seen in the George Earl Painting circa 1874

Prince – The White English Terrier – as seen in the George Earl painting circa 1874

Paintings of royal dogs, sporting dogs, hunting dogs and pet dogs across all breeds were in abundance in the grand estates and city townhouses of the Gilded Age. At the same time, field trials were gaining in popularity with many hunting dogs being imported from England to compete in the U.S. in both field trials and the newer sport of dog shows. These hunting and show dogs became celebrities in their own right.

George Earl British Painter

George Earl, an English painter known for his depictions of sporting dogs, came from sporting families in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. An early member of The Kennel Club in England, he had two exhibitions at the Royal Academy in 1857 and 1882. His most important work “The Field Trial Meeting” was a compilation of the most famous sporting dogs and their handlers of the ear in a fantasy field trial on a Northern Welsh landscape.

Earl’s other notable work, “Champion Dogs of England,” was painted in the 1870s. This series of 24 purebred dogs were portrait head studies painted in a circle or oval design. They included such famous dogs as Warrior, a Scottish Deerhound. He was one of the most prominent Deerhounds of the 19th Century. Sir Walter Scott is credited with promoting the breed to the masses. He wrote about them in his novels and kept them at Abbotsford, his estate in the Scottish Highlands. Others portraits in the series were Rake, the Irish Water Spaniel, Cato, the Newfoundland and Prince, the White English Terrier.

The White English Terrier

The White English Terrier, a ratter with cropped ears, hailed from Birmingham and Manchester eventually working its way down to London through promotion by Fredrick White. By the end of the 19th Century dogs with cropped ears were barred from dog shows in England and this little white breed fell out of favor among fanciers.  By 1906, there were no White English Terriers to be found at any dog shows and soon after the breed went extinct. But not before one handsome male, Prince, made his way to the new world.

In 1872, Joseph Stiner, a tea merchant from New York City and an avid dog fancier purchased one of the most beautiful and unusual houses in America, the Octagon House in Irvington-on-Hudson from Paul J. Amour, a New York financier. Nestled 25 miles to the North of Manhattan, this eight-sided house built in 1860 became his summer retreat. It was Stiner who added a unique dome and lovely verandah to the original house. According to a book written by the Octagon House’s current owner, preservation architect Joseph Pell Lombradi, “Stiner traveled extensively throughout the world, and was noted as a connoisseur and collector of art. A breeder of horses and dogs, he had the head of “Prince”, his prize winning White English Terrier, cast in iron in the center medallion of each bay of the cast iron railing of the new verandah.” 

Close Up of Prince's head on the Verdana railings

Close Up of Prince’s head on the Verdana railings

When I first visited the Octagon House many years ago and heard the story of Prince and the breed’s extinction, a deja vu feeling came over me. The verandah head study is in profile, facing right, wearing a small leather collar with Prince inscribed on it. When I went to work at the American Kennel Club the next day, I came upon an oval painting, of a little White English Terrier named Prince, in profile, facing right, hanging in the Chairman’s office. Bingo! I was looking at the very same “Prince,” one of George Earl’s series of dog portraits from “Champion Dogs of England.” Looking at that painting, you couldn’t help but think it was used as the model for the iron cast heads on the verandah of the Octagon House. It is possible that Joseph Stiner may have owned that George Earl oil painting of his beloved dog at one time?

The Veranda circling the Octagon house ~ Prince's head is seen at the center of each panel

The Veranda circling the Octagon house ~ Prince’s head is seen at the center of each panel

I can only speculate, but it is known that Prince was a show dog and exhibited at the Westminster Kennel Club. Based on my research, Prince most likely arrived from England after 1872 and before the First Annual New York Bench Show, held by the Westminster Kennel Club in 1877. At that time his portrait, most likely, had already been painted in England by George Earl. This top winning British show dog eventually joined 1,201 other purebred dogs at one of the first dog shows in America at the Hippodrome at Gilmore’s Garden. But like all dogs, his biggest achievement was to greet his owner Joseph Stiner with a wagging tail.

Jack the Manchester Terrier ~ A member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Family

On a recent trip to Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York, I went looking for a piece of my family history. In the process I discovered the depth of pet ownership of President Theodore Roosevelt at his family home.

Teddy Roosevelt's family ~ Jack belonged to Kermit, fourth from the left in the front row, standing next to his seated mother Edith

Teddy Roosevelt’s family ~ Jack belonged to Kermit, fourth from the left in the front row, standing next to his seated mother Edith

The 26th first family had a plethora of pets, including notable dogs like Rollo the Saint Bernard, Sailor Boy the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Pete, the bull terrier, his son Archie’s favorite pet, Skip the Rat Terrier, and most importantly, Blackjack or “Jack” the Manchester Terrier, the favorite dog of his son Kermit Roosevelt. All these called Sagamore Hill as well as the White House home.

The original Jack the Manchester Terrier sits in a chair at Sagamore Hill, circa 1904

The original ‘Jack’ the Manchester Terrier sits in a chair at Sagamore Hill, circa 1904

While at Sagamore Hill to retrace my grandfather’s brush with history, I imagined the six Roosevelt children running around the 3-acre garden with ponies and puppies.

As a chauffeur for a Rockefeller in-law in 1925, my grandfather happened to be driving alone along Cove Neck Road in a rain storm and came upon a well-dressed woman scurrying home. He offered her a ride and drove the former first lady to the front door of Sagamore Hill. As I walked the route of my grandfather’s good deed, I took in the landscape of the 155-acre working farm and discovered the family’s pet cemetery near the stately home.

Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York

Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York

The Roosevelt’s menagerie, some would say zoo, occupied the home from 1885 through the children’s grown up years, past 1919, the year of the President’s death at age 60 and until Edith Roosevelt’s death in 1948. The stable and lodge that housed the horses was built around 1884 before the farm when into production. Horses were used to pull plows around the estate and carriage horses, like General and Judge, took them through the villages of Long Island around the turn of the 20th Century. Roosevelt was known for his jumping and polo playing skills and Bleisten was his favorite horse.  Shetland ponies, like the famous pinto named Algonquin, taught the children to ride.

Beyond the family pets, the children treated many of the farm animals as their pets too. The cows, horses, and chickens joined the dogs, cats, guineas pigs, rabbits, a badger, kangaroo rats, snakes, bear cub, lizard and others. You can see the full list at presidentpetsmuseum.com

Jack The Manchester Terrier 

Several letters date 1902 from Roosevelt’s years in the White House, reveal the depth of the family’s affection for animals. Teddy writes to a Mrs. Field of Chicago that he had, “such pleasure to send you a photo of my boy Kermit with Jack, the Manchester Terrier, who is absolutely a member of the family.” Later in the year, President Roosevelt is complaining to another family friend that he could not possibly take another Collie puppy as a gift to the household because, “we already have three collies, one of them a puppy, and four other dogs in addition, and that I really have not house space or stable room for any more.”

They valued pets as family members and each got a formal funeral ceremony and burial. Kermit’s pet Jack was most beloved by the whole family. So much so that he was buried twice. First at the White house, where he was the nation’s first pet. He was laid to rest under one of the rose bushes in the famed garden. But then Mrs. Roosevelt, the same fine lady my grandfather “drove” insisted that he come home to be buried at Sagamore Hill. After Roosevelt was no longer President, she could not bear the thought of Jack being so far away under the gaze of politicians who cared nothing for the beloved black breed and her Jack in particular.

On an exhibit at Sagamore Hill Teddy is quoted in his autobiography as saying, “As for the dogs, of course there were many, and during their lives they were intimate and valued family friends, and their deaths were household tragedies.” Photos of Jack adorn the exhibit, but so does the actual stone monument that marks his grave in the pet cemetery. It reads, “Faithful Friends, 1902, Susan and Jessie, Little Boz. 1903 Jack.

The stone as it appeared more than a century ago

Jack’s gravestone as it appeared more than a century ago

Jack's grave as it appears today at Sagamore Hill

Jack’s grave as it appears today at Sagamore Hill

Today, Sagamore Hill is open to dogs to walk the remaining 83 acres of Teddy’s pet paradise. Of course, now visitors must abide by the National Parks Service regulations which are noted in Section 2.15 of the Code of Federal Regulations that states that pets must be “restrained on a leash which shall not exceed six feet in length, or otherwise physically confine a pet at all times.” So, while still pet friendly, it’s not quite the same as a century before when animals roamed free across the summer white house lawn.