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

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.

Horses Parading Around ~ Including American Pharoah  

Horses and parades go together like peanut butter and jelly! This partnership began millennia ago when horses were paraded around to celebrate battle victories. More recently, the Horse Guard Parade, those beautiful black horses of the British monarchy stabled at the Royal Mews in London, codified the daily practice of ceremonial parades in 1745. There is even a type of horse in America called the Parade Horse. This breed is used in a sport the celebrates the Southwestern tradition where stylishly dressed ranch owners would ride into town on their high-stepping horses in saddles dripping with silver.

Today, I rode in my first parade, a mounted costume parade through the streets of downtown Danbury. Hosted by Happy Trails Farm, nearly 20 horses — and one donkey — ridden by a costumed clown, giraffe, queen of hearts, cowboy, ghost, Game of Throne’s winter, and even a pair of horseflies, paid homage to Halloween and horses. Dressed as Downtown Abbey’s Lady Mary out for a hunt my trusty steed Oz and I proudly marched across busy city intersections and bustling suburban woodlands with ease. He was such a good boy! And it was his first parade too.

Oz waits to head off on his first parade!

Oz waits to head off on his first parade!

But, the best part of the day was watching the spectators stare in awe at the horses. People came out of their apartments to wave. Others stopped their SUVs to watch the horses stroll down the cityscape. Dogs hung their heads out of car windows to get a glimpse, or bark a greeting. Many residents came to the curb to take photos of horses in their ‘hood. One man shouted, “You made my day!”

American Pharoah’s Post Parade

His remark reminded me how rare it is today to see a horse on any given day. On Halloween this year most people who saw horses, saw them in a different kind of parade, the iconic ‘post parade’ of Thoroughbred racing.The ‘post’ is the starting point of the race. It’s name comes from the early days of racing when only a post at the rail marked the beginning of the race. It’s why today, horses have ‘post’ positions, not starting gate positions. Before each race, the horses are called to the ‘post’ by a bugler playing some form of First Call. Once played, jockeys mount up, leave the paddock area and ‘parade to the post’ in front of the grandstand. It’s this pre-race parading that gives fans and bettors a good look at their favorite horses.

American Pharoah in the Post Parade at Saratoga Race Course

American Pharoah in the Post Parade at Saratoga Race Course

After his post parade, millions of TV viewers watched Triple Crown Champion American Pharaoh make history with his Breeder’s Cup Classic win at Keenland Race Course in Kentucky. A new achievement in America’s oldest sport was born, the racing grand slam — winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes, and the Classic. As a huge AP fan, I cheered him on as he pulled away at 6 and half lengths. Announcer Larry Collum screamed,  “He’s a horse of a lifetime!” as he crossed the finish line in a track record of two minutes. Jockey Victor Espinoza turned and smiled for the finish line camera to mark the end of AP’s triumphant racing career.

For most viewers of this historic achievement, sadly, television or social media will be as close as they ever get to see, not only a horse of a lifetime, but a horse in their lifetime. American Pharoah reignited the sport of horse racing and I’m hoping that with it the preservation of the horse, all horses, has truly begun. No longer are horses the mainstay of transportation. No longer do they pull plows for farmers to create food. No longer do small stables offering riding lessons or backyard barns to keep a pony for the children dot the landscape. There just aren’t as many opportunities for people and horses to cross paths and connect in the modern world. In cities we may occasionally see carriage horses, mounted police officers, or those in parades! In the suburbs, apart from secluded private farms, horses are even harder to spot in daily life.

I don’t want the horse to disappear from the landscape. We need horses in our lives. If you have never been in the company of a horse, go find one today, bring them a carrot, and say hello. They will change your life. They are magnificent animals with a deep, historic bond with humans. Oz and I may have done our post parade while following a black horse ridden by a bumble bee, but we were happy to share the beauty of horses with others. AP’s trainer Bob Baffert said it best about his charge — and all horses — when he called him, “a gift from God.” Let’s cherish them all.

MTA Police Canine 2015 Graduates – New York’s Furriest

The most recent Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)  police graduates came heeling into Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall October 21st amid the Pomp And Circumstance Walking Commencement March and the MTA Pipe & Drum Band Ceremonial Unit presenting of the colors.

MTA Pipe & Drum Corps presents the colors at the MTA Police Canine Explosive Detection Graduation

MTA Pipe & Drum Band Ceremonial Unit presents the colors at the MTA Police Canine Explosive Detection Graduation

After bagpipe music filled the cavernous terminal, everyone fell silent when the Phantom of the Opera’s Marcus Lovett sang the National Anthem. A moment of national pride.

Only thing better than hearing bagpipes in Grand Central Terminal is Marcus Lovett singing the National Anthem

Only thing better than hearing bagpipes in Grand Central Terminal is Marcus Lovett singing the National Anthem

This ceremony was like none other.

Marcus Lovett during rehearsal. He sang the National Anthem after the presenting of colors and America The Beautiful during the recessional

Marcus Lovett, left, during rehearsal. He sang the National Anthem after the presenting of colors and America The Beautiful during the recessional

Among the 19 law enforcement canine graduates, there were 15 MTA police dogs and two from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. There were German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, several that were a mix of those two breeds, and two adorable yellow labs, hailing from the United States Park Police. The proud canine handlers and their partners walked forward, one-by-one, executed a sit, and received their new badges dangling from a collar hung around their necks.

Graduates received either the 12-week explosive detection training and / or the 16-week anti-terrorism training at the MTA’s 72-acre training facility in Stormville, NY. During the ceremony the canine unit’s executive officer Lt. John Kerwick, explained how these dogs are a valuable tool with, “four legs, a brain, keen instincts, good eyesight and a nose that is 3000 times stronger than humans. They can interrupt a threat to keep MTA customers and employees safe.” One dog can scan an unattended package in minutes versus calling in the bomb squad. The MTA Police Canine Unit, founded in 2002, is one of the largest explosives detection units in the country. They have approximately 50 dogs, which last year responded to 25,860 requests for service and inspected and cleared 2,584 unattended packages.

Each handler received a diploma, each canine received a badge, and each family of the dog's namesake received a plaque

Each handler received a diploma, each canine received a badge, and each family of the dog’s namesake received a plaque. Then all posed for a group photo to commemorate graduation

Connecticut MTA Police Canines 

And while these police canines are first responders to a dangerous threat, they also carry a tribute each time their handler calls their name. Each of them is named for a fallen hero or dedicated officer. As each graduate received his badge, the family members of the canine’s namesake were invited to come to the podium to share a moment of sacrifice and service that the dog’s name will carry on. Each family received a commemorative plaque with the dog’s photo, name and a description of the officer’s sacrifice and service. Three of the graduates live in Connecticut and these are their stories.

K-9 George and MTA Police Officer Allan Fong from Fairfield. George was named in honor of Police Officer George Wong of the NYPD, who died on May 24, 2011, from illnesses he contracted after inhaling toxic materials as he participated in the rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Fong said he wanted to name his dog after Wong, who helped him as a young NYPD officer.  He and George have been through months of training in tracking, article recovery, subject searching, wide field search, and handler protection. The 91-pound German Shepherd/Malinois mixed-breed is Fong’s first police dog.

K-9 George and MTA Police Officer Allan Fong after graduation

K-9 George and MTA Police Officer Allan Fong after graduation

“He has a very good temperament, is great at home, loves coming to work, loves being in the back of the truck,” Fong said. “He can’t get enough of coming to work!” And while his main purpose is to patrol MTA properties, he also assists other agencies in need of assistance, such as tracking down lost children. Each dog and handler develop a deep bond working so many hours together. “I’m with him like almost 24/7,” Fong said. “I spend more time with George than I do with my wife or kids.”

K-9 Johnny and MTA Police Officer Kevin Pimpinelli of Naugatuck. Johnny is named in honor of Sergeant John Mullen of the MTA Police Department, who suffered a fatal heart attack while on duty on January 26, 2007. Mullen was Pimpinelli’s supervisor for many years. In fact, Pimpinelli’s first dog, Mullen was also named for the late MTA sergeant. There were 12 Mullen family members in attendance at Johnny’s graduation.

K-9 Johnny as he appears on his own trading card. Each of the MTA Police Canines have cards that handlers can share with children. On the back of the card Johnny says, "If you see something, say something."

K-9 Johnny as he appears on his own trading card. Each of the MTA Police Canines have cards that handlers can share with children. On the back of the card Johnny says, “If you see something, say something.”

K-9 Johnny had a blast at the graduation. “He’s a social dog, loves people petting him, little kids walk right up to him and even loves getting a belly rub,” Pimpinelli said. The two-year-old purebred German Shepherd was born in the Netherlands. He is fully trained for explosives detection and certified in NY and CT. K-9 Johnny can detect about 15 different explosive odors. “Once he finds one, he’ll sit and stare right at that item. Then I have to interpret what he is doing.” Pimpinelli explained. It’s this communication between dog and handler that creates a great team.

Pimpinelli said that his first dog Mullen is retired and lives as his home. He joked that Johnny and Mullen both vie for his attention. “They both sleep in the bedroom, one is on one side of the bed and one is on the other side of the bed. Sometimes, they both try to be on just one side.”

K-9 Vinny and MTA Sgt. William Finucane of Guildford. Vinny is named in honor of Sgt. Vincent J. Oliva of the Port Authority Police Department, who died on November 27, 2013, after a battle with cancer. Sergeant Oliva led the Port Authority Police Department’s Canine Unit. Today, Sgt. Finucane, is the head trainer for the MTA police canine unit. It was him and three assistant trainers — police officers John Brazil, Nelson Hernandez, and Allen Kirsch — that trained the 2015 graduating class.

Sgt. William Finucane asked K-9 Vinny to sit to receive his new badge at the MTA Police Canine graduation at Grand Central Terminal

Sgt. William Finucane asked K-9 Vinny to sit to receive his new badge at the MTA Police Canine graduation at Grand Central Terminal

K-9 Vinny, is Finucane’s fifth dog, and came to him serendipitously. “He wasn’t a planned dog. Vinny was going to replace another dog that was having problems, but he made it. So now I have a dog with no handler,” Finucane recalled. His dog was 12 years old and ready to retire, so Vinny became his.

Thanks to Lt. John Kerwick for inviting me to this very special occasion!

Lt. John Kerwick, his recent graduate K-9 Seabee, a German Shepherd, and me.

Lt. John Kerwick, his recent graduate K-9 Seabee, a German Shepherd, and me.

Morris & Essex Kennel Club Dog Show – A Vintage Experience

Every five years all of us in the dog fancy don fashionable hats and period outfits to celebrate a commemorative version of an iconic dog show. Since its reincarnation in 2000 by a group of dedicated fanciers, the Morris and Essex Kennel Club dog show has become a modern classic with a serious nod to its traditional roots.

Donning my M&E outfit in the grooming area.

Donning my fashionable M&E hat and outfit in the grooming area.

M&E sprouted in 1927 when Mrs. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, niece to the oil baron, sprayed large white tents across her polo field to host thousands of show dogs. The scene at her “Giralda Farms” estate became the annual setting of her signature kennel club in Madison, New Jersey. She personally financed the show for decades. It became a valuable place to come study the best dogs while appearing on the social scene. Mrs. Dodge made it special by offering sterling silver trophies, lavish flower decorations, catered meals for VIPs and the famed boxed lunch for all exhibitors. Only the war years silenced the great show which ended its run in 1957.

If you want to know more about the original M&E, a new book, The Golden Age of Dog Shows: Morris & Essex Kennel Club, 1927-1957, with a forward by William Secord, famed canine fine art historian and gallery owner, promises not to disappoint dog show historians.

Morris & Essex Kennel Club 2015 

Last week M&E’s 2015 edition did not disappoint. A record-breaking 4,666 show dogs made it the largest, outdoor one-day dog show in American History, something Mrs. Dodge would have been proud of. For the previous two shows, in 2005 and 2010, my employment dictated I remain a spectator. But this year, unencumbered, I became an exhibitor for the first time. My kennel of three Norwegian Elkhounds would be among the thousands.

Showing Adele in the 12-18 month puppy sweepstakes class. She went on to win the 12-18 months regular class at M&E.

Showing Adele in the 12-18 month puppy sweepstakes class. She went on to win the 12-18 months regular class. Her litter sister Marnie (seen at the end of the line) took Winners Bitch for a 5-point major as part of the GSNEC specialty held at M&E.

Because this is a special show, I decided it would be a fitting tribute, rather a retirement of sorts, to bring my 12-year-old veteran bitch Jinx, officially known as Ch. Elvemel For Your Eyes Only, CGC, to her final show. Her show career ended a decade earlier due to my AKC employment restrictions. The day she earned her championship I was barred from showing her. I remember how I cried winning that major at Bucks County Kennel Club on a blustery May morning in 2005.

Jinx becomes a Ch. Elvemel For Your Eyes Only at Bucks County KC dog show in 2005.

Jinx becomes a Ch. Elvemel For Your Eyes Only at Bucks County KC dog show in 2005.

She is the culmination of 20 years of careful breeding, one of the best bitches I’d ever produced. She’s showy with no off switch, a handler’s dream. A direct line back to my foundation bitch, I never got to show her as a special. As an owner/breeder/handler, giving up showing and breeding my dogs to work at AKC to promote showing and breeding dogs was a bittersweet burden.

It’s Show Time! 

My dogs know when its time to go to a show. The cues are everywhere: baths, grooming, packing the van and cooking the liver. The morning of, they see us scurrying around the house gathering last minute items, leashes in hand. They are smart, they have memories of fun and excitement. Jinx was especially animated last Thursday. I could hear her brain, “Dog Show! Dog Show!” She knew, after all those years, where she was going. We left at 4 am since we heard the lines to get to the rings might be long. We arrived at 6 am and unloaded ringside in the dark, under one of those large white tents, now sprayed across Colonial Park in Somerset, NJ.

After walking the dogs around the well-appointed grounds, past trophy displays, floral arrangements, and fashionably dressed folks, I gingerly placed Jinx on the grooming table. Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Jinx announced. Some things never change. After primping the old bitch, show lead on her, we headed to the ring. As the steward called our number, we proudly walked in. Our heads held high, her’s looking for treats, mine trying to keep my fancy hat on my head in a blowing wind.

Jinx at age 12, shows like a charm at M&E in the Veteran Sweepstakes. Her son, Ch. Elvemel Casino Royale CGC, captured Veteran Sweeps Best of Opposite, making us very proud!

Jinx at age 12, shows like a charm at M&E in the Veteran Sweepstakes under Judge Sue Ratz. Her son, Ch. Elvemel Casino Royale CGC, captured Veteran Sweeps Best of Opposite, making us very proud!

It’s customary at shows, when veterans (dogs over 7 years old) are gaited around the ring, to give them a round of applause. Most veterans are returning ‘show veterans’ with long careers. For Jinx, she was here because she belonged here as the fruits of my labor as a breeder. She was here so others could study dogs, could study her. As the judge went over her aging body, she sparkled. Those beautiful dark brown eyes still captured hearts. As we gaited around the ring for that final time, applause as Jinx pulled the lead between us taught, I felt those tears well up again. This time, it was pride, not sadness. The owner of her sire was watching ringside. She commented how watching Jinx was like watching Jag move gracefully around the ring. As a stud dog, he had stamped his quality on her. As a breeder, I had recognized that and matched it well with Jinx’s dam. It was good to know that after decades of studying dogs, as a breeder, I finally got it right in a beautiful bitch who disappeared for a decade from dog shows.

Riding London’s Rotten Row 

There’s nothing quite like urban horseback riding. Today equestrians can ride where kings once ruled and the city’s elite came out in livery carriages ‘to see and be seen’ along an historic path called Rotten Row in London’s Hyde Park. A plaque in the park tells us its story: Rotten Row The King’s Old Road Completed 1690 – This ride originally formed part of King William III’s carriage drive from Whitehall to Kensington Palace. It’s construction was supervised by the Surveyor of their majesties road, Captain Michael Studholme, and it was the first lamp-lit road in the kingdom. Designated as a public bridleway in the 1730’s, Rotten Row is one of the most famous urban riding grounds in the world.

Rotten Row Rituals

Hyde Park Stables, on a quaint side street called Bathhurst Mews her the park, offers horse rentals. During one trip to London I mounted up. As we exited the lane, the sound of iron horseshoes landing on ancient cobblestones gave rhythm to our walk towards the park. Our group of eight waited briefly beneath the Archery Tavern pub sign before crossing heavy traffic on Bayswater Road to enter the park beneath Victoria Gate.

Waiting by London's  Archery Tavern on our way to Hyde Park

Waiting by London’s Archery Tavern on our way to Hyde Park

Sitting tall in the saddle, feeling the horse’s stride lengthen, we both relaxed with each stride as we walked along the West Carriage Drive. As we crossed a bridge over The Serpentine, the park’s biggest lake, we gathered up behind the Albert Memorial. Surrounded by greenery, tall trees and bushes brilliant in their fall colors, we stepped upon the famed Rotten Row.

“We are all going to wait, until I tell you to go, and take a canter, one at a time,” our instructor said. POW! A small bay pony burst forth down Rotten Row with a little boy astride. He was kicking his little legs, that barely reached below the saddle, and flapping his little arms like a bird trying to take off. Elbows pointed skyward came slamming against his sides in unison with his legs hitting the pony’s barrel side.

“Stooooop Him!… Stop Him!…” came the call from our leader. Little boy must have been deaf as the more he was yelled after, the faster his fluttering legs and arms moved. Now, the leader took off after him, making a daring grab of the reins to pull the pony to a stop. Many in our group were having a good chuckle. Then once all back in formation, one at a time — pony and boy sent to the end of the line — we did our own impressions of fluttering legs and arms to get our bridle-path weary horses to canter down Rotten Row.

Leaving the group to canter down Rotten Row on Sedrick, a handsome buckskin from Hyde Park Stables

Leaving the group to canter down Rotten Row on Sedrick, a handsome buckskin from Hyde Park Stables

Most were obliging, others needed more coaxing. The mile long canter down a 75-foot wide path of fluffy tan footing made for a nice ride. Compared to the hard packed cinders on Central Park’s bridle path, it was like floating on a cloud. The challenges in any park setting, waiting for something to dart out into your path that might spoke the old steed, were ever present. The scenarios were endless. Dogs, children, children chasing dogs, balls, children chasing balls, dogs chasing balls, children chasing dogs chasing balls, errant tourists, police on horseback in pursuit of suspects. You get the picture. After safely making it down Rotten Row to Queen Elizabeth’s Gate at Hyde Park Corner, we stopped to collect our breaths and release a sigh of relief. What a lovely calm ride.

‘Ware Traffic

Our group gathered near the Archilles Statue and made a left turn to head down Dorchester Ride, another fluffy lane to canter. Basically, we heading back home to the mews. One at a time, we were launched. Asking Sedrick for a canter this time was not even necessary. Like all good hack horses, he knew where to walk, trot, and canter. And canter he did. Full out this big buckskin boy began, having the time of his life. Nothing I did slowed his canter home. Quickly I realized it was time to enjoy the ride and not be in control (those who know me can chuckle here) but not before I saw the bus.

Heading towards Queen Elizabeth's Gate at Hyde Park Corner

Heading towards Queen Elizabeth’s Gate at Hyde Park Corner

I looked to my right and there at eye level was a red double decker bus speeding down Park Lane, a busy highway parallel to the park. Sedrick was in a race with the bus. It seemed like the bus was heading towards us. We got so close, I could the terror in the tourists’ eyes as they looked at us, seeing the terror in my eyes. As Sedrick passed the Joy of Life Fountain, with the bus getting closer, I thought for a moment it might turn into my personal End of Life Fountain. But the trail then veered left away from Park Lane and the bus.  Now, I started to breath, but still cantering while taking in the sights and sounds of London around me.

As Speaker’s Corner appeared I could see the Marble Arch in the distance. I could hear pigeons flapping and police activity. I could smell the diesel fumes from the traffic that swirled around the park. And then, as if on cue, bomb-proof Sedrick slowed to a walk, blew out his nostrils, lowered his head and headed home on the North Ride with the rest of our herd. I wore a smile from ear to ear. Cost of horse rental £85 – Cantering next to a double decker bus taking tourists to Harrods in Knightsbridge – priceless.

Next time you’re in London – book a ride at

Hollywood Pony Dreams ~ Admiral

Two blockbuster movies hit the silver screen in 1939, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. We all remember Dorothy’s iconic little dog in “Oz” a Carin Terrier named Toto. In “Gone” there were more than 1,100 horses used that in that production. Animals always add humanity our storytelling. Their actions can change a plot or slow down the pace of a well told tale. What many don’t know, is that in addition to both movies sharing director Victory Fleming, they also shared an animal actor, a little black pony named Admiral.

In Oz, his appearance was a brief role in Munchkinland. He was one of two small black ponies pulling a carriage, that Dorothy stepped into with her ruby slippers, in celebration of killing the Wicked Witch of the East. As Admiral and his handsome mate pulled the carriage around the circular beginnings to the yellow brick road, Munchkins broke into song with “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!”  So cute was Admiral with his gold-painted hooves and gleaming white harness,  an ostrich feather atop his headstall. He did a great job of sending Dorothy off on her journey to the Emerald city.

Admiral pulling a carriage in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz

Admiral pulling a carriage in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz

Later in 1939, Admiral made a larger supporting role in Gone with the Wind. He played a spirited pony, a gift from Rhett Butler to his young daughter Bonnie.  We see young Bonnie mounted on Admiral sporting a beautiful blue velvet riding habit, complete with red leather gloves to match the red ostrich feather atop her matching blue velvet hat. Which, by the way, matched Admiral’s noseband and browband on his tanned leather bridle.

Bonnie rides Admiral side saddle in Gone with the Wind

Bonnie Butler rides Admiral side saddle in Gone with the Wind 

Bonnie, as spirited as Admiral, was telling her parents that she was going to show them how she could jump, a bigger jump than before. Scarlett, alarmed, pleaded with Rhett to make her stop, not to jump.  He reminded Bonnie that she had just learned side saddle and perhaps wasn’t quite ready to attempt such a great feat. In defiance of her parents, off Bonnie canters fast towards the raised bar jump. And then we see Admiral’s crash, Bonnie’s fall and Scarlett’s scream.

Not a bad performance for a young Hollywood stunt pony. Admiral, who did his own stunts, was owned by Hollywood stunt man and animal trainer Dick Ryan. In a single year, his brief appearances in two of the most beloved movies of all time cemented his celebrity. And as has happened with other famous equines before and after him, his retirement years were bound to be filled with public appearances to his devoted fans.

Admiral Admiration 

It was a sunny California morning as my Mom and I went shopping at the Del Monte Shopping Center in Monterey. We were there to visit my grandparents. My grandfather, editor of the Monterey Peninsula Herald newspaper, had arranged a trail ride for us at the famed Pebble Beach Golf Club. Back in the early 1970s, they had horses on the property and you could take them along the trails that meandered between the links and the Pacific Ocean. After that ride I was high on all things horsey, and a few days later we found ourselves in the Del Monte Center parking lot.

I spotted a little white horse trailer and dragged my Mom over to see what was in it. A tall man wearing a cowboy hat was backing a little black pony out of the trailer. I watched as the pony turned around and walked very gingerly on what seemed to me to be very long hooves. Almost with pointy toes, like Munchkin shoes.

“Why does he walk like that?” this inquiring pony crazy girl wanted to know.

“Founder,” cowboy hat man said.

“This is a very famous pony. He was in The Wizard of Oz and Gone with The Wind,” cowboy hat man beamed. “Would you like to pet him?”

As I walked toward equine Hollywood royalty, wide-eyed, arm outstretched, my palm landing on his soft neck. As I stroked him I asked cowboy hat man how old he was. “He’s 52!” Did I hear that right? I knew ponies could live long, but wow! He did look very old, especially the way he walked, but still. We stayed for a while, Mom grabbed my hand and we were off.

Paul rides Admiral in a parking lot in the early 1970s

Paul Miles Schneider actually got to ride Admiral in a parking lot in the early 1970s – Dick Ryan walks beside him. 

Recently, I came across Paul Miles Schneider’s blog that aged Admiral at 6 months old in 1939. This made a bit more sense to me, sort of. That would have made him 32 years old that day I met him in a parking lot. He was the same age as my Mom that day – she was born in 1939. And my pony Gingersnap had also lived to be 32, so I guess 32 makes more sense than 52. Funny, how we have childhood memories that really stick into our minds. But, I find it hard to believe that a 6-month-old pony could be trained to jump, crash into jumps, canter, be side-saddle broken, and trained to drive a carriage at such a young age. Sounds more like what a seasoned stunt pony of say maybe 20 years old might be capable of. Only Admiral knows for sure. But I tend to believe the cowboy hat man, Dick Ryan, the pony’s long time owner.

Take My Dog to Your Work Day

Seventeen years ago Pet Sitters International (PSI) came up with the idea of taking your dog to work for a day as way to celebrate the canine-human bond and promote companion animals. They picked the Friday following Father’s Day. During the early years, when as a pet sitter myself, my company offered tips to other businesses that wanted to join in on PSI’s Take Your Dog To Work DayTM (TYDTWD) for the first time. This annual celebration is today, Friday, June 26th and everything you need for this year’s fete can be found at

Adele's first visit to my AKC office  at 9 weeks old.

Adele’s first visit to my AKC office at 9 weeks old.

During my professional life, it’s been a challenge to partake in TYDTWD from my varied workplaces from newsrooms, courtrooms and corporate offices to barns, stables and kennels. However, many times I’ve found my work space at home, which means every day is take your dog(s) to work day. This year, I’m going to propose a new tradition for us freelancers, telecommuters or subcontractors who share our home office every weekday with dogs. Welcome to “Take My Dog to Your Work Day!” Think about it for a minute. We can send our boisterous dogs with their daily, if not hourly, distractions that interrupt our workflow to your workplace so the rest of us can actually get some work done!

The Elvemel Gang at Work in the Home Office!

The Elvemel Gang at Work in the Home Office! Today, Adele leads the pack, while Jinx keeps a watch out the window. Linx, left, looks out the other window. They’ve got my back!

Distraction Faction  

Currently, Jinx and Adele, my two Norwegian Elkhound bitches, are leaning over the back of the living room couch, looking out the big bay window through a thin sheer white curtain. “Bark, Bark, bark, bark,” at what they think is a threat. Could be a squirrel, a school bus, or maybe even joggers or bicyclists on the highway. Heaven forbid! But that’s what they do. They alert to any movement that is out of the ordinary, much like if they saw a moose in the wilds of Norway and needed to let the hunter know where to get dinner.

But then it subsides and work can resume. Problem is, one never knows when there is something else to announce. A bird flying by, the delivery man arrives, a busy woodchuck scuttles across the front yard or maybe they smell the foxes playing in the backyard. And you just can’t tune them out, because you never know when they are actually in need of something. Like going outside to take care of business or maybe they are thirsty. Maybe they are up from a nap and want to go outside and play fetch the geo-ball. But now, I hear the howl of the old bitch bark, followed by the puppy yelp. Old bitch is just being annoying but puppy needs to tinkle. As time passes, puppy will learn the different pitches and pauses to have me completely trained to do her bidding. So far this morning she has told me about, two tinkle breaks, one woodchuck, one empty water bowl and the neighbor’s SUV leaving the shared driveway.

Jinx takes a break from a a hard day's work.

Jinx takes a break from a  hard day’s work.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Finally, the bitches are sleeping. The constant rhythm of their breathing, especially the  deep slow exhales from the oldest of the pack, keep me focused, grounded into the work of the day, the writing, the reading, the surfing, the updating, the whatever.

Still silent, I hear the male dog of the house, Linx, downstairs, apart from the girls because, well, it’s that time of the year for Adele. “Pheeft, pheeft, pheeft, pheeft,” strong nails scratching on his favorite cot as he nests to find that perfect place to plant his butt. But wait, he needs a drink, “Thup, thup, thup, thup,” he laps fresh water which spills onto the cool concrete floor where I now hear he’s decided to now rest his well-coiffed pantaloons. All this activity followed by a heavy sigh, “Whew,” as he drifts off into his morning nap dreaming of fjords and forests.

“Crunch, crunch, crunch,” back in the living room, Adele has found her favorite bone, or rather moose antler, with that distinctive sound it makes similar to nails on a blackboard as she gnaws her way to canine bliss. In the background I detect the softest of snores of an old girl in her twilight years.

So join me in establishing the Friday before Independence Day as Take My Dog to Your Work Day, to gain freedom from doggie distractions preventing work from being accomplished. Wait, I tried that once, working off-site in solitude. I remember the silence was stifling and I was unable to concentrate without all my nurturing noises near me. Never mind, I’ll take my dogs to work everyday, any day!

Trail Riding During Mad Dash at Fairfield Hills

Last time I rode on the grounds of Fairfield Hills it was the late 1990s for the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard Judged Pleasure Ride. This annual event has obstacles to tackle, things to pull, gates to open and executing some pretty scary stuff that you’ve probably never done on your horse before that day. Aside from the mylar balloons that thwarted our team’s chances at glory that year (we came in second) its challenges are nothing compared to what I encountered this past Saturday trail riding during the Mad Dash Adventure Race, but more about that later.

Oz and me head out on a trial ride from the Fairfield Hills Campus

Oz and me are ready  to head out on a trial ride from the Fairfield Hills Campus. Photo Credit: Ray Peterson 

A Sea of Timothy Grasses

This past month, I’ve been blessed to return to ride the hills. A benevolent friend takes her horses and me out to enjoy this hidden beauty nestled in the center of town. I don’t know who or what organization mows those lovely paths around the perimeter of the fields, but thanks! It creates long ribbons of green velvet that cushions unshod hooves at the canter while riders can focus on the majesty around them. The tall grasses, crying to be turned into succulent bales, surround us so we look like floating upper bodies in a sea of timothy.  Unlike higher elevations in town, the sky opens up at these hills with clouds dusting the treetops, when the wind is just right.

A red barn, a brown barn, a ghostly metal pavilion dot the landscape as we bob along. We land at crumbling roads, now more gravel than tarmac, fallen prey to rainwater, erosion and neglect. We dive into open vistas, birds dart from the grassy depths as we gallop by, the good horses taking them in stride, not spooking at nature’s presence. Riding up the hills are especially joyous, faster and bolder, easier for them, more fun for us!  Sweat builds on their shoulders and haunches, signs that the day is getting hotter, and trails traversed longer. Another field, now plowed dark, waiting for seeds, fills the air with earthen scents. As we trot along the far side, silent stream to our left, fallow fields to our right, we slowly come to a walk as we met the long black driveway taking us far from where the cavalry horses and military dogs live. Ahead lies one final burst of pleasure called Yahoo Hill.

But first, we must cross Wasserman Way with rattling trucks and speeding cars, save but one, who slowed to a stop for the safe passage of the horses into the woods. A left turn, exploding up the hill, muscles rippling, hooves reaching, hocks pushing against the soft soil, trampling tall grasses down to the earth, slapping reeds echo as if cut in harvest. Atop the hill, nostrils flaring and heavy breathing from horse and rider, wide smiles all around. A great way to start the day in Newtown, still morning, not yet feeling the heat and hectic-ness of the day. Horses bow heads in agreement.

Oz & Bea plot their ride

Oz & Bea plot their ride! Photo Credit: Ray Peterson 

From Woodlands Into A Mad Dash

On Saturday, our trail ride grew to three gallant steeds and towards the end took us on a magical woodland journey. Blazing through fragrant pricker bush roses and other sweet-smelling native shrubs, disrupting bumble bees and scattering small birds, we came upon Deep Brook. Descending a rocky bank, a pause for an equine drink, up the muddy slope into soft pine needles soaking up splash and muffling footfalls.  Among majestic pines we meander along the river, up a steep incline into the cool forest. We turned right, across the Housatonic Railroad line onto a hidden, ancient trail. We walked along a former railroad bed, still clutching its old steel rails and rotting wooden ties. We weaved between strong maples disrupting the order and symmetry of the forgotten spur.  We emerged from behind the old storehouse at Fairfield Hills.

Mad Dash Race

Getting ready to load onto the trailer after the trail ride. Photo Credit: Rhonda Cullens

We ended at the intersection of Wasserman’s Way and Traders Lane. Waiting for the traffic light to turn to green, the Mad Dash Adventure Race was in full swing. Who knew? As we worked our way back to our respective horse trailers, fire engines sprayed water, tents and flags fluttered, runners scurried through mud pits, over tall wooden walls, and across slippery grass. This got the horses’ attention! As we neared our trailer, a big wave of children came crashing down on us — part of the Mini Dash for kids — dozens of them came barreling at us full speed with glowing t-shirts of orange, lime green and pink. Just before impact, they thinned into single file, banking right and away from us. The horses, prick eared, looking, thinking, moving sideways, waiting, then exhaling, relaxing, and head lowering as we ambled back to the trailer. I remarked to my friend, “Talk about distractions! We should get extra credit on our next judged pleasure ride for this performance.” The horses were great! And so was our ride!

Celebrate “National Purebred Dog Day” May 1

This Friday marks the second annual National Purebred Dog Day (NPDD). Last month, Colorado was the first state to recognize May 1 as NPDD in a joint resolution of the House and Senate. The founder of the day, Puli breeder and blogger Susi Szeremy, hopes the idea will spread across all 50 states, some of which have a purebred dog as their State Dog, like the Boykin Spaniel, in South Carolina and the Plott, a hunting hound, in neighboring North Carolina.  Her purebred passion is contagious. I was intrigued to learn more about the day, so I contacted her and conducted a Q&A. Check out the video!

Scottish Terrier - Purebred Power

Scottish Terrier – Purebred Power & Puppy Love 

Q: Why Start National Purebred Dog Day? 

A: These have been difficult times for purebred dog ownership and ethical breeders; animal rights advocates and hard line adopt-don’t-shop proponents have painted owners whose dogs were acquired from an ethical breeder, and the breeders of those dogs, with a very broad brush. To hear them speak, the only “good” purebred dog is a rescue, and they continue, there’s no such thing as a “good breeder” because all breeders crank out unhealthy dogs in assembly line fashion only to create pet “overpopulation.”

These statements are simply not true, but in the national conversation about responsible pet ownership, the voice of the purebred dog owner hasn’t been heard. Stories about well-bred purebred dogs acting in service to their country, working as search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs, conservation dogs, and so much more have been largely ignored in favor of “feel good” adoption and rescue stories. Balance is needed in this dialogue.

The emphasis shouldn’t be about whether someone buys a rescue dog, adopts from a shelter, or gets their dog from a respected breed invested in their breed. It should be about potential dog owners doing their homework and getting the best fit of dog for themselves so that they have a long-term relationship with that dog. For some, a mixed breed from the pound is a great match while others prefer the predictability of a purpose-bred dog bred by a breeder who will stand by their puppies. Both choices should be respected.

Old English Sheepdog "Swagger" in the Colorado State House! First State to recognize National Purebred Dog Day.

Old English Sheepdog “Swagger” in the Colorado State House! First State to recognize National Purebred Dog Day.

In the course of research for an article I was writing, I realized with shock that while there is a National Dog Day, National Mutt Day, National Rescue Day, National Puppy Day –  even a National Poop Scoop Day – nothing existed to honor the contributions of purebred dogs. I simply filled the void by creating National Purebred Dog Day in order to celebrate the diversity, heritage and predictability of the purebred dog. From Uggie to Snoopy, from Rin Tin Tin to Lassie, from Brian Griffin to Santa’s Little Helper, and including Presidential dogs, Bo, Barney Bush, Fala and Laddie Boy, purebred dogs have held a place in American culture and history.  Add to this the fact that some of our dog breeds are in danger of extinction, it became obvious to me that creating their own day of recognition has been long overdue.

Q: What will happen on May 1? 
A: I’m encouraging dog owners to get out in the public square with their purebred dogs. There are a great many people who’ve never seen a Borzoi, Lundehund, Puli or Havanese, to name a few,  in person and we know from Meet the Breed venues that the public loves to see our dogs. There will be an eruption of photographs on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms this Friday that feature happy owners and their purebred dogs. Many photos will include an “I (heart) Purebred Dogs” sign to show their connection to National Purebred Dog Day (sort of like holding up a “Happy Birthday” sign).  There are a few fun photo challenges on NPDD’s Facebook page that day with prizes generously donated by companies and individuals that believe in the message.

Q: What can purebred dog lovers do on May 1 to show their support? 

A: First, be proud, but humble, to own a purebred dog. Our breeds are living legacies of the cultures that created them for a reason, “museum pieces with a pulse,”  you could say. Learn about their heritage so that it can be shared with others who may only THINK they’re looking at, say, an Alaskan Malamute, until they learn how uniquely adapted the breed is for its native environment. After that, make an “I (heart) Purebred Dogs” sign, get out with your dog in the public square, take a selfie or have someone else take the picture, then post it on Facebook and Twitter using the #purebreddogs and #nationalpurebreddogday hastags. There is strength in numbers and on May 1, I hope to show that there are many of us who love and take pride in our purebred dogs.

Q: Explain the I (Heart) Purebred Dogs sign. Where have you seen them? 

I Heart Purebred Dogs

A: The genesis of the “I (Heart) Purebred Dogs” sign was again rooted in the fact that to my knowledge, it hadn’t been done.  I needed visual shorthand to convey in a photograph that the holder of the sign was “with us” in the sentiment that it’s ok to own a purebred dog. Every year, I’ve been fortunate to have a celebrity pose with the sign for a photograph, and this year it was Mary Carillo, former professional tennis player, Olympic sportscaster, co-host of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and one fabulous lady. My fantasy is to have it not only become “cool” to pose with the sign, but that more folks will want to.

Who loves purebred dogs? We do!

Who loves purebred dogs? We do!

Q: What is it about purebred dogs that you love? 

A: My first dog was a sweet mixed breed, but I grew up with the family Cairn Terriers (and more than a few rescued dogs along the way). When my own circumstances made it a good time to finally own my very own dog, I got a Puli which has been my breed since 1978. My love of purebred dogs isn’t just for the predictability of some 300 different breeds in the world. I value the history of the cultures from which these dogs came. Most breeds are as much an inherent part of a culture as that culture’s music, art and dress. A Scottish Terrier is instantly recognized as being a natural component of, say, Scottish Highland Games, just as an Irish Wolfhound fits into a St. Patrick’s Day parade, one reason you won’t find a Vizsla as part of either cultural event.

Everybody loves purebred dogs!

Everybody loves purebred dogs! Look at that bloodhound. 

Q: Why did you decide to become a breeder? 
A: Though the Puli is now regarded as an “uncommon” breed, it was considered rare when I got my first one. The breeders were fanciers who encouraged me to show my puppy, and as so often happens, after one show, I was bitten by the bug. I had good mentors who helped me learn the importance of determining “why” one would consider breeding their dog. As my mother used to say, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”  After doing my homework, and with the help of more experienced breed friends, I bred my first litter out of which came a National Specialty Best Puppy in Sweeps winner, and his littermate, a multiple group and multiple AOM winning dog. I hesitate to call myself a “breeder” since it’s been a few years since my last litter, and the number of litters I’ve bred in my life hardly put me in the same league as the dedicated people who stand center ring at Eukanuba or Westminster for “Breeder of the Year” consideration. When the time is right, my dogs are all health tested and cleared, and there’s a compelling reason to do so, I’d like to breed a litter again some day. 

Let’s Celebrate Purebred Dogs!

#purebreddogs and #nationalpurebreddogday gets your voice heard on Twitter and Facebook

-“Like” NPDD on FB

Watch the NPDD video

– Game Day plan:

Download the I (Heart) Purebred Dogs sign:  To download the “I (heart) Purebred Dogs” sign, click on one of the links below. You DO NOT need to open a Dropbox account to access these files, simply exit out of the prompt window that wants you to open an account and proceed to the links.

For the PDF format:

For the PNG format: