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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This ceremony was like none other.
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.
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.
“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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 petsit.com.
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!
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.
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!
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 dogknobit.com 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!
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
Let’s Celebrate Purebred Dogs!
–#purebreddogs and #nationalpurebreddogday gets your voice heard on Twitter and Facebook
-“Like” NPDD on FB: https://www.facebook.com/NationalPurebredDogDay?ref=hl
– Watch the NPDD video: https://youtu.be/DwbWOrmkLmg
– Game Day plan: http://dogknobit.com/2015/04/22/game-day-and-the-game-plan/
By Lisa Peterson
Many of us who have pets always seem to be opening the refrigerator or cupboard to share our food with them. Most of us do this to provide healthy choices for our dogs but some of us who keep horses on our property have handy hand-outs to promote health and well-being for horses too! An old friend from a writer’s group picked up on several of these equine and canine foods and featured them today on the FitBottomedGirls blog.
Beyond Hay for Horses
For horses there are severals things in the pantry that can be helpful. When selecting human food to feed your horse make sure it’s close to their natural diet as horses have a sensitive and complex digestive system. This means no chocolate breakfast bars or teriyaki chicken. The best choice, of course, is carrots! Carrots are loaded with beta-carotene and Vitamin A. They offer a nice treat to the horse for greetings and farewells. They are best served in long thin slices to safeguard from choking. Many prefer carrots picked fresh from the garden (or produce section) with their green tops intact for an added anti-oxidant boost.
One treat that is good only very occasionally are sugar cubes. Too much sugar is not good for any being, but once in a while a sweet little treat that usually hangs around the house for fancy parties in grandma’s silver sugar bowl is a horse’s delight. They can make great training treats for your horse as the ultimate reward.
Have a finicky drinker? Maybe you are worried your horse is getting dehydrated, especially in winter, when water can be ice cold and he’s not drinking it. Try adding a little warm apple juice to the water bucket. This sweet taste may entice your horse to slurp it down. Not drinking and getting dehydrated could put them at risk for colic, which could turn deadly.
And finally, an apple a day also keeps the horse doctor away! Sharing this crisp fruit with your equine friend will keep you apprised of how his teeth are doing. If your horse is looking a little thin, it may be because he is having trouble chewing. Feeding him apple slices are good nutritionally but will also show you whether food is falling out of his mouth, an indication of pain from long teeth or brought edges. Watching him eat apples or smaller pieces will give you a clue to his oral health and whether you need to call the horse dentist.
Daily Dose for Dogs
Many horse owners have dogs too! And raw carrots are the cross-species training treat found in most pet owners homes. This low calorie, crunchy treat is great for dog’s needing reduced calories but still provides that crunch for oral health to reduce tartar accumulation on dog’s teeth. Baby carrots cut in quarters are the perfect size for treating.
Keeping your dog fit and healthy can also include some readily available people foods, surprisingly found in cans. Got a fat dog? Reducing fido’s waistline needs more than upping the daily walk. Here’s a trick to easily reduce calories without decreasing the volume of what’s in the bowl. If you feed your dog a cup of kibble per meal, try reducing the kibble by half a cup and replace the other half cup with canned string beans. This lower calorie alternative is tasty and will ease the transition of reducing the amount at meal time. Only feed the replacement beans for two weeks and then resume the regular ration of kibble. Still need to loose more weight? Feed regular rations for another two weeks and then replace rations with half green beans again.
Another super human food for dogs is canned pumpkin or pureed pumpkin. This high in fiber food that makes its annual appearance at Thanksgiving, can be used in a pinch if your dog needs a binding meal after bouts of diarrhea. Adding a few teaspoons to a few tablespoons depending on the size of the dog, can also help with canine constipation. Providing pumpkin keeps Rover regular.
A ubiquitous food in most refrigerator’s is mozzarella string cheese. The low fat version can be a much healthier alternative for training treats that anything you can buy at the pet superstore, many of which are loaded with calories, artificial preservatives and colors. Plus, this tasty treat can be placed in your mouth during training exercises which will draw your dog’s attention to your face, Once she is gazing into your eyes, she may actually listen to what you are asking her to do!
Since its commemorative reincarnation a decade ago, the Morris and Essex Kennel Club dog show has become a modern classic with a serious nod to its traditional roots. A new book just published, The Golden Age of Dog Shows: Morris & Essex Kennel Club, 1927-1957, not only celebrates those roots but raises funds to help keep the tradition alive. With a forward by William Secord, famed canine fine art historian and gallery owner, this photo-filled book promises not to disappoint.
Last month, as part of Women’s History Month, I included M&E’s founder, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, as my nominee for important women in history. You can read the tribute below, which first appeared in my weekly column Lisa Unleashed published in The Newtown Bee on March 13, 2015:
Since 1995 U.S. Presidents have passed resolutions declaring March as Women’s History Month. According to womenshistorymonth.gov the celebration is a “tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.” Nature and the planet are two pretty broad categories when singling out individuals who have made an impact. Dogs are also part of nature and the canine-human bond is felt all over the planet. As such, I’d like to contribute my nominations of one woman whose commitment to ‘dogs’ have “proved invaluable to society.”
Many have called Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge the “First Lady of Dogdom” of the 20th century. Daughter of William Rockefeller Jr., as well as John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’s niece, she along with her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, heir to the Remington Arms fortune, founded the Morris & Essex Kennel Club in the 1920s. When they married in 1907 at the Fifth Avenue mansion of her father in Manhattan, the newspapers called them “the richest couple in the world.”
Morris & Essex Dog Show
With this vast wealth each year from 1927 to 1957 Mrs. Dodge hosted the famed Morris & Essex dog show for thousands of dogs. Dozens of tents decorated the polo field of their vast estate “Giralda Farms” in Madison, New Jersey as top breeders and handlers came to exhibit their purebred dogs. For decades it was not only a valuable place to come study dogs but also a stop on the social scene. It was a special show, with Mrs. Dodge offering sterling trophies, lavish flower decorations, and the famed boxed lunch for all the exhibitors in attendance.
M&E had become the most prestigious dog show in the country, more important to some breeders and fanciers, than even Westminster, with around 4,000 dogs of all breeds in attendance. A win at M&E was a stamp of approval of a well-bred dog. For breeders, it was a paradise to come and see fine examples of dogs to study and watch as one was determining how a great dog or bitch might fit into a breeding program to improve their line. As a dog breeder herself, Mrs. Dodge understood the importance of a gathering place to see many well-bred dogs in action together to further the sport of purebred dogs. Show fanciers in the sport had large kennels and many litters of great dogs planned for the show ring also made their way into American homes as pets. But like all good breeders, the welfare of all dogs, whether we bred them or not, whether purebred or not, was equally important. Mrs. Dodge, herself a Best-in-Show judge at Westminster, also saw to it that those dogs less fortunate than her prized pups did not stay in that station of life for long.
St. Hubert’s Giralda – Founded in 1939 as a non-profit shelter, Mrs. Dodge wanted to not only advanced the study of breeding dogs but also to care for those injured and lost in her community. In addition, the shelter named after the patron of lost animals, at one time offered animal control services to six towns in Morris County, New Jersey. Today, the organization she founded in her backyard, is known as St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center and its expanded mission states its, “dedication to the humane treatment of animals. Its services to the community include pet adoption and animal rescue, animal assisted therapy, humane education, dog training, and pet loss support.
In 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, St. Hubert’s agreed to take in the first of many airlifts of displaced dogs from Louisiana. As part of a team from AKC, who had funded the airlift through disaster donations, I waited at St. Hubert’s before heading to the airport to unload dogs. At one point I found myself face-to-face with some of the remaining artifacts from Mrs. Dodge’s life with dogs in a meeting room. As I glanced at trophies, books and other ephemera, I was struck by her depth of care and compassion for all dogs from show dogs to just those that needed to survive.
Many people today, including some dog show people, have no idea who Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge was, or her dedication to the welfare of all dogs. It’s heartwarming that nearly 50 years after the last Morris & Essex Dog Show, her legacy of St. Hubert’s Giralda lives on by helping a plane load of dogs who had lost their way after a devastating hurricane. Or also in 2005, the first ‘revived’ Morris & Essex dog show, held once every 5 years, would be established to keep her vision alive on the dog show front as well. This is the legacy of a great woman in history who has advanced man’s best friend and their care which in my opinion “have proved invaluable to society.”
In a way, we have George Washington’s love of riding horses and breeding fox hounds to thank for his iconic role in the American Revolution. More importantly he upheld the standard that, even in wartime, a gentleman’s dog is not to be messed with. One of my favorite books, General Howe’s Dog: George Washington, the Battle of Germantown, and the Dog Who Crossed Enemy Lines, by Caroline Tiger (Chamberlain Bros., 2005) captures a little know act of kindness between opposing generals after a battle.
Homesick for Hounds
From Tiger’s well-written and researched account we learn that in 1775 Washington was homesick for his horses and hounds while a Virginia Delegate at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Away from his stable full of horses and his kennel full of hounds in Mount Vernon, Virginia, he brought one of his favorite hounds, Sweep Lips, to stay with him for comfort. One day as Washington walked Sweet Lips in the city, he came across the wife of Philadelphia’s Mayor Samuel Powell, an influential politician who also loved to fox hunt. After a dinner at the mayor’s home and through an introduction to the Gloucester Hunting Club in nearby New Jersey, Washington met other influential men who eventually secured his appointment as command of the struggling Continental Army. Tiger suggests we should thank Sweet Lips for being a chick magnet on the streets of Philadelphia and as a result securing our independence.
However, freedom didn’t come easy. Commander of the British troops, General William Howe, triumphed over Washington for years in many battles, always seeming to let the General retreat enough to fight another day. During the war, they politely wrote letters to each other complaining about food supply blockades, troop behavior, and burning buildings among other unfair tactics of war. In 1776, after the Delaware River crossing on Christmas morning, followed by victory at the Battle of Trenton against the Hessians, luck was beginning to change for the Continental soldiers. Washington, who likened war to hunting, foolishly galloped to the front lines during this battle and said afterwards, “It’s a fine fox chase, my boys.”
By September 1777, the British had captured Philadelphia, considered the nation’s capital, and encamped their troops northwest of the city in Germantown. Washington attacked in Germantown and nearly defeated Howe, before both sides retreated amidst confusion, fog and intermingling of troops. While Washington’s troops retreated back to their encampment at Pennypacker’s Mill, a fox terrier had joined them. Once discovered, one of Washington’s men read the inscription on the collar only to learn that the small dog belonged to General Howe. In all the confusion of the battle, the dog had followed them for 25 miles back to their camp.
General Howe’s Dog
Washington had to make a decision about this new interloper. According to the rules of military engagement at the time, dogs couldn’t be kept as prisoners of war and a man’s personal property should be returned. What to do? Being a gentleman, and ignoring an officer’s suggestion to make the dog a mascot, the General asked Alexander Hamilton, would who go on to become the first Secretary of the Treasury after serving as Washington’s aide-de-camp, to write a note to Howe.
The note as reproduced in the book reads: “Note to Sir William Howe. General Washington’s compliments to General Howe, does himself the pleasure to return him a Dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the collar, appears to belong to General Howe. October 6th, 1777.”
Tiger goes on to describe the dog’s return via a solider on horseback traveling 25 miles back to Germantown with a white flag in one hand and the little terrier in the other. She speculated that British troops most likely laughed at this solider deep in enemy territory carrying a little dog. One of Howe’s men wrote about the incident later: “The General seemed most pleased at the return of the dog. He took him upon his lap, seemingly uncaring that the mud from the dog’s feet soiled his tunic. Whilst he stroked the dog, he discovered a tightly folded message that had been secreted under the dog’s wide collar. The General read the message, which seemed to have a good effect upon him. Although I know not what is said, it is likely to have been penned by the commander of the rebellion.”
Unfortunately, as with much of history, Tiger tells us there is no record of what that second note tucked into the terrier’s collar might have said or what General Howe wrote back to Washington in return. She does tell us that, “We know that he appreciated the gesture, since later he referred to the incident as ‘an honorable act of a gentleman.’” To learn more about this book and its author visit www.carolinetiger.com.
Several years ago a New York Daily News reporter called my office and asked what I knew about the world’s richest dog, a poodle named Tobey Rimes. His inheritance was passed down from generations of poodles descended from the original Tobey of the 1930s, owned by Ella Wendel, the last surviving heir to a vast Manhattan real estate fortune built up over two centuries alongside the Astors.
Wendel never married and lived her entire life with her siblings in a Fifth Avenue mansion, at 39th street, build by her father in 1856 surrounded by a large yard. By the early 20th Century the house had been dubbed the “House of Mystery” since the front door and first floor windows had been shuttered for more than a quarter century. By 1930, all her siblings had died and it was just Ella and her dog living in the aging four-story brick and brownstone mansion.
An Urban Legend
Intrigued, I checked AKC pedigrees to see if there was any truth to these Tobey Rimes rumors, but without current Tobey’s owner’s name it was impossible to track. But the proliferation of misinformation still haunts online:
From MNN.com – “Ella Wendel’s dog: $92 million – Poodle Tobey Rimes inherited a staggering $92 million… he is “the poster dog for the benefits of trust funds and compounding interest” since he descended from a poodle who got his millions from a trust of $30 million set up by Ella Wendel.”
From vice.com – “Toby Rimes: Worth $80 million – Toby’s great-great-great-dogfather, the original Toby, was the pampered poodle of crazy rich lady Ella Wendel, who left him all her money when she died in 1931. The endowment, passed from dog to dog ever since…”
From PetPlan.com – Toby Rimes the dog – £30 million – Ella Wendel originally left her pet poodle Toby £15million in 1931. Since then there have been a succession of pampered pooches, with the current heir being Toby Rimes.
What’s The Real Story
According to press reports as early as 1915, Ella Wendel’s little dog occupied the yard of the mansion. “In that lot are on old tree and a dog house and the sisters wait until the dark so that they may take their exercise” and not be looked upon by prying eyes from the new skyscrapers. The vacant lot used to be their grass-covered yard and some newspapers called it the “million dollar dog run” since many a developer offered that sum to purchase it, with Miss Wendel always refusing by stating that her dog needed an exercise area.
By 1930, her attorneys advised her to move since it was costing her $1,000 a day in taxes and expenses to live there. She told them it was her home and Tobey “needed a place to run around in.” So not only, did she maintain the million dollar dog run for her beloved pet, but kept an aging mansion without electricity or modern comforts just so the dog could have an indoor space as well. In addition, she had a small replica of her four-poster bed made for him as well as a dining table covered in red velvet, just like hers.
The Wendels maintained a summer home at Irvington, New York. According to the 1938 book, “I Remember,” by Jennie Prince Black, her neighbor Ella Wendel lamented to a neighbor that she was upset because, “The little dog has a stone in his foot.” He suggested that she get her driveway paved and then the stones would not be a problem to the dog. A local business did the work and presented her with a $20,000 bill for the driveway work from the house to the gate.
On March 15, 1931 Ella Wendel died. The next day The New York Times reported that “Tobey, a fat white poodle, lay beside the coffin” in the House of Mystery. At one point Tobey followed the clergyman into the dining room where he went to put on his vestments, studied him for a while, decided he was friendly and went back to his post at the bottom of his master’s coffin.
“What will become of the dog. Tobey, who was not settled last night,” the reporter asked. Later The Times stated, “His little bed and little table were removed. He had been assigned to the kitchen, where three servants, left as caretakers in the bleak house, took care of him.”
The Passing of Tobey
Tobey lived another 18 months while the executors probated the will and readied the mansion for demolition. His death was widely reported on Oct. 5, 1933. Reports said he had become ‘snappish’ and ill. The statement from the executors read, “It was necessary last week to have a skilled veterinarian bring the dog’s life to a painless end. In natural course, he could not have lived much longer.*** The executors have followed Miss Ella’s wishes as to the disposal of the dog, and he now sleeps peacefully alongside his predecessors.” He was buried in a green plot, behind the summer home in Irvington, N.Y. along with his predecessors, all poodles and all named Tobey.
The Medina Daily Journal read: “With the closing of the Wendel Mansion on Fifth Avenue recently, that the “richest dog in the world” is dead. Toby, a French poodle, occupied a prominent place in the spotlight when his mistress, Ella Wendel, died in 1931, leaving an estate of $100,000,000. It was said Wendel lavished more affection on the dog than any other living human.Toby had his own bed, a velvet-covered dining table, and a plot of ground to play in, which his mistress declined an offer more than one million dollars, “because it was Toby’s exercise place.” Painlessly destroyed, the little dog sleeps in the grounds of the Wendel summer home in Irvington, NY. in accordance with the last will of his mistress.”
It seems fitting that Miss Ella was the last of her line and well as her poodle Tobey. I think the modern day Tobey Rimes is made up by mixing historical fact with rumor. Whatever the truth, there is never any mention in press reports of the day that the dog got any money, but perhaps that her mansion was made available for him to live in until he died before it would be given to Drew University, one of 14 major beneficiaries. Here’s one clue: Mrs. Black in her memoir claims it was the same dog (with the stone in his foot) that held up the sale of the Fifth Avenue property because, “Miss Wendel insisted that her pet must have a place in which to exist.”