I’ve always loved Saturn. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was its magical rings or the fact it was unique among all the planets in my first grade universe. I wanted to live on Saturn. I even drew a self portrait of me on the planet with my black castle house, which looked more like the Washington Monument, behind me. It seemed I only liked four other planets in my young universe. Jupiter with its big red dot, Earth the blue planet, something smaller and purple, maybe Uranus? And then little Pluto, which has since been downgraded from planet status. Today – Stardate: Sept. 15, 2017 – Cassini has burned up into Saturn’s atmosphere. I reflected on its mission with a sense of realization. As part of the mission, NASA took names submitted by Earthlings and sent then into space aboard Cassini to Saturn in 1997. Because NASA originally promised “… the disk will reside in Saturn’s orbit centuries after the primary mission is completed…” my husband Ray, who at the time was a Space Analyst, wanted to submit our names to live in Saturn’s realm. He sent our names and our three Norwegian Elkhound dogs at the time, Roxanne, Bruno, and Basia to NASA to be blasted off into space on a high-technology disk to Saturn. Now, more than 30 years after my Saturn self-portrait, I guess I got my wish after all when this disk carrying my name hurdled toward the planet with its magical rings and burned brightly to all who might live on Saturn.
“Look, that’s my dog,” Ray said as he pointed to the TV at My Place Restaurant last week. The bartender spun around to see a promo for the 141st Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show which will air on FS1 and Nat Geo WILD on Feb. 13th and 14th. Those seated around the bar saw a few seconds of a Norwegian Elkhound ensconced high above Times Square on the iconic red steps. His smiling face, his purple collar, a stylistic club logo next to his handsome head blipped across the screen. Then he was gone as a multitude of beautiful show dogs strode by at Madison Square Garden.
Linx on the Red Steps high above Times Square
A woman seated next to Ray turned and asked skeptically, “Was that really your dog?” Proudly, Ray produced the proof in a photo of him kneeling next to his 10-year-old buddy Linx the morning of the film shoot.
“Wait ’til you see his solo 30-second promo,” Ray said. This is just the first of several promos he will appear in, which will air on 22 channels across the Fox Sports network from now until the dog show. Did I mention that the Super Bowl airs on Fox Sports?
His 30 seconds of Fame
There were 20 purebred dogs assembled over two days to help promote the oldest, continuously held, dog show in America with a series of TV promos. Each breed was paired with an New York City landmark. A Bulldog on the Brooklyn Bridge, a Portuguese Water Dog in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park, an Afghan Hound at The Met, and Smooth Collies and a Leonberger on Broadway, among them.
It all began in Times Square one mild morning last December. We drove to Manhattan, parked, and walked Linx into, arguably, the busiest tourist place on earth. It was early when we arrived. Bark, bark, bark, bark all the way down Broadway from 47th Street. Linx was excited to be here! The throngs had not yet filled the urban space. A few looked on as Linx sat for his first picture of the morning with Ray, among empty chairs in the pedestrian walkway, with jumbo-trons, lights, and the New Year’s Eve ball looming in the background.
Then the film crew arrived and we got to work. Put anybody in the city with a film crew and people will think they are a celebrity. Linx took notice immediately and began to strut his stuff for his new found fans. First, a quick trip up and down the red steps. Then across 7th Avenue. A very talented cameraman on roller blades between two taxis in the middle of the wide avenue captured his stroll across the crosswalk. Next up, weaving through bizarre characters down the great white way. Linx sauntered by the statue of liberty, a snowman, a princess, and a fake Rockette hawking tours. Not to miss out on a chance to expand his territory, Linx marked several light posts, garbage cans, and even a fire hydrant in Times Square. Well done for a dog who’s natural instinct is tracking moose in thick Norwegian forests. He had paused for the curious, asking to take his picture and even did a bit with a hot dog cart. Needless to say that was Linx’s favorite take of the day. I never did trust ‘street meat’ but he had no problem scarfing down the dogs.
The Red Steps
At one point we popped Linx up on a marble island with the red steps and the TKTS booth in the background. By now, more curious tourists were watching him get ready for his close up. There were two men standing close by who had spotted the film crew, one with a skateboard. His cohort was trying to get the cameraman to film his friend in action. They were trying to get into Linx’s shot, “Yo, Bro, we are working here,” came the kind request from the cameraman to step out of the frame.
I put Linx in a sit stay. “Can you take his leash off?” came the request. Yes, I had trained my dog in obedience, but remove his leash in Times Square! Luckily, I had packed a long 15-foot leash in my bag, and gladly attached that and snaked it around the back of his body, so it looked like he was just sitting there sans leash, taking in the sights of Times Square, like a dog on a sight-seeing trip. As we wrapped up that take, a man approached us and was thrilled to see a Norwegian Elkhound, not because it was unusual to see a Nordic dog in this urban jungle, but because he had once owned one and had bred a litter. The smile across his face told a story of his nostalgia for his long ago dog. He was then followed by two girls taking his photo to post on social media, where you can now find @TimesSquareDog on Instagram. Now, we were off for one more ascent to the top of the red steps.
While sitting atop the red steps and looking out across the sea of humanity forming below, I could see Linx taking it all in. People sitting nearby, wanting to touch his soft fur, were reaching out to pet him. Sitting next to him, looking at him, with the brilliant display of HD billboards surrounding him, how proud I was of his good-natured temperament after an hour and half of the TV commercial shoot. With Linx’s history with Westminster freshly minted, I thought back nearly 30 years to my first time showing at Westminster. Where Linx’s great, great, great-grandmother Roxanne did us proud. It’s nice to keep it in the family.
More than 30 years ago, I first stepped foot into a dog show ring with my first Norwegian Elkhound Ledgerock’s Sydney Lief, aka Sydney. This historic event in my life with dogs happened at the most unlikely of venues, the Milford Jai Alai Fronton. It was there that I took a chance at dog shows and the gamble paid off. We won Best of Winners and a single championship point. We were on our way to a lifelong passion for the sport of purebred dogs. We were going to become dog fanciers, a group of people who were dedicated to preserving, promoting and more recently, protecting purebred dog breeds. At the heart of this mission, are dog shows, where breeding stock are evaluated to judge their potential genetic contributions to each and every breed of dog recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Sydney never became a champion, but during his show career in the 1980s, I discovered the joy of being an owner/breeder/handler. I came from the horse show world and as a junior rider, I did everything myself from training to braiding to grooming to trailering my own horse to the shows. I liked doing everything myself. Call me a control freak or an over-achiever, but having an intimate role in all aspects of a competition for me, created a deeper level of bonding with my horse. And when I migrated to dog shows, I wanted to follow the same model. And that meant I was going to have to breed my own dogs.
It all began with a bitch called Mumbles. A knowledgeable breeder had given her to us to start our breeding program. And away we went. During the next 20 years, the Elvemel breeding program (with lots of help and mentoring from Kamgaard Norwegian Elkhounds) produced a direct line of award-winning champion bitches from Roxanne to Brittany to Basia to Stasha to Jinx. In 2006, Jinx was bred to an English sire, CH. Kestos Kriega. The results were a litter of two, a boy and a girl. And the one male puppy we named Linx stayed with us.
Most things in life are a result of “timing is everything” or “being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time,” or “everything happens for a reasons.” In Linx’s case, the timing for his show dog career was awful. I had started a job at the American Kennel Club that kept me on a long commute to Manhattan, away from my dogs. I quickly became frustrated at trying to do a proper job with Linx without the proper time and resources.
Looking back, Linx didn’t have the best of starts in terms of show dog 101. I didn’t devote as much time to training as I should have, and over the years, it was hit or miss to having a good ring performance. By the time he was three, I’d only showed him a handful of times accumulating three championship points. I decided that Linx would be a great pet and buddy for my husband Ray.
Hanging out on the couch! Deciding who is going to get the remote.
Fast Forward to 2014. We got a new puppy named Adele. I was going to show her. Since I was going to show her, I thought, let’s bring 8-year-old Linx to some dog shows. In 2015, I retired from my AKC job and had loads of time for my dogs. An amazing thing happened along the way. Linx was coming into his own.
At this point, Linx was the sole survivor of my 20-year-old breeding program. His 2006 litter, is the last litter I’ve bred in 10 years, and the last direct connection from my foundation bitch going back seven generations. Linx is the end of the line.
But then he began to accomplish a number of firsts for Elvemel. Linx’s first AKC title, the Canine Good Citizen, was accomplished by Ray, the first time Ray had handled any dog to any title. Linx became the first dog in Elvemel history to earn the Bred-By Exhibitor medallion from AKC, meaning all his championship points were earned by his owner/breeder/handler. Linx was the first to earn his championship as a Veteran at 8-years-old, becoming CH. Elvemel Casino Royale CGC. After earning an Award of Merit at this year’s national specialty, Linx became the first Elvemel dog to earn an invitation to the Crufts Dog Show in England. And then this past weekend, Linx, now nearly 10-years-old, achieved the first Specialty Best in Show win for Elvemel with his owner/breeder/handler on the end of the leash. And while Linx may be the end of the breeding line, another number of Elvemel firsts are his include being first in our hearts, usually first on the couch to watch TV, and definitely first in line for biscuits. Good Boy!
One the eve of Jinx & Izzy’s 13th Birthday, here’s a video from last summer when the two litter sisters — CH. Elvemel For Your Eyes Only CGC and Elvemel Miss Money Penny — met again for the first time since puppyhood at Elvemel.
Izzy & Jinx
As I got ready to celebrate Jinx’s 12th birthday last year, I began to wonder about her litter sister Izzy. I had gotten updates over the years, including one of her sprawled out in joy at the doggie day care center, but it had been a few years now since her owner and I spoke. I checked my smartphone for her phone number, but it was not there. I checked Facebook for her, not there either.
Make the Call
Sitting on my desk were my breeder notebooks. I’d recently unearthed them to show a friend who was planning her first litter. In desperation, I flipped through the pages and came upon the 1989 litter. And there is was, her old phone number. But before I picked up the phone, I briefly wept, in case the news was not what I wanted to hear. Then I got the courage to dial.
“Hello?” came a familiar female voice on the other end. “Hi, Is this…?” I asked, even though I recognized her voice immediately. “Yes, it is!” I could tell she was smiling and recognized my voice immediately too! We burst into happy conversation about Izzy’s birthday, that she had just a few months ago gave up her mascot gig at the doggie day care center. “She’s doing well and has finally has started to slow down,” she said. We both laughed.
Once though, the condo association issued a cease-and-desist to all dog owners from grooming on a common grassy area. Apparently Izzy had left one too many chunks of white fluff. These days Izzy eat wells, goes for daily walks, and heads upstairs to put herself to bed in the bedroom. We made plans for a litter reunion in a few weeks at Izzy’s ancestral home at Elvemel.
I’d only been a reporter for barely four months when I called my editor, Curtiss Clark, to tell him I wasn’t going to be at The Bee that morning — March 29, 1986 — because my Norwegian Elkhound bitch Mumbles was going to whelp her (and my) first litter of puppies. The day fell on Good Friday, and secretly I was happy that I missed having to trundle down to the Smoke Shop for my weekly job of asking the Bee Lines questions.
But the canine birthing event did provide fodder for a personal column I wrote a week later. I wrote about the birth of one particular puppy, Roxanne (yes, she was named after the Police song, and yes we sang her name to her in that “Rooooxanne” way only Sting can do). When born her little 8 ounce body was not breathing. I quickly learned how to clean fluid from newborn nostrils and gently shake the puppy to dislodge any other fluids from where they shouldn’t be. Then I ever so gently blew life into her little lungs, and with a twitch, a gasp and squirm, the tiny black form came to life in the palm of my hand. It really was the miracle of birth, Norwegian Elkhound style.
Mumbles checks out her pups. Roxanne standing tall in the middle.
Roxanne was the only female in a litter of three and so I had no choice but to keep her as she would become the foundation bitch of the Elvemel Elkhounds line. So proud was I of this little puppy that I brought her everywhere. I even have a photo of her at about 4 or 5 months old in front of the Newtown Bee. The only thing more frightening about raising my first homebred show dog, was my big curly permed 1980s hair in that photo. As a puppy I would bring her to The Bee to socialize and play with Bart, Sherri’s Baggett’s Golden Retriever puppy. They were only a few weeks apart in age.
Roxanne visits The Bee in 1986
Eventually Roxanne became a champion and shortly thereafter went to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show to win Best of Opposite Sex to Best of Breed. I only showed her three more times after she finished, including the Westminster win.
Handling Roxanne at Westminster 1988
After I bred her the first time, I invented a tagline for her ads, “Her specialty was always in the whelping box.” I thought it was a cute play on words. She had 33 puppies in five litters, and produced seven champions along the way, three in one litter of five.
Dog of Vikings!
Buried deep in the Elvemel archives I unearthed an old dot-matrix print-out of her show record which documented 42 shows over two years. I did eventually take her out to a national specialty in 1996 and 2000 for the veterans sweepstakes. At the latter, a friend made her a headpiece of sequins and beads which resembled a Viking princess helmet with long glittery braids. Did you know that the Norwegian Eklhound is known as the Dog of the Vikings. His skeletal remains have been found near Viking graves around Scandinavia dating back 5,000 years. That was until, DNA proved the breed was much younger than that – oops! We like to think those bones belonged to related ancestors.
Beyond showing and whelping, Roxanne has provided me some lighter moments. There was the time she found her first skunk, literally moments before my grandmother would be visiting the house in Newtown for the first time. Thinking I could get to her later with a bath, I threw her downstairs in the basement only to have that skunk smell wafting up into the living room as grandma walked through the front door.
Once she got loose from my home in Southbury and made her way to a local dairy farm, only to come home covered in green “cow pie” stuff. This antic was followed by her chasing Burt around the yard after he found a dead, dehydrated, flattened squirrel. Squirrel jerky anyone?
Roxanne and Ray enjoy a moment in the kennel Ray built for Elvemel in 1995
I still have the fleece jacket I left on the chair one day after a dog show. When I came back into the room, she had eaten a hole in the pocket where the liver was. I never mended the pocket. Whenever I wear that jacket and put my left hand in the pocket, my fingers always find that hole, and Roxanne’s antics are revisited.
She was the consummate beggar, especially at the dinner table. Her ability to talk to us in a low moan, “rahr, rahr, rahr” is still repeated by my husband Ray and I when we eat dinner. We make fun of Jinx, six generations down from Roxanne, who tries her vocal skills in the same manner.
Roxanne a few days before she passed away in 2000
Roxanne lived well into her 14th year. Later in life we called her “Slab” because in her old age she began to resemble a slab of beef. She started a love affair for me of breeding dogs and following generations of happy pets placed in loving homes. Today, on this 30th anniversary of Roxanne’s birth, Jinx — the last bitch in the line of direct descendants — took a walk with me as we visited Roxanne’s final resting place in the back yard. The daffodils I planted 16 years ago on her grave had just started to bloom.