Horse Racing on the Radio ~ How Retro!

I just finished watching the live stream of The Whitney from Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York. I love that technology can connect you in real time with your passions no matter where you are.

Early this year I was driving home in the afternoon from a Pennsylvania dog show on Kentucky Derby Day. Most years I’m able to get back to Connecticut in time to tune in to the Derby, dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch the ultimate Thoroughbred race on TV for the first time in many years, because our showing time at the dog show was late in the afternoon. As post time approached I was heading up Interstate 287 in New Jersey towards the Tappan Zee Bridge when I thought, “Hey, I can listen to the race on the radio, how retro!”

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Fortunately, NBCSports radio came up easily on my car’s display screen. I heard the TV broadcasters analyzing the race until the official race announcer took over for the call. Since I couldn’t see the sleek dark coats of the Thoroughbreds or the brilliant colors of the jockey’s silks as they made there way to the starting gate, I began to listen, really listen. I could hear when the horses got to the gate, each one slamming shut, and when they were all loaded up, the crown roared just before the bell. “And they’re off in the Kentucky Derby,” proclaimed track announcer Larry Collmus.

My mind mesmerized for two minutes listening to the names of the horses trade places “in the early going” and “on the backstretch” as they approached “the crucial first turn” in the “run for the roses.”  Then the excitement began “at the far turn” it was Looking for Lee “digging down deep” but Always Dreaming “was holding on” and then down the final stretch “the dream comes true as Always Dreaming wins the 143rd Kentucky Derby.”

First Radio Broadcast

After the race I was curious as to when the first race was broadcast on radio and who called it. Churchill Downs didn’t hire its first track announcer until 1940, so on that first live broadcast back on May 16, 1925, most likely, the race was called by a radio broadcaster sitting in the grandstand. According to The New York Times: For the first time in history the Kentucky Derby will go “on the air,” three radio stations having announced their intention to broadcast the famous classic tomorrow afternoon, beginning shortly before post time, 4:45 o’clock, Central Standard Time. WGN, The Chicago Tribune station, will broadcast the race on a 370.2-meter wave length. WHAS, the Louisville Times and Courier Journal station, will broadcast on a wave length of 399.8 meters. WHT, Chicago, will pick up the signal from WHAS and rebroadcast them on a 238-meter wave length.”

But how the race unfolded on air during the 51st running of the Kentucky Derby in 1925, we’ll never know for sure. For one thing, the Preakness came first followed by the Derby in mid May.  According to the New York Times coverage of that race, it was listed as the second biggest piece of “Turf” news in the Week in Sports on May 18, 1925. The headline news was that the late Major August Belmont’s famous Nursery Stud of Thoroughbred racing broodmares and sires had recently been sold as a whole to Mr. Widener. That was big news back in 1925, more so than a single race.

From the Times: The Kentucky Derby, unique among American turf fixtures, was more brilliant, more colorful than ever before in the more than half century of its history. But at the end the brilliance was dimmed, the rain putting a damper on the enthusiasm which always characterized Derby Day. A field horse as an easy winner, with the favorite nowhere  – such was the result of the race. It was a triumph for the veteran trainer, William Duke, recently returned from a long sojourn abroad, and one that is begrudged to him by no horseman. That he should saddle the winners of the Preakness and Derby in less than a fortnight is most remarkable under the circumstances. Flying Ebony had never raced more than six furlongs, nor trained more than a mile. Duke was merely hopeful that Sande would be able to hold him together and stick it out. Flying Ebony was stopping at the end, as the last quarter in 0:28 shows. The 1925 Derby winner merely outlasted a lot of poorer horses. 

Radio listeners in 1925 already knew that the favorite, Coventry, who won the Preakness, earning $52,700, trained by William Duke, was not running in the Derby. I imagined they heard the same markers around the track, first turn, backstretch, and far turn in the call. But I wonder if all the horses got a mention on air or if the winning trainer got as much media attention back then. I suspect the owners were more in the limelight than the trainers or jockeys. But in 1925, it would be the last racing season for William Duke, the trainer for Cochran Stables, who not only won the Derby and Preakness, but the Travers Stakes at Saratoga with a horse named Dangerous. Just six months later on January 26, 1926, he died of pneumonia at his upstate New York estate. The inaugural Kentucky Derby radio broadcast was the first and last to have any announcer call a winner trained by William Duke.

What that first live radio broadcaster did was begin something eloquently echoed in a May 1, 2014 New Yorker article “The Voice of the Kentucky Derby” written by David Hill. The piece was about Larry Collmus, the current Churchill Downs track announcer, who said, “We’re not the story. The story is out there. The horses, the riders. We’re just the narrators.

@TimesSquareDog

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

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Linx on the Red Steps high above Times Square 

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

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

His 30 seconds of Fame

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

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

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

The Red Steps 

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

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

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

Tippy Toes~ A Yankee Doodle Dandy Dog

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

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

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

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Tippy on vacation in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine circa 1981

Best Friends Forever 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tippy as he approached 18 years old, circa 1990

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

On the Road with Linx & Adele

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

Part II “Barking Nights for Linx & Adele”

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

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

“Yes, Taxi,” the driver offered again.

“No, Taxi,” I replied.

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

Mr. Sock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Brace in Show

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

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

 

 

 

Jinx Arrives at the Rainbow Bridge

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

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Adele, Jinx (center) and her son, Linx

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

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

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

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Jinx at Flirt’s Enchanted Garden 

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

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Flirt visits Jinx in Newtown!

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

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

Wait ’til I Get Home 

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye 

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

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Jinx amidst clover in earlier years

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

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

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Jinx always knew how to make us laugh and smile!

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

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

Elvemel Reunion ~ Izzy & Jinx

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.

Regina Brown Last Seen Alive ~ March 26, 1987

Regina Brown was last seen alive 29 years ago today — March 26, 1987.

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Regina Brown, right, with her mother Ernestine Fontenot during happier times

Two weeks prior to her disappearance,  Regina Brown, an American Airlines flight attendant, was reading about the disappearance of Helle Crafts, another Newtown flight attendant whose pilot husband had recently been arrested for her murder. In Danbury Superior Court, a three-day probable cause hearing from March 10th to the 12th, was held to determine if the state had enough evidence to proceed with the prosecution of Richard Crafts for the murder of Helle.

As a reporter for The Newtown Bee I wrote on March 13, 1987:

“Helle Crafts told her attorney that if anything was to happen to her during her divorce proceedings from her husband Richard, not to assume that it was an accident, Attorney Dianne Anderson testified in the probable cause hearing, in which Mr Crafts is charged with the murder of his wife.” 

Many of those close to Regina said she followed the Crafts case closely, even keeping newspaper clippings about the case in her kitchen drawer. She began to tell friends, most notably Hope Lambert, what Helle Crafts told her divorce attorney, if anything should happen to her not to assume it was an accident. Regina’s words to Hope: “If you don’t here from me after I send the children to Texas, than Willis will have done to me what he promised to do.”

In September 1986, the court had issued a restraining order against Willis Brown, to stay away from Regina, the house and the children, based on a documented history of domestic violence against Regina. Willis Brown also was reluctant to admit that the children were his, and by March 1987, the three children had been submitted for a total of six paternity tests, all requested by Willis Brown.

Regina had on March 21, placed her two older children, Nicholas and Reina, on a plane to Texas to stay with her parents, Emile and Ernestine Fontenot in Liberty, Texas.

According to Lambert, Regina called her on March 22 to say her husband threatened to kill her and the three children, who at the time were 4, 3 and less than 2 years old. On March 25, Regina called Lambert again and said that she was sending her last child, Ashley, and the baby sitter, Sharon Ryan, to her parents in Texas. She told Lambert that she should call Texas the next day to see if she had arrived and if Lambert did not here from Regina by March 27, to wait a few days until March 30th and if she still did not hear from Regina to call police.

Regina never did appear in Texas and she never contacted Hope Lambert either. But Lambert never called police in the wake of Regina’s disappearance either. It was her neighbor Linda Van Horn who notified Newtown Police on April 2, that Regina Brown had not been seen since March 26, 1987.

March 26, 1987

What exactly happened that day? At approximately 4 p.m. the Brown’s babysitter Sharon Ryan drove Regina and Ashley in Regina’s gold Honda Civic from their Newtown home to New York. First they stopped in Danbury before heading to La Guardia Airport. They drove down Route 6 from Newtown into Danbury and stopped at the Path Mark supermarket to buy a half gallon of Sealtest milk, a half gallon of Tropicana orange juice, and a plastic container of chili, which Regina ate partially en route to the airport. She cashed a $20 check at the supermarket.

The next stop was McDonalds, where Regina purchased a Happy Meal for Ashley. The same McDonalds where the Crafts nanny, Dawn Marie Thomas, worked the night of ‘Storm Carl’ on November 18, 1986, the last night that Helle Crafts was seen alive. This was the last meal Regina would provided for her youngest daughter.
After McDonalds, they stopped and used $8 of the $20 to fill the car up with gas at the Mobile gas station at Exit 8 off I-84. Then Ryan drove the car to La Guardia, where Regina was based as a flight attendant with American Airlines. Ryan noted that when driving Regina’s Honda she used Regina’s key ring which had 6 to 7 keys on it. Ryan later told police that prior to leaving for the airport, she overheard Regina on a telephone call at home telling someone to let themselves in to feed the dog.

Regina had gotten a mixed breed puppy named Sport, part Brittany Spaniel, just a few months earlier. By the time of her disappearance the puppy was approximately 9 months old. The puppy was in need of some shots and vaccinations, but Regina couldn’t afford them, as she told her divorce attorney. She said she struggled to pay for expenses for her children, since Willis, her estranged husband, was late paying her the court-ordered child support she needed. Willis Brown was a pilot with American Airlines and also owned and operated The Moped Man, a moped rental business on Block Island, Rhode Island.  Regina opted to pay for the needs of the children before the puppy.

Barking Dog 

When they arrived at La Guardia that night, Ryan and Ashely went into the American Airlines terminal while Regina parked the car in the employee parking lot. Later she joined them in the terminal, after picking up her most recent pay check. Then she left them again to make a few phone calls from a pay phone at the airport.

At 7:08 p.m. Regina calls Liberty, Texas, charges the call to her home phone, and speaks with her mother. It is the last time she speaks with her mother. Shortly thereafter, Regina Brown put her youngest child, Ashley, then 19-months-old, on a plane to Texas. She kissed her goodbye. It was the last time anyone saw her alive.

Based on evidence collected by local police, it appears Regina Brown did return to her home that night.  She had told friends and family that she planned to fix up the home, get things in order, and then join her children and parents in Texas in the coming days.

On March 27, 1987, at approximately 2:30 a.m. – Regina’s next door neighbor called the Brown residence to ask why the family’s dog was barking constantly and keeping the neighbors awake. There is no answer to the phone call at the Brown residence and the neighbors call the police.

At 2:41 a.m. the neighbors call the Newtown Police Department. According to the log book, filled in by the dispatcher, dated March 27, 1987 2:41 am, the neighbor “complains that Mr. Brown is not home and dog is barking.” It was noted that no cop was sent by the dispatcher on duty.

I interviewed those neighbors in 2006, who had since moved to another home in Newtown. They said, they actually went over to the house that night after the cops wouldn’t send any one. The husband said he saw the dog in the breezeway of the Brown home, tied up and barking. The breezeway was a hallway between the main residence and the detached garage at 18 Whipporwill Hill Road.

As I continued to research a Connecticut Magazine cover story I was writing, published in June 2007, a retired Newtown Police detective told me, “We should have sent someone to the house on the barking dog complaint, it might have made a huge difference.”

As it turned out, the event provided police with a first clue, a staring off point for the investigation into the disappearance of Regina Brown.

Area Pony Clubs Make a Splash (Newtown Bee)

Wilton Pony Club Rocks!

Wilton Pony Club

Check out this wonderful article from the Newtown Bee about Beach Day:
http://newtownbee.com/lisa-unleashed-area-pony-clubs-make-a-splash/

beachday Wilton Pony Club Members at Jennings Beach

Lisa Unleashed: Area Pony Clubs Make a Splash

by Lisa Peterson, Newtown Bee

Scattered sunshine, a very low tide and a panoply of ponies populated Jennings Beach in Fairfield this past weekend. It’s rare to see more than one or two other horses out on the beach during a ride despite Jennings being one of the few beaches that allows horses (and dogs) access from October 1 to April 1 each year.

But upon arrival in the parking lot, we were greeted by several horse trailers, which was unusual. Once on the beach there were ponies and people everywhere! Large ponies, small ponies, and one very small pony with a flaxen mane and tail. Too cute for words! Where did this pony herd come from? A quick glance at one…

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Red Ribbons at the Redding Horse Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding the Outside Course

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

Redding Horse Show Riding Ring Ruins

Looking past the old riding ring towards the outside course

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

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

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

Visiting Karraker’s Field

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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