Friday, December 20, 2013


Across 23 years in the sport of dog obedience I have made many new friends. Among those who read this, a small but select group -- my kind of people -- will nod their affirmation when I say that many of the most treasured of those friends are dogs. None more treasured than Gordy. Gordy was a big, sweet, goofy golden retriever. If I were to write here that Gordy had personality, I'd probably choke on it. The dog was a full-blown character. He owned Beverly Lewnau and the hearts of so many of the rest of us. Bev and I met more than two decades ago, students in a Novice class at Debby Boehm's Precision Canine. Both of us were trying to figure it out with our young goldens: Bev's Bunny and my Honeybear. Years passed. Bev and Gordy became my students in competition obedience. Lessons took place in Moon valley Park. Gordy would greet me by buzzing me -- not jumping on me, not grabbing my wrist, not presenting himself to be petted . . . buzzing me. Bev carried some of the accoutrements of obedience instruction in a cloth bag. Which, in the absence of a table, she'd place on the ground. Each lesson, without fail, Gordy's first order of business was to extract a glove from the bag and run around shaking it . . . all the while proudly showing it to me, just out of my reach. Those summer evenings were what competition obedience training should be. Fun. Sublime. Gordy learned easily . . . because he was having a blast. But if competition obedience had been jazz, he would have attained the stature of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald. Gordy loved to improvise. I remember the day he was sailing through an Open run until he retrieved the dumbbell, returned over the high jump, quickly took it behind Bev and played with it there. Gordy tended to start slowly in the ring. So we devised a little strategy to psych him up as they entered the ring, a few minutes of Bev-deprivation. I'd hold Gordy out of sight, some distance from the ring, behind a tent or a van. I'd deliver him to Bev the very instant the judge was calling their number. One day Bev and Debby Boehm were standing just outside the ring, awaiting our just-in-time arrival, when they noticed a large dog romping through the show. "That looks like Gordy," Debby said. Indeed. And there I came, some distance behind with an empty collar and leash in my hand. Make fun if you must but as I recall Gordy opened with one of his most upbeat heeling performances that morning. Gordy was just OK at obedience, but he sure had fun. He qualified. He got his titles. Bev and Gordy also did agility . . . and print ads . . . and TV commercials. But it was in the conformation ring where Gordy sparkled. In a breed where the rings are populated by dozens upon dozens of dogs and dominated by professional handlers, Bev showed Gordy to his championship and then some -- I mean big-time "then some." In recent years, at shows with 80,100 or more golden entries, Bev would study the catalog, and consistently there was no golden with more dog sports titles than Gordy. Several years ago, on a Sunday morning after our little training group had done our ring run-throughs, Bev startled me with a request. If something happened to her, would I take Gordy? Oh wow! That's a toughie. I loved Gordy; He'd be a wonderful addition to our little pack. But for that to happen Bev would have to die. That's heavy stuff. Barbara and I talked it over. "No," was not an option. Which is how we became godparents. A little over two years ago, Gordy was diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis. I won't detail it here; you can look it it up. But it's a no-win condition. Do nothing and the dog probably dies. Choose throat surgery and you end up with a bunch of nasty sequelae. Eventually Bev chose surgery. Gordy lingered at death's door for months. Frankly, those of us who were close to the situation quietly wrote Gordy off. But then things turned and Gordy became . . . well, he became pretty much Gordy again. One Saturday morning I was in Paradise Valley Park awaiting a student when across the park, at least 100 yards away, Bev got out of her van with her three goldens. There was sure nothing wrong with Gordy's eyes. He saw me -- at that distance! Bev took the leash off and he came running -- no, hopping -- all the was across that field, tail going furiously. That was one fine weekend. The word got around and everyone was saying, "Gordys back! Gordy's back!" Gordy's 13th birthday on October 18, 2012 -- a birthday few of us thought he'd ever see -- was way beyond special. Barbara wrapped a package with pretty paper and ribbon. I took it over there that evening. While the other dogs crowded around, Bev helped Gordy open his package. A glove! A well-worn, dirty glove. Gordy grabbed it out of the box and tore out the back door to settle down in the backyard. No way anyone else was getting near his glove. He kept it to himself the rest of the evening. Bev told me that when he woke up the next morning, magically, the glove was snuggled at his side. Bev had to say goodbye to her goofy, wonderful big guy a couple of weeks ago. Recently she said, "I really love my other dogs (Broker and Louie) but now the house seems so empty." Yeah. Willard

Sunday, December 8, 2013


It's been 115 days since my last post to this blog. Blame it on the computer. "Tecnical problems beyond my control." (Like broken sits.) The tiniest things can wreak the most havoc. You know that little vertical line that flashes where you're going to begin to type? (It must have a name, but I haven't the foggiest.) That little line refused to appear. We tried everything, to no avail. A couple of friends who know lots more about computers than I do tried. Zilch. The hills were alive with the sound of cusswords. * * * When the blog went on the fritz, at first I ho-hummed it. Probably nobody cared, anyhow. As you grind out something like this, you begin to wonder. Is there anyone out there? Or is it like the tree falling in the forest and nobody hears it? But as time passed I began to receive emails. For instance, late last week I heard from Shannon Rodgers Daspit in Des Moines, Iowa. She closed with ". . . please keep blogging, sharing, writing . . . it inspires and helps more than you'll ever know." Wow! That'll put wind beneath your wings. A day later "Aussie girl" posted a comment beneath the item I had shared on August 15,115 days ago. In part she said, "Discovered this blog recently and am waiting for more posts." Thank you Aussie girl, whoever and wherever you are. Late last January, on a day when you could float a catamaran in the ring (Yeah, here in the desert.) a prominent judge told me, "I have a puppy and I'm following your blog and using the same methods you're using with Presto!" Gee, I wonder how they're doing? So there is life out there in cyberspace. And the comments are much appreciated. OK, here we go again. * * * When last we connected here in this blogosphere, Presto! was 15 months old and I was thanking my lucky stars, and his, that he had turned on a dime and come when I called him off of a huge, intact male pit bull. At that point, his light bulb really hadn't come on. Oh, I was doing all the right things and Presto! was responding, sort of by rote. But I've found that there comes a point, actually an identifiable day, when suddenly the dog gets it. I could take you back a few weeks and tell you the precise day when that happened. Bingo! Suddenly Presto! had learned how to learn. And the tenor of our practice sessions changed dramatically. The most exciting feature of our training sessions now is the pure joy that 19-month-old Presto! exudes as he works with me. Example: scent articles. Presto! goes ripping out to the pile as fast as he can run. And as he goes, he gives a sharp growl. He attacks the pile, working at warp speed, comes back and presents the article by jumping on my chest. Many years ago my first border collie, Bebop, was also a lightning fast worker at the pile (accurate, too; in his career he got 340 correct articles in a row). Once we were showing in San Bernardino, California. There was a woman at ringside representing the Canadian Kennel Club. She told us she was observing American obedience as part of a study to possibly amend the Canadian regulations. The lady was standing with Barbara as Bebop and I did our thing in the Utility B ring. Later Barbara told me the woman shook her head and said, "I've never seen a dog work the pile that fast." Well, Presto! makes Bebop look like a tortoise. I love that enthuisiasm, it portends wonderful things for the future. But there's fast and then there's ridiculous. Lately I've been putting a flexi on Presto! as we practice scent articles. I think too much haste might make for waste. Better to slow him down a bit. But the unbridled joy with which he tackles everything we do is wonderful. Willard