I came late to dogs, although I loved them passionately all my life and owned several. When I say “I came late to dogs”, I am referring to purchasing pedigree dogs from reputable breeders, being involved with the sport of AKC conformation, and being an active member in several kinds of dog clubs.
I was fifty, a time that I saw would be “for me”, my childhood having ended precipitously in my parent’s home and adult life and responsibilities commenced soon after. My parents took great care not to “spoil” their children, and to only “kiss them when they sleep”. It was a childhood with virtually no memories at all, and it just blended into an adult life of harder work. I did not complain. Yet, I dreamed of someday living as I wished, with some land well fenced so my dogs and perhaps even horses had a place to safely run.
It did not quite turn out that way, dreams never do. With time and hard work, my life came as close to that reality as possible and I am pleased to say I have come rather close. I established Blyss Kennels on the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains in Mountainside, NJ, near the Watchung Reservation. Then and there, my imagination created what I lacked. Looking back today, I see them all in a long line of beautiful borzoi, they form a crystal clear vision of beauty: Casanova, Mikhailya, Paris, Opal, and Ebony. Then there were Mikhailya’s three puppies, Tresor, Magnus and Zephyrus. And then at the end after my husband’s premature death, Casanova, Mikhailya, and Paris moved with me to a much smaller house nearby. Interestingly, I never noticed until after I moved into the house that the property next door consisted of a very large tract of land that was undeveloped and kept as a beautiful field, as if it were a part of my very own property. I felt as if my dogs and I had arrived home.
Almost fifteen years later, I look back upon my dogs and what I have learned. Coming late to the table, I partake the wisdom of others and I found I have learned so much. One good thing about belonging to so many breed clubs is you get to attend meeting and thus be among the breeders. From there, you only have to listen, and eventually they talk about their dogs and what is happening in their kennels. If you are patient and listen well, you find there is much you can learn. But I read a great deal too. Following are some of the writers who taught me a great deal.
One favorite author of mine who had the self discipline to be a prolific and detailed author about dog training and his favorite breed was Richard Wolters. He wrote passionately about the Labrador Retriever and left the world one of the most beautiful dog books ever published, The Labrador Retriever, the history….the people. (Los Angeles: Petersen Prints. 1981). I have a first edition. A reproduction of a painting of a black Labrador carrying a duck in its mouth adorns the cover, and it gets better with the turning of every page. It is a walk through history along a different byway, through the eyes of those who love the Lab. I am blessed to be among those people.
Another writer who was pivotal in helping me understand the sport of AKC conformation, who tied together so many seemingly disparate facts and parts of the dog listed in each breeds’ standard, so many that they seemed incomprehensible to me, and brought me to clarity was Richard Beauchamp, a great AKC judge. I am speaking of his book, Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type (2008). Solving the mysteries it did. And answering that ever elusive question to me of “What is ‘Breed Type’?” What does “typey” mean in a dog? Or, how does a Group judge judge a group, or a Best in Show Judge select the winning dog? The book answered those questions for me forever, or at least helped me sit ringside and understand what was happening on the other side of the ring. Anyone who reads Blyss Blog or Blyss Blog Encore knows that sitting ringside is something I enjoy immensely. Richard Beauchamp is a huge part of the reason for that. Because of him, I know what I am looking at.
A fiction writer with a different approach who was also a breeder under the affix “Sunnybank”, known for its literary famous collies, especially “Lad”, was Albert Payson Terhune or Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. He was a prolific writer as most people know but he also wrote a great deal of letters and non-fiction. I have the pleasure of being a member of an organization that is committed to the preservation of Sunnybank and celebrates the memory of Terhune and his collies through an annual “Gathering”. The organization publishes a quarterly newsletter and I had the pleasure of receiving mine this week. I was drawn to read it today. I discovered the issue was devoted to a most important topic: puppies. (The Lookout, Spring/Summer 2015, p.16.) Here is what he has written: “…Show me a breeder who can pick them out, infallibly, at an early age; and he can name his own salary to act as consultant at my Sunnybank collie kennels. I am safe in saying that. For such a man is not born yet. Or else, he died the day before I was born. It is all a gorgeous gamble, this breeding of pedigreed dogs. Therein lies its lure. When our prophecies come true, it is fun to boast. When they fail – which is oftener – silence is very golden indeed”.
So yes, I was very blessed to have known these three men, all now sadly deceased, however I had the wisdom to seek them out through their books. I know nothing can make up for my lost decades, the childhood spent alone and lonely, isolated for inane punishments for imaginary deeds in my parents’ unhappiness together. Much comes from the unhappiness of others, and their severities pushed me inward toward myself where my imagination created an imaginary world where a dog was my best friend. Decades later, I would begin to live out those fantasies, and as I could, do so more and more until I found my first borzoi, Casanova, whose story is told on
Tomorrow morning I am leaving for Huron, Ohio to attend the Borzoi Club of America’s National Specialty Show. I will be going out with Jelly’s breeder, and we will be showing her two new puppies, the male and the female, Jezebel and Hunter, who are Jelly’s half-brother and half-sister. They are both exquisite borzoi puppies with a great deal of promise. They will be shown in Futurity, Sweepstakes, and Regular classes. It will be hard work all week, ring time is 8:00 AM, and I am not a “morning person”. But I will be all next week because of the pups and the early ring time. There is nothing like being ringside when your own puppies are in the ring!