A Tribute to Dazzle



I woke up today to find Dazzle had passed away in her sleep. She was a good dog from start to finish. At the end, she spared me the slow deterioration that many pet owners have to bear, only to have to make the decision to euthanize in order to spare their pet’s suffering. At the beginning, she was an easy puppy, easy to house train, a joy to socialize and quick to learn new skills. I couldn’t have asked for a better dog.  Indeed, Champion Hemlock’s Diamond Dazzler CDX RN WC was simply the best anyone could ask for.

I picked Dazzle out of a litter with five yellow girls. She was the granddaughter of my first show dog, Ruby. A darling puppy, she was always happy as well as mellow. She possessed a trait that is very difficult to come by in a competition dog. She was laid back and easy to live with, loved a good belly rub, but ask her to work and a switch turned on and she was ready to go in obedience or the field. She was an extraordinary jumper and loved it, doing multiple hurdles with ease. She loved to train.

Dazzle was known to all as the dog with the tremendous appetite. No food was safe around her. While staying at a friend’s house one time, she broke in to the pantry and ate a bag of Splenda. Another time she stole a can of tomatoes packed with hot chilies and sucked it dry. The most memorable event was when she stole the birthday cake a friend had given me, chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. She had a show one day, won the points toward her championship , came home and stole the cake overnight ( whole thing) and greeted me in the am with a belly like a barrel, asking for breakfast. I took her to a show that day, huge belly and all. The judge congratulated me on the upcoming litter. Of course, I didn’t tell him the truth. A friend outside the ring commented it was a litter of cupcakes! The amazing thing about Dazzle’s culinary escapades was that she NEVER got sick!

Dazzle was a healthy dog her entire life. My dogs generally are. I tend to take it for granted. She whelped three litters with no problem  after she completed her championship at the age of five. The first litter consisted of one stillborn puppy. Her hormones were raging and since she had no live puppies to take care of, she chose a small latex pink pig to mother, carrying it with her and caring for it for ten days. When she did have a litter of healthy puppies, she was a wonderful mother. I always thought she loved the process as she could eat so much more as a mom!

After Dazzle retired from the show ring and motherhood, she starred in a commercial. At 11 years old, she was a trooper, being filmed walking up a hill for what seemed like 500 times on

a scorching hot day. She liked the lunch break, when the crew and actors got their catered lunches and would rest them on the ground while gabbing. One of the two things Dazzle always wanted in life was to be really fat. She never was allowed that luxury.

The other thing Dazzle never got in life that she wanted  was to be an only dog. Dazzle got along well with all dogs, but never seemed to be devoted to her house buddies. Her favorite dog game was chase, as she was a fast dog, but she never liked the wrestle games. She was a great friend to the cats, who cuddled with her and used her as a kneading pillow. A gentle dog, a sweet dog , a good dog. Thank you, Dazzle.

Spirit, My Feral Housecat




Today marked a day that I knew would come, but, every pet owner dreads. I euthanized Spirit, my feral house cat. Yes, for over 6 years, I have had a feral cat living in my house. It became a joke with my friends that if I died, she’d have to go with the house sale. I saw her regularly, scampering to stay away from me. Her comfort zone was 10-12 feet from me.  Catching her was impossible without a live trap and, even then, I figured I would just catch one of the other cats. The handful of times I did catch her early on was by trapping her in a small room, but she learned NEVER to go in a small room without an escape route.

One of the only times I caught her was to spay and vaccinate her. I did keep her kenneled for several weeks and tried to make friends with her. I realized after some time, I was terrorizing her and let her free to run the house. She had friends in the cat population. For whatever reason, she adored Jigsaw, a sweet tortoise shell cat that was 4 years younger than Spirit. She would devotedly follow Jigsaw around the house with an expression of sheer joy. But, when Jigsaw would start to come to me for a pet or scratch, sheer horror would take the place of the joy, her expression changing as if her BFF was going to the hangman’s noose.

I just don’t know why she never relaxed, even a bit. I do know kittens’ socialization period is very young and that time is critical in the making of a good pet. She was only about 6-7 months when she came to live with me (I didn’t know she was feral when I adopted her ….long story). That age is well past the socialization period, but still young enough, I thought, to become somewhat friendly. WRONG.  Shortly after I took her in, it was Christmas day and I woke up with her laying on the foot of my bed. I had high hopes she would accept me, but that was as close as she ever came.

I enjoyed watching her from a comfortable distance. She loved to lay in the sun. She would sit in the middle of the sunroom floor for her bathing ritual, which I found humorous and fascinating.  Her  body position would be Buddha style, where she would meticulously run her tongue down her belly  through her long hair and roll over backwards in a somersault and then struggle up to start again. I really wanted to videotape this unusual grooming ritual, but, of course, could not get close enough.

For the last two to three weeks, I knew she was not doing well, seeming weaker and not scurrying around as much. I finally caught her last night ( a true sign that she was ill) and found a thin, sick cat that was terrified. Knowing I could not treat her illness without causing her severe  mental stress, I made the decision to put her to sleep. I am sad. I am sad for the relationship we never had, and for the relationship we did have that is now over. Rest in peace, Spirit. Please know that I did love you.

My History with Animal Behavior


I grew up with pets: cats, a dog and horses. I was truly an animal person from the beginning. Somewhere along the way I got interested in competition with my horse. I learned about training in different disciplines to compete. I learned from other people, I learned from reading and probably most of all, I learned from the horses. I paid my dues in the show ring and eventually it paid off with success. I did some judging and moved on with my life in my career as a veterinarian.

Then, I got interested in dogs. I got my first show dog and seriously pursued training as a possessed person. I read hundreds of books on different methods and styles, went to far too many seminars to count and gradually developed a feel for what it takes to be a successful, humane trainer of animals. It’s simple but not easy. It takes patience and persistence. There is no magic wand. It requires an acceptance of the innate personality of the individual animal and the ability to figure what it needs to perform well.

I have trained my dogs for conformation competition as well as rally, obedience and hunt tests. I have also done tracking as well as agility work with them. I learn from every dog. I wish I could do some things over with what I know now. With all this, are my dogs perfect? No way! But, I am not either.

More recently I have tried my hand at training the cats I adore. After all, they have always been successful in training me! My efforts worked. My kitty learned to sit up, touch an object with his nose and lay down. It was a different experience from training the dogs and horses, but certainly rewarding.

I now utilize many of these skills I have learned to help Schuylkill County pet lovers with the challenges they have with their own pets. I have learned even more in doing this. I have learned to break things down into small steps so both owners and pets can be successful. I have learned to be flexible and inventive due to constraints owners may have. It has been a challenge, but truly worthwhile when a pet loving client develops a greater bond with their dog or cat when a behavior problem is solved or successfully managed.


Dog image Sam Cockman via flickr.