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Merry Christmas, Jessie!!

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Merry Christmas, Jessie!!
Time Passes
Christmas 2012
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Do you have a little (or big) dog like this?


Don't get me wrong; lots of dogs with wheelies or other forms of assistance live perfectly happy, busy lives.  I've had little dogs who would probably have happily sacrificed all four legs if it meant they could live in my pocket permanently!

Dogs don't have a concept of disability; they simply adapt to their circumstances.  They're not brave or heroic either; however much they might inspire the morbidly sentimental and saccharine among us, they just adapt.  The best thing about them is the simplicity with which they accept and enjoy life: does it hurt? does it feel nice? is it safe? do I like the taste? can I run as fast as I want?

So this isn't a polemic about poor little dogs being tortured by owners without the grace to put them to sleep (I tend to reserve my harshest words for people who think long-term chemotherapy and similar treatments are in any way ok for a dog.)

All I'm asking you to do is take a careful look.  Does your dog have quality of life, or is your dog displaying quality of spirit in spite of a failing and troublesome body?  And if it's the latter, is there anything you could do?

The reason I'm asking is that, in spite of a lifelong rule, inherited from Dad, of not allowing my dogs to suffer, and putting them to sleep a little early in preference to risking them struggling and being in pain, I've just allowed myself to be suckered by sentiment and to break my own rules.

Let me tell you about my dog Jessie and I hope you'll understand.  It's quite a long story (three pages!); she's an incredible dog.


Jessiepic1My life with Jessie began on Christmas Day 1999.  I had been invited to lunch with my very dear friends Sharlene Sutherland and Barbara Preece of Sharbara Dobermanns, and had a puppy booked (and paid for) from the litter they were expecting from their beloved bitch Ch Sharbara Gud Goli Ms Moli (‘Moli’), who had been mated to the outstanding American import Am. Ch. Cara’s Skeeter.

Moli, true to form and hogging the limelight as usual, allowed us to finish the first course before she went into labour.  We spent most of Christmas day delivering puppies.

I had pick of the bitches, of which there were three – two black and tans and a brown and tan.  It was the Sharbara ‘J’ litter, and Sharlene had chosen musical names for all the dogs – Jazzabelle, Jive Wire and so on.

“Please”, I said.  “She was born on Christmas Day.  Call her Jingle Bells.”  It seemed logical to me – started with a ‘J’, fitted in with the musical theme and commemorated her birthday too.

“Absolutely not!” said Sharlene in horror.  “Under no circumstances whatsoever!”  And she stuck to her guns.

Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.  My kennel name used to be Pandemonium, for reasons which are very clear to those who know me.  “The day will come,” I said icily, “when you will want to take a puppy from this bitch.  I’m going to register it as Pandemonium Ping Pong.  You can call it Ping, or you can call it Pong.”  I would have, too.  So there.

When the pups were four weeks old, we did a very gentle initial temperament test to see how willing the pups were to leave the litter and their environment in order to chase a toy.  One little bitch was far bolder than the rest.  She left her brothers and sisters behind, raced after a soft ball, caught it, fought with it and then trotted over to me and went to sleep on my foot.  That was that.  You don’t choose the great dogs in your life.  They choose you, and I had been chosen.

At seven weeks, in a more formal temperament test conducted by a local trainer, she showed the same courage, independence and outgoing nature.  “That’s my dog,” I thought.

Jessiepic2I had picked Sharbara Jive Wire, but I had to fight for her.

“No, no, take Jazzabelle.  She’s got a longer neck,” said Sharlene.

“The brown bitch is the pick bitch.  Take her,” said one of the doyennes of the Dobe club, Jo Stemmet.

“But she’s so small,” complained someone else.

“I’m not picking her for show, I’m picking her for temperament,” I said, and although I practically had to kidnap her, I got my puppy.

I started her off on the clicker straight away – she has never had any punishment more severe than a scolding – and took her to puppy socialization class until she was 16 weeks old.  She ruled the roost, bullied her brothers, played with every puppy in sight, adopted their owners, investigated every blade of grass, every ankle and every twig with great cheerfulness and enthusiasm.  She hasn’t changed.  

I was, and still am, completely besotted.  I thought she was spectacularly beautiful, too, in spite of all the doomsayers who thought I should have taken a different pup.  I’m told I have something of an eye for a dog, but in this case I decided I was just kennel-blind.  The bigger she got, the more perfect she became to my eyes.  I couldn’t see any faults.  But then, I’m biased.

When she was 10 months old, she was entered in her first all-breeds Championship show.  We hadn’t done much ringcraft.  Sharlene, used to Slug, my other dog, whose ringcraft is immaculate and who always keeps himself in trim, was horrified at having to handle my fat, unruly puppy.  Jessie, however, saw the showring as just another place to have fun.  On her first show stack, she spotted a butterfly and started chasing it while the judge was trying to go over her, and on her gaiting triangle, she spotted a sandwich in a ringside tent and hurled herself over the ring barrier in an attempt to help herself.  The audience was in stitches.  Even the judge had to conceal a smirk.  Sharlene was furious.  And, needless to say, my baby didn’t win anything – not even her class.

“Oh, well,” I thought, “I suppose she’s not really a show dog.  It’s not why I picked her, anyway.  I still think she’s beautiful, though.”

The following weekend was the Dobermann Club of the Cape Specialist Show, which that year (2000) was to be judged by Jens Kollenberg.

Jessiepic3Every Dobe fan in the world knows who Jens Kollenberg is.  He was the breeder behind von Norden Stamm kennels, which produced the most titled Dobermann in history, Kalina von Norden Stamm, and has had a profound influence on just about every major Dobermann bloodline in the world.  He was the Breed Warden of the DobermannVerein in Germany, the most senior Dobermann club in the world, for many years, a ZTP (temperament) and conformation judge as well as being a Schutzhund judge.  His knowledge of the breed is unparalleled.  Love him or hate him, one cannot deny that he is probably the most expert and experienced Dobe judge in the world, by a long way.  

“Do you think I should bother to bring her down for the show?” I asked Sharlene, still very aware of the previous week’s humiliation.

“She’s too fat to show, but put her in for numbers,” she said. (For a small dog club, every entry counts, although with a judge of this caliber, we had no doubt that we would easily get enough entries to make both CCs worth 2 points.)

So I turned up again, with my fat, unruly and this time somewhat dirty puppy (she’d been rolling in our magnificent Breede River Winelands clay, and it’s difficult to brush off.)  And Sharlene was horrified again.

“I’ll die of embarrassment going in the ring with her looking like this,” she bristled. 

Hymie Leibman, the owner of her sire, eyed her and said "Not bad, but she's dreadfully fat and dirty.  And anyway, I want a two-point CC from a Skeeter daughter."  And he turned away dismissively.

I was cringing.  I shouldn't have come, I thought.  I should just have stayed in McGregor and let my puppy roll in the mud.

But when the Bitch Puppy Class was called, in Sharlene went, with Jessie cavorting and bucking like a wild pony.

She won the class.

I was quite pleased, but didn’t expect any more from the outing.  The best dogs in the country had been traveled for Jens, and those that were not already made up were in the running for the points.  I couldn’t see Jessie getting past them, and in any case, European judges do not in general give points to dogs under 18 months old.  So as far as I was concerned, her outing was over, and I settled down to gossip with friends while the other classes were judged.

Jessiepic4At last it was time for the Bitch CC, and in went all the class winners, with Jessie at the back, trailed only by the minor puppy.  

He stacked them.  He sent them around.  He shuffled the placing. He stacked them again.  He sent them around again.  He moved Scoot, a Junior Bitch, another Skeeter daughter, already a big winner and the leading contender for the points, up to the front.  That was that, I thought, good decision.  He sent them around again.  He moved Jessie up a spot.  He sent them around again.  Then he moved Jessie up to second place, behind her half-sister.  He sent them around again.

“Well, well”, I thought, “we might have a chance at the RC after all!”  For a pup, an RC from Jens Kollenberg was a prize well worth having.  It looked like turning out to be a nice afternoon after all.  I sat back and bent over to rummage in my handbag for a peppermint.

“It’s the puppy,” someone next to me said.

I didn’t catch it at first.  “What?” I asked.

“He’s given it to the puppy,” she repeated.  I looked up.  Jessie had been moved up past Scoot.  She was leading the line-up.  My jaw dropped.

She won.  My fat, dirty, unruly 10-month old pup took a two point CC from the best Dobe specialist judge in the world, against the best un-made bitches in South Africa.  It was unbelievable.

She took Best Puppy against her brother, Joshua, and then it was time for Best of Breed.  I really didn’t expect anything more.  The winners of the Champions classes were two of the best and most experienced show dogs in the country.  This was the Big Leagues.

Jessiepic5In they went, Champion Dog, CC Dog, Champion Bitch, CC Bitch.  My roly-poly baby was at the back of the line-up again, still cavorting, while the Big League campaigners stood rock still, exuding nobility from every pore.

He moved the CC Dog up to first place.  Then he moved the Champion Bitch up to second place.  Then he moved Jessie up past the Champion Dog.

“Whoops,” I thought, “that’s going to ruffle a few feathers.”

Then he moved her past the Champion Bitch into second place.  Several more jaws dropped.

And that’s what she took home.  Best Puppy in Specialist Show (BPISS), a 2-point CC and Reserve Best in Specialist Show (RBISS) – not too bad for a fat, naughty, dirty 10-month-old puppy!

Jens came up to me after the show.

“I can’t fault your dog,” he said.  “She is completely harmonious.  If she was cropped, she would win anywhere in the world.”

“Oh,” I thought, “all right, perhaps I’m not that biased then.”

He went on to complain bitterly to Barbara and Sharlene that he felt himself lucky if he was able to breed a dog of Jessie’s caliber once in five years.  He regarded it as extremely unfair that they had done it more or less by accident, as he saw it.

After that, we managed to settle her a little in the ring by doing 10 minutes of clicker ringcraft with her before each show, and she rocketed through the rest of her points with almost no showing, taking 2 out of 3, 1 out of 2 and 2 out of 2 available points on her next outings, and whizzing past the then Supreme Dobermann for another Reserve Best of Breed, beaten only by the dog who became Supreme Dobermann  the following year.

She never learned to behave in the ring, though.  She was in and out too fast to have time.

Jessiepic6She kept her wonderful temperament, running an excellent Junior Aptitude test, and was and is the happiest, funniest, cleverest, bravest little bitch anyone could wish for, and a delight to work, as well as being stunningly, stunningly beautiful – and that you can take to the bank!  Trotted out of retirement aged around five to show when Sharlene, a few years later, was coming to the end of her terrible battle with cancer, Jessie took the Champions Class twice in a row against, amongst others, the superb import Ch Irinland Fabulous Frosja, one of the loveliest bitches ever to grace the South African ring. 

RBISS BPISS Ch Sharbara Jive Wire of Pandemonium DMA (“Jessie”) is undoubtedly the best Christmas present I’ve ever had.  I still say they should have called her Jingle Bells, though!

Next: Time Passes