From the monthly column "Becoming" by Jacquelyn Fogel. ShowSight, January 2016 Issue. Click to Subscribe
Last year I lost four important people in my life, and I am feeling their loss in ways I would not have imagined. One was not without controversy, and one seemed old-fashioned, silly or unimportant to many in the larger dog world. One was a pure-bred dog admirer—much as I am an art admirer with no ability to produce a work of art myself. Another was a young, talented, opinionated breeder making a mark in her breed. All meant something to me.
In the dog world the level of nastiness seems to have increased as we have become more connected via social media. It is easier than ever to send poisoned arrows and hide behind the anonymity of a keyboard. Only true internet experts have the ability to exactly trace a document back to its author, though most who have been on the receiving end of anonymous bullets know who sent them without being cyber-sleuths. We have become more connected, but we know less about the people with whom we associate. We spend a lot more time in front of a screen than in face-to-face conversation with people who can be important to us. I just heard two more stories of poison-pen notes sent to breeders, one a top-winning, top-breeding whippet person, and one a fellow Bedlington breeder. I am increasingly disheartened by these actions and the people who think it’s all right to send anonymous personal attacks. If you can’t attach your name to what you write, then it shouldn’t be written. Period.
Because I think some of these attacks are precipitated by our lack of connection and empathy, I have decided to introduce my four lost friends to those who may not have known them as well as I did. This is an entirely personal reflection. I am not looking for corroboration, agreement or argument about the character of these people. I am reporting only what they meant to me. I am happy to listen to other’s stories about them, but it will not change how I feel about them. I adored them. And I miss them. And I don’t think the world is better without them.
David Ramsey was one of the funniest, smartest, most charismatic, talented and driven people I have met. When I met David I had been showing Bassets for 20 years. He introduced himself to me at a show where I was a sales rep for International Canine Genetics. He was handsome, charming, bright and fun. He seemed to know everybody, and people wanted to spend time with him. You felt special when you were with David. His conversation was always light and funny, and he had a photographic memory for everything you said. He stayed at my house a few times when he was campaigning Willow Wind Centurion, and I decided I wanted to own one of those wonderful dogs. My children were not immune to his charm, and they loved him, too. Three years after that first meeting David sent me the most expensive “free” dog I have ever owned, and a strong bond formed between us. I always treated David as the mentor, and I was always his student. My goal was not to beat him in the ring or ever think I would become better than him. If I made it to equal status I would be honored. Nobody was better at the dog show game than he was. He bred, trained, groomed and showed fabulous dogs, and his skill at working dog-show politics remains unmatched. It was not a surprise that jealousy raged in some of the people who competed against him. He was the whole picture, while the rest of us excelled at only pieces.
David was also a deeply flawed human being when it came to day-to-day life. He did not keep himself or his non-showing dogs well. He ate mostly junk food, smoked constantly, never cleaned or repaired his houses, and had no concept of how to sign up for programs that could help him. He was 70 years old and dying of cancer before he signed up for Medicare. His non-showing dogs were fat and out of shape, and often in need of grooming, but otherwise remarkably healthy. He never applied for a loan but had no trouble asking his friends for help when it came to taking care of his Morgans or his Bedlingtons. They say alcoholics stop developing personally at the age they become addicted. I think David stopped his social development when he was about 16—when he became addicted to his horses and dogs. He had a privileged and an unbearable upbringing, and he would not share much of it with anyone, though I know he had a Master’s degree in Economics from Brown University. Knowing that he was going to behave as a brilliant, charming and super-talented 16 year-old made understanding him a little easier. He was a lot like my son.
David was absolutely Obsessive-Compulsive. He remembered everything and let go of nothing. If you could not accept that, you could not remain a friend. We were estranged for about 4 years part way into his AKC suspension. He was suffering a mental breakdown and my son was fighting a terminal illness. We didn’t have enough good energy between us to sustain a friendship. But a few years later I needed help with my breeding program, and nobody was better than David. So I reconnected with him, sent him pictures and pedigrees of all of my dogs coming down from Willow Wind, and we worked out a plan for moving my breeding program forward. In Bassets there are many top-level breeders. But in Bedlingtons most puppies are produced by occasional hobby breeders—people who really don’t have an interest in developing a line of dogs. I needed my mentor back, and David was the best. He remembered an astonishing list of detailed characteristics about the dogs in my pedigrees, and the dogs who were competing against them. His filing cabinet was his incredible mind. He was never wrong about the dogs, and he always knew if a person was going to be a good judge or just an end-of-the-lead judge. Many of the finest people I know in dogs were introduced to me by David, and I am eternally grateful for that.
I will miss David’s frequent calls—the ones reminding me to send a letter or contact a person or send him some document or find some picture. I got calls from him while on the road to dog shows when he’d caution me not to stop at any more all-you-can-eat diners, or remind me to call him if I felt drowsy or just needed company. I’ll miss his breeder-to-breeder conversations, and his wonderfully dry sense of humor—even when he told me my new blond highlights didn’t make me look as much like a hooker as he thought they would. He made me laugh and I always enjoyed his company. He didn’t own a computer or a smart phone, so all conversations were personal, and all sharing was by snail mail. He loved talking to people I worked with, and he remembered every detail of their lives they shared with him. At times I wanted to “save” David from himself, but he made it pretty clear he wasn’t interested in my help. It was easier to accept him, flawed character and all, for the person he was. He never lied to me, and he set his expectations high for my breeding program. I am only sorry that the dogs we produced to bring him back into competition were never groomed or handled by him. I am grateful that in the end I was there when he reunited with the family from whom he had been estranged for 40 years. He died loved by his family, and reinstated with the AKC. And he died loved by me. Godspeed, David Peter Ramsey.
Mae Schroeder was not well known by many people my age or younger. She had not produced a lot of well-known Bassets. She was an animal-lover beyond compare. She took in stray cats, bunnies and birds. She bred not only Bassets, but English Toys, Scottish Fold cats, love birds and cockatiels. She loved to cook, talk and take care of things. If Mae said she was going to do something, she did it—and she expected everybody else in her life to operate on the same principle. She did not suffer slackers or fools well, but she was never, ever mean. She was absolutely devoted and loyal to her children, her husband and her friends. I suspected at times that she was having issues with some or all of us, but she never shared the bad stuff, always wanting to focus on what needed to be done to make things better. Mae always had a plan. She was a powerhouse of energy even when her diabetes began to slow her down. Her brain never stopped working.
Mae didn’t own a computer or a smart phone either, and often forgot to bring her cell phone with her. All conversation was personal, and all correspondence via USPS. I often received articles she cut out of magazines or newspapers. When she called it was never intrusive. If I was busy the call was short. If I was lonely or sad or unhappy, the call was as long as it needed to be. If I was travelling anywhere near La Porte, Indiana I had to stop for coffee, pie, and often a full meal. It was important to build those stops into my travel plans, and I introduced Mae to several other doggy friends who traveled with me. Mae loved working for her dog clubs. La Porte, South Bend and Valparaiso were the clubs I heard most about, but I’m not really sure if she was a member of all of them. She was always recommending that her clubs hire me as a judge, and she made calls to friends she had around the country to help me get assignments in other areas.
Mae and I bred a few Bassets together. She adored her Bassets. She was mostly interested in producing a healthy, big-boned dog that could walk. She understood the standard better than most people thought she did. Many other Basset breeders dismissed her as not important because she didn’t have a recognizable line. Mae’s dogs may not have been memorable, but she was unforgettable. Everybody who met her had a Mae story. My stories are all good. I travelled to shows with Mae a few times, usually to Basset Nationals, and one thing for sure is that I never got bored or drowsy listening to her talk. Mae was my go-to person whenever I felt unloved, misunderstood or unappreciated. She was the person I called the day after my son’s memorial service when I was alone and depressed. She had lost her son when he was in his 20’s and I knew she would give me her best survivor advice. Mae had a story for everything, and she always looked forward, never dwelling on the past. She was not a phony, and spoke her mind whether you wanted to hear her or not. She mastered the art of speaking bluntly without inciting anger. I miss her voice.
Mary Bowers was the wife of my husband’s business partner. She was a person who had a gift for connecting with all people regardless of their socioeconomic status, race or gender. She could talk with a company janitor as easily as the CEO—and neither conversation would be boring. She had an unparalleled love for life and connecting with other people. And she loved her pure-bred dogs more than anything except Tim, though at times I think Tim was in second place. Her hands-down favorite breed was Brittany, though she took a decade-long foray into the world of black Pugs.
For as long as I knew Mary she suffered from an incurable lung disease that she knew would eventually claim her life. She had multiple surgeries and trips to NHS in Washington, DC for experimental treatments. She never complained or wondered out loud why her. She worked tirelessly at her job for as long as she could, then switched her energies to the Milwaukee Aids Resource Center when regular work became impossible. She was personally responsible for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for her favorite charity. Mary played at life, and her dogs were her constant companions. They got the best care possible and lived a life of comfort and privilege. Nothing was too good for her dogs. I fondly remember the night we two couples went to dinner and Mary casually mentioned she wanted to try another Brittany after her last pug was put down. I started quietly texting my Colorado Brittany connection, and by the end of dinner I had found her a dog and arranged transportation to Wisconsin. The dog had been bred by a breeder whose husband was in a wheelchair, so we were sure he would be perfect for Mary who now had to be on oxygen 24/7. Gibbs, the perfect Brittany, arrived weeks later.
Mary always appreciated what good breeders did. She knew if her dogs came from good breeders she wouldn’t have to worry about their temperament or socialization. They’d be good with her, and her cadre of cherished nieces and nephews. She trusted us. We were the good guys in her eyes. It was a symptom of what I loved most about Mary—her ability to see through the lies and hype of the rescue movement, or any other movement-of-the-day, and find truth. She didn’t want a poorly-bred rescue, she wanted a quality dog from a quality breeder. Mary read people and their motivations better than anyone I knew, and I was honored that she chose Tom and me as cherished friends.
Lisa Ryer was a newer friend. I first met her at another kennel club’s meeting where I was making a presentation on the new breeders’ regulations Wisconsin was implementing. She and another friend were there to see if the club would be a good fit for them. When I found out they actually lived in my neighborhood, I started to encourage them both to join Kettle Moraine Kennel Club. But Lisa was not going to take my word for anything. She wanted to come to a meeting and see first-hand if our club would be worthy of her time. I think it helped when she found out our meetings were in the lower level of a popular tavern and grill. Both Lisa and her friend did join the club, and within a year of joining she was recruited to be on the board.
Lisa also came to many of my training classes, and I loved talking to her about her beautiful malamutes. Her passion for the breed was immediately obvious. She quoted the standard, and often expressed annoyance at people who could not understand why breeding to the standard rather than a popular dog was important. She trained, conditioned and usually showed her class dogs herself, but had handler friends show her specials. She was not as comfortable in the ring as she was in training class. Everyone who knew Lisa will agree that her sometimes brutally blunt honesty was her calling card. Lisa didn’t mince words, and she never tried to sugar-coat anything. You always knew exactly what Lisa thought on any issue. Thankfully, Lisa was a bright, well-informed and unusually thoughtful person behind her apparent brash demeanor. I am guessing she developed her style to survive as an electrician in a male-dominated construction world. She read situations well and despised petty conflict. Everybody listened when Lisa spoke, and she usually got her way. Lisa never took on a task she didn’t want to do, and everything she did was done well. If Lisa chaired a committee, no follow-up was necessary. She was a breath of fresh air on the board because she never had a hidden agenda, and she was not afraid to speak her mind.
Early last year Lisa was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that took her life in December.
She had no family, but she did have a group of very devoted doggy friends who looked after her and the dogs until the end. The shows will be a little less interesting without Lisa, and the Kettle Moraine board is a lot less fun without her. She never got to a meeting at our new site, but I’m sure she would have approved—a well-lit and clean lower level of a pub and grill, and the club doesn’t have to pay rent.
How ironic that technology has made it easier for everyone to connect and harder to know who we really are. I am going to make a suggestion. Back away from your keyboards and use your hand-held device to call someone you know to make a lunch date. Use the computer to plan an informal real-life event where people gather in a room and actually talk to each other. Never, ever write something you are afraid to sign, or would not want to receive yourself. Remember that it’s OK not to like everybody, but it’s not OK to try to publicly humiliate them. Say hello in person, and ask questions about the other person’s life, because hello from the other side always gets a busy signal.
On December 30, after I had written most of this article, I found out that two other people I knew had died. One was the father of my Rotary Club’s current foreign exchange student, and the other is a Bedlington breeder I’ve known for 20 years. Emily Wolf’s father Paul came from a large, close-knit family and he served his community as a volunteer fireman and soon-to-be-Rotarian. Thankfully the Norwegian Rotary Club was able to get Emily home within 48 hours so she could say a final good-bye to her dad. Nancy McLaren was found dead on the kitchen floor of her newly remodeled home. She had invited her Canadian family to join her for Christmas, and they did, unfortunately too late to spend the day with her. All I can think is that so many of these gentle souls must have been called up for a reason I don’t yet understand. They took with them two of my favorite Bedlingtons, Versailles and Clark, and three of my Bassets who also died this year. It’s been a year of tremendous loss, and a year of personal growth. I don’t usually make New Year resolutions—they seem so corny. But this year I am going to resolve to use my phone more and my keyboard less. I’m going to channel my friends David, Mae Mary and Lisa, and reach out to people I care about, just to say hi and wish them well, and keep them from becoming drowsy as they drive. I’m working on becoming a better real-life friend because you never know when another dear soul will be called up, and I want them to know they were loved as my friends were. I’m working on saying hello from this side, while it still matters.