My life in Poodles began when a California landlord said no…..no German Shepherd! I could get a small dog, he said. No thanks. Then fate stepped in along a waterfront trail. Someone was jogging with two black dogs, a Lab merrily plodding along and an elegant creature seeming to float on air, head and tail high as she led the way. My car screeched to a stop. Six months later that elegant creature’s 8-week-old half sister came to live with me—Kyla, my first Standard Poodle. I figured by the time the landlord caught on, he’d know she made a good tenant. True, but he later said, “I SAW those big feet!” Confession: at first I didn’t like Kyla (not a German Shepherd), but she soon won my heart for Standard Poodles and changed my life.
Not long after Kyla arrived, I found myself at dog shows having a wonderful time. Next step: addiction! A respected handler gave Kyla “thumbs down” as a show prospect—great personality but lacking in conformation. With beginner’s wisdom, I then considered breeding her. Fate stepped in again when she had her first seizure at age 2. Because inheritance plays a role (not yet understood) in epilepsy, Kyla was spayed. She only had occasional seizures and lived 13 years.
Enter Hillary. In 1992 I attended my first Poodle Club of America (PCA) show, the Regional at Lake San Marcos. There and elsewhere, the grapevine buzzed about a dog named Gordon (Multi Ch. Maneetas del Zarzoso Fuego Fatuo), who invaded across the Atlantic to win Best of Variety at the PCA National. In 1993 he took Best in Show at PCA and I was there to see it. Fuego Fatuo means “flickering flame,” and that was flame all right but way beyond flicker!
Florence Graham of Graphic Standard Poodles said she almost fell off her chair when she first saw Gordon take off across the PCA ring. He moved with the air of a rock star and the powerful effortless gait that marks a canine athlete. Florence was among the first U.S. breeders with puppies sired by this magnificent dog, and one of those became my Hillary—Graphic First Lady. Hillary was a compact girl with lovely expression, a beautiful mover with true Poodle carriage and a look that echoed photos of her grandsire Charlie (Gordon’s sire, Multi Ch. Harbovi’s Heaven Can Wait for Vanitonia). And she had that fabulous Gordon temperament.
As a youngster, Hillary was silly-fronted (think “windmill”) in the ring, despite decent structure, so ultimately the show coat came off and she joined Kyla at home. Meanwhile, Hillary’s brother, Aust. Gr.Ch. Graphic American Dream, was off to Australia where he became a top show dog and influential sire. A showman like Gordon, Burt also had that wonderful temperament, commented upon by the judge who awarded him Best in Show at the prestigious Melbourne Royal.
One day Hillary’s former handler saw her sail across the yard with all flags flying and said, ‘Grow her out!” Hillary, however, had realized that Poodle heads don’t sprout rubber bands or wrappers and refused to wear them again. Scratch, scratch, scratch when I wasn’t looking! Poodles can’t (yet) be shown to their championship in lower-maintenance trims such as the sporting or retriever clip, and the short historically-correct Continental hadn’t gained a foothold in our Poodle world. So that was that. She was bred, only once given my career demands, but that one litter made her a top producer of AKC champions (see Our Poodles) and sealed her legacy. She lived 16 years.
Hillary’s son Dante became my first Poodle champion, and Sauvie Island Standard Poodles are now in their sixth generation, including four generations of top producers and possibly a fifth in the making. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly involved with the Poodle Club of America and have met many wonderful people who share my Poodle passion. As a writer specializing in medicine and science, I often write about canine health for PCA. I’m a member of PCA and the Columbia Poodle Club and serve on the Board of Directors of the PCA Foundation, which supports education and Poodle health research. Given today’s amazing DNA technology, we’re very excited about current research projects, as well as past projects that have already given us new DNA tests to prevent genetic disease.