Worth Their Weight in Gold

Mentors are invaluable. I have been extremely lucky since my foray into the world of borzoi. I have met and been guided by several people, that if it had not been for their kindness and imparted knowledge, I would still be struggling with things that today I am quite comfortable with.

A mentor is defined (in Websterís) as "a trusted counselor or guide: tutor, coach." It has been my experience (and not just within the world of dogs) that you can learn anything from every person that you meet. I have learned different aspects from different people, as illustrated by the following trip down mentor-memory laneÖ.

I had so quickly fallen in love with Nikki, that when I saw an ad in the paper for a young male, I quickly made the phone call. I made an appointment to see the handsome boy-zoi and I met Lyn. She was concentrating on showing another breed, and since Luke and her boyfriend were not the best of friends, she was looking to place him in a nice home. During the course of our conversation, we started talking about showing and I told her that I had once shown horses (hunter/jumper classes) and that I was interested in showing dogs. I was just completely clueless as to how to go about it. She gave me the address of the show superintendent that handled the majority of the dog shows in our area so that I could get placed on their mailing list. She then told me about some upcoming shows and we eventually planned on attending a show together.

When I was making entries for my first show, Lyn suggested that I enter Nikki in the Am-bred class. I chuckle at that now, especially since it was not a particularly large show. I must have been an immensely entertaining sight with my hairless juvenile bitch, trotting around the ring staring at my feet or the ground the whole time, completely unable to look the judge in the eye. I understand now why it was suggested that I enter in that particular class - so I could take home a blue ribbon. Of course, the next lesson was that Nikki needed to earn a purple ribbon. It also took me a while to figure out the organization of the classes - the winners in each division then compete for Winners, and so on. This had to be the most confusing aspect of the show process for me.

I put Nikki up (praying for some hair growth) and brought Luke out to play for a while. I looked back in a catalog I had bought when I attended the Astrohall series as a spectator the summer before. It turned out that I had circled Lukeís name while watching the classes that particular day, which made it all the more exciting that he was mine now. Since Luke had quite a bit more hair than Nikki, Lyn started teaching me the finer aspects of preparing a dog for show in regards to grooming. I was introduced also to the hassle of trying to find an electrical outlet for a grooming set-up. It remains to this day one of my worries - "Will there be enough space and electricity for my dogs?"

At one show we attended together, we had a time conflict. Both our breeds were scheduled at the same time and we had one hair dryer and one table. I was near panic when Lyn introduced me to my next teachers, Richard Terry and Marion Heise of Chien díCoeur. They had a spare table and a dryer, and invited me to fluff up Luke at their set-up across the aisle. I began hanging out at their set-ups watching and learning and eventually integrated into helping them prepare some other breeds for the ring. I began to learn not only more about grooming borzoi, but how to handle them better in the ring. They taught me to walk into the ring with a positive attitude, not to stare at the ground, but to hold up my head and be proud of the borzoi that I bring the judge that day. I consider the presentation skills that I learned from them to be invaluable. Not only did it help my performance in the ring, but in other facets of life as well. The in-depth grooming advice has gone a long way also, building upon what I had learned before. I was still working primarily with Luke. I told them about Nikki and was asked to bring her up for them to take a look at. I was told to start bringing her back into the ring, which I soon did. Richard and Marion helped me build confidence in my first bitch and myself. I even sent her with them when the shows moved up too far north for me. They brought her back with more points, much to my delight.

Then came the next step in my education. Richard introduced me to Sara Whittington-Rowe of Chataqua Hounds. She had some youngsters on the ground and Richard had suggested that I get one. Thanks to their recommendation, I gained a lovely young bitch and made an invaluable friend and mentor. Sara was very gracious and she was up front with me about everything. I drove out to her place a few weeks later and met Tassja and the bevy of borzoi in her yard. I also saw a new litter that was 3 days old and was immediately fascinated with a heavily colored black and white. Some months later, he would come to be with me also and is one of my most cherished borzoi - Nigel.

From Sara I have learned about what she looks for and breeds for. I constantly bombard her with questions as to what she thinks a judge is looking for, either at ringside or before I even enter a show. She is always willing to share what she knows. I also see her congratulate those who win at ringside, even when they have beaten a dog she owns or co-owns. She will also try and tell me to quit worrying about the little things (I can get spastic if thereís the slightest thing wrong with any of my dogs, for example, a cowlick on their topline). She has also taken me to task when she disapproves of my behavior. I believe that a good mentor will not only be able to teach you about the breed itself, but in all facets surrounding what you do within the dog fancy. Good sportsmanship and ringside behavior is very important, especially considering that many times we meet new people at ringside. These new people might be attracted by your beautiful borzoi, yet repelled by your behavior, and then you have lost a good chance to make a new friend.

The internet has also provided me with new friends and even what I would term mentors, that I would never before have been able to meet. A fine example of this for me is Dr. Barbara Horwitz, whom I met when we were bidding on the same item on eBay. Barbara is my "emotional cheerleader" - always having something positive and uplifting to say. She has watched my youngsters grow up by virtue of emailed pictures and is a constant source of advice and support. She also sends interesting website addresses that contain everything from veterinary information to some goodhearted jokes (everyone needs a good laugh now and then).

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All in all, I feel that mentors are vital to oneís personal and professional growth within their chosen breed. Ask plenty of questions and donít be afraid to consult others. Nobody has that one perfect bloodline or borzoi - thereís no such thing. Each of us has our own interpretation of the standard.

Different mentors can help within different areas. Each should be cherished. I donít think that any one person could have all the answers, but if you are lucky enough to find such a person, donít let them get away. But I would be wary of one who considers their own education within borzoi to be complete. The lessons in borzoi are infinite.