On my parents wedding day, my father gave my mother a German Shepherd puppy as a wedding gift.
Mother named her puppy Guapa or ‘pretty.’ When Guapa died, Mother was inconsolable and it was years before my father gave her another German Shepherd. Gerry was a black six-month old with brown eyebrows and severe hip dysplasia. He and my mother bonded instantly. What happened to Gerry is told in my book, Only by the Grace of God, 2016. I grew up with German Shepherds.
After the war, when Mother began teaching, the parents of one of her students gave her a German Shepherd puppy we called Schonheit (Beautiful). Schon for short. She was a loving, gentle dog but Mother never bonded to her. She was not like Gerry. Shon was easily trained. I drove to downtown Whittier one day, with Shon in the back seat and the top down on my convertible. When I parked and left the car, I told her to ‘stay,’ She did. She attracted a lot of attention from people walking by.
When I went to graduate school in Boston, the Boston Strangler had not been caught. He seemed to prefer young white-uniformed women. As nurses, my roommate and I were vulnerable. So, knowing she was soon to have a birthday, I offered to buy her a German Shepherd puppy who could protect us. Bitte was deeply devoted to us and terribly protective. She was also smart. We were having company over one day and had placed peanuts around in side dishes. Bitte was not allowed to take food off tables but could have anything on the floor. I came upon her as she gently tipped the bowl of peanuts with her paw, spilling peanuts all over the floor. Clever.
When my roommate left for Nigeria to teach, she left Bitte to me. I was in a dilemma. I was on my way to do field research in Nevada and a dog would be an encumbrance. I left Bitte with my mother, my brother and their dogs but got a panic call soon after – the dogs did not get along. So Bitte lived with me. We shared a ¾ bed. She barked at every noise. No one came to visit. We both survived.
I took Bitte to three different obedience classes. At the graduation in our last class (we were living in the San Fernando Valley, California), we were on a long sit-stay when we had an earthquake. Bitte never moved from her sit-stay.
A colleague of mine at UCLA, Marilynn (Marnie) Wood, bred and showed Cocker Spaniels. She invited me to a puppy match on a Saturday where I saw a lovely German Shepherd bitch. I gave the owner my card and asked her to call when her dog had puppies. She did. I went to see the puppies armed with a puppy temperament test. I found my puppy. A lovely, sweet tempered, black and gold girl. I named her Benay. I tried to show her but neither Benay nor her handler knew what they were doing. I started Benay on obedience classes as a puppy. She won first prize at graduation. We were a bonded pair.
I was still interested in having a show dog and a brood bitch, so Marnie introduced me to Doris Rossini of West Wind Kennels. I bought Zehren from her. Zehren had one litter of puppies and was shown in both conformation and obedience. She earned both her American CD and championship titles. Doris and I became ‘relatives by dog.’
Zehren, with Mary Roberts
When Zehren was not able to conceive, Doris gave me Westwind’s Halo, the daughter of Zehren’s brother. Halo was never able to conceive but she did earn her Canadian championship title and her novice obedience title. She was another sweet-tempered dog who unlocked every gate that did not have a padlock. Halo loved to show. When we were in the obedience ring, she would heel by walking around the periphery of the ring to laughter and applause. She loved it!
Since I wanted to breed, Anne Koots, Halo’s handler, introduced me to a breeder in Lloydminster, Alberta, who sold me Echo. Echo was a lovely, sweet tempered dog, who produced several litters for me, but she turned out to be a cat killer. When I was away, she killed one of my beloved cats—Miss Sarah—who thought she was a dog.
Echo with Anne Koots receiving a Group First in the Herding Group
Echo was a wonderful mother. She not only nursed her own litters, she also helped her daughter Dyan to nurse her litter. Echo gave me Hester who only loved two people: her handler, Ingrid Winkler, and me. At a show in Red Deer one year, I came into the agricultural pavilion and saw Ingrid at the other end of the building. There was a path between grooming set ups. Hester scented Ingrid and was off down the path, running at full speed, dragging her leash behind her, and leaped into Ingrid’s arms. Ingrid was standing at the time. People complained of course, but Ingrid and I enjoyed every minute of the fun.
Hester and Ingrid.
Ingrid and I had many good times with Hester. Although Hester did earn a Best in Show (the worst show photograph she ever had!), she never achieved a Best Puppy in Show – to my great disappointment. At one show, Hester earned her CD and a Group First on the same day! Ingrid and I were very proud of her. When I terminated her show career so she could have puppies, she produced two lovely litters. One litter gave me Johanna. (Johanna was in one show where she was the only German Shepherd Dog. She was awarded a Group First and Best Puppy in Show. The crowd loved her because ‘she was not sloped!’)
Johanna and Ingrid – Best Puppy in Show
Johanna was also a very sweet good mannered dog. She did well in obedience and earned her novice CD as well as her novice Rally titles. I bred her only once. She produced five puppies. One was Lanz, the last of the Vonderbrink line. The last of my life with a German Shepherd.
On a rainy windy day, Johanna won the top obedience award at a regional German Shepherd specialty show.
A second litter from Hester produced a male (Klaus) and a female (Kristie) who were stunning dogs. Kristie earned two Best Puppy in Show awards. Both dogs were Group First winners.
Ingrid and Kristie – Group 1st
At a regional German Shepherd specialty show, both Kristie and Klaus won awards. Beautiful dogs with sweet temperaments.
Kristie and I took several obedience classes together. She didn’t like leaving me alone when there were other dogs in the ring, so on the long sits and downs, she would follow me to the other side of the ring. She only achieved one leg toward her CD and that was because we were the only ones left in the competition. Like her mother, Kristie and I were very close. She always slept next to my bed.
Kristie with her first and only obedience leg – high in class
Lanz is the last. He is totally devoted to me and is anxious when I am not around. He was not show quality but he did well in Rally and Obedience. He did earn a High in Class like his grandmother Hester.
Life will be very lonely and boring when I no longer live with a German Shepherd. There is no other source in this world for unconditional love and devotion. They never lose their tempers. They are always accepting and eager to please. They are always there to meet and greet. They ask very little in return.