the dogs who come into our lives are special,
some are extra special.
And some have touched the lives of more than just your own.
- Willowitch Songbird Sonata - 3/81 - 10/93
last dog that I ever trained unfairly died in 1993 at the age
of 12. She was the last Doberman I've owned. She retired from
obedience after CVI surgery. She was the last dog I took in
the ring. After her retirement at 6, she continued classroom
visits and pet therapy visits and was my heart dog.
were on a pet therapy visit to a psychiatric hospital. She
said hello here and there and then seemed to be drawn to a
particular patient. She rested her head in the lap of a young
man strapped in a wheel chair with thick canvas belts. He
was wearing a helmet and gloves to keep him from hurting himself.
He gesticulated wildly, moaning and squealing, his head lolled
side to side and he mostly gazed randomly toward the ceiling.
She squinted her eyes as his hands hit the top of her head
as they flailed, but she didn't move. I tried to encourage
her to move on, but she insisted on staying.
heavy thuds became softer and softer and finally a hand rested
on her head. He focused on her briefly before his head took
off on another wild roll. She leaned closer. His eyes met
mine for a moment. Clearly, he spoke, "Doberman. Nice
dog. Bad reputation." Profound for that instant. And
then he was gone, back into his world. I will never forget
that moment with her. I wish I had known about force-free
were so fortunate to have known her, and to have shared her life
with the children of Spokane. Everyone knew her as Sonny - her full
name was "Willowitch Songbird Sonata." Sonny was a beautiful black
Doberman and SpokAnimal's very first official education mascot.
Sonny enjoyed the hugs and kisses of thousands of area children
in school visits, parades, and fairs. She visited nursing homes,
libraries, institutions, post offices and even Spokane's juvenile
hall. She helped demonstrate at obedience classes and won ribbons
and trophies at dog shows. She appeared on television newscasts
numerous times, appeared in a post office safety video and, even
played the part of "the father of the bride" in an advertisement
for the Scrapbook restaurant.
years were plagued by numerous surgeries including fused cervical
vertebrae in her neck which proved an early end to herobedience
career. But she still enjoyed the applause of crowds, not at dog
shows, but in classrooms all over the Spokane area. She wiggled
head to toe when the children cheered.
appearance of a Doberman in a school hallway frequently caused raised
eyebrows. In fact, we were once almost tossed out of a valley junior
high. "What are you doing in here with that dog? Don't you know
there are KIDS IN HERE?" asked a horrified vice principal. I had
to stifle a laugh, it sounded so absurd - I wanted to say, "Of course
there are kids in here, this is a SCHOOL!" He obviously believed
all the "vicious Doberman" stories. I tried to reassure him that
this dog was an official education mascot, a favorite of preschoolers
and kindergartners, and was perfectly safe. Sonny tried to reassure
him by leaning against him, begging for a pat. After several minutes
of explanation and the verification of the teacher who had invited
us, we were finally admitted. But the nervous vice principal remained
in the back of the classroom for theduration of the presentation
and quickly escorted us out when our visit was over.
won many friends over the years. The "tough guys" at Juvenile Hall
sat on the floor with her sprawled in their laps. Tiny preschoolers
felt less intimidated by her size, giggling when she would "get
small"- crawling on her belly from child to child. Deannie Pizzillo
at Garfield Elementary would always put in a special request for
Sonny to visit her kindergartners. Sonny's last visit was to Morning
Star Boys Ranch where she played fetch with the boys and, even though
age made her a little wobbly, demonstrated her obedience skills.
seemed to instinctively know when someone needed a hug. During one
visit, a sullen sixth grader tried to gain attention by turning
away and refusing to acknowledge the visiting animals. But Sonny
would not be ignored. She slipped her head under the girl's elbow
and nuzzled her big black head onto the girl's chest, staring at
her. The entire classroom fell silent for a moment ... when the
girl's scowl broke into a smile, the room burst into laughter. Sonny
saw to it that the girl enjoyed the rest of the presentation.
loved her work and would often sneak over, crawling on her belly,
to a willing lap when she should have been allowing the other animals
their turns. When verbally chided for her sneaky behavior, she would
roll onto her back and gaze up into the eyes of whoever's lap she
was in. Cuteness always prevailed. Everyone loved her.
would like to thank Kathy and Scott Ferguson for allowing us the
privilege of owning her; Dr. Lincoln at WSU for extending her years
with us with his talents as a surgeon and his research into CVI
neck surgery; the SpokAnimal vets Dr. Nancy Haugen and Sherron McKelvey
for their excellent care and many surgeries over the years, and
to Dr. Brown at Pet Emergency for making her last hours more comfortable.
And I can't say enough about the gentleness and understanding of
Dr. Linda Wood at Audubon Vet Clinic as she helped us say goodbye.
- Sportingfield's Blame it on Rio - 10/87 - 2/00
taught me so much in the twelve years I had the pleasure of knowing
her. Were it not for her, I wouldn't be the trainer I am today and
without her inspiration, we might not have been driven to take the
leap in creating Diamonds in the Ruff. She taught us there was a
has been a special part of SpokAnimal for many years. Her footprints
are in the hallways of almost every school in the Spokane area and
she still lives in the memories of many children, some who have
graduated high school and have their own children now. She was cuddled
by tough guys in juvenile detention and sat in wheelchairs with
children with disabilities. Her photo still flashes by on the SpokAnimal
header page on the Cable TV Pet Report. She was a cover girl on
a hospital magazine.
was the very first dog in the city of Spokane to walk into a hospital
and have her picture taken for a tag that read "Pet-Assisted Therapy."
She paved the way for so many wonderful dogs after her. She opened
the doors to pet therapy first at Deaconess, then Sacred Heart,
and later Shriner's Children's Hospital and St. Luke's Rehabilitation
Institute. She made special trips to Deaconess Medical Center following
the horrible shooting at Fairchild Air force base to visit injured
children in the ICU. A small girl struggling to breathe from the
effects of cystic fibrosis told her doctor, "I could sleep if Rio
was here." She lay quietly in the arms of a tiny boy who was dying
Steven had known Rio for many months. He was an expert little trainer
and gave the other children lessons in how to give her signals and
commands. He ran with her up and down the hospital halls at Deaconess
and she did her very best to keep up with him. As I lay on the couch
with her tiny cancer ravaged body in her final hours, I remembered
how she had given comfort to Steven in his final days, his tiny
form curled around her in his darkened room, his arms holding her
close. In her final hours she looked as frail as he had that day,
and now it was me holding her. Rio left us on February 18. Rio was
the official advice giver in every issue of Companion Animal News
... perhaps in the future her advice will be compiled into a booklet
and sold to raise money for the animals. It would be a fitting tribute
to a great little dog who changed my life and brought so many smiles
to so many. We will miss you, Rio.
you to Dr. Kerry Fisher and her wonderful staff for their immense
compassion and understanding in her final days. What would we have
done without you?
memory of Eddie
'In Memory' tributes - add one of your own ...