Big paws to fill

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Ziggy was like a duck out of water, when she went to live with Lindy Burch on the 80 Ranch in Weatherford, TX, five years ago. As a Labrador retriever pup, Ziggy had more in common with our fine-feathered friends than with Burch’s champion cutting horses and border collies.

Today, however, there is no mistaking that 80 Ranch is Ziggy’s turf. “She’s the head honcho and every dog and every person knows that,” pointed out Burch, the first woman to win the NCHA Open Futurity, as well as the NCHA Open World Championship, and the only woman ever elected as president of the National Cutting Horse Association.

“We call her “the Black Angel,” Burch added. “She can do no wrong.”

Ziggy had some big paws to fill. Burch’s Jack Russell terrier, the late Snoopy, had his own bank account and flew first class to star in dog food commercials on the West Coast. Pete, Burch’s now retired 15-year-old border collie, was a legendary cow dog in cutting circles. But one gets the impression that ranch work is too mundane for Ziggy, although she gave it a try as a pup. On that occasion, a cow broke her right front leg. Now she steers clear of cattle and horses, but enjoys daily dips in their ample rock water troughs.

Burch’s friends Jerry and Melinda Black, of Oakdale, CA, bred Ziggy out of their good bitch Annie and shipped her to Texas. Expecting a chunky English-type pup, Burch was surprised by the lithe female with a “skinny” nose that trotted out of the crate. Later she was to learn that Ziggy is an American field trial Lab.

“I thought, well, too bad. I got the weird one,” Burch remembered. “But it turned out that she’s been a great dog. It’s just like great cutting horses. I’ve been blessed with many that I’ve gotten to ride, but you can’t make them. They are either great or they’re not.”

Burch took Ziggy to her friend Judy Aycock, a leading dog handler who lives in Sanger, Texas. “Judy said that she’s never seen a dog want to (retrieve) more than Ziggy, and she’s been training them for 35 or 40 years,” noted Burch, who would leave Ziggy in Sanger for a month at time, while she was in training.

Ziggy’s first duck hunt took place on the bay in Port Aransas during a winter storm. She had already retrieved all the dead ducks, but a wounded bird was swimming away from the shore and whenever Ziggy approached, it would dive.

“This went on and on for what seemed like an eternity to me,” said Burch. ”Ziggy had been out there swimming in circles for a long time. I didn’t want her to drown in front of my eyes. I had my whistle to call her in, but it was storming so much, she couldn’t hear it.

“Now I’m really getting worried and I’m taking my waders off so that I can swim to her, and the guide is running for the boat because he sees I’m going to go in. By then, the bay is so choppy, I can’t see anything. Then here comes Ziggy up out of that water with the duck in her mouth. We were all hysterical.

“The guide told me that his worst fear is people that bring their own dogs, because most of them aren’t trained. But he told me that Ziggy was as good a dog as he had seen in years.”

The trials of Fergus

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Fergus turned one year old last month and if he was a cutting horse, I might appreciate his new found intensity. Suddenly, he wants to chase anything that runs, spins, flutters or glides, including, but not limited to, squirrels, butterflies, lizards, bicycles, and skate boarders. His breeder and his trainer tell me it’s “prey drive” compounded by adolescence and that it will pass.

Our teddy bear has turned into a terrier on steroids. A high school graduate on the cusp of earning his CGC (Canine Good Citizen award), he is capable of and willing to execute any command, except when distracted by squirrels, butterflies, lizards, bicycles, skate boarders and small children.

Last week he afforded me an out-of-body experience, when he broke away to bound up a hill toward a playground full of elementary school children who were playing tag, until one of them spotted Fergus and shreiked “Rottweiler!” Remember the beach scene from the movie “Jaws” – the one where everyone is running and screaming “shark”?

By the time I reached the playground, the kids had stopped running and so had Fergus. The boy nearest him, who was half his size, picked up his leash and handed it to me. Some of the other kids came up to pet him.

Since then, Fergus has been “in training” with my husband, who weighs 100 pounds more than I do, which is also 100 pounds more than Fergus. The first time he leapt for a squirrel with Alan on the other end of the leash, he looked like a mini-pin tied to an oak tree.

Although I am not ready to take him to the park, Alan reported that on Sunday Fergus passed the adolescent doggie equivalent of the “12 Trials of Hercules,” which involved skater boarders, bicycles, loose dogs, and joggers.

At home, Fergus is at the mercy of Sadie, a heeler-Malanois mix, who steals his bones, and two cats, who rule the roost.

Cutter the Little Red Dog

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Lots of cutters are Aussies, but only one stars in his own series of books.

Cutter, the Little Red Dog, belongs to Evonne Severinsen, who lives on a ranch near her daughter and son-in-law, Robin and Frank Merrill. Frank, who recently handed over the reins as president of the American Quarter Horse Association, is a non-pro cutter, as are his daughters McKenzie and Megan. It was Megan who suggested the name Cutter for the red Australian Terrier pup that Evonne brought home nine years ago.

“When I was a puppy, I played with the cats and kittens the same as a horse cuts cattle,” Cutter explains in his first book, “Cutter Grows Up.” While a penchant to cut cats inspired his barn name, despite his red hair, Cutter is a blueblood. His father is champion Scarlett’s Red Hot Chili; his mother is Scarlett O’Hair; and Cutter’s official name is Scarlett’s Red Butler.

Evonne was raised on a ranch in Heppner, Oregon, and married Doc Severinsen, the son of the local dentist. Doc became the leader of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Band in 1967, but Robin and her sister Judy grew up riding horses on the ranch in Oregon. Judy is the wife of Bubba Cascio, who trained the great Quarter racing champion Dash For Cash.

The Cutter the Little Red Dogs series started as little albums for family and friends of Evonne, who loves to travel and takes Cutter along wherever she goes. Eventually, friends convinced her that the books were too good not to share. The series of five full-color books come in a bone-shaped carrying case with a Cutter “doll.” In addition to Cutter Grows Up, the titles include: Cutter & Friends; Cutter Dresses Up; Cutter Goes West; and Cutter, Back at the Ranch.

The books are available through Cutter’s Friends, 21072 Sonner Ave, Purcell, OK 73080, phone 405-834-1554.

Best of Show

Monday, February 11th, 2008

The 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, in Madison Square Garden, begins today and culminates on Tuesday, February 12 with the selection of the Best of Show. First held in 1877, the Westminster is America’s second longest continuously held sporting event.

The American Kennel Club recognizes 157 distinct dog breeds and this year, for the first time since 1991, four new breeds will be introduced at the Westminster show: the Tibetan Mastiff, the Beauceron, the Plott Hound, and the Swedish Vallhund. For an interactive video and an article about the new breeds go to

For a schedule of classes, in case you want to track your favorite breeds, and also for streaming video, go to The show will also be televised; check for local listings.

White House Pets

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

“I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons,” said Will Rogers, friend to a number of politicians, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose constant companion was a Scotch Terrier named Fala.

You can see photos of Fala and a whole menagerie of presidential pets, including Lincoln’s dog Fido at The site includes lists of presidential pets as far back as George Washington, who kept five French hounds and a parrot that belonged to his wife, Martha.

The site also includes interesting footnotes. For instance, to set an example and encourage conservation during World War I, Woodrow Wilson kept sheep on the White House lawn. It was Wilson who said, “If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”

David McDavid to sponsor Futurity show

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

As an auto dealer, David McDavid became familiar to millions of viewers across Texas with his fondly remembered commercials featuring a big dog named Widetrack. You can still hear Widetrack’s bark here.

McDavid and his wife, Stacie, have also been avid cutters for years. They own the leading freshman cutting sire Hes A Peptospoonful and 4-year-old The Silver Spoon, one of the top money earners from Hes A Peptospoonsful’s first crop.

Now McDavid’s cutting and television threads are coming together in December as he sponsors a live telecast of the $4 million NCI Building Systems NCHA Futurity. The three-hour program will be available to more than 28 million homes via RFD-TV.

Promoting the sport of cutting is nothing new to McDavid, a former owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Back in 1995, as part of a customer appreciation event for one of his dealerships, he brought 600 people who knew nothing about the sport to the NCHA Summer Spectacular,  gave them a mini-seminar with a AAA judge, and watched them have the time of their lives.

The new fans got to meet Hall of Fame riders, the “Dirk Nowitzkis of the cutting world.” They quizzed experts, watched videos during cattle changes, and came away with an appreciation of a sport they’d known nothing about. One participant said she was going to trade in her new McDavid automobile and buy a horse.

Multiply that kind of response by 28 million households, and cutting could really be in business.

A Dog’s Purpose (from a 6-year-old)

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

If you love horses, chances are you love dogs and kids. I received an e-mail recently, one of those that’s been forwarded and re-forwarded, that includes an answer to a question that all dog owners ask themselves. I wish I knew who to credit with the story – maybe it’s apocryphal and maybe you received it, too. Thanks to Danny Motes for sharing it with me, so that I can share it with you (the picture is of Mo, who never pretended to be what he was not):

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion.

We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.” Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly and remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
  • Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  • Take naps.
  • Stretch before rising.
  • Run, romp, and play daily.
  • Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  • Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • On warm days, stop to lie on your back in the grass.
  • On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
  • When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
  • Be loyal.
  • Never pretend to be something you’re not.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.