Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dick Russell.... I can't believe he's gone...

Photo from Dick's website
Dick Russell, friend and dog trainer died on Thursday.  I regret that I didn't know he was ill.  I was in one of those phases without a young dog and not "needing" Dick.... I had temporarily drifted out of his life for the past couple of years.

I imagine that it was normal for people to float in and out of Dick's life.  Get a new pup and then you'd be back in his sphere.  He'd greet you as though it was just yesterday even if you'd not seen him in years.

I've been disturbed by the fact that I didn't know that he had cancer, though apparently he kept it fairly quiet and true to "normal" Dick Russell style he was doing things his way until close to the end.  Though he was 20 years my senior, he felt like a contemporary.... or maybe even younger than me.... what a zeal for life he possessed.

He was so amazingly generous and I'm not sure I gave him back enough in return for what I took over the years.  He gave away his time and talent both literally and figuratively.  His lifelong guarantee of training for a dog based on a single payment for a beginner class; his refusal to take payment from people who were old friends (for Atta's classes I had to resort to bringing him homebaked bread and desserts since he refused my money yet again); his no fee policy for rescue or pound dogs; his free large group socialization classes on Saturday mornings; free home visits... the list goes on.  He never asked for anything after that initial small charge for beginner obedience classes.

Back in the 80's and early 90's when I was "into" the obedience and tracking, Dick was part of my weekly life.  Loading up Nanny the Bernese Mountain Dog in the Suburban and going to Baton Rouge for Wednesday night training classes was a part of my sanity prescription for surviving 3 children under the age of 4.

After a couple of obedience titles on our dogs (and a Championship for Nanny), several of us got the harebrained scheme to teach our dogs to track.  Between the three of us crazy ladies, we had 8 young children and I was pregnant with Clark.  We had to twist Dick's arm to take any money, but we paid him a small pittance as a flat fee to meet with us once a week and check on our progress.  You'd have thought we were all beauty queens in the way that Dick flirted and shelled out the continual compliments and offers of romantic liaisons should any of us decide to ditch our husbands.  We knew it was all tongue in cheek (hmmmmm?), but still it made us feel good and didn't we have fun together!

One of my favorite memories of Dick was when we were out in a field one morning.  It was uncommonly hot for April and Clark was due any day.  Vein problems had me wearing stockings, so I couldn't stand the extra heat of wearing jeans.  So there I was 9 months pregnant and wearing rubber boots and a huge maternity jumper, leaning back against the tracking line as Nanny drug me across the fields following a trail that Dick had walked several hours earlier.  As we tracked, he would follow from a distance and shout out hints and advice.  That particular day he bellowed out, "Good God Grace, you look like a ship under sail out there!"   Only Dick could make that statement and have it sound like sort of a compliment that we would laugh about for years.

~~~We were a justifiably proud group here in early 1990 holding the gloves that our dogs found at the end of their tracking tests.  We managed to get slots at the same tracking trial and all three dogs passed.  Nanny (left) had previously gotten her Tracking Dog (TD) title at a test in Fort Worth so this was our second test... just for fun), Gita (Rottweiller) passed her advanced level TDX and Chuckie (Cocker Spaniel) earned his TD title that day.
Dick had come to watch us and cheer us on.... I'll cherish the memory of that day.... "Mom" jeans and all!! ~~~ 

Dick encouraged me to teach obedience classes in Zachary and was insistent that I freely use his program.... no cut or fee, no hesitation on his part:  just go ahead and use his system of training, copy all of his handouts, hard work and expertise.

I paid for Nanny's beginner classes and gave him that small tracking coach fee.  Then at no charge there was Carter who went through classes with Aravis, Asher with Mr. Biggs, Sammy, Mercy, Atta, advanced classes for probably 5 years with Nanny, advanced classes with Mercy and for a couple of years I taught classes based entirely on Dick's weekly handouts.... all at no more charge.  That's the sort of person he was.  He gave and gave and never asked for anything from anyone except for friendship in return.  How many of us can say we are that generous with out talents and knowledge?  Very few.  

Here's a link to a recent article about Dick in 225 Magazine .  I hope that people realize what a treasure we've lost in Baton Rouge.  Dick had gained world recognition in the past 10 years, but he didn't let that change him.

Selfishly I wish I could see his wry smile again, get a hug and answer his standard question that he would ask when I hadn't seen him for a while:  "Are you and Joe still married? ... Because if not....."  Then he'd laugh and say "Just got to try!"  But more than anything, I wish I could have had the chance to tell him what an impact he had on my life and how many memories I have of the good times.

1 comment:

  1. You are so right...such a mark he left on so many. I live right down the road from him and I too wish I'd spent more time with all goes to quickly I'm afraid. Always the flirt and friend, ever the trainer. I'm thankful that he trusted me enough to leave his flock of sheep with me. He loved those animals and his dog Anne loved working them...I plan to do a post about him and his sheep this week on my blog:


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