A Life of Happy Times With Dogs…. and Some Sad Ones
I have had dogs as pets most of my life and for the entirety of my 40 year marriage. All were wonderful. And, prior to my retirement, in my work as the Administrator of the largest County Health Department in my state of New Jersey, I supervised three Animal Shelters. I lost my last corgi rescue, Neily, quite a bit earlier than expected, as he developed degenerative myelopathy, which became very severe in the last 18 months of his life. When, he was 3 years old, Neily, a former show dog, was cruelly abandoned by his owners. They told the shelter it was because they were divorcing, but now I suspect their plans to breed him for profit went awry when the new test detecting the gene for DM, which is a really terrible fate for an active dog who loved to run, became available. It is a terrible condition similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans. Fortunately, I doubt many, if any corgis of the future will have this gene, since the test was developed. Anyway, at the shelter, we took all dogs, young and old, pedigree and mixed. Neily’s Dog brother was an elderly Saint Bernard who was immediately taken by a Saint Bernard group, who are a very organized breed rescuers in my area. We took the surrendering owner’s story at face value. Legally, we had to take all surrendered dogs and within days, my Animal Facilities manager who knew I loved corgis, ‘just happened’ to bring Neily into my office. It had been nearly a year since my last pet, Dusty passed away in my arms. LOL, Neily came home with me that day. My husband, who insisted we never get another dog, took one look at him and said, “you look like a corgi”. It was love at first site.
Six months later, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, my husband was between jobs and his mother’s waterfront home was flooded with five feet of water. Don started taking Neily every day on the 45 minute ride to work on the house with him and they bonded immediately. All my prior rescues, another corgi, a Cairn terrier and a Shepherd/Lab mix were really my dogs. But Neily, although my loving companion, lived for my husband’s days off. We were devastated as our Neily deteriorated. We tried acupuncture, water therapy and finally introduced him to his custom made wheelchair, which he despised. We watched his lightning speed running turn into a painful crawl and drag. He was so heavy, from lack of movement, I could barely pick him up to get him outside. Then he developed the breathing problems as his frame became paralyzed. Knowing dogs as well as I did, I knew this was no life for a proud breed who thrives on their dignity. He left us in November of 2020. My husband, through the saddest tears, reminded me again “we are NEVER getting another dog”.
By the first month without a canine companion, as a relatively young retiree, I was getting lonely. My sons live a distance away, one in Manhattan and one in New Orleans. I spent my time painting and writing by myself, with no little four-legged friend to come and look up inquisitively at what I was doing or nudge my ankle for a treat. But I just simply didn’t know what to do about it. My husband, (inner Marshmallow that he is for dogs, lol), must have felt the same way because one day he watched me painting a portrait of Neily and said, “fine, if you want a dog, it can’t shed (he was ALWAYS vacuuming after the corgis) and YOU have to be able to lift it”. I said to myself “that was a lot faster and easier than I expected”.
The Hunt For A New Best Friend Was ON!
I only had rescues up to this point. I usually adopted the older guys, even if they had some health or dental issues. I dearly loved each of them. But never really had enough time with them, usually 5 to 8 years. And I was getting older, and could not just do another five year heartache. So that maybe left me with the option of a puppy from the shelter. However, most times the pups are mixed breed, father unknown. And we have a saying in the animal shelter “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset”. No matter what Mama looked like, they could wind up shedding up a storm and could also grow to be quite large. My Shelter Manager had a long chat with me and said, “Vikki, listen, you gave older dogs, including that 8 year old corgi (Princess Grace) a great life with excellent care and lots of love. You did your part. Go for a breed and a good breeder that will have a dog that fits your needs, instead of accommodating all the issues like your rescues had”. I thought it over and he was right. All of my rescues had issues. Neily stopped breathing at Camp Bow Wow due to his separation anxiety. I spent more on Dusty’s teeth than I ever had on mine or my children’s!
And so began the research. I had so many boxes to check.
- No shedding,
- small enough to take in the cabin of airplane when I visited my son in New Orleans (domestically in the US that’s 20 pounds the including the carrier),
- small enough for ME to easily carry,
- Low energy most of the time, happy with one nice walk a day, a little toy play and a yard in bad weather
- Not incessant yapping barker
- Good with a youthful Senior Citizen, meaning not strong enough to bound away from me and get hurt or cause me to fall and get hurt.
- Affectionate and mild tempered (probably the most important to me)
- Not too tiny or delicate that I might accidentally hurt the dog, such as a pom
Still hoping to rescue, I looked into several options. I started with former racing greyhounds. Too many issues and they usually like to be in pairs. Yorkies were recommended but I don’t like yapping. I had a wonderful Cairn Terrier rescue, but he had the teeth problems and was little too big for an airplane. And I definitely did not want a high energy, jumping maniac, (think Jack Russell). I started with top ten and top five lists. The top Five Senior Citizen Dogs, The top Ten Travel Dogs, Best companion dogs, etc. etc. etc. In spite of all the experience I had in running animal shelters and being a true dog lover, I came across a listed breed I had never heard of…THE ITALIAN BOLOGNESE! At first I couldn’t believe these little dogs were a breed, I thought maybe a new ‘designer dog’, which are hugely popular in the US right now and can be prone to breeding issues (like the Frenchies they are pumping out at an alarming rate) and also very expensive, but that did not factor in my decision. Being an Italian American who lectures and writes on the immigration experience, any breed that was developed in Italy was a major plus with me. I was hooked!
BOLO traits and breed peculiarities
Lo and behold, when I started researching, I learned there were two types of Bolognese, The Italian line and the Russian/Hungarian/Czechoslovakian descended dogs. Apparently, Catharine de Medici gave some to the Russian Imperial family and Catharine the Great bred a line that was smaller, (some less than 7 pounds) than the Italian (about 8-10 pounds), with thinner legs and paws, and longer, fuller, whiter coats. Those were the Bolognese most used as performers, cruelly and almost to the point of extinction. So now, I had a thickening plot. I am not an ethnic snob by any means, but I had always had tough canines and herding dogs and the thought of a 7 pound dog (sometimes even less I have read), with delicate thin legs, paws and features, no matter how beautiful, scared me to pieces. What if I accidentally stepped on her/his paw? What if I accidentally hurt her/his neck? I could never forgive myself. Bolo lines have the same great traits, so size and sturdiness is the only difference. So for me,, it was a purebred Italian Bolognese or nothing. A small, yet sturdy little dog, that’s what I wanted. I was very drawn to their history and breed specifics.
Finding a Bolo In the USA!
Well, here all I can say is It wasn’t easy! The East Coast has few Bolognese Breeders. I did not care for any of them. One wanted a deposit of $500 against $2400 final cost 18 MONTHS IN ADVANCE with no guaranty that they could produce a litter. There was also no provision for a refund if there was no puppy. They would keep it until they had one. They could not tell me if they were Italian or Russian. Another also wanted an advance contract and was still calling me 18 months later. When I asked about the blood line, I was told the name of the dog, which was allegedly a champion. When I looked up the Champions and kennel, the dog was over 11 years old, also with no guaranty. I found a breeder in Florida who said she previously worked for the government, which gave me a level of comfort having a similar background. She was honest and told me she sometimes bred pure Bolognese but was currently mixing Bolognese with Bichons and Maltese breeds. She told me a LOT of breeders were doing it, just not disclosing it. And she also told me a lot of the imported dogs from Czechoslovakia were ill, maybe genetically. So she thought maybe I should consider one of her ‘designer Breeds based on a Bolognese’. Remember, in the US, The Bolognese is only in the Rare Breed Association. There are really only a few hundred pure bred living here.
And so it went, on and so on. I went through every breeder East of the Mississippi River and was disappointed every inch of the way. I was told I’d have a dog in the spring, only to have the statement retracted. The contracts were outrageous. Three months of contracts that never guaranteed a puppy. There was not one Bolognese Breeder within a ten hour drive of my home. In America, there are many more Bolo breeders in the West, particularly California and New Mexico. I have no idea why. And so I gave up. But I also knew, if I ever got another dog, it would be a purebred Italian line Bolognese or nothing.
Enter my wonderful son, Jeff, who has a very busy law practice, but took the time to enter the search. Out of nowhere I got this two minute call from the courthouse “Mom, call this number”. And that was it!
I enter a Bolognese Fairy Tale (with some brief nightmares)!
The woman who answered identified herself as the owner of Snow White Bolognese. She was a registered nurse, who bred Bolos on the side, mostly Italian as her dames are imported from Italy. She had just had a litter at Christmastime and one buyer dropped out. I said, “I hope it’s a girl”. She said, no it’s a boy and he has champagne ears and a mask, which will turn white, which gave me pause. But he was ALL Italian. The pup’s mother was from Italy. His father was an agility champion , pure Italian blood line. Little Lucky Vito! Sounded promising. She was the first breeder that actually had all the appropriate paperwork. And the most expensive: $2800. And I would have to get the pup myself or arrange delivery. I had 24 hours to decide. She had a waiting list but they weren’t expecting pups in the winter so she gave me the option before going down her list. I didn’t know what to do. At this point, my husband and my younger son said it was too soon. Jeff said go for it. My former dog sitters were all for it. I called Snow White back to ask for a little more time. After all, the pups were only a couple weeks old. She showed me a video and showed me the biggest puppy with the little light brown ears and mask and started calling him ‘Jersey’. What could I do? He was so adorable. I jumped in with Snow White. Of course, like everything worth waiting for, parts of the deal became a nightmare. She wanted certified checks and all the banks were closed due to Covid. She was in the state of Michigan which is about 1,000 kilometers (12 hours) from New Jersey. And she said he had to be picked up by February 16, because he was already starting to bond too much with his mother. We were having mid Atlantic storms from the coast through Michigan. Now, my husband was saying “it’s your dog, you wanted him, you get him”. But the number 16 is considered lucky in Italy. I went into high gear. I called everywhere. Various pet nannies that would take him on a plane wanted an average of $1,000 plus two or three airline tickets! What? Sensing my growing anxiety, my son cleared his court calendar to make the drive which made me exceedingly nervous. He knew nothing about three pound puppies and was a big rugby player. This pup looked so delicate. All our dogs had been so hearty. One ate an entire partially frozen eye round roast off the kitchen table, another brought me a woodchuck and slammed him to death on my doorstep as a proud moment. I was growing exceedingly worried when I found out through my former co-workers that many breeders who were shut down due to Covid were making ends meet through pet transport. I found a great pet transporter from Michigan who would drive straight through the snow. It was Cindy, her son and her grandson, taking turns with no stops. The Breeder was not happy and made me sign a release. She was also concerned about what they would bring him in and germs, and how they cleaned their crates. It was getting really crazy and a little nasty. I told Cindy to forget about cleaning her crates. Buy a new one, bring him to me in it and I would pay for it. Additionally, I would have only 72 hours to find a Veterinarian to inspect the puppy. Fortunately, even with Covid, my son’s high school buddy is a great vet. He said he never saw such perfect legs and teeth in any puppy before. He was a perfect specimen. By that point, I would be keeping him anyway as my heart was already melted.
When Cindy placed little Ziti in my arms in a baby receiving blanket he was crying and all I could do was stare. We definitely wanted a pasta name as we love Bolognese sauce. My younger son helped me choose the name. Ziti for the sauce, Puccini for the Opera Composer from Lucca, Italy (where my family is from) and Capitano, the character from the Commedia Dell’Arte that also had a mask and also because his personality is like Jeff’s, the jester of the family, who found him for me. And so, he is registered in the American Rare Breed Association as SNOW WHITE: ZITI PUCCINI CAPITANO.
Once I had him, I wondered, What Have I done? My life was so peaceful and easy. He got sick on the way home. They had some kind of astronaut food they squirted in his mouth to keep him from dehydrating. I was terrified. He cried non-stop the whole night. I had bought a see through crate with a sherpa liner, put his blanket and toy that smelled like his mom and left the door open. My husband went to the guest room and closed the door. He was not happy. Ziti cried so much I wound up holding him most of the night. Finally, he fell asleep and I put him in the crate and tried to sleep a little myself. I had blocked all around the crate except a small path to my bed with three foot boxes for safety. A couple hours later I woke and it seemed so quiet and he was gone! He was sitting on my dresser and staring at me! Remember his father was an agility champion. No matter how high I put barriers to keep him contained, he managed to get over them, often walking on a slim box border, incredible. This went on for a couple nights. Then he started getting comfortable, met a few neighbors and my husband tentatively began curiously looking at him. He was so small and cute, he looked like a stuffed animal that came to life.
Well within a couple months, he was trained and on a schedule. It was difficult taking him out on a four hour schedule in February. I would grab my fur coat, put it over my nightgown at 3 AM and wait. Sometimes for a while. Once six deer including stags seemed to be eyeing him up in my front yard! But my husband was already enthralled: showing him off at work, making him dinner, taking him out, because his heart melted too! Now they are best buddies and I have to remind him sometimes it was ME who brought him to New Jersey!
This is a bright, intelligent breed. And my Ziti is everything those lists said were his traits. He is calm and loves being a companion. He travels well and has eaten in the finest restaurants in New York City and New Orleans. When he was 4 months old, he took his first airplane ride. He was perfect, never made a sound. His baby fur matted as we had always used Velcro wrap harnesses but they are not for Bolos. Now I use the thinnest grosgrain ribbon harness. If I stop to talk to a neighbor on our daily walk to the park, he calmly sits and listens to the conversation. When he’s home, he generally likes to look our the picture window on top of the couch. He has so many well behaved human qualities, he’s just a delight to take anywhere. He even traveled internationally to Niagara Falls in Canada this year. He does bark at anyone who comes to the door, but that’s the only time he barks. When he has to go out, he generally just stares at us. We are working on that!
Once or twice a week, Ziti goes to daycare at Dogtopia and hangs out, in the Teeny Room. He loves Teeny Tuesday, when the little guys take over. We only bring him to play and socialize with other dogs for about four hours at a time. Ziti is a staff favorite there where he was prom king, dancing the bolo dance on two legs, having a great time. And they have made him a little bit of an Instagram star, posting some very funny photos of his antics. Precipitously, two dachshund females moved next door, Lily and Peanut, one a mini and one a ‘Tweenie’. They are one and two. They play nearly everyday, weather permitting, as the girls can somehow sneak under the fence and they all run and have a great time in the big yard. They also like going in the pool together, although Ziti prefers floating on his raft. We keep Ziti medium length, with professional grooming every 3 weeks.
My husband loves taking him for walks around the lake and showing him off to people. He took him to the county run agility classes where Ziti was head and shoulders above the rest. The teacher would be explaining something and we would look around and Ziti would be on a five foot high slide, just standing on the narrow top.
True to her word, by the time Ziti was about 6 months old, his mask and champagne ears had turned Snow White. When he was almost a year, we entered Ziti in the American Rare Breed Association Competition. Snow White Ziti Puccini Capitano received the following awards: ARBA Champion of Beauty, 12/15/2021; ARBA JR Champion of Beauty 12/15/2021; Kennel Club-USA JR Champion with the Kennel Club -USA
Champion or Companion?
Then it came time to make a decision: do we have Ziti neutered? The lovely man from ARBA begged me not to, to breed him instead. And I would have loved to promote the breed, But the contract I had would give my first pup to my Breeder, one pup to the dame, etc. Etc. and what would I do with the puppy if I did get one? The fact is, the reputable Bolognese Breeders were clear across the country. And this is a big country. I was also told sometimes small dogs are bound together for three days to mate and I didn’t want that life for him. Plus he would not be able to continue going to Dogtopia, which had a rule of neutering within 8 months, which they modified for Ziti. It’s just not the life for us.
But I’m pretty sure Ziti is loving his life. He’s such a happy fellow. He trots through the house with a proud jaunty gait and has made several trips to New Orleans. Ziti is so good with the elderly people where my 99 year old mother lives and yet loves running into daycare with endless energy to play with other pups. Everyday, he wakes up and goes out with my husband and then comes back and lets me sleep until about 9, waking me with kisses and cuddles. He is cheerful, a little curious, very athletic and does try to steal shoes, although he has boxes of toys. He still chooses to go in his crate at the beginning of every night, the door is always open, but usually winds up in bed with us.
And now, thanks to the Bolognese Dog Club UK, he’s done some new, fun things too, like appear in their travelogue and also in this year’s calendar. Ziti will be two years old December 22 and I can’t remember life without him. The Bolognese is everything advertised, every trait seems to be ingrained. But most of all, I love the affection. He so often looks like a stuffed animal come to life. And that Face! With the little black button eyes! We are together 24 hours a day, nearly every day. True besties. I’ll be honest, It is pretty impossible to find a true pure bred Bolognese in most of the USA, but if you do get lucky enough to find one, you’ll agree that Finding a Bolo means Finding Love!