Autumn Reflections

Remembering Jetta

By Debby Kay

With a passing of any friend there is a time of reflection, and in reflecting on the life of my dear friend Jetta, I realized that each of our dogs touch so many lives that we often take for granted the difference one dog can make in so many lives.  As a breeder, this effect is multiplied over many thousands of times as the descendants carry on the bloodlines. Such is the case with Jetta, who touched many bloodlines and through her many hundreds of descendants drove home the message to me, that as custodians for the Labrador breed, we have a huge responsibility.  That responsibility goes beyond whelping and caring for a litter. Just the numbers of puppies that can potentially descend from one dog alone are staggering even considering very, very few are kept as breeding stock. I know in Jetta’s case only 5 daughters were used for breeding and all other pups from her were spayed or neutered. Yet those 5 producing offspring and their get and grand get and great grand get are behind countless bloodlines today.  

In telling Jetta’s story, which can be same story for any brood bitch in any breeder’s kennel, there is pause to ponder and be grateful.  As breeders, we should ponder our motives in breeding and we should also be grateful for sharing our lives with some of the best dogs in the world, our Labradors. Through my Labradors, and Jetta in particular, I have made many wonderful friendships and those people and their dogs have enriched my life tremendously.  My sincere thanks to the scores of people who wrote to me about the Jetta they remembered, I have tried to include as many of them as I could in her story. 

In my 34 years of raising and whelping puppies she was the only ‘singleton’ puppy I ever had.  The breeding that produced her was my last hope of preserving what little remained of my original bitch line. The future of the line rested very narrowly on the luck of many parts coming together.  I had been working on building my line when a divorce forced me to place all my dogs.  The 2 best females I had were in pet homes where I placed them with the understanding I would whelp a litter from them at some time in the future.  One family spayed one of the girls without telling me.  The other family was not too sure about all the arrangements for breeding and was very reluctant to let me have the girl for a litter. After a hard sell I finally convinced them to part long enough with their “baby” to send her off to Ch. Sandylands Rip Van Winkle for a mating.  Vanny was a popular well-used stud and as it turned out 3 girls were booked that week for breeding. My girl was the only one to conceive and with only one puppy, a black female I had hoped for.

Debby Kay with Jetta 2005

From the start that little black female owned the world and that attitude, which became her hallmark, prevailing until her passing. She was always at the head of the pack, fearless and bold, taking charge of life and yet a gracious lady of great composure. She reminded me of my mantrailing/SAR partner Jessica so I named her Jetta, the German derivative of Jessica, in memory of Jessica.  As Jetta grew she got very ungainly but her aptitude at training was remarkable, so we continued with Search and Rescue (SAR) work, and eventually ended up specializing in cadaver detection work.  As a cadaver dog Jetta worked on police cases in my local area and helped to solve several mysterious murder cases finding evidence in the most unlikely places. She once located threads of a shirt caught in a tree that were stained with blood of a murder victim. The evidence was exactly what was needed to bring charges against a suspect.  Her nose never missed a thing. Later, as a 15 year old, she would still amaze visitors by her uncanny ability to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. 

As part of my education in police work I had to learn more about working and evaluating protection dogs. Jetta was my practice partner and learned to go through the motions of all the police exercises including barking at the bad guy and protecting me if I was attacked.  It was interesting to teach the Labrador the attack work because they have no concept of meanness.  So I had to make it a retrieve game, teaching her to attack the protection sleeve as a retrieve exercise and to hold it until I said let go.  Once she thought it was a retrieve game – odd as it was by her standards- she did the work with gusto.  Contrary to common belief it did not make her mean or aggressive and came in very handy, as I was to appreciate later when doing police work with her.  Jetta did much to convince police agencies to use trained dogs for specialized detection work and won many loyal Labrador converts in this profession.

Jetta was a certified cadaver detection dog

When she approached 3 years she began to blossom into a lovely show dog.  I sent her to my friend Jim Coleman (Brigadier Labradors) in Minnesota to take charge of her show career while I was overseas.  He recalls in a letter, “I will never forget my first seeing her.  Nor, sadly, will I ever forget my last visit.  I will remember her performances in the show ring.  For some reason, her first Duluth KC show stands out.  It may have been the first show where I got a chance to see her move.   She floated around the ring, never putting down a foot wrong.  It was “No Contest.”  Nor was the Racine show where she took the major.  Nor the Chicago International (she took Best of Breed the day after the National Specialty).  When she was on, she was unstoppable.”

Jim Coleman with Jetta and her Champion daughters
Jetta winning Best of Breed at the Chicago International KC show, it was her last conformation show.

In less then 18 consecutive shows she had completed her Championship in both the US and Canada. In Canada, she took Best of Opposite sex at the Labrador Owners Club specialty, had group wins, and also earned a Dog world award in the process. Back home I showed her in obedience and earned 2 HITs  for her CD title. She also qualified for her Canine Good Citizenship and Therapy Dog International certification.  Jetta loved to visit children as a therapy dog and seemed to have a special way with them.  One of my favorite stories is the kennel manager working for me at the time babysat her granddaughter while her daughter worked.  She would often leave the infant with Jetta watching her.  The first words the baby spoke were “Jetta” and she would giggle with glee at the sight of her furry friend.  When she was old enough to learn to walk she would grab Jetta’s collar and tell her “go” and Jetta would gently get up until the baby was stable and walk slowly around the house.

Jetta with her daughter BJ who is behind all the current day Chilbrook dogs.

As a breeder, Jetta did quite well and her influence is very wide spread.  She had 5 Champion get, which included Dog World Award winners, multiple Specialty winners, including the first chocolate bitch to go Best of Opposite at the National, and multiple group winners.  She had 3 graduated guides for the blind, 4 working therapy dogs, and several get with field trial placements.  Mary Crowley, the legendary field champion breeder of Candlewood fame, had one of Jetta’s chocolate daughters and once told me of her, “ I should be so lucky as to have a kennel full of girls like her. She is one of my all time favorites.”  Jetta’s grand get went on to earn yet more championships, hunting titles, obedience titles, agility titles, and set more records.  It is a Jetta great grand daughter that holds the record for the most championship titles earned in the breed.  She has over 250 descendents that have served as guides for the blind or as service dogs for the physically impaired.  I am humbled to think that from one dog so many lives have been touched through the years. I will miss my friend Jetta, but have some comfort in knowing that a little of her lives on in her decendents. 

Hail and farewell.

(By World, French, International, American Champion Sandylands Rip Van Winkle x Chilbrook Oriole of Overlea)

November 25, 1987 – September 29, 2006