My Friend, Janie Wondergem


Reggie Wondergem, doing the scent articles at an obedience trial.

Reggie Wondergem, doing the scent articles at an obedience trial.

I am a purebred dog fancier.  I’ve stated this many times.  The reason I am a purebred dog fancier is that I know that there are several hundred breeds of dogs.  Not all will make  good pets. When people ask what kind of dog I would suggest for a family, I have to ask a lot of questions about where they live, who they live with, how much free time they have, what they  like about dogs and what they dislike. Often,  I tell  people to go an animal shelter and choose an older dog, Really.  Unless you work at home, training a puppy can be daunting.   Most  dogs in animal shelter are either already housebroken, or so eager to please, they  can be trained quickly (if you don’t sabotage their success).  However, if people have specific likes and dislikes, I usually suggest a variety of purebreds and tell people how to go about finding them. It is not that I am opposed to rescue—not at all.  I just don’t want the backyard breeders choosing the dog I should have.  Neither did my friend, Janie.

That said, I would NEVER suggest a Saluki for a family pet.  They are not demonstrative, and have a tendency to be nervous.  They generally like being in a pack.   If they had opposable thumbs, they’d be dangerous.  Google ‘Saluki Tree of Life’, and they have a great photo of a Saluki eating cat food on the top of the refrigerator.  However, they are quiet.  Catlike.  Perfect for a single person or a couple of adults.  They  really don’t need exercise:  most end up being couch potatoes—but I think  they  do better if you can encourage them to move.

In any case, I love Salukis.  I was showing my 2nd Saluki at the International Kennel Club show, which is benched (meaning you have to be there, on exhibit, for a certain number of hours), and Janie approached me and gave me her phone number. She had seen in the catalog (the directory of dogs being shown) that I didn’t live far, and she also had a young Saluki, Reggie.  We did get together, and became friends.  This was  about  15 years ago, about 1999.

Early on, she told me she was interested in  leaving nursing and starting a dog related business.  We were going to buy a business together, but she didn’t trust the  people we were to buy from and we were somewhat estranged for a while, but  in the end, she was right. She started her own pet care business , North Shore Pet Services, and did very well with it. We referred clients to each other. She learned, by trial and error,that some dogs  were always going to be a problem because their owners spoiled them.  She also taught herself to groom dogs, and  was amazingly proficient in a short period of time.

My dog, Dazzle, just adored Janie.  He had a thing for  people with light colored hair.  But he really really liked Janie and would really  turn on his  normally  aloof personality for her.  He was  sort of ambivalent about  Reggie, and the other 2 brothers she ultimately acquired, Khan and Ivory.  However, when we  went straight racing, as participants in LGRA (Large Gazehound Racing Assoc), Dazzle would crowd in with her guys in their exercise pen. That’s the great thing about Salukis:  rarely are there fights.

Janie was a petite woman.  I’m 5’4″, and she was a bit shorter than me, and probably weighed 50 pounds less.  I  didn’t think she’d ever get Reggie (TSH Crystal Payday, UD ). under control, but not only did she get him under control, she  put 3 AKC obedience titles on him, and he became one of less than 10 U.D. Salukis.  If you’ve never trained a dog, you have no idea the dedication and patience needed—particularly for what we  think of  as a ‘non-obedience’ breed.  Reggie was a typical Saluki, too.  I remember  Janie taking him to a conformation class, and him leaning all the way over rather than allow a ‘judge’ to examine him.  From being like that to standing alone in an obedience ring and allowing a judge to approach and go over him.

I also remember showing at Skokie Valley Kennel Club.  We were the judge’s last breed of the day,the only sighthounds she was judging, and she was clearly not happy.  She withheld ribbons and said, “I’m sorry, but none of these dogs are show quality.”  Janie’s husband, Fred, was furious, and he said he’d never show a dog again. I was sort of amused.  In fact, my dog finished his championship less than a year later. So, there.

Both of our dogs were disqualified from ASFA (lure coursing).  My dog, Dazzle, for playful interference, and Reggie, also, for interference, although who started the  interaction is in contention.

Janie had so many interests.  She did a lot of decorative things around her house,and was a phenomenal gardener.  She became active in North Shore Dog Training Club and the Chicagoland Hound Club…but nobody ever nominated her  to be a member of the Saluki Club of America. She wasn’t breeding dogs.  I felt that to discount her love and contribution to the breed was inexcusable, but it was what it was.

Being a nurse, Janie knew a lot about  drugs and health.  She read a lot.  She was really the only person I could talk to about purebred dogs, and training, particularly sighthounds.  She influenced me so much.  I really respected her.

Early  this year, Janie was being treated for what she described as ‘gurd’, sort of an indigestion problem.  Her doctor was treating her, but she was not improving.  Janie demanded a chest x-ray, because she was afraid something else was going on.  Her doctor kept dismissing her, but Janie was insistent.  Turned out she had lung cancer.    Janie had not smoked for over 30 years. Worse—her doctor knew the diagnosis, and went on vacation without telling Janie until she returned that she had cancer, and then would not refer her to an oncologist.  Janie had to find one on her own.

Even worse than this, was that Janie had, via the  Affordable Care Act, switched from what we both felt was a mediocre  policy with a high deductible to a  Blue Cross Silver  ‘Choice’ Plan.  While it ended up covering a lot of her expenses,  she could not find an oncologist within 10 miles of her  that accepted the plan!  Mind you,  she did not live in the inner city, but an upscale suburb of Chicago.    We have since discovered that  this is very common:  that people can’t tell all the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans listed on the health exchange, apart.  Many  people have complained about this  to our congresswoman. Jam Schakowsky.  This is why we need a single payer system (though I do wonder if a single payer system in the USA will cap funds for cancer care).

I know how rare it is to meet someone  as a mature adult whom you really connect with.  I knew Janie a quarter of my life.   She died  a couple of weeks ago.  It had looked like  the chemo had shrunk her tumor, but within a couple of weeks,  it roared back.  She was on oxygen and had had a blood transfusion, and was getting weaker.  Finally, she had a stroke.  I really miss her, and will for a long time.  There was so much about her to miss.

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2 Responses to “My Friend, Janie Wondergem”

  1. Liz Dobrzynski Says:

    Thank you for writing this. I really miss Janie, too. I can still hear her voice in my head and I hope I never forget it. She had a great laugh, a beautiful smile and a heart of gold.

  2. Stan Matsumoto Says:

    I was fortunate enough to have known Janie for some 25 years through her love of dogs. She started training in conformation with her Suluki Reggie or Kahn and all the one’s to her current young dog black male. She loved the breed and trained and worked hard making it fun for all. Her outlook look on life was rather free flowing with an underline of stability and conforming to society’s rules. She always reminded me of a typical California 70’s gal finding the good in everything not making waves. She was always positive and pleasant to be around. I always looked forward to my Weds class as I know I’d be seeing Janie….she is sorely missed that smiley pleasant disposition that says….Janie Wondergem.

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