Gone to the dogs

Kitty Drury, 12 years old, and her Newfoundland dog. (Photo provided — Jack Drury)

If life is measured by family, adventure, passion for work and hobbies, and humor, my mother checks all the boxes.

Kitty Drury came from an old New England family. She grew up in Warren, Rhode Island and spent summers in the family summer home in Cataumet, Cape Cod, where she learned to sail and became an all-American sailor.

After she graduated from Wellesley College, she met my dad, and in 1940 they got married. She followed my dad around the country in his work as a mining engineer. They eventually settled in the northern Finger Lakes, where my dad started a zinc and aluminum die casting business with my mother as bookkeeper.

Wherever they lived there was one constant — Newfoundland dogs. My mother got her first Newfoundland when she was 12, and after she met my father, he was all in for Newfies. Some thought she loved Newfies more than her five children but that wasn’t the case. She was a great mom and a great cook … even if there was an occasional Newf hair in the meal.

My brother, three sisters and I spent many weekends traveling around the Northeast, hanging out at dog shows. If kids hanging out in gyms are gym rats, then we were dog-show rats.

From left to right: Dog handler Gerlinda Hockla, Adam the Newfoundland and judge Kitty Drury. (Photo provided — Jack Drury)

Because of dogs my mother had friends all over the world. Our house was a revolving door of folks from all walks of life with one thing in common, their love of Newfoundlands. On a given night guests might be one of the pilots of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Air Force One, the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland, Antarctic explorer Finn Ronne, or perhaps a circus acrobat from Russia.

Frequently after dinner, with a Marlboro in one hand and a glass of sherry in the other, she and her dog friends would have an exhaustive discussion of dog pedigrees. “Oh yes, that b***h had Waseeka’s Humble Bosco for sire and Dryad’s Speckled Samantha as dam, and I think Sam was a Landseer.” For those not familiar with dog lingo that would translate to, that female dog’s parents were from Waseeka Kennel and Dryad Kennel. The father’s registered name was Humble Bosco (probably called Bosco for short) and the mother’s registered name was Speckled Samantha (called Sam for short). The mother was a Landseer, a black and white Newfoundland. (Most Newfies are all black or with a spot of white on the chest.)

My high school buddies never let me forget the day they stopped by, and my mother was on the phone explaining she had a female puppy for sale. The dam was Holly, and the sire was Golly so what my buddies heard was, “I have a Holly-Golly b***h for sale.” As 15-year-olds they thought that was the funniest thing ever.

When my dad became seriously ill my sophomore year in high school, my mother became Supermom. In addition to keeping my dad’s business going, she took care of my dad and kept breeding and selling Newfoundlands. I don’t know how she did it.

Three years later, after my dad passed away, my mom sold his business and she bred Newfies for another year before she passed the kennel on to my oldest sister. Then she became a full-time dog judge. At the age of 50, she started life anew with only one Newfie by her side.

When the Mark Twain Camp came into our family, she rebuilt the boathouse and made it her base of operations for the last 16 years of her life. She authored two books on Newfoundland dogs, was the world authority on the breed, and traveled all over North America, Europe, Australia and parts of Asia. She judged dog shows in countries where, as she put it, “They ate more dogs than appeared in dog shows.”

The pinnacle of a dog show judge’s career is judging Best of Show at the Westminster Dog Show, and in 1984 she got the job.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a multi-day competition that has been around since 1877 and known for being one of the world’s most elite dog shows. The winning dog makes the rounds of the morning news shows, and photos of the dog (and judge of course) appear in newspapers all over the world. It is the cat’s meow of dog events.

The year she judged Best of Show she made it a family event. She brought all of us children along with spouses and kids, aunts and uncles, best friends and a few hangers-ons to the city for the event. We had dinner at an exclusive club, and my sister got us tickets for a Broadway show, and a royal time was had by all.

My mother hadn’t bred Newfs for decades, but without question they were still her favorite breed. So, when we learned that a Newfie had won the qualifying round for Best in Show, we all wondered whether she’d pick it and give it the coveted trophy.

The 2,500 dogs had been narrowed down to seven, from which she would choose the best. The first dog ran out into the ring with its handler holding its leash. It trotted slowly around the ring coming to a stop at its assigned spot. With tension in the air the other six dogs followed. All of them eventually lined up on one side of the ring. My sister Carol blurted, “Does she have the nerve to pick her favorite breed?”

She walked slowly down the line looking at each one. She walked back and had them trot individually around the ring once more. My sister Mary said, “She’ll come under some withering criticism if she picks the Newfie.”

She worked her way down the line, carefully feeling each for conformation. My sister Esther whispered, “This will be crazy if she gets to select the dog to be the first Newfoundland to ever win Best in Show at Westminster?

I didn’t think there was a chance in hell she would pick the Newfoundland.

The entire process lasted 20 minutes. With serious deliberation, she walked to the judge’s table and filled out a few forms. She had made her decision.

The truth of the matter is that at an elite dog show there is no significant difference between the dogs that make it this far. My mother once told us that when you’re judging Best in Show, especially at a show like Westminster, all the dogs are great dogs. She said, “What you’re looking for is the dog that jaunts into the ring and announces, ‘Tonight’s my night!'”

Evidently, the Newfie came in and announced, “Tonight’s my night!”

If it did, I didn’t hear it — but my mom sure did.


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