Bahnhof Dobermanns' beginnings: Wilminghof Dobermanns and Colman Cogswell.
It is hard to imagine how a single decision can change one's life trajectory so dramatically, that when one looks back, she does not even know who she was before that decision occurred. For me, it was the decision to look into getting a protection dog, a Doberman protection dog.
- When I was an undergraduate at Penn State, a man ran out of a cornfield near the airport and grabbed hold of me when I was running. My aged Airedale terrier looked on wagging her tail. I ended up having to go back to rescue her from him.
- When in Leesville Louisiana, a man stood on a bridge preventing me from returning from a run and causing me to run miles to the closest house and call a parish sheriff for help.
- Then, when back at Penn State as a graduate student, a man jumped off the bank of the railroad bed trail to try to grab hold of me.
The following year, when working in Exercise Physiology and Sport Psychology for the Army Physical Fitness Institute of the US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle PA, my husband at the time, 1st LT Dan Rendeiro, and I decided that because of my many long distance runs alone, a protection dog would be the best option for me. Dan's father was a detective in a small town north of Philadelphia. He had many friends who were police canine officers. I spoke with them and they assured me that I would need a German Shepherd from Germany because American bred dogs would just "not do the job" and a "dog that doesn't bite is like a gun that doesn't shoot; no good, worse than nothing." When I asked about German-bred Dobermans, they were dumbfounded. They didn't even know whether such animals existed.
I had owned Airedales for decades. I knew they required immense amounts of grooming known as "stripping," for which I no longer had time. While growing up, my best friend's family had German Shepherds in the house and I remembered her mother brushing and brushing them and sweeping up endless amounts of dog hair. Dan's family had a Doberman. His grooming needs were insignificant, but he was American bred and not very stable. I decided to look into German-bred Dobermans in 1986. At that time, the Internet was there, but not a marketplace like it is today.
Finally, in 1987 I hunted down a Dog World Magazine and found several pages full of ads for German-imported, Schutzhund-bred Dobermans. I started calling. Everyone I called assured me of the quality and protectiveness of their dogs. They guaranteed everything. All they needed was my credit card number and I would have a dog waiting at the airport for me within 24 to 48 hours. Hum? Seemed too easy, and not quite right. I had saved Colman Cogswell till the end because there was just something more straightforward and elegant about his advertisement. To this day, I have a copy of it. I'll never forget that call, or series of calls, to Colman. They went something like this:
I started out by introducing myself and stating that I wanted a dog to run with me.
He asked in his classic South Chicago thug accent, "How far do you run?"
I stated, "Marathon distance."
He asked, "How far is a marathon?"
I responded, "About 26 miles."
Click. We had been disconnected.
I called back and stated, "We must have been disconnected."
He replied, "No, I hung up on you." Click.
I called back, "Why did you hang up on me?"
He replied, "My dogs don't run 26 miles. If you want to run 26 miles, go buy a greyhound. Not one of my dogs." Click.
I called back, "Please don't hang up. Then I explained that I run different distances on different days and I would never expect a dog to run that far without working up to that kind of distance.
Then he asked, "Do you have any other dogs?"
I said, "Yes. I have an Airedale." Click.
I called back and asked, "What's wrong with Airedales?
He stated, "They are dog aggressive." Click.
This kind of thing went on for a couple of days. At times, I feared calling him back, but somehow found the courage to do so.
Finally, I got his story and I really wanted a dog from him because he knew very much about his dogs' family lineage, their abilities, realistic expectations, and he seemed to really care about where his dogs went. Then I asked, "What kind of health guarantee do you have?"
He stated, "You are buying a dog, not a washing machine!" Click.
When I called back, he told me how he had imported several dogs from Germany and chose only to breed Zorro and Amanda. He received no guarantee from the German breeders and he was "stuck" with the substandard dogs that he had imported because it would be unethical to "pawn them off on others."
At this point in our conflicted relationship, I really wanted a dog from him. Finally he said, "You know, I have EXACTLY what you want. I have a BLACK, four-month-old female who is PERFECT. I will sell her to you under ONE condition."
I asked, "What? Whatever you want."
He very flatly stated, "If you buy her, I want you to promise to never contact me again. I don't want a kook like you calling me."
I asked him why he didn't want me to contact him. He stated, "Because you are a pain in the ass and I don't want to be bothered by you."
I noticed in his ad that Zorro and Amanda were half siblings, but I dared not ask about inbreeding. Plus, having participated in
4-H growing up on a farm, I knew that some of the best stock ever bred are linebred and inbred. I just did not even risk asking him his opinion on such things.
I sent him the money, and Deja Vu vom Wilminghof out of Zorro and Amanda vom Eschenhof arrived a few days later. She was the BEST dog I ever had to date. When I would take her out, if someone had gone up the stairs to our apartment while we were out, she would growl the entire way up the steps. It would be confirmed at the door when we arrived there because there would be a package or a business card left there for me. However, I had known, prior to arriving at my door three stories up, that they had been there because of her alerting me at the bottom of the steps.
Dan and I worked out a lot and I always had socks to hang up on the line stretched across our third story porch. The first day I hung socks with Deja, I reached down to get a sock and she was "handing me" one in her mouth. She would actually help me hang socks! I had never had such a great dog.
I acquired Deja in May 1987 and in August 1987, I moved to Madison Wisconsin for graduate school. Colman lived in Wilmington, IL southwest of Chicago. He had moved there from Harvey, where he had spent most of his life. Harvey is the classic "South Side of Chicago."
In July of 1987, on the way back to Carlisle PA from looking for houses in Madison WI, Dan, Deja, and I stopped to see Colman and his wife at the time, Susan. For the first hour we were there, Colman trained his video camera on me, repeated every sentence I said word for word, and basically made me feel more uncomfortable than I had ever felt.
He had an AK-47 MACHINE GUN leaning in the corner of his dining room and his presence was that of a hit man. He was tall, with steely blue eyes, and black hair. He was so obnoxious. Finally, he put the camera down and began to show us videos of his dogs doing protection work. That is the first time I saw Alex Rothacker, who worked all of Colman's dogs on the videos I watched on that strange first day I met Colman.
Colman spouted out so much information in his South Chicago accent that my head was spinning. Then he brought Zorro out for us to see. I was never so impressed with a dog. He strutted like a Tennessee walker and he was so tall, confident, and absolutely beautiful. All told, we were at Colman's home from the early evening until approximately 500 the next morning. We couldn't get away. Once he started to talk about Dobermans, he was an endless pit of information.
When we left, Colman reminded me that I was, as per our former agreement, to NEVER, EVER contact him again. I agreed. But somehow, I knew I would see this man again. Every Christmas, I would send him a Christmas card with a photo of Deja Vu. On her birthday, I would do the same. I never, ever heard from him. I was terrified to telephone him or stop by to see him because he was a guy that didn't seem to take kindly to being bothered.
Then, on the evening of August 16, 1989, I was walking back from the Psychology Department of UW when I made the decision to quit the university to train dogs professionally. I had been on the fence about the decision, and that night, I made it. I remember because most people were out on their porches watching the total lunar eclipse of the moon. I remember thinking, I will always remember the night I decided to leave graduate school and become a dog trainer because it is the night of this total eclipse of the moon. As Deja and I walked by people standing outside to see this eclipse, they were complimenting me on how beautiful she was and how well trained she was. It seemed like a magical, extraordinary, maybe even unique night, because of the eclipse and everyone being in the same "something special is happening" mindset. It seemed like "the stars were aligned" for something spectacular to happen.
As I neared my home, thinking that Dan would be outside watching the eclipse that he had so much looked forward to, I could see him through our kitchen window from several blocks away. It was back in the day when phones had cords connected to the wall. Dan hated talking on the phone and I could not imagine to whom he would be talking for such a long time as he never talked more than a few seconds. Plus, he very much wanted to see the eclipse, which he had apparently missed. When I walked in the door, he handed the phone to me. That was normal. However, when he stated, "It's Colman Cogswell,"it was suddenly not normal.
I practically fainted. I attempted to verify, "Who?"
He shoved the phone into my hand and said, "Colman Cogswell."
Even though Chicago is huge, the working Doberman world is not. Apparently, Colman had heard how well I had been doing with Deja. Colman told me about how his wife and son had left him because of his obsession with the dogs and that he, Colman, was dying of complications of diabetes. As he confided in me at my ripe old age of 29 years, I was speechless.
Basically, he was apologizing to me for being so awful to me and he was thanking me for doing so much with Deja. I offered to pick him up to go to dog events with me on weekends as many of them were in Chicagoland, and that is when we became the best of friends. It was an odd relationship to say the least. I was a YUPPY and he was a working class, railroad man from South Chicago. He dealt in German working Dobermans and guns. He was really, really rough.
The first time I went to visit him without Dan in tow, my mother was visiting me from Pennsylvania. I remember Dan saying, "Take your mother with you. He won't kill you in front of her."
I remember lots of quirky, funny things about Colman, like when my mom and I stayed over at his house that first time, he brought a suitcase full of handguns out to the dining room table, opened it, and told us we could pick any two pistols we like to take to bed with us so that we would feel safer. I pointed out that no matter which two pistols we picked, he would still have the "other hundred of them plus the AK in the corner" in his possession. We all laughed till we cried. Eventually, my fear of this man disappeared and he became the most funny person I ever met. He was very smart and his sense of humor never stopped.
I remember being at a restaurant with him and he said, "Bet you I can make the waitress drop everything in her hands."
I told him, "Try to behave yourself."
Then she came past us with someone else's order. As she passed by, he said, "You know, if they can't find a body, they can't prove it's murder." Crash, the waitress dropped everything in her hands and ran in terror to the kitchen, shrieking.
Once again, I admonished him, "Please, try to behave yourself."
Regarding breeding, he set up Deja's first breeding with Askan v. Warringerbruch (see Historical Note Button above), which did not take. She had a pyometra and was one of the first dogs in history to have a prostaglandin treatment at UW-Madison's School of Veterinary Medicine. She needed to be bred during the next heat cycle but Ed Radkie, Askan's owner, refused to repeat the breeding. Thus, we decided to do the ultimate inbreeding, Deja Vu to her full brother, Chico as my A-litter. When Colman met Avasara "Ava" and Avatar for the first time at approximately 10 weeks of age, he stated, "These are the most perfect Doberman puppies that I have ever seen. They are perfectly proportioned and they fear nothing. They are perfect." He died prior to their first birthday.
By the time Fancy von Mutter Haus was bred to Avatar for the B-litter, Colman had passed away. However, he had been instrumental in importing Fancy's dam, Vasti Vinanda von Diaspora and that breeding, although I did not do it myself helped me feel like I was still connected to Colman, who had made such an impact on my life.
Colman and I had our agreements and our disagreements. Most of our disagreements were because he refused to take care of himself. He died when he was only 48 years old. He left all his dogs to me. That is when I was suddenly and unexpectedly the keeper of Wilminghof's bloodline as well as the work and dedication Colman had invested prior to his death. I took the responsibility very seriously and I have tried to do breedings of which Colman would approve.
Thus, that seemingly unimportant decision to get a Doberman protection dog, and to make that call to Colman Cogswell, completely changed the trajectory of my life in an entirely unforeseen way. The dogs that had become Colman's life, became my life. No facet of my life remains untouched by these dogs.