Lynn Lippincott trains Reba at the Toledo Kennel Club in Holland for the trials at the Westminster’s Masters Obedience Championship in New York City. Mr. Lippincott has been going through his own trials, that of losing his wife of 48 years. ‘I miss her so much,’ he says.
It was one solemn pledge Lynn Lippincott of West Toledo knew he’d do absolutely everything he could to fulfill.
The 74-year-old promised his late wife, Gael, when she died of cancer 3½ years ago, that he’d take their golden retriever as far as she could possibly go in obedience. On Monday, they will compete in the Westminster Kennel Club’s inaugural Masters Obedience Championship in New York City.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve done, for my wife’s sake,” Mr. Lippincott said. “I’m very happy with where I’m at. I’m excited to go.”
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The pair are one of several Toledo-area participants in portions of the 140th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Some events, such as the third Masters Agility Championship, were held Saturday. The All Breed Dog Show is Monday and Tuesday, with the final Best in Show on Tuesday evening.
Mr. Lippincott’s 8-year-old dog Reba, whose registered name is Tanbark’s Little Miss Sunshine, was ranked the No. 12 obedience dog in the country last year. She has qualified 110 times in both open and utility classes to earn the utility dog excellent 11 title, garnered the title of obedience trial champion, and the prestigious title of obedience grand master.
The utility class is the highest of three levels in obedience, above novice and open classes, and includes a number of exercises with basic commands. Dogs will follow hand signals without voice commands from a distance; retrieve a dumbbell with the handler’s scent from an assortment of dumbbells; follow a directional signal to retrieve a glove; stand and stay for a brief examination from a judge, and clear one of two jumps as directed by the handler.
Reba was originally Mrs. Lippincott’s. After her death, the dog was initially afraid of working with Mr. Lippincott despite her close familiarity with him. His naturally harsher voice and overall different style would send the sensitive golden retriever running.
“They went through some rough spots in terms of trying to become partners,” said Maureen Foley of Ann Arbor, one of several women who have helped instruct Mr. Lippincott and keep track of him after his wife’s death. “But they’ve adapted to one another and are a really nice team.”
Now the pair practices regularly about five days a week. Mr. Lippincott thinks his wife of 48 years had two ideas in mind when she made him promise to continue obedience with Reba — seeing how far the dog could go and helping her husband in his grief.
“She wanted to keep me busy,” he said. “I miss her so much.”
While practicing at the Toledo Kennel Club in Holland on Wednesday, Mr. Lippincott focused on making sure Reba lined herself up properly in relation to his body. She must be perfectly straight or they will lose points, and slivers of points can make the difference at Westminster.
“It’s really about precision,” he said. “Like the military.”
Reba’s signature move is heeling. She is rarely an inch out of line moving in any direction, and Mr. Lippincott is quick to say that his wife’s work is responsible for that.
“She trained her in all the foundation stuff,” he said.
Ms. Foley said the humble man regularly brushes aside accolades for his own hard work, giving credit to his wife instead.
“Lynn will give himself no credit,” Ms. Foley said. “He gives Gael all the credit. He finds it very hard to accept that kind of compliment.”
It was Mr. Lippincott’s work with Reba that earned many of her utility titles, the obedience trial championship, and the grand master title.
“He’s done all of that,” Ms. Foley said. “He has come a very long way in terms of his ability to show his dog. He’s come to be very successful, and they’re a force to be reckoned with now.”
Mr. Lippincott said Reba’s only real fault is that she’s often overly friendly and believes everyone attending a trial is there to dote on her. And because part of her training involves retrieving whichever of three gloves she is directed to get, she has an endearing penchant for snatching gloves out of people’s coat pockets.
“She’s a real high-strung dog,” Mr. Lippincott said.
Mr. Lippincott and Reba will face 34 other teams at Westminster. He said he hopes to finish in the Top 10 but will be pleased no matter the outcome.
“I promised my wife I would do what I could do with this dog,” he said. “I think I’ve done as much as she expected and maybe more. I’m very happy.”
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