The Dynamic Peggy Adamson – Text Version

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By L. Ann Lanier

In the closing days of 1941 Peggy Adamson, the young wife of a U.S. Marine Captain, ordered a new Doberman as a companion to her Doberman bitch Granda. A Christmas present, the puppy arrived a few weeks after Pearl Harbor Day and had nearly as explosive an effect on the Adamson household. He would be named Dictator von Glenhugel.

By the time Dictator erupted from his crate after a 6 day train ride to Grass Valley, California in January 1942, Granda was very dignified and perfectly trained dog. She would help this newcomer learn some manners. Peggy trained Granda from a book, competed in obedience and quickly had her obedience degree. In conformation she had a three point major, but there Peggy saw a beautiful older sister of Dictator win Best of Breed. She initiated correspondence with breeder John Cholley, and Dictator was the result. He was to be her pass to the world of purebred dog showing.

In 1943, forced by the war to join her husband, Bob, Peggy dropped Granda off at her sister’s and headed for the east coast. Dictator arrived after the six day trip with his body a beautiful dark brown and his head and halfway down his neck a light color from hanging out the window as Peggy drove. Peggy had been corresponding with Doberman breeders in the East and Midwest. Now she met them in person. Immediately impressed with Dictator, they encouraged her to show him. He was one and a half years old and he was an instant success.

‘Tator was only shown 18 times, retiring after Peggy piloted him to Group 1 at Westminster in 1945. Peggy said that although Dictator enjoyed the show ring, she herself was nervous and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the dog became the most famous Doberman of the 40’s. He was undefeated in Breed, and won 5 Bests in Show. Just as Ch. Ranch Dobe’s Storm would do in the 1950’s, Peggy would later write, Dictator “captured the imagination of the press, the adulation of the public and the admiration and respect of those in other breeds, including the judges.” This was so, but even though Dictator was a dog who at his best could probably hold his own in the breed ring today, Peggy’s unerring grasp of public relations, her attractiveness and her great intelligence were equally responsible for his popularity.

This large and powerful breed had attracted her at a time when dog kennels were a man’s hobby. The great kennels of the day were separate from the house and traditionally men ran them. Dobermans most especially were considered to be way too much dog for a woman, especially a tiny woman in high heels.

The Adamson-Dictator team set a new breed image in American Kennel Club shows. Until then the Doberman Pinscher was characterized by Ch. Ferry von Raufelsen of Giralda, a German import, who became the first Doberman to win Best In Show at Westminster in 1939. The awarding judge was quoted,

“The only thing I didn’t like about him was that I couldn’t touch the devil.” In legend, a garbage can lid “shield” was required to enter Ferry’s kennel run. (Ferry was eventually beaten to death by a caretaker in his owner’s absence.) Dobermans had a fearsome public image. Yet here was a wonderful red dog that, without being trained, might gravely extend a paw when he met someone. Here was a Doberman who let children crawl on him and, while watchful, was as friendly and outgoing as spaniel. The public and the press were charmed. Peggy quickly picked up on this and used it to the everlasting advantage of the breed in the United States.

Dictator ‘worked’ for Dogs for Defense, epitomizing the perfect war dog recruit. It made the newspapers. He was hospitalized for a minor illness. His progeny were sent around the world. It made the newspapers. He won Best In Show. It made the newspaper. Peggy’s files hold many clippings extolling ‘Tator’s virtues. Always amiable, handsome and docile, Dictator changed the American public’s concept of Dobermans forever.

The resultant publicity reflected and no doubt escalated a change in the status of women in the ‘dog game’. Peggy’s petite visibility “so all alone out there with all those male professional handlers”, as one reporter put it, led the way for other women to become more involved. With so many able bodied men away in the military, the World War II era saw dogs of all breeds moving into the domain of women. Whelping boxes moved into kitchens where children tumbled and played, and significantly, where puppies were socialized in an entirely different way.

Frank Grover recalls seeing Adamson judge Best Of Breed at DPCA National her first time: “The Specials Class that year was dominated by Dictator get and grandchildren. And what beautiful Specials they were! The standout was clearly a powerful red dog in his prime. Saracen stood free posing beautifully for his handler, Phil Marsh. But when Peggy approached him, Saracen growled, warning her off. This magnificent specimen was not going to let her touch him. The new American Standard was in place. A dog that would not permit examination by the judge was subject to disqualification. Peggy stepped back to let Marsh steady the dog. Then she moved in to complete the necessary examination by hand. And again the great dog bristled. Peggy did what had never been done before. She sent Saracen from the ring and disqualified him in her judge’s book. Then she quietly went on with her judging. But perhaps significantly, she would choose to judge classes other than Specials at the National for the next 25 years.

“It was one of the decisive moments which occur only rarely in the ring.” Frank remembers. “The Standard was in place. No Doberman would be permitted again to refuse examination and stay in the ring, not even the most strikingly beautiful son of Dictator. Peggy was a judge, not someone who just pointed. To her the breed and its requirements came first.”

There were no dog runs at Damasyn Kennels. The dogs lived in the house. Here the wonderful heritage of the Doberman, the only working dog specifically bred to be man’s companion, began to dominate. The dogs, perceived to be so fierce, intuitively became what was required of them: playmates and protectors, helpers and house dogs, guide dogs and service dogs. Now Dobermans became a dog for today’s society.

Carol Selzle Petruzzo, breeder of Carosel Dobermans, was Peggy’s protégé in the 70’s. With her Damasyn lines, Carol says the Damasyn style is still visible in the magnificent headpiece and long necks, deep briskets and robust bodies. Carol met Peggy at the Sussex Obedience Club. “This woman walked in with 5 or 6 beautiful red Dobermans. When she stopped they all sat in a semicircle around her. It was almost as if she was holding court. I was fascinated. For one thing, in those days red Dobermans were almost completely ignored. As soon as I learned to handle, Peggy let me handle all her dogs. Handling was something she did out of necessity rather than enjoyment. Peggy believed really strongly in obedience training. All the bitches in her house had at least a C.D. For years she went to obedience class whenever she could’.

The Damasyn kennel name was registered in 1945. The line was anchored by Ch. Dictator on Glenhugel, who produced 52 Champions. He and the Damasyn Dobermans provided a long line of producers and foundation stock both in the United States and abroad. Dogs of the famous Damasyn line stand behind almost every top Doberman in the country. The pedigree of the top winning Ch.Toledobe’s Serenghetti goes back to Dictator 147 times: Ch.Brunswig’s Cryptonite goes back 144 times, and the late top winning bitch Ch. Royal Tudor’s Wild As The Wind goes back 132 times. Of the 1996 DPCA Top Twenty all go back to Dictator, an average of 187 times each. Exported, Damasyn Dobermans served well as foundation breeding stock in countries around the world, including Brazil, Argentina, China, Siam, Cuba, Australia, and New Zealand, Trinidad, Canada, the Philippines, Ceylon, and England. It is not only in Japan Peggy is called, “Mrs.Doberman.”

Born in 1908 to Agnes Petit Smith, a Scotch immigrant, and George Syndey Smith, who was born in Ireland, Peggy began her life in Oakland, California. She attended Manzanita Grade School. Graduated from Fremont High School and attend the University of California for a year. She graduated from the University of Nevada with a Masters Degree. While her two sisters and one brother always had dogs, her sister, Jean Hedges, recalls, “Peggy never had a dog of her own. There were always dogs but Peg was never especially interested. “Instead she busied herself with theatrics, golf and bridge. It was not until she started showing Dictator that dogs became her passion. The rest of her life was dedicated to dogs, with the emphasis on Dobermans.
Throughout her life, Peggy maintained what she called “a pure Doberman household”. She always had dogs, always Dobermans. Despite her busy schedule, a lovely Doberman, “Truly Bluely”. shared her Long Island home at the time of her death. Since Peggy’s death, Carol Petruzzo has kept Truly, where she played the grande dame, holding down the couch in the office.

Peggy almost always had more dogs than the local law allowed. Her ranch style home was snugged back from the road next to a wooded lot where her dogs could play. To avoid legal difficulties, Peggy carefully taught her dogs not to bark. Reasoning that observers could tell colors but not individuals, Peggy always let her dogs outside to play in pairs, one black and one red. She kept a silent dog whistle on the door leading out to the yard. She worried that a visitor at the door might be from Animal Control.

When Peggy gave a five year old bitch name Dawn to her sister Evelyn Smith, the family was intrigued to find that the Doberman always ran silently for the bathroom when the doorbell rang. “We had a long wall of glass by the front door,” Evie recounted. “Dawn would lie quietly in her basket watching a visitor approach. As soon as the doorbell rang, Dawn would silently disappear. We found that Dawn always ran to the downstairs bathroom and sat in the shower stall. How we laughed when we learned all Peggy’s dogs were trained to ‘hide” when a stranger arrived at the door. Dawn’s “place” had been the shower stall!”

Peggy had many interests. Her bookshelves contained volumes on yoga, dietetics, psychology, medicine, geography, health, essays and poetry. Books on dogs abounded, from serious specific breed books to fireside stories. Although Peggy was qualified as a teacher, and had also worked for the U.S. Government, Dobermans and dogs became her joy and her life’s work, just as her father warned in a 1945 letter; Peggy dear, if you keep on in the dog business, you’ll get so deep in it you won’t be able to get out.”

(A college graduate, Peggy was part of a famous long term psychological study in which the participant’s required minimum IQ level was 165. Her ‘Pops’ felt she was slated for more lucrative and undemanding work. “Where is it bringing you?” he asked.)

The sisters shared many humorous moments with Peggy. Much to the amusement of the talkative small town telephone operators, when a dog she had named after her sister had pups, Peggy telegraphed:

“Evie just whelped 6 pups.”

“Peggy always had a long list of elegant names for her dogs, including ours,” Evelyn recounts.

“So one day we got together and played a trick on her. By telegram we told her we had renamed our beautiful Damasyn Dobermans “Blackie and Tannie”. What an immediate response by telephone that brought!”

Typically, Peggy threw herself into her dog profession with passionate dedication. “Peg was always an achiever,” states her sister, Jean Hedges. “When she became interested in anything, she always did it to the nth degree. When she discovered golf, she worked at it until her score was in the low 80’s. Then she went on to contract bridge. She studied the game until she was so good, nobody wanted to play with her.” The entire family was alarmed when she brought home a punching bag, first punching it and then kicking it with her feet. “We weren’t sure we wanted a professional lady boxer in the family,” Jean jokes.

“When Peggy got her first Doberman, Granda, and then Dictator, her sister Evie recalled, “She did with dogs like she did everything else: with all four feet! Peg was always so dedicated. She always knew what she wanted, made great plans and then went after it.”

As one of the first recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, and as President, Adamson contributed tremendously. She was responsible for initiating the club newsletter, the Pipeline as a means of getting DPCA news out efficiently. Until then, various dog publications had printed bulletins at their convenience.

Peggy was always a traveler, even having organized her own European tours. Anne Thorne, first Chairman of the International Club, remembers, wherever she went, Doberman enthusiasts were polite and thoughtful. “When she traveled, dog people in foreign countries were always so careful to include Peggy in their conversations.” Realizing that foreign guest at the National might be ill at ease, she reciprocated by developing the International Club, which now has liaisons all over the world. She also used the opportunity to teach conformation standards, keep track of Doberman lines and to encourage overseas breeders to attend DPCA Nationals.

The much-emulated Judges Education Committee, always a pet project of Mrs. Adamson held its first meeting during her tenure as President. Peggy was responsible for the concept of presenting the cream of the crop; the Top Twenty contenders, to the Judges Education seminars as examples of great Dobermans appearing in their infinite variation. Her learned work on the subject is preserved in a booklet entitled Learning to Judge the American Doberman Pinscher by Applying the AKC Standard, written in concert with Mr. Frank Grover.

The handbook was a true labor of love for Peggy. Originally a project of Frank Grover, Peggy became deeply involved. On the 1994 revision, she and Frank conferred almost daily throughout the summer. Peggy was a wordsmith. She knew the language and enjoyed each subtle nuance. The manual was subjected to the most minute scrutiny, word by word, phrase by phrase, to ensure that each meaning was as clear as possible. The morning the booklet was to be sent to the printer, the editor received an eleven page fax with clarifying changes in the order, position and punctuation.

Peggy was instrumental in the teaching of the Doberman Standard. Always devoted to educational projects, her tireless work on the prestigious Judges Education Committee reflected her vision of Doberman Standard. Rather than delineate and assign value to faults, the Doberman Pinscher Standard reflects the ideal Doberman with faults to be penalized to extent of the deviation. This avoids the long list of possible faults which can never be adequately described nor completely listed in their many combinations.

As successor DPCA President to Mr. Charles A.T. O’Neill, later AKC’s Executive Vice President, Peggy was very influential with the American Kennel Club on behalf of Dobermans.

Also during her tenure printing the Membership List became routine, prior to that, except during Mr. Grover’s Presidency, the list had been keep secret, even from the Board.

Peggy judged the Doberman Pinscher Club of America National an unprecedented ten times, at 5 year intervals, and attended fifty-one National Conventions. A well respected author, at one time or another Peggy wrote for almost all of the American all-breed magazines, as well as nearly all the Doberman publications. Peggy was also a collector. Her friends were frequently astounded when she instantly produced thirty or forty year old documents relevant to current conversations. From the beginning of her interest in Dobermans Peggy searched for antique references to the Breed. These she carefully saved, as she did articles, photographs and magazines through the years. The American Doberman Pinscher Educational Foundation was founded in part as a way to preserve this history of the Doberman as a resource for learning and wonder for the fancy henceforth. The as yet uncataloged collection has already yielded priceless photographs of many early foundation animals of our breed. She even kept X-rays of her dogs.

Although she very much enjoyed judging Working, Herding, and Sporting breeds and Best In Show, Peggy was exceptionally well to qualified to judge Dobermans. At the time of her death, Adamson was the DPCA custodian of the AKC Standard for the Doberman Pinscher. Though she did not sit on the first postwar Doberman Standard committee, thereafter she served on the Standard Review Committee, working closely with the only living member of the original committee, Eleanor Carpenter. Their work together resulted in a revised Standard in 1969. She wrote, “Mrs. Carpenter was superbly educated. Our geographic proximity, common interest in the use of simple English, and twenty years’ mutual respect in breeding and judging made it possible for us to work harmoniously toward the same goals. As so often happens, she had decided soon after the adoption of the 1948 Standard that much of her own wording could be improved, for she was a purist, and we spent endless hours discussing the clarification of each sentence- each word – yet even in the final hours in 1969 we discovered that we didn’t have a perfect document. I remember my phone call to her: “Eleanor, I’m in shock! I just noticed that somewhere along the way we lost the sentence stressing correct size, and we never did change ‘red’ to ‘brown’!” Her answer; “Too late to correct anything now! Peggy, we’ve done the most important, and we dare not risk going back through it all again.”

“Of course she was right. More than a decade of questionnaires, approvals, meetings, discussions, rejections, and more approvals made it necessary to leave everything in place. The question of oversize had always generated heat in the fancy, and there had been great reluctance to make it a disqualification, and not long after the new Standard was adopted the DPCA sent a letter to judges urging them to consider this in their judging.”

Other facets on which they spent time were ears, coat color and teeth. Peggy wrote, “I was amazed to hear an AKC Representative stating that the meaning of “Ears normally cropped” in our standard meant that they could only be cut once. The 1948 Standard, and even before that, was “Ear well trimmed.” The change in wording referred not to be method of cutting, but to the shape – that it should be in the prevailing Doberman style, rather than that of a Dane, Boxer, or some other cropped breed.”

“The truly important changes in the new standard involved teeth and coat color. Judges were not even checking the teeth and this had become a source of great concern to breeders, so the disqualification for four missing teeth was added with the purpose of requiring judges at least to LOOK. But why was it FOUR? Well, throughout the fifties, there had been great agitation to make three missing teeth a disqualification, or even two, but some opposing views contended this might straitjacket a judge. Four was agreed upon because it seemed such an unlikely number.” Yet shortly thereafter she judged a beautiful bitch that had 8 points including a major who was lacking all six small upper molars.

Peggy wrote that other judges had questioned her, asking if the tooth disqualification was a result of mouth problems in Dobermans such as they observed in other breeds. She answered that because of the bite disqualification since 1948 and the missing teeth disqualification since 1969 the answer was definite “no”.

Extremely adept at finding missing teeth, Peggy was sometimes affectionately called “the Tooth Fairy”. Peggy was aware of this and sometimes good humouredly applied the appellation to herself. Actually Peggy had a strong personal reason for checking Doberman’s mouths as they came into the ring, before she evaluated the whole dog: I am certain that most judges really suffer when they have to disqualify a good dog – this makes it less traumatic!, she said.

The 1948 standard did not even mention the rarely seen fawns, either as an accepted color or as a disqualifying fault. “The fawn (Isabella) was now included in the Allowed Colors on the premise that it was genetically impossible for the Doberman to appear in three coat colors of black, brown and blue without having the fourth. (It could have been confined to black and brown or black and blue, but with all three, there had to be the fourth.)”

Not always content with just words, Peggy and her engineer husband carefully measured the shoulder and hip angles of Dobermans to determine the degrees of angulation in the best moving dogs.

At the time of her accident Peggy had an extremely active judging schedule, as she was much in demand in the U.S. and abroad. Nearly every weekend of the year she was away from home, doing what she loved best. Shortly before her death she wrote, “I cannot believe that fifty years have rushed away since my first judging assignment, the specialty of the Southern Doberman Club in Jacksonville, Florida.

“While dog judging and dog shows have changed in many ways, the one thing that never changed for me is the marvelous feeling I have when I put my hand on a dog’s shoulders as I begin to go over it. The sensation is hard to describe, but I’m sure it is the reason for the success of therapy dogs.

“I think of the times I have returned from lunch exasperated by the distance and the difficulty of getting past the spectators. I enter the ring, send the dogs around and start to examine the first one. Suddenly I am in another world – all my annoyance forgotten, and doing something that never loses it fascination.

The communion between dog and judge is something that all judges hold dear. If it is further enhanced by the excitement of finding a very special animal, the lift to the spirits cannot be described. As a fellow judge once said to me, “It’s just like finding a pot of gold!”

Peggy was known for taking a dog’s head between her hands and gazing deep into its eyes. It was something she obviously enjoyed very much. Peggy often avoided ‘meeting’ dogs outside the ring, because, she said, “Once I know a dog personally, it really hurts my feelings not to be able to put him up.”

AKC licensed to judge Dobermans in 1946, with all Working, Herding and Sporting breeds and Best In Show following, Peggy enjoyed judging assignments around the world: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brazil, the Philippines, Trinidad, England, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, and Uruguay. In September 1989, she returned to Australia to judge all Gundogs, Working and Utility Dogs at the Royal Adelaide Show, judging 1700 dogs over a 5 day period, with Doberman entry doubled over the previous year. Her home was filled with awards and plagues expressing deep appreciation for her judging activities.

Peggy did not confine all her efforts to Dobermans. She was very active in the Ladies Kennel Association of America, serving as Bench Show Chairman and Delegate to the AKC for many years. Says Pat Corey of that club, “With her knowledge of dogs, shows and judging, Peggy was certainly a shot in the arm to our club. She was very wise and very thorough.” Pat Corey encouraged Peggy to add golden retrievers to her repertoire. She recounts, “When it came to learning about another breed, Peggy had an open mind. Once she arrived at a position she was very positive. She consulted with breeders of dogs she admired. Peggy was very interested in learning the history of each breed and the reason dogs ended up looking as they did. I watched her do this with different breeds for fifteen years.”

Many changes occurred in the half century Peggy judged dogs. One loss she felt were the great dog portraits by photographers like Tauskey, Percy Jones and William Brown. In 1968 when the Doberman Quarterly began publishing what we now know as ‘win’ photographs and sending the magazine to all judges, Peggy recognized the way dogs were presented in print media had changed. She related, “We used to take all day to get a great free standing shot. The photographers always tried to snap the dogs with no handlers in them. Dictator was born in August, so every year he ad a special birthday photograph taken for the August “Doberman” issue of Dog News.” Frank Grover had vivid memories of working with the official AKC photographer, Tauskey. “I had the feeling I was in communication with a great artist, albeit a bit of a curmudgeon,” says Frank. Peggy seemed to miss this ritual and the beautiful photographs that resulted.

Gone are the days of the great kennels, the elegance of Morris and Essex, the benched shows and the intimacy of old friendships. Peggy wrote that the victim of all this progress was the breeder-exhibitor. Always interested in people and their dogs, the last few years of Peggy’s judging career often seemed to reflect this sense of a separation occurring. More and more often she paused to encourage a novice, to help a struggling young handler place a foot here, to ask for another down and back there, to ask an inexperienced exhibitor to come chat with her after judging. She freely offered advice about exercise, grooming, diet and presentation as she reached out to include the young, the novice, and the newcomer. When I met Peggy years ago,” says Carol Petruzzo, “I had never been off Long Island. She taught me everything, even how to check into a hotel. Everyday I think of things she taught me.” “You could talk to Peggy for five minutes and learn something,” Marj Brooks adds.

Despite all the publicity Peggy garnered for her dogs, she was shy about personal revelations. Carol Petruzzo relates how once when cornered by a videographer, Adamson was asked, “When you’re gone, how would you like to be remembered? Carol laughs, “Peggy responded, “I’m not going.” And that that! That’s my favorite ‘Peggy story’.”

To all those who knew her, Peggy intense interest in the world around her, and her joyful acceptance and appreciation of the people and dogs she met stand paramount in their memories. Robert Berndt, past Chairman of the Board at AKC and a close friend to Peggy’s for thirty years recounts, “One of my fondest memories of Peggy was at the San Antonio cluster. We decided to have an early supper and talk dogs. We were the first in the restaurant at 5:00 PM. We ignored the confusion in the dining room and talked dogs and settled the problems of the dog world. We were surprised when the hostess told us that the restaurant was closed as it was after 11:00 PM and that we would have to continue our conversation in the lobby. It was a typical Peggy evening, for her enthusiasm, her wisdom and her animation erased the passing of time.”

In October 1996, when Peggy attended her fifty-first DPCA National convention, Mari-Beth O’Neill, the American Kennel Club’s Director of Judges Education, presented her an AKC award for 53 years of judging. C.T.Fulkerson, President of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, followed with a Presidential Citation for Outstanding Service. There was a standing ovation. Just days later Peggy Adamson was struck by a truck as she crossed a Long Island, New York street, near her home. Although she later regained consciousness, she succumbed peacefully in December. Adamson was 88 years old. A widow, Peggy was survived by two sisters, a niece and a nephew, all of whom resided in California. In the summer of 1997 her beloved sister Evelyn Smith passed away.

The international dog community and especially those in Dobermans were shocked and saddened at the unexpected tragedy. This October at the DPCA National in Houston, Peggy’s life and immeasurable contributions to the breed will be celebrated throughout the week.

Peggy Sue, Miss Margaret Susan Lee Smith, Mrs. Bob Adamson, Peggy Adamson: in the end, she just became “Peggy” and everyone ‘in dogs’ knew who she was.

About the author: Ann Lanier was the retired editor and publisher of the Doberman Quarterly magazine, and was a Founding Director of the American Doberman Pinscher Educational Foundation which has preserved Peggy’s collection. Ann spent two weeks in Long Island after Peggy’s death conserving the enormous Adamson collection for the Foundation.

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