The Naples Dog Club papillons gave a free performance

The Naples Dog Club papillons gave a free performance
David Ahntholz/Staff

Valentino, dressed as a pilot, entertains the residents of Aston Gardens on Tuesday afternoon. The papillon was part of a free show at the North Naples retirement home presented by the Greater Naples Dog Club.

David Ahntholz/Staff

Theresa Keyser pets Hudson, dressed as an angel, during a break in the performance by the Greater Naples Dog Club at Aston Gardens on Tuesday afternoon. The papillons from the dog club gave a free performance and obedience demonstration for the residents of the North Naples retirement community.

Source: Naples Daily News: News

Performing pooches dazzle seniors

The Naples Dog Club papillons visit retirement/assisted-living homes, schools and other organizations free of charge to boost spirits and entertain. The chance to have the dogs socialize is also invaluable for their training

November 13, 2005

The hot, cramped community room at Aston Gardens’ assisted-living facility was packed to the brim with the listless faces of bored and distracted residents on a seem ingly ordinary Tuesday afternoon.

Several senior residents slumped in their chairs, seeming to be inches away from falling, while others stared blankly into space. Although the room was filled to capacity with about 50 neighbors, the crowd seemed to be engaged in a deep slumber.

That is, until Valentino strutted in. And Jewell. And Sassy.

As the talented troupe of pedigreed canine performers pawed delicately into the facility, residents’ eyes lit up at the sight of the gamboling dogs. Instantly, the drowsy crowd transformed into what looked like a group of schoolchildren bound for Disney World.

It’s not an uncommon metamorphosis for Arlene Czech, co-organizer of the traveling dog show for the Naples Dog Club.

The reaction is one she and her pack of pups have grown to expect and enjoy.

“Look at all the smiling faces,” Czech said, gesturing around the room. “When we first came in, they were all just sitting around, and we bring in the dogs and suddenly they’re ‘oooing’ and laughing.

“It’s tiring, but it’s worth it.”

Backstage jitters

“Sit, Jewell!” co-organizer Mary Jo Korpi called out. “You know how to sit.”

Jewell, a 2-year-old papillon and American Kennel Club champion, complied for a moment before resuming her jaunt around the bustling room.

The puppies, 7-month-olds Hudson and Cognac, growled playfully at each other and nipped at their bothersome costumes, while Savannah did an unscheduled dance on her hind legs.

Only 9-year-old Valentino sat quietly in costume, propped proudly on top of a wagon, as the chaos in the “dressing room” transpired.

Korpi equated the madness to preparation before any of the many dog shows she and Czech enter with the crew of papillon dogs, with one major exception.

“It’s hectic in the same way, but not as nerve-racking,” she said. “Here, the dogs are appreciated no matter what they do.

“If they mess up here, they get a laugh, but they have to be perfect at a show.”

The word “papillon” is French for “butterfly,” Czech explained.

The breed adopted the name, because the dogs’ wide, feathery ears resemble butterfly wings, she said.

The 5-pound, long-haired pups may look fragile, but they actually are quite active and love to play with people.

In the staging area adjacent to the community room, each of the dogs shivered like an actor with backstage jitters as they were dressed in their costumes.

But Czech said the dogs don’t suffer from stage fright; they are simply eager to interact with the crowd.

“They’re very excited,” she said. “This is fun for them.”

The performers come from three generations of papillon champions. Ten-year-old Savannah is the mother of Jewell, who is the mother of Hudson and Cognac.

Aside from the puppies, each of the dogs are champions in obedience and show — rated at the top of their game by the AKC.

One of the requirements set forth by the AKC for the Naples Dog Club is community service for both the dogs and their humans. But Korpi said the shows — often performed twice each month — are hardly a chore.

“It is really nice to see all of the faces of the people who come out for the show,” she said.

“Plus, this is also great for training and socialization of the dogs, so we get a lot out of it.”

Making new friends

Costume changes tend to take up time during any show. Dressing four-legged creatures can take even longer.

But the elated seniors at Aston Gardens hardly minded the breaks. Between skits, organist Virginia Reed prompted sing-alongs to old-fashioned tunes, such as “Shine on Harvest Moon” and “In the Good Ol’ Summertime.”

Residents tapped their feet, clapped their hands and sang loudly along with the tunes from their youth.

And just when they thought the afternoon couldn’t get better, out rolled Sassy and Valentino, dressed in cowboy and Indian costumes and riding a toy horse, followed by Savannah and Jewell decked out in sailors’ outfits.

“I love it!” Mary Thorngate, 89, called out. “They’re so cute. I love all of it.”

“I love dogs,” Audrey Gilbert, 89, agreed. “It is a good show.”

Thorngate continued to gush and giggle as Korpi placed a wriggling puppy in her lap. As the pup licked her nose and sat obediently on her lap, the senior, who strained to hear most of the show, called out to her friends and petted the grinning pooch.

“I hope they’ll come back,” she said.

Along with entertainment, residents also got a brief education about the dogs. While Czech explained the dogs’ names and in dividual talents, Korpi and the older dogs performed an obedience demonstration that wowed residents.

“They’ve got a good temperament, they love people and they’re very easy to train,” Czech said.

“Well, usually,” she added as Hudson refused to crawl through a mesh training tunnel.

Savannah’s owner, T.J. Danaher, of Naples, was on hand to help out with Tuesday’s show.

Since adopting the dog from Czech and Korpi several years ago, Danaher, a retired fashion photographer, has become very active in the community shows.

“When I adopted Savannah, I didn’t know at the time that she was a star and a champion,” he said. “Now, I love doing these shows. I love going to these places and helping people.”

The Naples Dog Club papillons visit retirement/ assisted-living homes, schools and other organizations free of charge to boost spirits and entertain. The chance to have the dogs socialize is also invaluable for their training, Korpi said.

“It’s a constant thing, training and socializing,” she said. “They have been doing it since they were 2 months old.”

Greg Vivino, activity coordinator for Aston Gardens’ assisted-living facility, used the show as an opportunity to socialize his residents as well. Bringing seniors out of their rooms to interact with others can be essential in keeping them healthy, he said.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “They all had smiles on their faces, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved.

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