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I'm Standing on the Back of Giants - Norma Spivey

I'm standing on the backs of giants it's something I've long known and this year has come to unexpected fruition. There are a lot of very public names in Azawakh that pop up when you do a Google search. Either they have a lot of web presence or have been in the media for show successes, but the most visible are not the only breeders and there are a number of people who are doing really good work who don't have the visibility, whose dogs are impeccable. I've talked a bit about Alison Tyler at Xanadu Farms Sighthounds who bred Tabiri and Azhidar. And some day I would love to talk more about David Moore as well. He's a fantastic person. Super fun to talk to and what he has done for the breed is invaluable. But who I really want to talk about in this post is Norma Spivey, who has the kennel Kel Sambala.

Front to back- Anubi, Vicki with Nuri, Norma with Leillah and Gem

She is an incredibly knowledgeable breeder who has done a huge amount for Azawakh. I met Norma in person first when I went to pick up Amidi. What struck me most then was how much the puppies gravitated to her, how much they worshiped her. I met her next at Royal Canin National Championships in Orlando in December 2019. She had two of her Azawakh - Gem and Leillah with her, and the entire experience was a highlight of my time in the breed. We had six Azawakh representing several different lines at the Meet the Breed booth that year and it really was a wonderful time. And the thing that stands out in my memories is how much I learned about the breed from Norma about structure, about how she raises her Azawakh. When we were done showing, we all went out to eat and had a super fun companionable dinner.

Anubi with Sienna (Gem and Ami's mother), featuring Norma's arm

The following September, I visited Tennessee and got to spend more time with Norma. And again listening to stories of her travels to specialties and dog shows in the breed, of helping host the national specialty, and so much more reminded me of all my own travels in present day. I learned so much that week and cherished getting to know her and some of her dogs better.

Gem the day she won her first Major

This year I have been given the opportunity to work with and live with the most outgoing Azawakh I've ever met. Just like my own dogs, just like every dog, she has her faults. She's certainly too friendly in temperament, but in the occasional Azawakh that's a breath of fresh air. Come the end of next week (November 2021) Gem, Raumia N'Sambala is joining my pack. Gem is Amidi's half sister (Nuru x Sienna). Raumia means "friend", which is a name Gem has certainly lived up to.

The reason Gem is coming to me is that Norma always has not just the breed but her personal dogs in mind. At this time Norma is retired from breeding and isn't able to get to as many dog events as she used to. So Gem is coming to me with the opportunity to show (she already has both Majors), to try out coursing, to try out racing, to do some more scent work (she already has some qualifying legs), to do some more barn hunt (she has her instinct title). This is a dog that can learn anything you teach her and Norma wants her to have those opportunities. What's more, she's coming to me an already trained dog, which means we can jump right into events where she left off.

Ami's resemblance to Gem is striking

She also has a lovely, outgoing temperament. It has been the work of all Norma's time in breed and she would like to see that passed on to future generations. Before Azawakh, Norma bred Borzoi. In talking with her recently she confessed she loved them but they were a bit too big. She got into Azawakh under her kennel and developed a lovely line. She loved brindle bitches and produced some really lovely dogs. But the thing that I will always appreciate her for is that she has always taken in the dogs that maybe don't fit in their original homes, maybe don't fit in anyone else's home. She takes back her own puppies she produced. She has taken back dogs for other people, and she is devoted to finding a better fit for them or keeping them herself. And that's not always true of every breeder in our breed, it's not true of every breeder in any breed.

The other thing that she and her good friend Vicki Harrison Williams don't really get enough credit for is the wonderful socialization they do for the litters they have whelped and raised. They were doing far more than the very popular Puppy Culture, long before Puppy Culture even existed. I've met a good number of dogs that they have whelped and raised themselves at this point and the fact is that there is a lot about genetic temperament issues but in my experience also many of the issues that we experience are from lack of adequate socialization. These are situations where the parents are perfectly stable but for whatever reason the COVID or something else the puppies didn't get out, they didn't get to see the world, they didn't get leash trained, didn't get to meet other dogs, other people. And the differences between the unsocialized Azawakh and the well socialized is marked. I believe and the importance of breeding good temperament. I also believe that particularly in our breed, the stable dog is largely a of socialization. Norma and Vicki's work absolutely exemplifies that. I have been given an incredible opportunity with Gem. It's something that I'm incredibly conscious of and the responsibility is a lot to shoulder. I'm absolutely game for it. But it's something that will always be in the forefront of my mind- honoring the choices that Norma has made and the work that she has for decades. I couldn't say no to the trust I have been gifted and I am so excited to see what Gem and I do together.

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