I grew up in the Soviet Union
, which, when I was a teenager, split into it's 15 republics, each wanting independence from Russia. My family ended up in Ukraine
, a former Soviet Republic. Although another Slavic country, it is distinctly different from Russia, with it's own language and traditions. If there is just one thing you should know about Ukraine, it is Borsch
. This is a traditional Ukrainian soup, brilliant ruby red in color. When I ventured into preparing it for my guests here in the States, everyone loved it, so here I share our favorite family recipe!
It was during these unstable times that I finally pushed my parents to the limit and they got me my first German Shepherd, Lotta
, for an "enormous" - during the crisis - sum of $50. I was 14 years old then, and this dog became truly my best friend, and changed my life forever. But all this did not start with her.
When I was a born, my family already had a magnificent German Shepherd male, Amur, and I'm sure his regal presence and devoted guardianship gave the start to my passion for these dogs. In the Soviet Union, after WW II, they didn't want to call the breed "German" Shepherd, so a variation of the breed called "East-European Shepherd
" was developed. These dogs were larger than German dogs, and as the breed evolved and changed in Germany, these stayed pretty close to the original look of GSD, and were extensively used as border patrol dogs. That's where Amur came from.
When I was 2-3 years old, tragically, Amur was hit by a car, so I don't remember him well, but as early as I CAN remember, I always begged my parents to get me a German Shepherd. Fortunately, they had enough sense not to get a GSD puppy as a present for a 4-year-old, so they had to go through a lot of temper-tantrums on the topic. Since I wasn't allowed to have the dog of my dreams, I studied all I could find about this breed, read military-dog training manuals cover-to-cover, and any book I could find about dogs, any dogs (there was no Internet!), even going as far as reading a detailed manual on how to give a poodle a show haircut, in 4 acceptable styles.
While we lived in a small military town in Kazakhstan, as a kid, I enjoyed so much freedom running wild, collecting tulips in the desert, swimming with other kids in the lake, skating, and generally enjoying such a carefree childhood as you can now only read about in books. Since homeless dogs were quite a problem in Soviet Union (and still are in that region), I'd spend all my time after school "hanging out" with various street dogs. One of them, a 25 lbs. shepherd-terrier mix
especially caught my eye. I named her "Naida" and started training her. I was about 10 years old then. That little dog had real talent, and became my inseparable companion. I trained her in obedience, including on and off leash healing, sit/stay and down/stay, send-out, retrieve, recall, but my training lacked direction.
I don't really remember how, but at that time I met an ex military K9 trainer
, Dmitri, and, he and I started to have two training sessions each week. He was my first mentor, and like a sponge, I was taking in all the wisdom of military dog training. It took me a few weeks to learn how to properly give a treat and how to hold a leash in the left hand. "Remember, you need your right hand free for your weapon!" It was a tremendous learning experience for me, and towards the end, Naida did some military agility work, off leash hand signals obedience, and even some protection work.
My parents would still not let me keep her. It was a constant struggle, as when I went home, I had to leave Naida out in the street. I had a special call for her, and wherever she was wandering when I came home from school - once I called her, I could see a little dot kicking up dust at a distance - Naida was leaving her important street dog activities, flying in my direction. After 3 years in this town, we had to move back to Ukraine, and I was forced to give Naida to my friend, who moved with her to Moscow.
Once we settled back in Ukraine, it was only at 14 years old that I got my first precious German Shepherd puppy
. I gave her the French-sounding name Yutana de Lotta
(Lotta for short).
Lotta combined West German show lines and Scandinavian working lines, and possessed remarkable beauty and a solid gold temperament. I was simply lucky to get a dog like her, as all I could think of asking the breeder was if the puppies had papers. Lotta was a one-person dog and she unknowingly guided me through my teenage years, shaping what kind of person I'd become. She accompanied me everywhere - for security and for pleasant company. I always walked her off-leash, even in busy city streets (we lived in the center of the city, on the ninth floor in a condo). She listened to my every word, and other people did not exist for her. She knew to never cross the street without my permission, even if there was a stray cat on the other side!
I became a member of a local GSD club, attended every class and seminar on GSD available, took Lotta to training sessions (she was undeniably the smartest dog in the class), and eventually took SV judge courses and started my apprenticeship at shows. However, being in the ring and handling a dog was the most exciting thing for me, and I truly enjoyed the months-long SV handler training.
I have a lot of fun and fond memories of Lotta, from her rushing into a city library looking for me and causing a stir with uptight librarians, to saving me from teasing neighborhood boys, to her stealing fish in the street market from a big mean lady. Well, perhaps the lady wasn't mean, but she sure seemed that way as the piece of fish was gone. (I have to admit, I pretended Lotta wasn't my dog as she followed me away, around the block).
When I moved to the USA, I brought 10-years-old Lotta with me, and she had a lot of fun going to parks, getting to chase Canadian geese, and even got to experience a traffic-stopping snow storm in Atlanta. However, she could never appreciate the beauty of having her own fenced-in yard. Over the years she was so used to only going for walks with me that when I'd let her out here, she just would run in the exact same circle around the house, looking for me.
Now, Lotta is gone, and as a tribute to her memory, I have established a kennel, “von Lotta” (“from Lotta” in German), where I strive to breed dogs as perfect as Lotta was, so that other people can experience the happiness of having a well-balanced GSD.
Besides the kennel, I have a 2-year college degree in Drafting and Design Technology, and some Business education. I am currently a member in the Classic City Working Dogs Schutzhund Club, and was involved with re-establishing the Universal Sieger Program for GSDCA-WDA. I train my own dogs, I'm actively involved in showing them, and I'm thrilled to be working on establishing partnership with some truly amazing GSD enthusiasts, as Team von Lotta. I prefer to stay on the small scale as a breeder, so that each dog can get as much attention as possible. I call my kennel "my two full time jobs" - that's how much time and effort it takes to care for these dogs properly.