Remembering "Mr. Poodle"
Hitting the Jackpot
Brilliant, stubborn, focused, spontaneous, abrupt, clever, funny, very trusting, teacher extraordinaire, impulsive, impatient, proud. There is not enough room to list all of Wendell’s virtues and qualities that I saw in him. If you were lucky enough to know Wendell — lucky you. If you were lucky enough to call him friend, you hit the jackpot.
I will miss all the lunches and dinners, his laugh, his giggle, that sparkle in his eye and of course his company. I did hit the jackpot. Wendell built his own business and, most impressively, smartly created a whole new line of Poodles that are in countless pedigrees. To say he was successful in all his endeavors would be an understatement.
It seems a crime that at the very end of a glorious life, he was deprived of his last request: to live out his life at home, looking out at his beloved garden. We will all miss Wendell for so many personal reasons. No doubt he is having a glass of wine with Mrs. Kaiser, Dee Shepherd and Barbara Partridge, with that smile back on his face. I am happy for you, my friend. — Patricia Proctor
It was 1986. My children had grown too much to hug and fawn over. I decided I needed a puppy to fuss over, and after speaking to a veterinarian friend, I decided on a white Standard Poodle.
I saw a woman walking a pair while I was at a restaurant. I bolted out of my chair, chased her down the street and learned that they were Ale Kai bred by a Wendell Sammet.
I tracked him down and convinced him, after being rejected first, that I could own one of his prized pets. I became so attached to her that when “Ruffle” was 10, my husband suggested I call Mr. Sammet for an additional Poodle in case anything ever happened to her.
Wendel said, “NO! The one dog I have is going to be a show dog, and it’s not something you can do!” This implied rejection once again, so I kicked into overdrive. The more he said no, the more I persisted. I asked all the people I knew in the dog world to call him and speak on my behalf. He finally relented and told me to come to a show in New Jersey where he would introduce Ale Kai Diamonds and Pearls (aka Jewel) to me. I fell in love!
But when Wendell agreed, he probably didn’t know what he was in for. I moved into his life. I thought to myself, “You don’t know how attached to you I am going to be.” And from the first show that I went to, I was smitten with his world and with him. He was so dignified and so willing to impart knowledge to me, so that I wouldn’t just be an owner. It was his mission to make me an informed owner.
For me, being an informed owner included being present for key moments. So, when Jewel was going to have her first litter, I said, “Wendell, I’m moving in for four days.” He didn’t know what to do with me. I was the biggest annoyance to him. He wasn’t used to having anybody around. I got yelled at when he couldn’t find his salad spinner. It was trial by fire, and he smiled as I whelped, with his kennel keeper, my first litter that produced the wonderful “Miki.”
I am not alone in the Wendell Sammet Fan Club. I speak of the devotion from Pattie, Maureen, Anna, Joseph, Greg and so many more who feel the same intensity of adoration, respect and love that I feel.
He was an icon in the dog world, a teacher, an advisor and mentor to anyone who needed to learn. And a man with humility, good sportsmanship and ample praise for competitors, even if they won. He taught me to cheer for more than my dog. He generously introduced me to the entire dog family, who embraced me because of him.
From “Miki” on to many other beautiful Poodles, the association grew to mutual admiration.
When Wendell retired, he never missed a week in calling to find out how I was and how my new dogs were doing in the show ring. Wendell was the first person I would call with good news. He was the first person to call when I needed advice about just about anything! I knew he cared and took such an interest in my life, my challenges, my career, my children, my husband Richard.
Throughout the years it took me many visits and phone calls before I could say, “Wendell, I miss and love you.” And, finally, one day he said, “I love you, too.” — Karen LeFrak
P.S. My admiration, respect and affection for Pattie Proctor know no bounds. She selflessly sat with Wendell the day he died for hours between his stay at the hospital and then after he was transferred to hospice. She held the phone to his ear so that his beloved friends could tell him what he meant to them. And as fortune would have it, he did respond … with tears on his cheeks.
So very sad: a dear friend of the entire AKC universe and mine personally. I remember arriving at shows each weekend for decades, and there was Wendell at the front of the aisle with Teddy and Richard next to his set-up.
On his last day his special friend Karen told me how a kind nurse put the phone to his ear so she could talk to him, and yesterday morning I spoke with his dearest Pattie on her drive to spend another day comforting him.
After being notified, I texted Tom and Dominic; they each replied instantly with the very same thought: “the end of an era.” And so it is for this icon in our world, AKC’s First Breeder of the Year, mentor to the novice and experienced alike. A chat with Michael, PCA’s president, expressed the great respect and sorrow of the club.
I will cherish my most recent conversations with this knowledgeable and passionate dog man. Rest in peace, Mr. Poodle. — Dennis Sprung
My Friend, My Mentor
Oh, so many memories of Wendell. One of my favorites:
Once when I was judging in Massachusetts, Wendell called and asked if he could share my room. I said fine, I’ll ask for double beds. But, he said, it came with a warning. Of course, I asked what it was. Wen said he slept in the nude. Fear not, I said. I wear contact lenses and I can’t see a thing when I take them out.
All went fine, and the next day at lunch Wen said he had to go to his eye doctor for a quick exam, and the office was not far away. He wouldn’t be long. Fine, I said. But be careful driving. He was about 90 at the time, and I was concerned.
Hours later groups were almost over, and I was concerned — no Wen. Finally, by Best in Show he appeared. I questioned what took him so long. Well, he hadn’t expected the doctor to dilate his eyes, and he couldn’t see well in the strong sunlight. He missed his exit on the freeway in Massachusetts (evidently several exits) and wound up in New Hampshire!
That’s Wen. Determined. Strong willed. Driven.
So, thank you, dear friend, for 50 years of friendship and the many fond memories.
Rest in peace, Wendell, rest in peace. — Glen Lajeski
A True Legend
When asked to contribute to this memoriam for Wendell, I paused because I didn’t have just one memory or a concise phrase to capture his impact on my life. Wendell was a presence in my life from early adolescence, when I got my first Poodle, a white dog puppy whose dam was Alekai bred. He was always supportive and encouraging as I learned how to trim and do a topknot.
Later, when I was a young adult, he would ask me to spray up Alekai Airy for the group and then Best in Show at the Westbury Kennel Association, back when it was held at CW Post. Airy won Best in Show, and Wendell sent me a copy of the photo and a thank-you note. I still have both.
Whenever we found ourselves at ringside watching some breed together, he shared his thoughts and was equally interested in hearing mine. My mom adored Wendell, and he always made time to stop and chat with her where she was sitting ringside. My mom was not easily impressed generally, but Wendell captured her heart and her respect. She always referred to him as a gentleman.
The common thread here is that although a true legend, he was humble, kind and considerate, and impacted so many in ways he was likely unaware. I am better for having had him in my life, and I am grateful for that as I grieve his passing. — Dr. Donald Sturz Jr.
Love and gratitude seem inadequate. Imagine a young boy from a small, forgotten town. Fifteen years old. An artist in bloom, a purebred-dog lover, and a fancy boy coping with all of that at a tricky age. I found the Pug, or the Pug found me. I found the dog-show world and immediately found my home, and that home included Wendell. Kind, eccentric and hysterically funny, he always told me the truth as he saw it.
Forever Memory #1 … My first Pug won his first BOB from the classes and later was awarded a Group 2nd behind Janey with Victor’s Shih Tzu, third and fourth to Wendell and Richard! Imagine! While our judge filled out her book, Wendell, an icon and voice of reason, said to me, “Don’t ever forget this moment.” Trust me, I never have.
Memory #2 …. Decades later, I had a dog stolen from a show. Mayhem? Absolutely. After a rough night, the dog was found and returned.
Wendell found me sitting on a crate, overwhelmed, in tears. He rubbed my back and said, “Those ribbons aren’t so special today, are they?” Another reality driven home and never forgotten. A breeder’s mindset, indeed. Calm logic, big picture. Love.
Memory #3 …. The Magic. Bucks. First thing in the morning. Wendell was putting out his newest litter. Patti (Proctor), Phoebe (Booth), My Boss, Margery Shriver and I stood amazed at the white puppy. Just right, just like he taught us all, it was Micky. Mental Image Forever Installed. Wendell knew this. He walked away to get the others out with that wonderful grin and sparkling eyes. He knew. My generation does now, too. Love and gratitude, Wendell, from your naughty Pug Boy. Forever yours. — Patrick Archer McManus
Intricate and Adored
He was as intricate as they come. An artist of many talents. He was a hard worker and always on time. He had the most beautiful blue eyes and black hair, which captivated people, along with his talent as a dog man. When I worked for him, he wasn’t the sweetest all the time (LOL); he was a little spoiled. But we all for some reason adored him.
He was my person to hope for a compliment on a trim or new puppy or a plant for my garden. It seemed he would always be there. But now he isn’t, and it’s lonely not knowing I can’t call him. I’ll miss him terribly. Love you, my friend. I will see you again one day. — Joseph Vergnetti
Pushing for Perfection
Wendell has always been a very strong influence in Poodles. He competed strongly, successfully and relentlessly. He bred and created a line of Poodles with a goal and vision that he well thought out. He taught, mentored and shared his knowledge with his strong opinion and passion. We were very fortunate to compete side by side for many years. We benefited from breeding to each other’s lines. And we certainly enjoyed our long talks, sharing knowledge, experiences and opinions, which, if you knew Wendell, sometimes got challenging and heated … but always ended up beneficial.
He paid attention to pedigrees and taught us how to make one of his loose-leaf, page-flipping books so that you could look at future planned litters by looking at the pairing of sires and dams while flipping the pages back and forth. He would share his excitement about a young upstart of a puppy that he had his eye on. He would keep us informed of his growth and promise. He would even tell us to pay attention to the young dog’s development so that some day we could breed to him and further our line. Then a few months later, when we followed through to check on the pup’s progress, he told us that he let the puppy go to a pet home. Why? He said because the pup just didn’t live up to his high level of expectations! That was Wendell! He had a very high standard of expectations. He pushed for perfection and had no patience for anything less!
Wendell was a loyal friend … he had high expectations of people, too … He had that way of making you better by challenging you or praising you. We will miss that smile and those expressive eyes. But we will continue to cherish our history, our times together and our special Wendell memories. We were so fortunate to be friends! — Gail Wolaniuk and Joan McFadden
A Toast to Wendell
Wendell's passing was abrupt, hastened by a broken heart, which increases our sadness. As one of those fortunate to have called him a friend, I will miss him. Truly a paradoxical gentleman, he was a fascinating man and a man of few words. He respected and admired knowledgeable people but did not suffer fools gladly. He gladly shared credit and praise where due, but, as a connoisseur, naturally possessed a critical, all-knowing eye.
He was generous with and fond of his friends. We shared a love of books, recipes, and his passion for gardening, with numerous photographs sent my way. He shared much of his life story, and I was privileged to know it. I will miss our conversations. I enjoyed sending you orchids and will now admire them in your memory.
A toast to Wendell. To the endless cocktail hours you will now enjoy with all your long-departed friends, including Mrs. Kaiser, in the garden or sunroom with your favored Poodles and Dalmatians.
Bon voyage and aloha … — Lisa Dubé Forman
A Driving Passion
I thought Wendell would always be around; that somehow he would always be there, even if he wasn’t at shows. He defied aging, with that wonderful smile that always came with a twinkle in his eyes. He laughed, too ... and it always came with a witty comment about what was before him. Many of those remarks are best told over a glass of wine and not in a public forum, but they still make me laugh, all these years later.
The hardest I ever heard him laugh was when we were on the Vermont circuit, then a string of separate shows. Dee hated to drive the motorhome, so he would crawl up in the cabover and sleep until we arrived, and he and Wendell had had words about it. On this particular day we stopped to get gas, bought some sodas and continued on up the road. When we got to the show and Wendell pounded on the bunk to get Dee to wake up, we suddenly realized Dee must have gotten out to use the restroom and we had driven off without him. Wendell collapsed in gales of laughter and was still laughing an hour later when we found Dee sitting on a wall scowling outside the gas station.
Back when Wendell started out, dog shows — then as now — were a refuge for gay men in a world that was not always accepting. Even decades later, when the North Carolina circuit went on for days, gay bars there were private clubs where single men were denied entry and you had to write your name in a ledger to be allowed in. Dee and I would sign in as Frank Sabella and Donna Rogers, but Wendell never went. He would put his feet up in the motorhome and pour a glass of wine.
The war had taken a lot out of Wendell, though he seldom spoke about it. Sometimes at night, when all the dogs were groomed and sleeping, he would let things slip about prison camp. His acquired a fear of rats, and his affinity for sour milk. Milk was a rare treat there, and it was never fresh, but they all eagerly drank it. He came to associate that sour milk with a brief respite from hunger and he never lost the taste for it. He weighed under 100 pounds when he was liberated.
I never truly understood Wendell’s reserved lifestyle until I was myself surrounded by war, many years later and in a vastly different place, but really all wars are the same. It was then that I understood Wendell’s craving for peace and quiet, the solace he took in his drawing and his beautiful needlepoints. He craved a quiet dinner with friends, a good laugh, and the unique empathy and understanding Standard Poodles give. His passion for Standards was infectious, and many people can trace their devotion to the breed to an Alekai Poodle.
By the time Wendell started showing Standard Poodles in earnest, it was really him and Frank at the top. He didn’t have Frank’s balletic athleticism, but he had a driving love for the breed and a passion as a breeder that no other handler had. He was consumed with correct type and never lost sight of the breed’s purpose as a retriever. They had to have beautiful heads with strong jaws and a muzzle capable of carrying waterfowl with defined and elegant backskulls and beautifully chiseled muzzles. The eyes and expression had to melt you with their glamour.
Wendell had an innate kindness and sense of humor and soft hand that drew dogs to him. He was as loyal to his clients as his dogs were to him. Wendell was so protective of Mary Barrett, who first introduced him to Standards. He adored Barbara Wolferman, even if he didn’t have quite the same devotion to their Yorkies! Eventually, of course, Barbara and Ann ended up with a Standard Poodle special.
Then there was Mrs. Kaiser. They were truly devoted friends. What started out as a business arrangement with Mr. and Mrs. Kaiser deepened into a lifelong friendship when Henry Kaiser died. His eldest son by his first wife contested the will, and Mrs. Kaiser was left with nothing but bare expenses for many months while the lawyers dragged the case through the courts with no indication how or when it would finally be resolved or how she would live. She told Wendell she would not be able to pay him, and she may have to sell all the Poodles. Wendell never hesitated. He told her he would continue to show and breed the Poodles as usual and assume all their expenses. She could pay him back someday, or not. However the case was resolved, he would not allow her to lose her Poodles or be further embarrassed.
She never forgot that kindness, and they remained devoted friends for the rest of her life. Wherever she lived — at UN Plaza in New York, in St. Thomas, in Greece — he would visit her. She was a force of nature, and the easy grace of their friendship was a joy to see.
When I think of Wendell, I think of so many stories, on the road and in the kennel, and all of them involve laughter. He was kind, he was brilliant, he was funny … and he was cheap. Legendarily cheap. Never with the dogs, but with everything else … He would never waste a penny paying the Foley Boys, and I spent years hauling those damn big crates. It was so bad that when I went out on my own, the Foley Boys said they would unload my crates for free for a year because they felt sorry for me. Even that makes me laugh.
Whenever I think of Wendell, I hear his laugh, see his smile, and the look in his eyes when no one except a beautiful Standard Poodle was looking back. Rest well, Wendell … and thank you. — Sue Lackey
The Artist’s Eye
It was one of my greatest fortunes to become reacquainted with Wendell a few years ago after a nearly 50-year recess in our friendship. Obviously I admired the great dog man he was over the past 70 years: a remarkable, hard-working and successful handler, a breeder of generations of fine Dalmatians and Poodles, and the mentor to many young men and women who went on to enormous success in the dog-show world. In these recent years — for me — he was a kind and generous man who possessed huge knowledge and an artist's eye, with wonderful energy and sense of humor. I will surely miss the reminiscing conversational lunches among a few friends in his sunny, beautiful flower garden, or at his friendly kitchen table. And, with a smile, I will think of him often. — Greg Cora
A True Gentleman
Wendell was an inspiration like no other. A true gentleman whose knowledge and life experience were vast, and he was always willing to share his thoughts and encouragement.
Growing up in the Northeast provided me with the opportunity to experience this firsthand, and I realize how fortunate I was to have these moments with him. It was a pleasure to have worked for Wendell, showing his puppies for a time. The time spent with Wendell watching, looking and playing with the puppies all while he was able to enjoy dog shows his way will stay with me forever. — Jason Bailey
Game for Adventure
Wendell was many things to very many people. To me, he was a friend, and for that I was very fortunate.
Thinking back, I recall the dinners he hosted. The conversation was lively among those who were lucky enough to attend. He was a wonderful cook and took great pride in his food.
In recent years we traveled to shows together. The conversations were such treasures. I recall our trip to the Morris & Essex show, how he shared his memories of driving there in a wood-paneled station wagon many years earlier. He was always game for an adventure. We braved a winter storm more than once.
After I relocated to the Pacific Northwest, we stayed in touch. He was always interested in how I was doing and what living here was like. I sent him a coffee-table book of Oregon, and he told me that he kept it by his recliner and how beautiful the pictures were.
I will miss you, my friend. Thank you for the gift of your friendship. — Gregory McCarthy
Amazing when someone is able to touch so many lives and create such vivid memories.
- John Theodoracopulos
He made me smile
He made me cry
He made me laugh
He made me upset
I learned a lot from him
I will miss him
Love you. — Koko Kaneko