I Remember Ono
By Jim Cheskawich
What follows was originally written nearly three years ago as my wife and I journeyed back by van from Orlando, Florida to Springfield, Virginia. I have made a few minor changes but the essential story remains unchanged. At the National in Topeka this year, Ono came up in the course of several conversations and I thought that maybe others might want to reflect again on Ono’s contributions. Most of the notes were originally composed, I believe, on a napkin over the nearly 15-hour trip and the story developed on its own very quickly. This was written to help me cope with the loss of Ono and first appeared in the Samoyed Club of Washington State Newsletter in the winter of 2001-2002.
Our breed suffered a tragic loss on December 13, 2001 as Ch. Oakbrook’s Strike It Rich (Ono) died on his journey by plane from Orlando, Florida back to his home in California. Ono was owned by Leon and Kathy Ward and Jane and Alan Stevenson and handled by Alan. Traveling by plane is one of the hazards of being a show dog. Ono died while he was working.
Ono had just turned four years old the day before he took an Award of Merit (AOM) and Best Bred By of Breed at the AKC-Eukanuba American Dog Classic. Ono’s career was way too brief but still brilliant. He was larger than life in his accomplishments and was truly a superstar who excelled in the conformation ring as well as in breeding programs across the country. He finished 2001 as the top male Samoyed in the United States in conformation. The grandson of a Best in Show dog and the son of a Grand Futurity Winner, he burst on the scene as the Grand Futurity Winner, Sweepstakes Winner, and Best Bred By Exhibitor at the 1998 SCA National in California. In 2000, he won Best of Breed at the SCA National in Maryland; in 2001 he took Best of Opposite Sex at the SCA National in Denver in addition to Top Stud Dog honors. For a part of 2001, he was the #1 Samoyed in the country. Along the way, he picked up Specialty wins, Group wins and Group placements. He was only used at stud 14 times but produced a Futurity Winner at the 2001 SCA National, the Best Puppy at the 2001 National, and multiple champions who finished or are on the way to finishing as puppies with Specialty and multiple Sweepstakes wins.
I was fortunate to have crossed paths with Ono several times over the past few years. I have read where judges can’t wait to get their hands on a top breed specimen, yet I was luckier than any judge. I was able to spend time with Ono and two of his breeders, Alan and Jane Stevenson, at a time-share in Kissimmee, Florida for the last four days of his life. In that short time, he taught me some secrets of the universe that will stay with me forever. I have learned from all of my Sammies, but Ono was very, very special. He was an easy dog to get to know and love. Ono was just a bit aloof but that only added to his mystique. He was a very handsome boy who moved effortlessly and usually answered to the name of “Onie”, “Doofus”, or “Mr. Doofus” – although it was apparent to me that I was always in the company of royalty when I was around him. The first night I was out with Alan walking Ono in the near dark and I momentarily forgot whom we were with. Ono’s movement, grace and presence startled me – they were pretty near perfection.
I was proud to have Ono on the end of the lead in the early mornings around 6:30 AM as I often got up early to walk him while the Stevensons and my wife, Celinda, slept in. We would visit the flower garden and keep the feral cats a good 100 feet away as they dared not come around while HE was out for his morning constitutional. But, they knew they were privileged to be in his company too and they were good sports about it. Squirrels routinely took flight well in front of his approach. One early morning Ono jumped on a bench in Old Town Kissimmee after he had sent three squirrels up a tree for cover. I enjoyed watching him so I have to admit I let him have his fun with the squirrels as he stood on the bench with his front paws against the tree for maybe 10 seconds. When I called him off, he responded quickly without any need for my repeating the command. Of course, he had a perfect landing off the bench. I remember the sign in Old Town Kissimmee read, “No Dogs Allowed” but I somehow felt it did not apply to my friend, as he was not just any dog.
Periodically, we would pass palm trees on our morning walks. Being from Southern California, he knew how to greet a palm tree and what they were good for (as far as he could tell).
On our first morning out together, Ono led me to a Chinese takeout, which was only a half block from where we were staying. It was funny then because Celinda had spent nearly two hours the night before with the yellow pages open looking for Chinese takeout. Alan, Ono and I had driven off by van at 10:00 PM and found a Chinese takeout three miles away. If we had only listened to Ono, he would have found a closer place for us.
I enjoyed practicing with Ono in the TD Waterhouse Centre parking lot after his AOM and visit to the Meet the Samoyed Breed booth on Wednesday. I borrowed his lead and worked with him for maybe 15 minutes. He moved effortlessly and proudly and what a gorgeous head and smile. He had bone, looks, movement and temperament! A truly stunning boy! I decided that in fairness to Ono, the Stevensons and the Wards, that I wasn’t good enough to show him in all his glory at the weekend shows in Orlando where he had already been entered. Thus, his fate was sealed to return home to the Great Spirit on Thursday.
As with other great ones, Ono died too early, but his spirit lives on in his offspring and in our memories. I became very close to Ono in my short time with him and I’m thankful I was able to enjoy his beautiful, proud and graceful spirit. When he was with me alone on our walks, I felt honored to be with him and fulfilled. I didn’t need anything else. Even the early morning trips to the 7-11 store by van to acquire a newspaper and coffee was time well spent. Ono left his imprint on me and his spirit touched mine. I don’t have an explanation for some of the things that happened to me immediately before and after his death. Alan had earlier in the week given me a picture card of Ono. After dropping off Ono and the Stevensons at the Orlando Airport and before knowing Ono’s eventual fate, I was drawn to the picture more and more and sensed something horrible.
After he passed into the next life, Celinda and I scattered rose petals along his Florida morning trail route and later on our return threw flowers into the Atlantic Ocean in his memory. And the cats did return again. As Celinda and I were leaving our Kissimmee time-share on Saturday, six cats had gathered together in front of where Ono had stayed for four days. They appeared to be crying also as they too were mourning the passing of a giant of a star. Beautiful Ono, we miss you badly and we will meet you at the Rainbow Bridge. It has been promised!