Category: Blog

“This blog contains Cheryl Cornett’s personal stories and experiences with dogs she has come to know and love. Cheryl is a dog trainer in Bradford, NH.”

Kismet Thy Name is Giotto

Stella del Nord: Italian for “Star of the North”. A brilliant star, an anchor in the northern sky, helping sailors and travelers for thousands of years determine their direction, its bright glow their guide towards a purposeful destination. As such, the Star of the North has also become a symbol for inspiration and a beacon of hope for many. I felt like one of those lost travelers, sitting at my computer early one morning, missing Enzo so badly, feeling alone, sad beyond words. Then, slowly… my leaden fingers typed out “Spinone Italiano breeders….” and Google finished my sentence with “near me.” That nearly brought a smile to my face. Spinoni aren’t common in these parts. I hit ‘enter’.

Kismet. The only possible explanation. Because: A- I needed a Spinone in my life, now. But the wait list is typically a year, often longer. B- I required a male as Aoife will always be Queen Bee. C- An orange roan, or an orange and white was essential. A brown roan would cut too close to my Enzo-bruised-heart. And finally, it was necessary for me to find an ethical breeder who did rigorous genetic testing. I realize there is no genetic marker for epilepsy, but genetic testing provides information about risk factors for a wide variety of other hereditary diseases. I wanted relief from the uncertainty of other possible health issues.

Kismet. Enter Stella del Nord, exceptional breeders located in Greenland, New Hampshire, a mere 90 minutes from my home. They met all the requirements I had, and then some. As with Aoife’s breeders, I became a part of their family. I made friends for life. And here He is, a mere 4 months after my world shattered and I lost my best friend. Here he is, Stella Del Nord’s God of Loyalty, healing my broken heart with his soulful eyes, his miniature (often wet) Spinone beard, and his wee fluffy brows. Here he is, making me laugh with his silly-big paws, puppy-tumbling, and bounce-barks as he and Aoife play. And I watch- knowing this is good for my girl, too. Knowing she misses Enzo as well. Knowing this soon-to-be-bigger-than-she-is puppy is also healing her heart.


Once again I have a purposeful destination. One of our first stops along the way is puppy kindergarten with my dear friend and colleague Helen St. Pierre from No Monkey Business. Why you may ask, would I take him somewhere else when I run a perfectly legitimate and successful dog training business? Well there are a lot of reasons, but two of the most important being Helen is my friend… and Helen has graduation gowns. Yep. Just wait until you see his graduation picture friends and neighbors. Worth every damn dime of the class fee.

We are already doing field work. My glorious boy and I will work together to train for his Natural Ability test under NAVHDA, the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association. He will be field tested and embrace what he’s been bred to do for hundreds of years. And then, because I don’t hunt but am obligated to provide an outlet for his natural instincts, my plan is to introduce him to tracking. My sincere hope is that he loves it as much as Enzo and I did. Is there an AKC Tracking Dog title in our future? Perhaps. But that truly doesn’t matter. What matters is the journey. What matters is that this beautiful boy is a beacon of hope for all that is possible once again.

Kismet. The God of Loyalty, who is also known to his family and friends as Giotto. Pronounced “Jaw-toe”, it is an Italian word meaning “Pledge of Peace”. We can all use peace in our lives…. right along with loyalty, laughter, good friends, and love. Everyone, please welcome this beautiful boy to the Leash & Hand family, to my family. He is my companion and my friend. He is Aoife’s playmate and napping buddy. I feel so blessed, so fortunate. This was meant to be.

Picking up the Pieces

There’s pain. I miss him terribly. The hole in my life is huge. Sometimes, out of the blue, it hits me: “THIS IS IT, he’s NEVER coming back” and I feel my heart start to pound; it’s hard to catch my breath. I feel like the grief is going to sweep me away and I struggle to repeat the mantra I learned so long ago with Bess, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” Or, at least I try to, through the tears. “Why?” I whisper, “Why?” There is no answer.

spinone puppy
Enzo, 7 weeks old: so many hopes & dreams

There’s anger. I have lost three remarkable dogs in three years; one with each year. And the only one I am truly at peace with is Finn. He was 13 and had lived a rich, full, healthy life. He had never known an unkind hand, had never missed a meal. I feel robbed by both Bess’s death and Enzo’s. I didn’t have nearly long enough with Bess. Even though I know she had five wonderful years with me, she deserved more. And Enzo. Enzo wasn’t even four years old. He was in fact, three years and 7 months… to the day. I sometimes rage. It doesn’t help.

Then, there’s guilt. Should I have waited longer? Was there more I could have done? Did I really, truly exhaust all possible routes? Was there another medication I could have tried? And then I remember back to that horrible day: September 19, 2020. He cluster-seized so badly I had to administer rectal diazapam in order to stop the seizures to get him into the Jeep for transport to the emergency veterinarian. I don’t remember getting there. I just remember them coming out to whisk him away. It was COVID and I could not go with him. They took my boy and I remember being alone in the parking lot, sobbing uncontrollably… thinking I would never see him again. He was going to die and I would not be there with him.

And that’s the memory I flashed back to when he first seized after over six glorious, wonderful months–that’s what took control of my thoughts–the fear and the helplessness I felt that day, the violence of the seizures and what they did to him. The pain, my pain at not being able to say, good bye. And the abject terror that he would die alone, without me. When the clinic called and told me he was finally stable, when they told me I could bring him home… I was overjoyed, relieved, and so very thankful. When he saw me, he made this odd, heart-wrenching moan and flew to me. The vet tech had to let go of the leash. I dropped to my knees and just hugged him. He was worn out and looked like hell, but he was alive. We leaned into each other and all was right in the world.

That night, as I sat beside him on the floor while he lay, exhausted, on his bed, his magnificent head on my lap, I made a promise to him, a vow. I promised him that when it was time, it would be on OUR terms. I promised him we would take our last walk together and savor it; it would be a lovely, long one. We would share the last of the French Vanilla ice cream he loved for post-seizure. I promised him we would chat and I would stroke his glorious, velvet ears and laugh at his gigantic slippered feet. I would fluff out his ridiculous eyebrows and he could lay his water-soaked beard on my lap. There would be treats, no pain and no fear. He would know I was by his side. I promised him we would be together when it was time for good-bye.

So on April 20, 2021 when he had two grand mal seizures with a 5-minute respite between them, I told him I hadn’t forgotten my vow. But we still had time. Three days later, he had three grand mal seizures, but since they were spaced a few hours apart, I told him we still had time. But did we? I wasn’t sure. I asked the Universe for more time. I demanded more time. We had plans. We were back tracking in the fields and learning tricks for the Advanced title. He’d finally nailed “back up”. Yeah, it was crooked and wobbly, but when that boy backed up, he swaggered! He had panache. We’d worked hard on that trick and we were both damn proud of it.

And then a few minutes past midnight, on the morning of April 26, they kept coming… and coming. And I knew our time was up. I prayed I had not waited too long. I prayed for a respite before the vet arrived. And my prayers were answered. We had seven and a half hours together, free of seizures. We had our last, glorious walk… and I was able to keep all the promises I had made to my beloved boy. Every. Single. One.


Barba Bagnata’s Ragazzo Dolche CGC, TKI, NW-TEAM 1

ENZO 09/26/17 – 04/26/21

We lost. Epilepsy won.

In time, I will find solace in the memories of the 204 glorious, seizure-free days we were granted before the Monster came raging back and took you. But right now, I am shattered.

Bess and Finn will be there waiting for you. Until we meet again my wonderful, kind, funny, sweet Boy; I love you.

I love you xo

Happy New Year!

Two dogs sleeping together in a circle.

Welcome to 2021! And good-bye to 2020. What a year! A roller coaster ride for sure, one for the history books, absolutely! Yet here we are; we made it! I would like to thank you all–for your patronage, your support, the virtual hugs, the very real love, and the laughter.

It’s been quite a year: I said good-bye to Finn after almost 13 years of companionship, walks, and games of fetch. Aoife became very ill and underwent a complicated emergency spay that shook me to the core. Had it not been for Annie Glaser and Jane Messineo Lindquist, I might have lost her; pyometra is not something veterinarians consider in a dog so young. Then, I nearly lost Enzo to a series of cluster seizures so severe, I had to administer rectal diazapam in order to get him into my Jeep for transport to an emergency clinic. Twenty-four life-time hours later, against the odds, he came home.

It’s been quite a year: Enzo and I recently celebrated Day #100 without a seizure. Even in my dreams, I had never considered such a miraculous thing possible for him. Aoife has earned her AKC Novice Trick title, her NACSW ORT title, as well as her Novice titles in Exteriors, Vehicles, and Containers from USCSS (United States Canine Scent Sports).

Yes, it’s been quite year: the ups, the downs, and all that was in between. Many of you have experienced loss and heartache as well; then you turned around to find the bright, the shining and the good in your lives. We shared our sorrow, our triumphs, and our trials. We managed and grew and learned to be patient. Yes, better things are coming; but that is fleeting too. As a very dear friend said recently, “It’s all temporary.” Life ebbs and flows.

Happy New Year friends, and thank you. I leave you with this lovely wish written by Neil Gaiman, “I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.

With love, Cheryl, Enzo, & Aoife xo