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Looking Back With Lee – Two Distinctive Ladies from Long Island

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106 – The Annual, 2014-15

By Lee Canalizo

As I was getting in the zone this morning, getting my material together for the next CC column, I received an email from my old friend Terry Hundt. She reported the sad news of the passing of our mutual friend Natalie Stebbins. Now, many of you present day folks may ask, just who was Natalie Stebbins? Well, let me tell you who she was! In the “glory days” of dog shows in the northeast, Natalie was one of the strong, clever and quietly powerful forces behind some of the top winners of the time. This was true, especially in Nat’s case, for the Doberman Pincher breed. Her husband was the Dobe breeder and handler Monroe Stebbins. Later one of the most popular AKC reps during that time; he was highly respected and well-liked…before, during and after his showing and handling years.

Nat and Monroe were the proud parents of three children, among them the professional handler, Bobby Stebbins, who went on to do much winning along with his wife, Linda Hurlebus, now an AKC rep in the south. Among Natalie’s joy were her grandchildren, her friends, and her little Norfolk Terrier called Sunshine.

Estelle Cohen and I made many trips to Connecticut to visit Nat after Monroe passed. She was always so upbeat and encouraging, even in the face of family tragedy and much sadness. She kept up with the dog world and her friends until moving to Florida. She didn’t drive and we did not see each other very often as we all got older.

Natalie Stebbins was a very strong, positive presence during the many years I knew her. She was the “N” in the “ANJELS”; our little gal group that bandied about the Northeast for a few decades! A was Angela, N was Natalie, J for Jean, E was for Estelle, L was for Lee and S was for Shelia…if you’ve been around for more than a 30 years…you know the last names….if you’re a more recent member of our sport, you’ll have fun finding out the who’s and what’s of those “infamous” names’! I wish we had more of her kind today…we certainly could use her quiet, bright, friendly common sense at the dog shows of today!

There were many people in the Northeast that were close to the Stebbins. Maybe none moreso than Terri Hundt. She too wanted to share a few words about her dear friend and mentor:

“I first met Nat and Steb in 1963, when I bought my first Doberman. He was a Top Skipper grandson. Nat and Steb both owned and bred Skipper. They were at the breeder’s home when I picked him up. That was the start of a great relationship. They were top breeders in those days and Skipper produced over fifty champions. Ch. Steb’s Top Skipper and the name Stebbins were very well-known in the Doberman world.

“I began apprenticing to Monroe in the ‘70s. Steb was a wonderful handler and Natalie was the behind-the-scenes person who directed his career. Steb taught me about showing a dog and Natalie taught me about the dogs. Natalie was quite a person beyond the dog show scene.

“They had three kids whom she raised with the help of her parents, while Steb was in the Army overseas. Nat was a very bright, interesting woman. She amazed me when she would complete the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday in INK! She was interested in many things. In her later life she became very interested in religion. Some of this interest came about after her youngest son died. She sought and found peace in books on different religions and the Bible. We often had discussions about God and church and the Christian and Jewish faiths. Nat had many opinions about different aspects of life. She was always well-versed in the areas in which she talked about.

“Her special love in the years beyond shows and Steb’s death was her grandchildren. She was very close to Bob’s boys and her granddaughter, Heather. They were her protectors, her advocates and a great part of her life. They were in close contact always.

“I will miss our lunches, our religious talks, our dog talks, our laughs about the good days when we had such fun at shows. But most of all, I will cherish our friendship, our holidays together, and the family bond we all shared. Nat, at 93, led a full and loving life.

Later the same afternoon, I sat reading of the death of another of one of the brightest luminaries of the same era, who was definitely well-known for very different reasons. The ladies of The Long Island dog show scene had a kind of group that belonged to the same clubs, lunched together, and were generally involved in the doggie doings of the day. Paddy Spear was not to be overlooked in this illustrious mob of mayhem and madness. She was definitely the ring leader, especially in the area of mayhem and madness!

On the serious side, she was the dogs champion in many respects… she rescued when it was not yet fashionable, and was reactionary to the point where she broke car windows at overly warm, dog show venues if she thought an animal was in distress in a locked car. Paddy was very vocal in all aspects if she thought it was a positive move for her charges. She was an AKC Delegate for many years and instrumental in many rules and regulation changes made to protect dogs.

Back to the mayhem and madness! Parties at Paddy Spear’s home were always a very wild adventure!! Birthday cakes flying thru the air on the way to the table, candles ablaze, landing with a frothy splat on the floor…to everyone’s (not so much to some of the more seasoned guests) shock and horror. We secretly thought she had it all planned, but we’ll never know for sure. Wild and assorted, mismatched guest lists that usually were VERY interesting! There was never an affair that didn’t include some sort of “sing-a-long”, complete with printed verse and hand wavers for effect…most memorable to me was the annual “Fourth of July” soirée at her Locust Valley property.

There were swim parties at that fun and interesting home. Swimming in the pool along with a bevy of rescue animals in the water with parrots flying overhead…..such crazy fun. These times will never be forgotten!

A New Year’s Eve party where Mrs. Spear arrived leading bag pipes into the affair was totally unexpected…you just never knew what would happen next! Ever present was her dear husband Will, an anesthesiologist and a genteel, statuesque man of great patience and calm.

Paddy and Will moved to Florida after Will’s retirement. She slowly curtailed much of her zany antics. I guess that’s an accurate statement if one didn’t count on how many times she moved within the Palm Beach community.

These were times I am so happy that I had the good fortune to share with the dog show folk in our area.

I’m not sure the show world has the same local interaction we did back then. I would like to hope that’s not the case. We could sure use some of those good times now!

I’m sending all of you the best wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Winning New Year! ”Looking Back” I realize this hasn’t been the best of years for many of us….there were a few too many bumps in the road. May our next year be a nice, smooth ride!

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