At 80 years of age, former dog show handler Ron Purvis’ heart has been broken many times—each time he loses another beloved dog. He cries easily when talking about the passing of Shadow and Breton, followed by Chilly and Sparkle.
“I’ve made photo albums for each of my dogs, but I can’t complete the last four because I cry too much,” he said.
These days he focuses his love and attention on his Siberian Huskies, Flags Up and Amira, Canadian champion show dogs who greet visitors to Ron’s home in Mission, British Columbia, with howls of joy.
House of Dogs
An 11-year convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ron serves as his ward’s single adult representative and loves missionaries and missionary work. His life’s path has taken many turns since its beginnings in Iowa, U.S., moving to Calgary, becoming a professional dog handler, and eventually joining the Church.
His home is a shrine to the canine world and to the Gospel. Pictures and paintings of dogs line his walls. Stuffed dogs and dog figurines find their way onto every surface. Even his bathroom towels sport pictures of dogs.
“I can be very talkative if I get going on the subject of dogs, the artwork on my walls, the church-related things on my walls and my conversion,” he said. “And I can get very emotional.”
Ron moved to Calgary at age 24 to accept a job teaching high school French and German. Fifteen years later his life changed forever when he saw a picture of “the most gorgeous breed of dog I’ve ever seen,” he remembers. “I found out it was a Keeshond, which is unofficially the national dog of Holland.” Keeshonds are medium-sized dogs with a plush, two-layer coat of silver and black fur with a ruff and a curled tail.
Desperate to get his hands on one, he began searching until he found two breeders. He tried in vain to reach them, but both were busy showing their dogs and didn’t respond. He found out where the dogs would next be shown and attended the event.
“I did what you aren’t supposed to do,” he said. “I tried to talk to the breeder just before she was taking her dog into the ring.” One thing led to another and Ron was able to buy his first Keeshond puppy on condition that he put Shadow in championship dog shows. That began his entry into the world of showing and training dogs.
Gains and Losses
It takes two or three years of rigorous and skillful training before a dog is ready to be shown. “If you want to train a dog, you don’t just yell sit over and over,” he said. “It’s like when your mom tells you to clean your room, then 15 minutes later she asks you again and then again. Suddenly she flies into a rage. Whether it’s dogs or children, you give an order once and then enforce it.”
He’s probably owned 18 to 20 dogs in his adult life, he says. Not all were show dogs. He never kept track of how many championships they won.
“I had my fabulous four (his last four show dogs) and I figured they’d be the last dogs I’d own,” remembers Ron with tears in his eyes. “And then I started losing them. I lost the mother and then her son to cancer. Then I lost Chilly. I still had Sparkle but we both missed having more dogs in the house. That’s when I got Flags-Up from a breeder in Poland, and then Amira after Sparkle died. I need dogs and one dog is too few.”
About 15 years ago, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked on Ron’s door. He didn’t have much good to say to them. “Before moving to Calgary I’d lived in Colorado near the Utah border and got an earful from some people there who hated Mormons. They said Mormons were hypocrites, didn’t treat them well and that they’d felt like outcasts. I told the missionaries that. They listened, then said, ‘Can we come back next week?’ I said, ‘OK and I promise to shut up and listen.’ I’ve never stopped listening and they’re still my friends today.”
He cycled through several sets of missionaries for almost three years after that initial encounter. It took a powerful missionary from Nevada and a spiritual prompting for Ron to finally commit to baptism. The missionary, James Hayward, and Ron felt they had known each other before, possibly in the pre-existence. And one night as Ron was listening to music, he felt a voice say, “It’s time for you to be baptized. You’re acceptable to God and any questions will eventually be answered.”
In a miraculous turn of events that Ron still doesn’t understand, Elder Hayward and Elder Dillon Kearl from Edmonton who had both taught him, but were no longer in the area, were allowed to return for his baptism. Hayward baptized Ron.
Tears flow down his cheeks as he remembers his baptismal day. Life is very different now. He used to make and drink his own wine but gave it all away. He stopped showing dogs on Sundays. His life is filled with love and his prayers have been answered.
“I’m not good at reading scriptures every day,” he reflects. “I still don’t understand them. I’m not good at reading the lessons. And yet God still gives me all these blessings. He gave me Flags when I needed him and then Amira. He really shows us the way.
“Show dogs and the Gospel both require dedication, love and belief,” he concludes.