Sanctuary Woods Revisited

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While I did not know Bea Knight during her Sanctuary Woods glory years of the 1960s, I consider myself fortunate to have known her later in her life. We had met Bea at several Nationals and we had shown under her when she judged the Sweepstakes. I had also been a guest with her at Stan and Joan Zielinski's Stoan Kennel one weekend. So it is safe to say we knew each other and she was well aware of our Ch Benbaron's Yondo Von Gizer, and that he went back to her own Sanctuary Woods Yondo U Ole. By this time she must have been in her 80s but she was still spry, alert, and delightful.

It was hard to believe that this tiny lady had once been a titan of the breed and lived with as many as a hundred St Bernards on a remote mountaintop in Southern Oregon. Her dogs made an impact from coast to coast in those days. At the 1964 National in Oakland, California, for example, Ch Sanctuary Woods Four Winds took Best of Breed, Sanctuary Woods Attaboy took Best of Winners, and Sanctuary Woods Picturesque took Winners Bitch. 

When Toni and I came into the breed at the beginning of the 1970s, it was the book pictures of the smooth Sanctuary Woods dogs such as Fantabulous and Gulliver that really blew us away. They reminded us of the smooth Leberberg dogs of Switzerland. Powerful, noble dogs with evident soundness and elegance! We rarely saw dogs like that in our area (Ontario, Canada) at that time. So we set out to find dogs of that bloodline.

Ironically, the first one we found lived at the Mardonof Kennels in Massachusetts. Ch Echo's Citation Von Bonus was a smooth son of Sanctuary Woods Xtra Bonus. Citation had been bred by Carrol and Wally Thom of the Echo Kennel in San Bruno, California, and had made his way East to Mardonof. We bred our Ch Bedette Sugar Brandy 3rd to him and hit the jackpot with 16 pups. We kept the ones that looked most like Sanctuary Woods and they became our first specialty winners.

In the many years that followed we always tried to get back to the source and sought out and used dogs that had a lot of Sanctuary Woods in their pedigrees. We inbred where we could to concentrate those genes.

Over time, we met many people who had known Bea. They had spent their family vacations at her kennels or had bought her dogs. Everyone seemed to have a favorite Bea Knight story of peacocks on the roof waking them up in the morning or of the thundering sound from the barn as fifty or more Saints smelled breakfast.

So the idea of someday visiting her at her Sanctuary Woods home took hold. Bea was getting frail by that time (late 90s) and only had a few dogs left to keep her company. So it was likely now or never. Finally the opportunity arrived. Stan Zielinski kindly set up a call to her and cleared the way for me to visit. It was a miserable, wet and cold February weekend as I drove down from Seattle to Drain, Oregon, found the right exit, and headed up the winding mountain road that led to Sanctuary Woods. This was not a journey for the faint of heart. One had to be alert for logging trucks coming head on around the many bends while ignoring the steep drop offs just a few feet away on the passenger side.

I reflected that Bea had had to negotiate this road every time she wanted to go to a dog show or get down to a vet. I could only imagine how primitive those roads must have been thirty or more years before!

I arrived, stirred and slightly shaken. Whereupon I was greeted enthusiastically by several wet and muddy dogs. Clearly they were delighted to have company and no doubt knew that I had received instructions from Stan to arrive with a big bag of Milk-Bones. Bea heard the noise as the doggie treats were distributed and came out to usher me through the gang into her warm little cabin. I unloaded some supplies I had brought along for Bea and then we settled down to a cup of hot chocolate, a lap full of Papillons, and a trip down memory lane.

I wanted to know all about her early days and early dogs. How did she stamp her line with that "SW look"? After all, this was a lady who had produced over 100 AKC champions and produced many National winners, at a time when regional specialties would attract 200 entries. To my utter delight, I found that Bea's memory was crystal clear and the details she provided matched with the records I had studied from various printed sources. She talked of her old favorites as though they had just departed her life yesterday. There were a few tears and many smiles as we talked away that afternoon on her mountain retreat.

As I drove away, I wondered how long she would be able to stay in that place she loved so dearly. A little longer and then a nursing home. And I wondered if I should ever see her again. I never did.

One visit to Bea's was all I would have. One visit was all I ever needed. Thank you Bea and God bless you.