When does a hobby become a passion? When does a passion become a way of life?
For Marion Lewis, those lines have always been ambiguous. Her hobby, her passion, her life, is all about her dogs — grooming them, showing them, training them, loving them. There was never a time when dogs were simply a “hobby,” something enjoyable that fit into her spare time. Her spare time has always been what’s left after her dogs had her full attention.
Marion grew up in Germany watching her grandfather train dogs. When she was 10 years old, her grandfather and stepfather took her to get her first puppy — a long-haired German shepherd she named Alf.
Marion also grew up attending work with one of her aunts, a woman who worked for the “Stars and Stripes” newspaper in Frankfurt, Germany. Her aunt had taught Marion how to speak English, and interacting with her aunt’s English-speaking American friends at the newspaper set the stage for a move to America.
When she first arrived in 1962, Marion lived in New York, and then River Falls, Wis. She and her family — her husband and four daughters — had animals in the home, and Marion spent years breeding, training and showing her own dogs. But in 1986, she decided to step over the line from hobby to business, and she opened Falkenhof Kennels & Training Center in Wisconsin.
Over the years, Marion earned both American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club championships with her dogs. She also earned a Schutzhund title. Schutzhund, German for “protection dog,” looks for animals that are adept at things like police work, odor detection and search and rescue.
She is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the American Treibball Association (an organization dedicated to the sport of dog handling agility games), and is a registered AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator.
In 2002, she moved to Colorado and wound up in Delta, where she operates Falkenhof Canines. She trains dogs and offers obedience and showmanship classes. She’s spent the past several years living life the best way she knows: surrounded by dogs, teaching people how to manage their dogs, having students perform in area parades, and generally living the life of a true dog lover.
About four years ago, however, she was looking to purchase a dog. She researched for many months, never finding a breeder that offered the kind of dog that she really wanted to bring home. Many American dogs are bred for showmanship, rather than as working dogs, and that wasn’t what she wanted.
She has cousins living in Italy, Gitta and Gianni, who have a phenomenal Schutzhund-style training facility at their home. They turned her on to several European breeders who breed specifically for animals to train in this method. Marion researched some more and finally settled on a breeder in Switzerland.
The breeder, Brigitte Schindelholz, is a Gold Star Award-winning breeder. She and Marion share the same fervor for their four-legged counterparts. For instance, not only did Marion do extensive research on Brigitte and her training methods, but Brigitte did her own research on Marion. She doesn’t want her dogs going to just anyone. Among other stipulations to purchasing a dog, Marion had to agree to send Brigitte regular updates on the dog — something she had no problem agreeing to. “That’s the way it should be,” she said. “That’s a good breeder. There aren’t many breeders like her in the world.”
So four years ago, after both women had vetted one another, Brigitte sent Akira, a beautiful, mild-manned four-month-old Belgian Tervuren, via airplane to Denver, where Marion picked her up.
Earlier this spring, Marion went on a tour of Europe to purchase another puppy from Brigitte. This past May, Marion and her daughter Stephanie Farnese, who is a veterinarian in Montrose, set off on a trip of a lifetime together.
The women started in Frankfurt, where they have relatives. They went to Bensheim and toured the castle where Marion was born. From there, Marion and Stephanie traveled to Innsbruck, Italy, to visit Marion’s cousins and to work with them at their dog training facility. They visited Wolfenchiessen, Switzerland, where Marion’s grandfather was born. They stayed with Brigitte for several days in Biel.
And after the trip, Marion came home with Fiona, a feisty Belgian Tervuren puppy, who is now 19 weeks old. And though Fiona is a handful, Marion already can’t imagine life without her. She’s already using Fiona as a demo dog in some of her classes.
“Dogs enrich my life. They are part of everything I do. They are my passion. It’s in my blood,” Marion said. “It’ll be a sad day when I can’t do this anymore.”