Q&A: Joy Windle
The Borzoi enthusiast dotes on her favorite dogs and advocates support of the breed.
Photo by Jared Castaldi
The Zoistory Editors have published two collections of stories on their unique breed of sighthound, the Borzoi. They won the Arthur Frederick Jones Award for Excellence from the Purebred Alliance of Writers for 2007’s Being Borzoi. This February, they were finalists for another award from the New York Dog Writers Association of America for their second volume, 2008’s Forever Borzoi. Coatesville’s Joy Windle, a member of the Borzoi Club of the Delaware Valley, is the group’s editor-in-chief and project manager. In all, she’s owned nine Borzoi, eight Scottish Deerhounds and two Whippets.
MLT: How rare is the Borzoi?
JW: There are 10,000 in all of North America, and just 1,000 Scottish Deerhounds on the continent. By comparison, 10,000 poodles and Labrador retrievers are registered each month by the American Kennel Club.
MLT: What distinguishes your two breeds?
JW: Both are sighthounds and ancient breeds known for extraordinary sight. Their long, narrow muzzles work fine, but they have the best eyesight in the dog world. Because of all the open terrain in places like Russia, these desert dogs could see movement a long way away.
MLT: What sparked the Borzoi book projects?
JW: Our founder, Gloria Smith, was a member of a Borzoi news list that linked owners and breeders all over the world. There were so many stories, so she suggested they would make a neat book. There was this treasure trove of stories that just needed cobbling into shape.
MLT: What training did you have as an editor?
JW: I taught English and theater classes for 33 years in the West Chester Area School District. When I retired from Stetson Middle School in 2003, I spent two years volunteering in the library, helping with its reading program. I didn’t necessarily intend to become the editor-in-chief of our project; it just seemed like I had the best credentials.
MLT: Who was your first Borzoi?
JW: Bari was a rescue. He came from a student’s family. I was advising the yearbook, and one of my staffers was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Team Red and Rugay.” I asked who they were. She said, “Our dogs.” Well, that shirt changed my life. One day, her mother delivered yearbook pages to school—and brought their foster, Bari. She’d been found nearly starved to death near Marsh Creek off Route 100 in Eagle. That was 30 years ago last October. Of course, no one can have just one Borzoi. They’re like potato chips.
MLT: A week after adopting Bari, you had her at a field trial, where you also saw your first Scottish Deerhound.
JW: That’s the day I skipped my brother’s wedding reception to do a test run trial with the dog everyone else thought looked weird.
MLT: How would you describe the books?
JW: They’re such great bathroom books, because they’re all individual stories—and on the shorter side. My favorite stories are about the rescues. They can break your heart.
MLT: Are the Zoistory Editors meeting your goals with the publishing projects?
JW: We don’t hope to make Borzoi more popular, but those who aren’t interested in the breed probably wouldn’t pick up the book anyway. We hope to make money for the National Borzoi Rescue Foundation because more and more people can’t keep their dogs, and we need to find homes for them. We need to be there for the people and the dogs. Most importantly, we’re telling the story of the Borzoi as a wonderful companion. But we’ve also raised $4,000 for the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation for research into Borzoi health concerns, with 1,000 copies of Being Borzoi and $2,000 so far for 500 copies of Forever Borzoi.
MLT: What’s next for the Zoistory Editors?
JW: We’re looking to publish a third book with Chris Danker, a certified obedience trainer in Albany, N.Y., at Hemlock Hollow Farm. She brought a Borzoi pup, Melissa, home from Sweden last fall. She’s chronicling her socialization and training through her first birthday in a blog that we plan to turn into a book. Chris asked the NBRF if Zoistory could do the project because we’re a recognizable name; we’re trusted. We’ll start the book in late spring and have it ready by early summer 2011.
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MLT: Anything lined up after that?
JW: Alicia Miller in Arizona has Lumi, a Borzoi that recovered from both a stab and a gun wound. That book will examine the Borzoi as psychiatric support dogs for returning war veterans. Whereas other breeds might flip out, Borzoi exhibit a separateness and an ability to say, “There’s no need to be afraid. The world is fine, really.” Alicia has already testified on Borzoi before the country’s Department of Defense committee.
MLT: Do you have any individual pieces you hope to publish?
JW: There’s an unwritten one that will be called “Death at 3 in the Morning.” It’s about all the animals brought through my doggie door.
MLT: Your kitchen cupboard door has a beautiful hand-painted tribute to three of your earliest hounds. Each is wearing a halo.
JW: My goddaughter, Lucy Pistilli, a Philadelphia artist, painted that. Two are Borzoi—Willow and Charo (which means “enchanter” in Russian), who was bred in West Chester, and Caille, a deerhound. Both Willow and Charo died six months apart to the day in 1992, then I actually went nine months without a Borzoi before a call arrived about a litter. Soon enough, Russkaya—a tiny red female who became the first champion I trained myself—arrived. You know, I thought it was time. I really missed them.
MLT: Didn’t a nephew, a graphic designer, design the bulk of Forever Borzoi?
JW: He was returning a favor for the Macintosh laptop I gave him [and all her nieces and nephews, along with book money] as a college going-away present. I don’t have any of my own children. He felt beholden. He said, “I’ll do it for you, Aunt Joy.”
MLT: You’ve lost more than hounds over the years?
JW: My husband, Ross Wiggins, lost his battle with cancer in 2007. We were best friends from Lancaster County, where I grew up on a farm and always had hounds—though mostly beagles, coonhounds and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. My first was named Butch.
MLT: For 30 years, you’ve been active in obedience and show training, plus field trials, so you know everything about the hounds. But what has this project taught you about their owners?
JW: I’ve come to realize the generosity of dog people in general. Only one person asked to be paid, a professional photographer. But once we explained we were raising funds for charity, then he was OK. Almost no one said, “no,” if we asked for a contribution.
MLT: What don’t non-dog people understand?
JW: Dogs are amazingly perceptive and intuitive. They know us better than any of us know ourselves. Face it: We’re their favorite subjects; they watch everything we do. You will get yourself in trouble underestimating the intelligence of any dog.
MLT: Are you getting any self-satisfaction from the publishing projects?
JW: We all did it to entertain ourselves, and also to preserve the stories of these dogs—and not just their pedigrees or a chronicle of show wins. None of that’s as good as the dogs themselves. You don’t curl up at night with a trophy or a show ribbon to watch the evening news. And none of those specialty wins comforted me when I lost my husband. For the first book, when I hit ‘send’ (to Instant Publisher), I sat at my computer and just cried.
To learn more, visit beingborzoi.com.