In 1986 a young man named Bob Hetchel telephoned me to inquire about Welsh Terriers. He had been directed to me by the late Irene Homa as he was looking for a male puppy for his employer, Tomie dePaola, and Irene had no pups at the time. During the conversation, it became apparent to Bob that I had no idea who Tomie was or what he did.
Subsequently, I received a raft of information in the mail, complete with an autographed copy of one of the books Tomie had illustrated. The dog in that book was an Airedale, as Tomie had previously owned Bronte 1, a beloved per that died prematurely at the age of, I believe, 3 years. As Sadie (CH Kalein Mercedes of Esty Glen, CG) was in whelp with her first litter, it was decided that Tomie would get one of those pups.
Subsequent conversations between Tomie and me cemented a fantastic friendship complete with much humor, good knowledge of Tomie’s history freely shared and with many laughs. When Tomie drove from NH to Pompey, NY to get Madison, one of the things he mentioned was that he would likely change the dog’s name. I then told Tomie how the first two pups got their names: during the whelping. I got nervous that things were not progressing as they should, so my housemate and I got into our van and began driving to the veterinarian’s office in Wampsville, NY, one county over. As we were passing Fisher Brothers Hardware store, the first pup was born. He was named Fisher. Myla asked me, “Continue or keep going?” I wanted to keep going and just as we crossed the county line, the second pup was born. He became Madison as he was literally whelped next to the Madison County sign. Because Tomie loved the story, Madison kept his name.
Madison was a people dog and hated to be left. From the age of 4 weeks he was able to escape the whelping box, and by 5 weeks he was scaling the X-pen. When I left the room, he would throw back his head and howl. Escape became his means of making known his displeasure once the howls were ignored. He also taught his four littermates the fun of escape, which made raising the litter both challenging and fun.
Madison was the very first pup to leave Pompey. Four days after his departure, Tomie called desperate to seek answers. He had not slept for three nights due to Madison howling all night long. What should he do? I told him to put Madison’s crate next to his bed. He did, and sleep was restful once again.
Throughout the next several months, Madison accompanied Tomie to his barn/studio, lying in his crate which sat on Tomie’s drawing table, a close observer of the master at work. They formed a strong bond that was the foundation of several Welsh Terrier years and members.
Periodic communication proved all was well until Madison was approximately 10 months old. Tomie had an upcoming signing tour and had to find a place to board his dog. He explained that he had f irst boarded Madison at his vets’ but had been given orders to NEVER board him there again. For a subsequent signing tour Madison visited the Monks of New Skete. Upon collecting Madison, Tomie was told to never again expect them to board his dog. Madison was described as “totally untrainable”. At a loss for what to do, Tomie wanted to know what I might suggest.
“Well, it just so happens that I have friends who specialize in training terriers, and they run a boarding kennel….” Those were the words that began Madison’s career in obedience. Right. Obedience. In that world, Madison was the nation’s top scoring terrier for two years running. Proving that Welsh Terriers are not just ANY breed, Madison was subsequently loved by many, greeting all visitors to Tomie’s home and studio.
A few years later, Tomie again called me inquiring about a puppy. He thought he would like a female this time. Thus, he drove to Pompey and purchased Moffat, falling in love with her littermate Morgan as well. Off he went with two more Welsh. Hoping to show Moffat in Conformation, he soon realized she was not much of a show girl, though she was a total love. Moffat became the clown that made Tomie laugh, regaling folks frequently with her many antics.
Once Madison had become a star, Tomie decided that it was important that the other Welsh find a way to enjoy the spotlight. Thus, it was that he created the Barker Twins and several books about them. Still later, he rescued a Welsh which he named Marcus, the third of the Barker kids.
For years, Tomie hosted a fourth night Christmas Party at his home in New London, NH. Christmas trees adorned every corner, drinks flowed, food aplenty, and in the middle of the folderol were four Welsh Terriers. Some performed, most just stayed close for cuddles. At brunch for out-of-town guests the next morning, the dogs were present. Madison always sought out Ti’s lap and it was he who caused her to fall fully, irretrievably in love with the male Welsh Terrier, even though he had a look about him that said he knew way more, understood far more about life than anything evidenced by what was coming out of any human mouth.
That Tomie loved his Welsh is apparent in much of his artwork for the children’s books he illustrated. They appear as little background characters when you might least expect to see them. The year he wrote JINGLE THE CHRISTMAS CLOWN he also completed the artwork for several of the tins sold by the Popcorn Factory. Those tins adorn my home to this day, and the Christmas ornaments form that same period hang prominently from my Christmas tree.
A story I shared on FaceBook tells the true story of the generosity of this man. While we were fostering three, non-reading brothers ages 6, 7, and 9, Tomie inquired what titles of his Ti and I owned, and we owned a good many. I shot the list to Bob Hetchel and, within a week, a box containing 39 books with titles we did not own arrived to share with the boys. They did become readers, thanks in great measure that that generosity.
Tomie DePaola, WTCA Member 1990-2006, passed away on March 30, 2020 at the age of 85. He was a world-famous author and illustrator of over 270 children’s books which sold close to 25 million copies worldwide. He wrote a series about the Barkers, a family of dogs based on his own Welsh Terriers.