a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: It All Ties Together

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It All Ties Together

When I was just a little tyke (yes, I, too, once attended junior high), I decided that I wanted a job working with dogs. There was a spread on Stelling Road in Cupertino that I occasionally rode my bike past with a little sign saying something like "Phydelma and Lyle Gillette--Borzois, Salukis, Whippets, Beagles". (Yeah, sure, Beagles go right along with tall sighthounds!) There was probably a kennel name, but I don't remember it. The folks' names stuck in my mind, however, because they struck me as being amazingly unusual, and also so clever for having a couple with "Y"s in the middle of their first names. How often does that happen? Really!

So one day in 1969 or thereabouts, with my parents' permission, I rode my bike that huuuuuuge lonnnnng way down to Stelling, up the long driveway, and knocked at the door to ask for a job. They invited me inside while they thought about it. There were dogs and dog hair everywhere. Their couches and chairs had dog-print blankets on them, also covered with dog hair. I remember thinking that I wasn't going to do that when I grew up and had a lot of dogs of my own.
Phydelma and Lyle Gillette, undated photo from this site.

My parents report that the couple, to my recollection grayhaired at the time-- but then, at the time, everyone over 30 was pretty grayhaired to me-- were somewhat taken aback at what to do with this youngster about whom they knew nothing. My whole resume consisted of "We have a dog, too." They called my parents to check up on me and, when they were satisfied that I wasn't a dognapper or worse, they put me to work with really really simple chores.

First, they had bred a 9-year-old Borzoi named Zonn and they weren't sure whether the breeding had taken, but apparently her hips were starting to have troubles and she needed a nice long walk every day. So I walked her a few blocks down Stelling and back again.

They also had a litter of Saluki puppies. They were pretty big already, and I'm guessing that they must have been at least 3 months old, but what did I know at the time about puppies or anything about dogs, really, except that when quizzed I could name all the dogs in the AKC working group, the sporting group, the nonsporting group, and a good portion of the terriers (but who really cared--all terriers look alike anyway). They put me to "work" playing a bit with the puppies and maybe grooming them. I used a comb that I found but they put a quick stop to that and said that brushing was a much better thing to do. I don't remember why any more; I still prefer combing my dogs in most cases, even if it's with an undercoat rake. Maybe I just have the wrong types of dog coats.

Anyway, after they decided that Zonn wasn't going to have puppies, they gave me $5 (which I hadn't expected--I had said that I was volunteering) and said Thanks A Lot Kid, Now Scram (except much nicer than that). I was disappointed about not having a job any more, but at the same time, that lonnnnnnng ride down to Stelling was getting pretty tiring.

Highway 85 now runs through what had been their property. I never saw them or talked to them again.

So we pop forward to today, when I'm trying to find (for Wikipedia) a list of sight hounds that the AFSA (American Sighthound Field Association) allows to compete in lure coursing. And, poom, I bump into the name Lyle Gillette.

So it turns out that he wasn't merely some guy in a dog-hair filled house down on Stelling in a house doomed to be paved over for another 6-lane freeway. No, he was the "father of the sport of lure coursing in America" and the Lyle Gillette Memorial Trophy is awarded in the Gillette Stakes lure coursing event every year, even now. "The Gillette Stake is a premier event held annually at the International Invitational. This competition is to showcase form and function in our finest sighthounds and to honor the father of the sport of lure coursing in America, Lyle Gillette."

So I started doing a search, and he also apparently wrote some definitive articles about Borzois and lure coursing and so on in the 1980s. The Colorado Lure Coursing page says that "Lure Coursing is a performance event developed in the early 70's by Lyle Gillette and other California sighthound fanciers who hunted jackrabbits in the open field, which risked the harm caused by barbed wire fencing." The Borzoi Club of America says "The individual who really believed in lure coursing and took the effort to get the sport going was Lyle Gillette, who in 1971 went around the country demonstrating the sport to groups of Borzoi owners interested in coursing their dogs."

Phydelma ("Phyl"?) was also a writer; published a book in 1977, Life with Borzoi, that's apparently still in print.

Amazing what a small world this is--

UPDATED LINKS: March 11, 2008:
History of Rancho Gabriel (their Kennel)

Sample of Borzoi Action Gazette, magazine founded by Phyl Gillette

Brief note about their presence in Oregon in the '70s

Mention of Phydelma's death and trophy in their honor

Brief mention of Gillettes as inspiration

I mention them in my blog again in 2016


  1. And another small world comment... Lyle Gillette was my grandfather. It was so interesting to find this article about him. Learned some things I never knew about him. Thank you!

  2. Cool!

    If you haven't already gone to this site: http://home.earthlink.net/~belarus/id23.html
    the lady who produced the site started her line of Borzois from the Gillette's prize dogs and apparently has quite a fond memory of these folks.

  3. Lyle Gillette was instrumental in the building of the Veteran's Lodge in S W Montana.
    Lyle Gillette invented the first automated closed loop (gas powered) lure course machine.
    Lyle and Phydelma Gillette drew up a mission statement and minimum standards of keeping and maintaining animals in the care of humane societies in North America, that are still in place today.
    Phydelma Gillette was instrumental in establishing the Griffith Park Equestrian Center in LA and the Northern California Horseman's Benevolent Foundation.
    They were often "anonymous" donors to numerous animal welfare causes.
    Dr. Craig Campbell ( My mother was Dorren Gillette)

    1. Dr. Campbell,
      I didn't know many of these items about your grandfather, although I thought that I knew him well. He and I attended many events together, and he sometimes stayed with me in my home in San Jose, after he and your grandmother moved to Galt. We often set up lure coursing events together in the San Jose area prior to his move, and I was also a member of the Saluki Club of Greater San Francisco during the time that he was club president.

    2. Thanks, Howard, for the extra info.

  4. Thank you so much for the additional tidbits about the Gillettes! They were obviously amazing folks and I love hearing about them.