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Donna Elizares, 88, of Damascus, Ore., and her Papillon, Hey You, dazzled the audience at the Olympic Kennel Club obedience trial in Enumclaw, Wash., in August with an outstanding performance. Here, obedience show chair Veda Viles and AKC obedience judge Richard Lewis present the High Combined ribbon to Elizares.

Donna Elizares is 88, yet she still embraces the mental and physical dynamics of dog-ring challenges. Since 1946, when she was a 16-year-old showing a Pekingese in conformation, Elizares, of Damascus, Ore., has competed in American Kennel Club (AKC) sports.

She was inducted into the Papillon Club of America Hall of Fame in 2017 and continues to dazzle fellow competitors and friends with her successes. Last month, she and 6-year-old Hey You (OTCH Ch Ezee’s Hey Good Lookin) took “high in trial” and “high combined” at the Papillon Association of Puget Sound Obedience Trial.

“There’s no stop in this woman,” says longtime friend Elaine Zech, her cheerleader at shows. “She has the drive of competitors half her age and the moxie of a veteran.” Elizares also receives assistance from her daughter, Lynda Bufton, who drives her to fun matches and training classes in inclement weather.

Elizares, center, and her good friend, Elaine Zech, of Roseburg, Ore., were big winners at the 2015 Clackamas Kennel Club Dog Show in Canby, Ore. Elizares is shown with Hey You and Zech holds Gypsy. AKC judge Alfred Ferruggiario is at left. The versatile Elizares and Hey You went on to compete in obedience at the same show. Photo courtesy of Steven Ross.

Because of age, health, and the trials of travel, Elizares has limited her show entries to 26 this year. Her 2019 schedule already has one major event circled — the Papillon Club of America National Specialty in Oklahoma.

“I have slowed up a bit this year,” she says, “because of a fall at home in January.” When she recovered, she competed in several large shows close to home. “Surprisingly, we had some nice scores, but it really wasn’t the best thing for the dogs. I think they were worried about me.”

She loves to compete, but equally important is seeing many of her longtime friends. It is very rewarding to see many competitors in obedience and rally who started their training at the obedience training classes that she taught with her late husband, Dave.

Trying out Rally

Back in 2009, she returned to dog sports after 17 years away — and tried out rally for the first time. “I was a bit skeptical about rally, thinking it was too much talking and luring with the dog,” Elizares explains. “I had a special young dog, Mahalo, that was smart but not too confident. AKC had added new classes in obedience, including Beginner Novice, that were directed to developing confidence in the dog. I needed it at the time, too.”

Elizares holds little Bling, and her longtime friend, Neil Tocino, has big Sam before a rally competition at the 2016 Stumptown Dog Shows in Portland, Ore.

She and Mahalo blossomed quickly. Rally is a teamwork sport like obedience, and she found it more relaxing and an excellent means of building confidence.

Make no mistake about it, competing energizes this octogenarian. “But you have to have the right dog, too,” she says. “Hey You is a good working dog, eager to please and is a big show-off.” The tricolored Pap was tied for first-place in obedience in the Papillon Club of America 2016 standings and took top honors in that category one year later. He also has a Conformation Champion title.

When asked for her keys to success over several decades, Elizares answers, “My work ethic; precision; reading the rules; and consistent training, training, training. When competing, I check my scores and see where I lost points, and I focus on those issues to help the dog get better. I am still hoping to get another 200 (points) before I retire.”

Elizares Fan Club

Kathy Lang, longtime trainer, says, “I titled my first dog in 1979, and for as long as I can remember, Donna Elizares has been the epitome of a classy competitor. I love her smooth handling. It complements her dogs and allows them to shine in both the obedience and rally rings. She’s consistent, always demonstrating the utmost in good sportsmanship. Her dogs adore her, which is obvious to everyone. She’s a wonderful role model for this new generation of obedience and rally enthusiasts.”

Elizares is still a regular entrant in American Kennel Club obedience competitions with Hey You.

Sue Cox, a veteran Seattle obedience competitor and judge, says, “Donna remains a true competitor. Her training and ring presentation are geared to winning. She doesn’t always win, but she takes home many high in trial ribbons.”

Richard Lewis, an AKC obedience judge, adds: “I have probably judged Donna once a year since 2013. Easily, the most memorable experience was at the Sherwood (Ore.) Dog Training Club event about two years ago. Donna was everywhere, in every ring, with what seemed like a legion of Papillons, although I suspect she was only showing maybe two or three. Without much rest, she was running between rings and would come in and ask, ‘What are we doing?’ She would then proceed to knock the ball out of the park with one outstanding performance after another.”