When the Borzoi is characterized in books or on breed webpages, you see glowing adjectives such as affectionate, loyal, aristocratic, and graceful.
Lifeline or liberator are terms not included in the profile toolbox. But for Joy Sargis, of Encinitas, Calif., these more aptly capture the heart and soul of what her own Borzois have meant to her.
A Life-Changing Event
All was normal in Sargis’ life until August 2010, when she was involved in a rollover auto accident in Berkeley, Calif., leaving her with a hearing loss. “I was hanging upside down in my seat belt,” she recalls. “My nose was broken, and I had tiny pieces of glass embedded all over my body. All of my injuries required several surgeries to correct. But the worst was the permanent loss of understanding conversation. I am considered legally deaf, although I can hear sounds. I wear hearing aids, but they don’t help much.”
Before the crash, the independent woman’s bustling lifestyle involved work, travel, running, and enjoying social time with friends. Afterward, she lost her job, and socializing with friends became stressful and embarrassing because of her hearing problems.
“Something as mundane as ordering a latte at Starbucks became difficult and intimidating. At my job, if someone came up behind me, I would jump. I couldn’t talk on the phone. I couldn’t understand what was happening at meetings. I had trouble talking because I couldn’t hear myself. Sometimes I would talk too loudly or at the wrong time. There were a few people who made fun of me, which was humbling.”
Sargis began staying home for long periods, sitting in her room with the lights out and visiting with her Borzois. “They didn’t care that I couldn’t hear,” she says. Gradually, she began to build a comfort zone watching television with the hearing-impaired captions on. And soon she was making new friends through her dogs.
“Leonard Simpson, a TV personality and fashion show planner, asked me to bring my dogs to an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego – La Jolla, where I met models, makeup artists, photographers, journalists, and philanthropists, who remain my friends today.” It was the first step in a bid to reconnect with society.
Into the Show Ring
Sargis’ Facebook Borzoi connections encouraged her to begin entering dog shows. Her first show was in June 2014 in Pasadena, Calif., almost four years after the accident. It was there that she met Michelle Paulin, who would become her dog Chief’s professional handler at major shows.
“When I was waiting to go into the ring, she observed I couldn’t hear,” Sargis says of Paulin. “She motioned me when to go in, told the judge I was deaf, and has been looking after me since. The judge was Donavon Thompson. He loved my dog Aleda and gave her a BOS (Best of Opposite Sex), which earned her a championship. Afterward, he encouraged me to keep showing her and my other dogs.”
Although she informs the ring stewards of her hearing deficit, Sargis tells few others. “You would be surprised how many people don’t notice. It just becomes a matter of the ring steward telling the judge, who will then motion what he or she wants me to do. All have been super nice about it. With each show, it gets a bit easier.”
While she has received plenty of encouragement from others to stay involved in the dog world amidst all the twists and turns in her personal life, the biggest influence has been her husband, Scott Muske, who proposed after she lost her hearing. The two married in June 2012.
“We are both engineers and work together. While sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming to go somewhere and deal with hearing issues, Scott will not listen to excuses, which has been very helpful,” Sargis says. “Scott helps me wash and groom the dogs and owns a wardrobe of suits and wild shirts with ties which he wears to dog shows. Our dogs are also in quite a few black-tie galas in the San Diego area. I’m comfortable with the crowds, since my dogs are there.”
She adds, “Having my dogs with me shifts the conversation to talking about them instead of how I lost my hearing. At galas, often there is a line of fans that would like to be in a photo with the dogs. I stay until every person has had his or her photo taken.”
Beyond a Service Dog
The couple owns five Borzois: Aleda, her 8-year-old service dog; Snowy, 5; Ranger, 7; Chief, 5; and Blaze, 2. Aleda, Ranger, and Chief are Grand Champions, and Snowy is working on that designation.
“I regard all of them as my therapy dogs,” Sargis says. “They hang out with me while I am on the computer, and I take one or two with me on runs. I have taken quite a few courses online using captions. Snowy sits alongside me on a sofa and is becoming pretty proficient at cybersecurity by now.”
Savoring time together and away from crowds, Sargis and her husband also own a two-and-one-half-acre ranch in Temecula Valley Wine Country. “It’s a nice outlet,” she says, “and a place where the dogs get plenty of exercise running up and down the hills in the backyard.”
Their show schedule is limited to about one a month in Southern California, but the highlight of the past five years has been a trip to the AKC National Championship in Orlando.
Though Sargis’ life might have changed drastically eight years ago, her dogs have helped rebuild her confidence and face new challenges head on.