By Wayne Bleazard
Beryl and Alex Zbitnoff of Butte, Montana began running Labrador retrievers in AKC trials in 1970. A friend of theirs from Butte, Bob Sparks, gave them a black lab they named Chorney of Snokist Lodge. Bob offered to train both the dog and Alex, which worked very well. Bob was very generous with his time helping, teaching, and encouraging people with dog training. Unfortunately, Bob died when Chorney was about 2 years old. Alex and Beryl were part of a large group of people who got together and named the Butte training grounds after Bob.
The Zbitnoff’s became involved in club activities of the Treasure State Retriever Club, and Beryl became secretary for a while. Alex was club president during the late 1970’s. Their dog, Chorney, got injured after he received an open win, so he was retired before he got his championship title. Undaunted, Alex got another dog for Beryl, Sasha of Snokist Lodge. (Snokist Lodge is the name of their summer home near Lincoln, Montana). Beryl ran Sasha in about 10-12 derbies and got lots of JAMS, but never placed him. She insisted Alex run him, and Sasha immediately got a 2nd and 1st place.
Beryl ran Sasha in a few Qualifyings but quickly realized that running a dog was simply not her thing when judge, John Lundy, encouraged her to pick Sasha up on a blind. “Don’t worry about it, honey, we all have to learn sometime.” She did try again a second time and Sasha drilled the marks, one-whistled the land blind, then came the water blind! She then decided she would rather handle the handler than the dog and turned Sasha completely over to Alex. Sasha, under Alex’s experienced handling received his FC/AFC, CFC and CAFC. Beryl contributes much of Sasha’s success to the many birds she threw for him.
At a National Open in Georgia, the Zbitnoffs met Jane Russenberger, breeding director of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She asked if they would consent to Sasha being a stud dog for this organization. Alex and Beryl donated Sasha’s services sending him twice to Connecticut for breeding purposes. He sired 31 puppies that became guide dogs or breeding dogs for the organization (all dogs that are used as guide dogs are neutered, so some were kept in tact for breeding purposes). A few years ago, Jane indicated to Beryl that there were 378 of Sasha’s progeny working in the program.
Alex passed away in April, 1999, which has curtailed the traveling with the dogs that they both loved. They trialed all through the mid-west, north to Canada, and south to Georgia. She misses all her special friends and traveling across the continent running field trials, but she still enjoys watching the dogs run. About 1986, Beryl became very active in the club, and especially enjoyed marshalling. She loves having a clipboard and bossing people around. She became secretary/treasurer again in the late 1990’s and is still the treasurer. She does her best to help out with the hunt test in June, the club’s field trial in July, and a Derby/Qualifying in early fall.
Probably the most unique thing about Beryl is her phenomenal memory! She tends to never forget a face, and remembers special little things about many people she met so many years ago-children and their names, dogs, incidents that many of us would likely forget until she reminds you about them. These special qualities of a sparkling jewel in the Treasure State make her a much-loved, unforgettable personality of Montana.
Beryl Zbitnoff handling the handlers at the Treasure State Hunt Test, June 2010