Well friends, I’ve been dropping hints for weeks now. It’s official, our little family is GROWING… by… wait for it… EIGHT PAWS!!! Later this week we will welcome not one but TWO Lagotto Romagnolo puppies. One will be ours and the other will belong to my parents. Our little pups are about 14 weeks old and have already lived quite an adventure. They were born in Italy, where they spent the first 10 weeks of their lives. In early December they hopped aboard a flight to Knoxville, TN (in the passenger cabin) and have been spending the past few weeks at Blackberry Farm getting trained. This “adoption” process has been over a year in the making and so exciting. For the full story of how we discovered and fell in love with the breed and how all this came to be – scroll down and keep reading. If you’re just here for the fashion I won’t fault you for skimming through to the frocks.
Discovering the Truffle Dogs
One of the best parts about traveling is you never know what new discovery you’ll make. What will define your trip when you look back on it for years to come? It’s impossible to know in advance and that’s part of what makes the journey so exciting. Such is exactly what happened with us. Last fall Justin and I went to Blackberry Farm for our 10 year wedding anniversary. Having been on my radar for nearly a decade it was a dream getaway. I had visions of the two of us having a kid free romp through the rolling foothills of the Smoky Mountains, fueled by plenty of wine and amazing meals. I envisioned nightly fires in our cabin (the word “cabin” has forever been redefined in my mind into a glamorous outpost complete with marble bath, a four poster bed, and vaulted ceilings), mornings in the spa, and zipping around in our own personal golf cart exploring the grounds. And that’s exactly what we did and what we would have done exclusively had it not been for the dogs. Our surprise discovery.
On our second afternoon at Blackberry we were enjoying a tour of the garden where they grow just about every piece of produce used in their restaurants. In the distance we heard a few faint barks. The gentleman we were talking with suggested we take a ride over the the kennel to check out the dogs. “We don’t have any puppies right now but it’s still worth your time to meet them. They’re truffle hunting dogs, and pretty darn cute if I do say so myself.”
Now I’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot I don’t know about the world. Like when Stone wanted to start learning Polo I was dumbfounded to learn that people were playing Polo in the southeast outside of Palm Beach. Polo in North Georgia, who knew? I was equally stuptified to learn there are dogs who hunt truffles. Isn’t that a job for pigs? Turns out it’s a lot easier to have a truffle hunting dog than a 300 pound pig who eats like a pig. That’s how Blackberry Farm came upon the Lagotto Romagnolo, which translated means “lake dog from Romagna”. The Lagotto is a working dog with an instinct for retrieving. Somewhere along the way these dogs started retrieving truffles and their fate as the “truffle dog” was sealed. Believe it or not someone found a way to cultivate European perigord truffles in Tennessee and ten years ago the late Proprietor of Blackberry Farm brought over two Lagotto Romagnolos to seek them out. The dogs were well loved by guests and their babies were spoken for long before they arrived and so the Blackberry Farm Lagotto program began.
The kennel at Blackberry Farm is tucked away and easy to miss. There’s just a small wooden sign bearing the words, “Lagotto Romagnolo Kennel”. Once you find the sign there’s a walk up a few steps, a gate to pass through, and a small hill to trek before the dogs come into view. By the time you see them they’re already waiting for you inside the second gate. Their running space is a half dirt hillside full of craggly tree roots which judging by the looks of it the dogs work hard to excavate. Lagotto nights are spent in outbuildings fitted with heat and A/C. They share the other side of their hill with a potbellied pig and her 8 piglets. It’s just about the last place you’d expect to find a rare dog breed from Italy. But then you remember you’re at Blackberry Farm and it all makes sense.
Now this is where I should pause the story to put all this into context. When we visited Blackberry we were NOT in the market for another pet. We already had two dogs at home, Yorkies. One of which was geriatric, senile, and extremely high maintenance. Between our crazy work schedules and raising a 6 year old the last thing on our minds was adding to our funny farm.
When you just know it’s right…
You know how sometimes you can sense when something special is about to happen? That’s the feeling I had walking up those steps, through the gate, and up the hill. Waiting on the other side of the second gate was Alba, a 2-ish year old Lagotto. She and I locked eyes and it was love at first sight – at least for me it was. It’s hard to put into words what these dogs are like. Their demeanor is calm yet energetic, loving, accepting, understanding, ambitious, loyal, I could go on. Alba was like no dog I’d ever met. Justin was equally smitten. There were other Lagottos and we spent time getting to know them too. While individuals with their own unique personalities they had the same underlying demeanor. Suddenly I was picturing Stone playing with one of these dogs, throwing a tennis ball the dog would keeping fetching until his arm fell off. I could see the dog lying at my feet while I worked in my office, I could see the dog at the lake with us. I could see the dog in our lives. I realized it was exactly what our family had been missing. The fact Lagottos are considered one of the most hypoallergenic breeds sealed the deal.
At dinner that night all we talked about were the dogs. The next morning we went back to the kennel to find out how we could go about adopting one. By that point we’d talked to Blackberry staff and knew they bred the dogs and sold the puppies. The next morning we learned many folks before us had been just as smitten and there was a three year waiting list for a puppy. Three years?! The head of the Lagotto program, Jim, was in Italy bringing back some dogs to add to Blackbery’s breeding lineup. His staff assured us he’d reach out when he returned and I think we may have even heard from him while he was still abroad. I could write an entire post about how incredible Jim is but he’d be terribly embarrassed if I were to do so. Check out this video of him working with the dogs. Or this one.
My parents had recently started talking about getting a dog, what would be their first in 45 years of marriage. It didn’t take long to convince them they needed to meet the wonder dog breed living in Walland, TN. We made arrangements with Jim and just a few weeks after our initial trip all 5 of us took a ride to Blackberry Farm so my parents and Stone could meet the dogs. My Dad had a health crisis four years ago that left him with some impairments. My parents need for a dog is different than ours. They need a good companion dog, almost a therapy dog in a sense. I can’t think of any other breed that delivers on all the requirements we have between the 5 of us for a pet. The Lagotto hit the mark on all of them.
During that visit Jim graciously offered to make a trip to Italy to secure two female puppies from the breeder Blackberry uses. This cut our wait time down from three years to one. As it turns out our timing was fortuitous. Our older dog passed away on Christmas Eve last year and our remaining Yorkie received a pre Cushings diagnosis this spring which has slowed her down considerably. These puppies are coming at the perfect time. We’ve spent the past year getting our yard ready… the fence is in place, all dangerous brush has been removed, dead trees cut down. Heck, I’m not sure we did this much prep work before Stone was born!
You may be wondering where the pictures of the dogs are. I promise you, they’re coming in spades. To say our family is excited to welcome these dogs is a huge understatement. Jim will personally deliver our pups the end of this week and even spend some time teaching us how to be good dog parents and continue the training he’s begun. This is going to be a very MERRY Christmas at our house and we hope yours will be as well. Sending Christmas and Hanukkah love out to all. Stay tuned and follow along on Instagram and Instastories to meet our little lady when she arrives.