Teacher, Trainer, Friend A tribute to Tom Steinbacher from his many students
f you are reading this, you already know that Tom Steinbacher was an incredible man. You also know that he had a way of relating to people in a way that made sense,
and made a difference. Tom was a man of relatively few words; he was thoughtful and succinct in what he had to say. These are just some of the qualities that made Tom such a great person, and such a successful teacher. And it is Toms legacy as a teacher that inspired this book.
When Tom left us in late December, 2012, the world lost a remarkable man. Testament to that fact was the spontaneous outpouring from his former students of their own Tom stories when they received an email announcing his passing. It quickly became obvious that each person who received that email had unique memories to share, of how they each met Tom, what he had done for them, and ultimately, what he meant to them. This book is a compilation of those memories.
At Toms memorial service we heard the priest speak eloquently of Tom as a fixer. He could fix most anything that needed repair around the house, and many of us first found our way to Tom because we needed his help fixing our dogs. Of course, the fix generally started with the human in these cases, so along the way Tom fixed us, too. A number of the stories in the pages that follow recount experiences like this. One of Toms gifts was the ability to point out what the person needed to do differently without causing offense or hurt feelingseven though his comments often had to be made publically, in a class setting. We all learned from this, and from each other.
In addition to being a fixer, Tom was also a builder. He had a complete woodworking shop in his garage and enjoyed making toys for his grandkids. He also built cabinets for his wife Casey, built the furniture in his mountain cabin, and completed a number of home renovation projects. He built his wonderful dog park, and more recentlywith help from friends Everett and Jonbuilt the adjacent training building that would allow him to hold classes in the evenings and during wet weather. Perhaps most significantly, though, Tom built a communitya community of former students and other acquaintances, many of whom first met during class or on a pack walk. People who now have connections and friendships between them, friendships that will continue.
Tom would say that dogs made it all possible, that the love of dogs is what brought us together. Perhaps. But all the threads lead back to Tom, the builder of this community. These are the stories of our community.
Everett, Teresa, Carol, and Andrea
(with help from Cosmo, Max, Chester, and Floyd)
Back in October, after an absence of 5 months, I took Nietzsche to Toms Thursday evening open training. I went early so I could talk to Tom about my problems walking Nietzsche. Twice daily, I am tired of her pulling. Tom listened and told me to walk her along the fence. Nietzsche wanted to go to car so the walk was not a great success.
Tom said, Dick, come back. I did. Tom took the leash and sat Nietzsche down. By then Nietzsche was shaking. He put his hand on her rump and whispered something in her ear. It looked to me like that she nodded! Heel, he said, and off they went in harmony. A few correction with the leash and they were back to me. He sat her down and gave me the leash. This is how it is done, you have to lead your dog with confidence. You walk looking straight ahead and do not look down at her, she has to take confidence from you. I said, This means I have to take more lessons. You said it. was Toms answer. In November he told us we could start with Nietzsche in the January Advanced class. Shell do fine, Tom said. I wonder about me? Leadership with confidence, what a rare gift he had. This pack will have an empty feeling for some time to come. We will keep on walking and training, and saying Tom said
Dick, Ineke, Kelly, and Nietzsche Philippo
I dont have an anecdote or a funny story to relate. I just feel compelled to share how profoundly Tom impacted my life and how much better it is because my dogs and I knew Tom. I found Tom by admiring a pair of golden retrievers being walked in my neighborhood. I was overwhelmed by my new rescue dog, Angus, a Scottish terrier, who pulled, lunged, barked when on a leash and nipped at people, including biting a friend in my living room. After seeing those two goldens walk along so calmly with their owner, I plucked up the courage to talk to the owner. She told me about Tom. I called, he came to my house. Tom described what was going on in terms I could begin to grasp and gave me some exercises to do with my dogs. I enrolled in my first of four classes. It had to go through class twice with Angus before we made enough improvement to make walking him a joy, but we managed it with Toms patience and a little help from Rudy and that curling lip thing he does to tell other dogs to back off and chill out.
When I rescued Dooley, my third Scottie, Tom again rescued me and again it took me two classes to make real progress. Im a slow learner when it comes to changing behavior, just like my hard-headed dogs. I wasnt giving enough praise, and while Im still working on it, life with three dogs and me as the entire pack is fun, and I owe that to Toms teaching. Every morning when I feed the dogs, I still do the exercise Tom taught me to focus my dogs attention on me and what I am asking of them: Sit. Place bowl with food in front of dog. Ask them to wait, look at me and then, Now you may have it starts my every morning. I am going to truly miss those occasional pack walks around East Campus, which always seemed to make my dogs behave better.
Muir, Angus, and Dooley Dean
A few months after we moved to North Carolina, in April 2007, our Shepherd mix, Mila, passed away at 13 years old. We didnt consider another dog until May, when our new neighbors, Tom and Casey Steinbacher, told us about a dog at North Paw Animal Hospital that needed a home. We thought it was a sign that this dog might be our next pet. After visiting with the dog, whose name was already Lucy, we fell in love with her. As we all know, Tom had a special gift for bringing together new dog families. We did add on a middle name as it is the custom in the south. Lucy Lu was officially ours. We were part of Toms first dog training class at North Paw.
Before the class Tom helped Lucy Lu conquer her fear of the Invisible Fence. Lucy Lu wouldnt leave our deck to get down on the grass, afraid she would get a shock. So Tom walked up to our house one day without his dogs to say hello. We described how Lucy Lu wasnt playing in the yard because of her fear of the electric fence. Tom said this wont do, and he walked down to his house to get Rudy and Tillie, and came back up. He picked up Lucy Lu and placed her down on the lawn and told Rudy and Tillie go get Lucy. They started to chase Lucy Lu around the house. Before long they were playing and Lucy Lu was over her fear of the electric fence.
On another occasion, Tom and I both had daughters flying in that afternoon and evening for Christmas 2008. We had been working out in one of our yards on a project. We decided to call it quits around mid day as rain clouds approached and we needed to get cleaned up for our respective trips to the airport. Tom, always wanting to give the dogs a walk when possible, called me after showering and said lets go for a quick walk before it starts raining. As usual, Tom walked Rudy and Tillie, and I walked Lucy Lu. We were half way through our walk and about a mile away from home when it started raining. Neither one of us wanted to get wet because wed just cleaned up for the arrival of our girls. So we started running home. Very quickly into our run Tom said I have a problem here, Dan, hold up, my pants keep falling down. In Toms haste to get dressed and walk before the rain came down, he forgot to put on a belt. We decided I would take Tillie and Lucy Lu, he would hold up his pants with one hand hold onto Rudi with the other as we all ran home.
Dan, Leslie, and Lucy Lu Kutner
Thanks to Tom Steinbacher, Lily is now a therapy dog. I adopted her from English Springer Rescue Association and enrolled her in obedience and agility classes with Tom. While taking his Canine Good Citizen class, Lily and I heard an announcement about a new class starting soon. Tom described therapy dog work and emphasized that a special dog personality was needed. He turned around in our circle of canines and their humans, pointed at Lily and said, A dog like Lily makes a good therapy dog. Really? Id never heard of therapy dogs and started to ask questions. I wasnt sure we could do it, but we signed up and practiced our therapy dog lessons.
Three days before the challenging final exam, we had a chicken disaster during practice. Instead of walking by the tempting freshly cooked chicken, Lily ignored me and devoured the morsel. No! I thought. We have not come this far and worked so hard to fail at the very end. So I upped my training with Lily and worried a lot over the next three days. Toms instruction paid off as she passed one part of the exam and then another, but I was still really nervous about the chicken test. As Tom tempted Lily with the tasty chicken, I bellowed No so loudly and so sternly that my precious Lily whipped her little head around to look at me and then steadfastly refused any further interest in the chicken. She knewin no uncertain termsthat this chicken was off limits. The chicken test went smoothly, and after receiving our therapy dog certification, Tom s