Accomplished York springer spaniel passes away

Christopher Dornblaser

Ten years after originally appearing at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, accomplished York County English springer spaniel Connor passed away Saturday night at the age of 13.

Connor, co-owned by Debbie Kirk, Dorothy Cherry and Rosemarie Fugit, was a recipient of many accolades throughout his life. Kirk, of York City, said Connor was a dog with a range of skills and talents.

"He was the only No. 1 show springer with hunting titles, obedience titles, rally titles, and a wonderful therapy dog," she said.

Kirk, who has been breeding dogs for more than 50 years, operates Best In Show Dog & Cat Pet Grooming at 916 E Market St. She called Connor's passing a "circle of life," as his sire, Robert, had won Best in Show in 1993 at the Westminster Kennel Club, and now Connor died just a day shy of the 2016 Westminster.

"He was the most accomplished No. 1 show springer in the history of the breed," she said. Connor received 195 best of breed awards throughout his show career.

Connor, a winner of many accolades, passed away Saturday night.

Shows and therapy:  Connor was a jack-of-all-trades dog.

After winning three specialty majors in 2005 with handler Kathy Kirk, Connor was entered in Westminster Dog Show in 2006 and won an award of merit. After that show, Cherry and the Kirk sisters handed off Connor to Lancaster County handlers Howard and Heidi Huber for two years, during which he won many awards. He retired from his show career at the end of 2007.

Between 2008 and 2011, Deb Kirk and Connor pursued hunting titles for Connor, as well as titles for obedience and rally. Obedience trials are when the dogs are to follow specific routines given by judges to demonstrate the dog's obedience. Rally titles are similar: the dogs go through a  judge's course, where the dog has to complete a skill with its handler, based on instructions from the judges.

Kirk, a hunter for many years, was happy to get Connor involved with shows and hunting. During the hunting test, the dog helps locate land-nesting birds for the hunter, the hunter takes down the bird, and the dog helps bring back the bird to the hunter.

“That was my message to the springer world, that they could all do it,” she said.

At the end of 2011, Connor started working as a therapy dog, visiting independent living homes. Kirk said many residents loved when Connor would come.

“For some of them, that was the light of their life, that was the one thing they looked forward to,” she said.

In 2013, Connor became Kirk's own therapy dog, as Kirk was diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer.

Connor, a winner of many accolades, and therapy dog, passed away Saturday night.

A member of the family: After Kirk's diagnosis, Connor was there to help her through it.

“He did get me through three years of cancer and a year and a half of chemotherapy,” she said, adding that Connor was her 24/7 lap dog and her best friend.

"He was just a wonderful companion dog at home," she said.

She said Connor was always there for her during the rough time. Kirk said his passing was so difficult for her because he was part of her life physically, emotionally and professionally.

“These dogs live just an enormously beautiful life, and that was just my pleasure to give that to him,” she said.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at