February 23, 2021
By Jens Odegaard
Chris Levy never had a dog as a kid. “Not that my sister and I hadn’t begged our parents, but dad wanted a Doberman and my mom wanted a little dog and they never could agree. So we never got a dog,” she said.
She’s made up for it as an adult. Chris and her husband Tom have dedicated their lives to breeding, showing and judging dogs since the 1970s. Recently, they decided to make small animal health education their legacy. With a gift through the OSU Foundation, they established the Chris and Tom Levy Endowed Professorship for Small Animal Health at the Oregon State University Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine.
To the dogs
Chris and Tom met at the end of their first year at Oregon State. “Then we kind of just stuck together and got engaged our senior year,” Chris said. They graduated in 1970, Chris with a degree in zoology and Tom with one in construction engineering technology (now known as construction engineering management).
The couple married right after graduation and headed to Boise, Idaho for Tom’s new job. It was there that dogs entered the picture.
Chris was working at a veterinary office and one veterinarian bred German Shorthaired Pointers. A partnering vet had a Miniature Schnauzer puppy in need of a home. Tom had been looking for a hunting dog and Chris liked the looks of the Schnauzer, so the couple ended up with both: Kay die Jager the German Shorthaired Pointer and Schnapps the Miniature Schnauzer.
In Boise one night after work, the Levys went to their first dog show “and we thought, ‘Wow, that might be something we'd like to do,’” Chris said.
Soon after, the Levys moved back to Portland and the thought grew. They went to a two-day dog show at the convention center at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum “under the parking lot,” Tom said. They stayed all day and then went back the next and stayed for the duration again. “We were really fascinated,” Chris said.
There they met a “Schnauzer person from Vancouver” and she helped the couple get started showing, Chris said. The Levys went to a practice show where Tom showed Kay and Chris showed Schnapps, “and he took best puppy or something like that,” Chris said. “Anyway, we were hooked.” In Jan. 1973, the Levys competed in their first American Kennel Club show, and “as they say, the rest is history,” Tom said.
The perfect breed
As the Levys became more and more dedicated to the show world, Chris started judging while Tom continued to show their dogs. “Tom and I started out with our little BMW and a collapsible crate and pup tent in the trunk and then took our two dogs with us, and it was a fun family thing to do. But it also became our life,” Chris said.
They also began breeding their dogs — starting with Kay. “We kept two of Kay's puppies, and we showed them both to their championships. And around 1975, we bought a show quality Schnauzer and we showed Schnauzers for about 30 years.” They also had some Cairn Terriers and Shiba Inus through the years – winning numerous championships with all their breeds. But it was in 1998 at the World Dog Show in Finland that Chris fell head over heels for a breed she’d never heard of.
“I was walking down the hall and I saw three Pumik coming toward me — I didn't know what they were at the time — and they were absolutely the cutest thing I’d ever seen,” Chris said. “It was love at first sight.”
The Pumi is a herding breed originating in Hungary. With hair like a forest of corkscrews, bright eyes, ears with personalities of their own and perpetual grins, Pumik (the plural of Pumi) look like something drawn up on a Disney illustration sheet. In addition to looking as cute as can be, they are highly intelligent herding dogs.
In the late 1990s, the breed was virtually unknown in the United States, though it was a recognized breed across Europe. Chris and Tom had been looking for a herding dog to help move their small herd of Herefords. “So we went on the Internet and found a breeder in Hungary, and got our first Pumi in 1999,” Chris said. Her initial love at first sight only deepened as the Levys got to know their new dog.
“They are really, really smart and they use their intelligence to figure out how to please you. We've had smart dogs, like the Shibas, and we've had dogs that were willing to please like the Schnauzers, but we've never had both attributes in the same breed,” Chris said. “The Pumi is the only breed we have now. We've had the breed longer than almost anybody else in the country.”
The Levys are charter members of the Hungarian Pumi Club of America, and Chris served as its president from its inception in 2005 until 2018. She’s now secretary, and Tom has served as treasurer. The club and the couple’s breeding of Pumik were instrumental in helping the breed gain full status with the American Kennel Club in 2016.
These days the couple have seven of their own Pumik ranging from 1 to 13 years old. Chris is an AKC judge of the terrier and non-sporting groups and Tom continues showing their dogs. He’s won numerous honors including Best of Breed at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club show in 2019 and an AKC Reserve Best in Show in addition to numerous wins in Europe and Latin America with multiple international champions and world winners. “I'm still looking for that AKC Best in Show,” Tom said.
A professorship for ‘our pets and partners’
Despite the countless hours dedicated to breeding, showing and judging, the Levys consider dogs their avocation not their vocation. Chris spent many of her working years at the Oregon Department of Transportation – first in the mapping department, then as a computer programmer and finally as an IT project manager. She finished up her career in IT for the Oregon Judicial Department and then worked six years in the private sector.
Tom on the other hand: “I'm probably one of the very few people that spent my entire life working in the field I graduated in,” he said. He worked first for contractors as a construction engineering manager and then ran his own construction business for more than 20 years.
They are both now retired and have been planning their estate. “We don't have any children and were thinking, ‘Well, what do we do with our inheritance?’ And it was sort of like, ‘What has been our life? And dogs have been our life. That's what led us to the vet school,” Tom said.
As long-time breeders and exhibitors, the Levys know the importance of owning and producing healthy dogs. Veterinary research and veterinary medical expertise benefit the dog fancy, so they decided to make an estate gift establishing the endowed professorship.
They hope their gift can help in the education of the next generation of veterinarians who will be caring for their beloved Pumik and other small animals. “They are our pets and our partners,” Tom said. “We need good vets who truly want to research and find out what the problems are and solve them,” Chris added.
In a way, it’s a gift for their family of fellow exhibitors and breeders from around the world. “Our family is at the dog shows, no matter where in the world that might be,” Chris said. “It's a whole family of people that all help each other. And we love being with them and the dogs.”