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Tax refund promise led Ligonier teacher to second career as corgi breeder

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Dee Ambrose-Stahl, a Ligonier Valley High School teacher, smiles as her 5-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi Tempe licks her cheek on Monday, March 4, 2014 in her Ligonier home. Ambrose-Stahl spends her free time breeding corgis and showing them in competitions.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Dee Ambrose-Stahl's Pembroke Welsh corgis Party (right), 2, and Pearl, 1, play in the snow on Monday, March 4, 2014 in her Ligonier home. Ambrose-Stahl spends her free time breeding corgis and showing them in competitions.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Dee Ambrose-Stahl, a Ligonier Valley High School teacher, reacts while recalling memories of her first Pembroke Welsh corgi on Monday, March 4, 2014 in her Ligonier home. Ambrose-Stahl spends her free time breeding corgis and showing them in competitions.

Corgis are like potato chips. You can't have just one.

The dog lover's adage rings true for Dee Ambrose-Stahl, who has long loved the fox-like breed.

“Don't ask me why,” she said. “No one I knew ever had one. I've just been an animal lover my whole life, and I've always adored them.”

Ambrose-Stahl, 47, of Cook Township teaches English at Ligonier Valley High School and spends much of her free time at competitive dog shows presenting her beloved Pembroke Welsh corgis.

“Both require a deep dedication, a desire to do things right, and the willingness to never ever stop learning,” she said.

About 11 years ago, Ambrose-Stahl adopted her first corgi, Emmitt.

“My husband made the mistake of telling me at tax time one year, ‘If we get a refund, you can buy anything you want,' ” she said.

She quickly decided one wasn't enough, so she contacted Midge Ruscak and Valerie Jones Brown, corgi breeders in North Huntingdon. Along came Percy, a tri-color male that Ruscak and Brown offered to Ambrose-Stahl with the provision that he would be kept as a conformation show dog.

“I used to show horses,” Ambrose-Stahl said. “At least with showing a dog, you can't fall off.”

After one “puppy match,” Ambrose-Stahl was hooked.

“It just felt right to me,” she said.

Unfortunately Percy did not develop well enough to compete in conformation shows, in which the best representatives of breeding stock are shown. Ruscak and Jones later offered her a show-quality corgi named Gambler, whom she entered in dog shows.

“I learned more and more as I went,” she said. “I've always considered myself a lifelong learner, so this was another way for me to go and learn.”

Today, after years of dog shows, Ambrose-Stahl enters between 20 and 30 events per year. She and her husband, Ron Stahl, own and show four corgis: Tempe, Pearl, Party and Doc. All have received various accolades.

“It's like our getaway.” Ron Stahl said.

The couple breeds corgis.

Ambrose-Stahl notes several correlations between her career as a teacher and her hobby. Both require strong ethics, compassion and “a great deal of patience,” she said, but corgis are more challenging than students, like Pearl, who can be a bit of a diva.

“The same attitude that makes her a great show dog is a force to be reckoned with in the training end of it,” she said. “I need to be patient with her. I've had difficult students in my life, but everyone survived and was better for the experience.”

At dog shows, she strives to help novices.

“The teacher in me comes out,” she said. “I tell my kids (students) all the time I truly believe I was put on this earth to be a teacher. There are always new folks coming into dog shows that need help and support that I got from my mentors, so I really do try to help out the newcomers.”

In her classroom, Ambrose-Stahl keeps students updated on her dog's accomplishments with a bulletin board displaying photographs from successful shows.

“Everybody else puts up pictures of their kids. ... I figure I can, too,” she said.

Senior Stephanie Heming, 17, enjoys learning the ins and outs of dog shows from Ambrose-Stahl.

“It's cool to visualize her in her element,” she said.

In the classroom and in the show ring, the “innate teacher” in Ambrose-Stahl comes out.

“With each of (my dogs) and with every other dog I've shown, I assessed what they needed and responded accordingly,” she said. “It's the same with teaching. Every student is an individual and as such has different needs. That's what teaching is all about — meeting the needs of a variety of learners.”

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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