Sylvia Hirt, 84, trained therapy, police dogs

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 23, 2011 - 8:27 PM

After raising four children, she devoted her attention to her beloved canines. She also loved to travel.

Sylvia Hirt loved dancing, jokes, people, travel and dogs. But the dogs led her to a new occupation after raising four children.

"Mom always needed to do things, so it seemed natural when she started the dog obedience school," said her daughter Karrol Butler.

Before long, Hirt had won dog shows all over the country and become one of the first women in Minnesota to train police dogs.

Hirt, 84, died Friday in St. Paul after a stroke six weeks ago.

Born in Owatonna, Minn., on Sept. 9, 1916, to Sam and Ida Moe, she worked for an insurance company in Washington, D.C., during World War II, then married Richard Hirt in 1946 and moved to St. Cloud, where they raised their family. He died in 1992.

She spent most of her adult life in St. Cloud, moving to St. Paul three years ago.

Hirt never was without a dog, and she started the St. Cloud Professional Dog Training Academy in 1971. Soon she was training police dogs, her daughter said.

"She used to call them 'attack dogs,' but that upset people, so she started calling them 'criminal apprehension' dogs," Butler said.

Hirt also began training her own dogs and others' to work as therapy companions with ill or frail people in nursing homes, hospitals and other settings.

"Mom was the ultimate marketing person,'' Butler said. "She'd put up signs saying, 'The red coats are coming,' then march in a parade with eight or 10 dogs wearing little red coats.''

Hirt also won awards at numerous dog shows, Butler said, with scores of certificates from competitions in Canada, the Bahamas and numerous cities in the United States.

She loved to travel and visited more than 15 countries. For about 20 years until last winter, Hirt spent winters in Texas, and at age 82 she spent the winter with a friend driving throughout the South.

"Even when her body was beginning to wear out, she just kept going and going,'' Butler said. "There was always something more to see, something new to learn."

In addition to Butler, Hirt is survived by children Gary Hirt of Mount Juliet, Tenn., Debbie Onweller of Hampshire, Tenn., and Brian Hirt of Sarasota, Fla., and sister Irene Zimmerman of Owatonna, Minn.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Willwerscheid Funeral Home, 1167 Grand Av., St. Paul, with visitation one hour before the service. Burial will be at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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