Showsight’s Allan Reznik sat with William H. (“Billy”) Miller | Bayard Chihuahuas who shared insights on his journey in our community and sport.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. One of three children, we grew up in a home with dogs. My first dog was a Toy Poodle. My paternal grandfather presented her to me as a Christmas gift. GiGi was an adored family member and she helped to inspire my interest in purebred dogs.
Do you come from a doggy family? If not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?
My parents were not involved in the dog fancy. My grandparents did have purebred dogs and my sister brought me to my first dog show. Prior to becoming a mother, she dabbled in the world of dog shows and joined the Greenspring Poodle Club.
Initially, I had wanted a big dog and ended up with a Chihuahua. At heart, they are big dogs.
Who were your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their influence.
There were so many people who helped me along in the hobby.
Years ago, we had fewer dog shows. Dog folk attended match shows and were very involved with their local club activities. The Chihuahua Club of Maryland was my local breed club. There were so many members of the club who helped me along. My first Chihuahuas were not the best quality dogs and I started attending a lot of rare breed shows with Patricia Perez, an early Chinese Crested breeder. I wasn’t sure if I would ever find a quality Chihuahua and almost gave up trying. Rose Mioduszewski and her sister, Ruth Bahlman, were members of the local Chihuahua club. Longtime breeders, they bred exceptional dogs and were consistently in the winner’s ribbons. On my birthday, Rose gave me a beautiful Chihuahua. Skye became my first quality champion and later became a Specialty Best in Show winner.
Rose and Ruth taught me so much about the breed. I spent many a Saturday visiting their home and learning about the breed. I had a special relationship with Rose. She was always available for a late-night phone call. My first few litters were raised with her excellent advice.
The following year, Melanie Newell of Bayard Chihuahuas (established in the 1970s) offered me a co-ownership on a very nice dog. We became fast friends and I began to handle her dogs. Eventually, she graced me with the honor of sharing her kennel name. Melanie taught me so much about the breed and I will be forever grateful for our friendship. We owe all our success to her!
As a young boy I met the late Frances Rubinich of HellsABlazen Toy Poodle fame. While at a Greenspring Poodle Club meeting, she introduced herself to my sister, and I was mesmerized by her knowledge and clever wit. Frances was always there for me at dog shows. She would come to the Chihuahua ring and spent lots of time mentoring me. Later, she became a Chihuahua breeder and bred some exceptional Chihuahuas.
She was instrumental in helping Kenny groom and present his first BIS winner, Ch. Bayard Believe It Or Not RJr (Ripley). Frances came to visit and spent the weekend helping us groom Ripley. I have fond memories of visiting her home in Indianhead, Maryland, and playing with puppies. I learned how to evaluate litters, and the importance of breed hallmarks. I daresay she was the brightest dog person I ever knew. Most importantly, Frances was family. We were honored to be part of her tribe.
As a young college student, I joined the Catonsville KC. The late judge Melbourne T. Downing was the president of the club, and Mel appointed me show chair for our all-breed show. I learned a lot from him. At Catonsville KC meetings, I became close with the late Margery Shriver of Sheffield Pugs. Margery was a valuable mentor and dear friend. She stressed the importance of avoiding trends and focusing on the standard. The downstairs of her home was outfitted for the dogs, and I spent countless hours visiting her. She had every book and magazine about dogs! My own personal Mecca!
Margery taught me the importance of appreciating your competition and losing with grace. Shortly after winning my first Best in Show with Ch. Jo-El’s Calendar Girl, she was beaten in the Variety by a puppy. While I did congratulate the winner, it was obvious I was not happy about the loss. During the Toy Group judging, Margery invited me to sit ringside with her. She proceeded to have a candid discussion about the beautiful Variety winner, and it prompted me to take a closer look. Indeed, the exhibit was worthy of her win and Margery reminded me not to ever “believe my own press.” What a lesson!
The late Joyce McComiskey was surely known as an accomplished Lakeland breeder. She had worked for Jane and Bob Forsyth and then became a professional handler herself. Joyce showed a lot of Chihuahuas! She was the primary handler for the Pittore dogs of Patricia Howard Pittore. I followed her around and offered to help cart her dogs to and from the ring. Joyce taught me to watch puppies loose on the ground and only to take the time to table the ones that were worthy of the effort. I had spent so much time stacking puppies and it was a great lesson to just sit and watch them. She taught me the importance of being part of a “dog family.” Joyce truly saw all of us as her extended family and she always reminded me of that.
Perhaps my greatest mentor and dearest of friends was the late AKC judge and Doberman breeder Jane G. Kay. Jane always had a Chihuahua as a housedog and was a well-respected Chihuahua judge. I remember showing to her and enjoying her wicked sense of humor. When she began the search for her last Chihuahua, Jane enlisted my help with the hunt. Game on! We had a litter with a puppy that fit her “must” list and Yodytoo left Erika Lanasa’s house to go live with Jane.
Because a very close friendship had formed between us, we stopped exhibiting to Jane. She visited us often and even traveled to shows with us. She was family. Jane taught me the importance of breed character. She always reminded me that a marriage, if based only on good looks, was certain not to last long. Jane insisted you had to love your breed for who they are on the inside. Without proper breed character, you essentially have a mutt. To this day, I look at young puppies and watch them interact with the world. First and foremost, they must have correct character.
The late Beagle man and AKC rep “Jack” White worked for Mrs. Kay. He always told us that, before the people eat after a show, the dogs were exercised and fed. The dogs’ needs came first. Jane loved dogs and insisted their happiness be a priority.
Your Chihuahuas are widely known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?
The Chihuahua is an all-around good little dog. Unlike many other standards, the Chihuahua standard explains how the breed should move—going around, coming and going. Structure is always of utmost importance. Proper carriage is essential.
Melanie taught me the value of making an easy, fluid side gait a MUST. Once it is lost, it is hard to get back.
Avoiding the extremes or exaggerations has always been important to us. The Chihuahua should have large, flaring ears and this should be apparent in their silhouette. Extremely short muzzles, eyes that become too buggy, and small ears are common problems that distort the appearance of the ideal headpiece.
The breed is SLIGHTLY longer than tall and length is measured from the point of shoulder to the point of buttocks. SLIGHTLY. Webster’s Dictionary helps define the word. The breed tends to want to be longer than desired in the standard and it is important to always focus on proper, compact silhouette.
How many dogs do you currently house? Tell us about your facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
When we were actively breeding, all of us maintained the shared dogs in our separate homes. We had a number of dogs. In recent years, we have downsized and cut back. When my parents were ill, I took a break from breeding and spent my time caring for them. Shortly after Melanie’s husband passed away, she stopped actively breeding. But we have maintained frozen semen and are looking forward to using it shortly.
I was fortunate to have Melanie invite me to share her kennel name and work with her. Later, I met my husband, Kenny Saenz, and he joined the team. Kenny loved to travel, and unlike me, he didn’t mind airports. He was always up for the fun of a trip on a plane to show
My bestie Erika Lanasa also joined the team. She was busy raising her two children and spent lots of time raising puppies and maintaining breeding animals. When her children were out of the nest, she began a career as a handler and has been very successful with her client dogs.
Who were/are some of your most significant Chihuahuas, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
Good question. The first really exceptional dog to don the Bayard banner was Ch. RJR’s Reginald of Bayard. Reggie was a top Chihuahua Club of America (CCA) sire for several years. His first son (Alvin) was Best of Winners, Best Bred-By, and Best in Sweeps at the National. Alvin later won the Variety at the Garden.
While my first BIS winner was a smooth coat, my heart was always with the long coats. Melanie had always owned long coats. When a dear friend passed away, she inherited his dogs and the smooth coat gene was introduced to our kennel.
Perhaps our proudest accomplishment was having three consecutive generations of National Specialty winners:
Ch. Bayard Wind Beneath My Wings, “Windy”
Ch. Bayard Believe It Or Not RJr, “Ripley”
Ch. Nauset I Believe I Can Fly, “Teddy”
While Teddy was not bred by us, he was born in Erika’s home. Ripley was his sire and he was out of a Bayard bitch, Ch. Bayard Coretta Genbrook. Coretta was an amazing dam and this cross produced seven champions. Ripley was an amazing stud dog and we were so pleased with his kids.
Mary Jane Frederickson, mainly known for her exceptional Chinese Cresteds, was Ripley and Coretta’s owner and we enjoyed working with her to promote the breed. Ripley’s first BIS win was in 1997 at the Harrisburg Kennel Club. There were more than 3,800 dogs entered. Wowza! I can still remember Mary Jane almost going weak at the knees and passing out. At the time of his campaign, Ripley was co-owned with the late AKC judge Sam F. Burke and his wife, Anne. We had so much fun!
Teddy was the first long coat to place in the Toy Group at the Garden. We were so excited. Erika’s children ran down from their seats and the guard would not let them in to have their picture taken with their dog. The judge was kind enough to insist they be allowed in for the photograph!
These three dogs brought us so much joy. Ripley set a new BIS record for the long coat variety and his son Teddy accomplished the amazing feat of becoming the BIS record holder for both coats. It was awesome to cheer Erika on as she set a new all-time record with Sonnito. Sonnito’s breeders, Romulo Torres Sanchez and Manuel Bousieguez, are like family to us. Janet Lange was his gracious owner and we were thrilled for them.
As a handler, Ch. Jo-El’s Calendar Girl was my first BIS winner and she will always have a piece of my heart. Ch. Wissfire Chahachi was a Ripley great-granddaughter. Bred by Joan Scott (Wissfire Toy Poodles), we campaigned her to a record number of BIS wins for long coat bitches. Diminutive little Chahachi was the second long coat to place in the Toy Group at Westminster Kennel Club.
Teddy was owned by Kathleen Hardison and, at the time of her campaign, she co-owned Chahachi. We will be forever thankful for the wonderful retirement life she gave Teddy.
Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.
Like many breeds, the loss of the big kennels and families of dogs has made it challenging. We have some clever ladies breeding Chihuahuas and some wonderful foreign breeders.
Like many breeds, we need to focus on the breed hallmarks. The large ears cannot be ignored and need to be a priority in our breeding program. Beware of heads that are too extreme and almost give the appearance of being another breed. The muzzle should be moderately short and slightly tapered.
One of our most favorite Chihuahuas was Number One for several years. She was beautifully made and was my most cherished companion. Story had one obvious fault. Her tail was held too tightly on the back. One of the unique facts about our breed standard is that it allows for three tail carriages: out, up, or over in a loop with the tip just touching. When she retired, we learned the hard lesson—a bad tail is hard to remove from a breeding program.
Proportions are always crucial to keep in mind.
The sport has changed greatly since you first began participating. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders? How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?
We need fewer dog shows and more activity in local breed clubs. Match shows and club picnics allowed us to make friends and build relationships. People should get involved in local clubs and make pals.
My advice to newcomers is to make friends. I have so many lifelong dog pals. Join clubs. Volunteer. Smile.
Dog ownership is a right. We need to work hard to fight anti-dog breeder legislation.
Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?
We took some time off to focus on family. Kenny and I are judging the Toys at the Puppy Sweepstakes in Orlando. I am excited to see the beautiful puppies.
We have just started talking about using our frozen semen. It is exciting. Each generation keeps our old dogs alive on this earth.
Finally, tell us a little about Billy outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.
I have been an educator for 31 years. For most of that time I was a middle school World History teacher. Now, I work in restorative practice. Teaching is my passion and I love my school community. While my parents did not show dogs, they were dog lovers, and their home always had an array of canine companions. My father was an educator for 39 years and the local high school stadium was named after him. Like Daddy, I cherish my dogs as pets and make my career my first passion.
Kenny owns a hair salon, and I am hoping he will decide to spend more time at home. He is passionate about his work and loves his occupation.
After the passing of her husband, Melanie has taken a break from dog show activity. She created a legacy, and our breed is better because of her efforts.
Erika Lanasa is a busy professional handler and is out and about traveling to shows. Once her kids left the nest, she relocated to Florida. We miss having her in town.