Breeder Interview: Barbara Miller, Max-Well Norfolk Terriers

Breeder Interview Barbara Miller, Max-Well Norfolk Terriers

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Brooklyn, New York.

Did you come from a doggy family? If not, how did the interest in breeding and showing dogs begin?

Fortunately, my dad was a dog lover; my mother came to love them because truthfully she had no choice. When I was a young child, we didn’t have a dog that I could call my own but Dad kept a guard dog at his business. When I was seven, we moved to Holliswood, Queens, actually across the road from a tiny farm. The couple who owned the property was Irish and constantly telling me about Irish Setters. Ultimately, someone gave me a book, Big Red. My first dog was an Irish Setter that I named Penny. She lived with us for two years before she was sent to live on a farm owned by friends of my parents in upstate New York. She was a lot for me to handle as she loved to run in the woods.

By the age of nine I begged my parents for a Rough Collie. Think Lassie, didn’t every kid want one? One evening at dinner, Dad announced we were going to visit a Collie breeder in Smithtown on the weekend. I thought I had just landed in Collie heaven. To me it looked as if there were well over a hundred gorgeous Collies, adults and pups. Unbeknownst to me the breeder was extremely well known. I selected a tricolor young male but was told he wasn’t for sale because he was a show dog. I had no idea what that meant. My dad and I drove home in complete silence. I was sad, he was annoyed. As I got out of the car Dad announced that tomorrow I would have a dog. Back in the day advertising puppies in the local newspaper was a given. Just as he said the following day we drove to Glen Head, Long Island and Edith Levine, another top breeder. At this point my mom and brother joined us for the quick ride. I selected a tri male but in my mind the one I saw the day before was still tugging at me. After school the following day I pulled up my boot straps and called the Smithtown breeder. I don’t know where I got my courage, after all I was only nine, but I made a deal. Dad was in construction so I offered the talents of his employees for the dog of my dreams. The deal was made. At dinner that night I had to tell my dad. We picked up Paddy the following weekend. He was my constant companion. He was my Lassie and passed two months after I gave birth to my daughter.

I married very young, studied education at a local college and moved to Roslyn, Long Island, a stone’s throw from Edith Levine and her Collies. She would invite me to bring my baby and help feed the pups. I knew this is what I wanted to do. I might add it was Edith who introduced me to fun shows when I was a kid. To cut to the chase I continued to have a Collie until about twenty years ago.

Along the way, in 1966 or so, I read an article about a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. A good friend of mine had just lost her
Airedale and I suggested the Wheaten to her. A few phone calls later we drove to New York City, rang a doorbell, the door opened and a four-month-old ragamuffin jumped at us. We shared the cost of the pup and took him home. He lived with my friend and her family. Her son called him Max. A few nights thereafter, my husband and I, along with my friend and her husband, attended a basketball game at the Garden. Afterwards we had hamburgers at the eatery of the moment. It was just a good omen; the dog’s name was Max and we were eating at Maxwell’s Plum. I bought a female and in due time, met another Wheaten owner, namely Jackie Gottlieb (Cindy Vogel’s mother). Wheatens were in the Miscellaneous Class but nevertheless we began showing them. Having litters was great and introducing the breed to others was particularly interesting and rewarding. As a teacher of the Second Grade, once in a while I would take a pup to class, with permission of the principal. The kids would write stories and draw pictures about their time with the pup. Jackie and I, and a few others, decided to form a club of which I was selected president, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Metropolitan New York. I said yes to the presidency as long as Jackie made brownies for our meetings. I also served as the treasurer of the National club. In 1973 I found myself going down the road of a divorce and the Wheatens were being accepted to full registry at AKC. There was lots going on in my life while I had to concentrate on a future for my three kids and me.

One day I was visiting Jack Simm at his home in Glen Head. Jack was a handler, groomer and, eventually, an AKC judge. Running around his enclosed courtyard was an adorable, little red dog that I referred to as a “cute mutt.” I was informed this friendly little guy was a Norwich Terrier drop ear. The discussion continued and I further learned the one with ears up was a Norwich Terrier prick ear. At the time Jack was the private handler for Mrs. Phillip (Elizabeth) Fell, breeder of both ear types.
I pleaded with Jack to let me know when the little guy was bred as I would love a Norwich drop ear. The rest is history. Mrs. Streibert’s bitch delivered a litter of three bitches. When they were ready for viewing I collected my six-year-old son and headed to her house. I had never owned a small dog, and therefore, called an obstetrician friend of mine—don’t laugh!—to ask why I was able to deliver three children with ease, yet had heard that many small breeds, especially the prick-ear Norwich, needed C-sections in order to have pups? The three little girls were running around the floor on antique carpet relieving themselves whenever and wherever necessary. My son played with them while I looked only at rear ends. I selected the pup that, from pelvic bone to pelvic bone, was the widest. And from that wonderful day to this, none of my Norwich drop ear, now Norfolk Terriers, have ever needed a C-section. Max-Well’s Rum Raison, as she was named, was as long as a train with drop ears down to her chin. Certainly not the epitome of a Norfolk. She did have a perfect scissor bite and a delightful personality. With many pedigrees before me and not knowing one breeding line from another, I decided to breed Raison to an imported stud dog of Mrs. Fell’s. I bred her to a dog that had perfect ears and a proper length of back. In one breeding I fixed
her “problems.”

It was 1975, I believe, that I took the plunge and visited kennels in the United Kingdom. Having been to London several times I found the bucolic countryside of England breathtaking. Ahead of time I wrote letters—no Internet yet, no email yet, just plain old stationery, stamps, and eventually phone calls to the breeders. Each welcomed me not only to visit their dogs and kennels but they extended welcoming stays in their homes. I was in heaven. I needed to learn about the prick ear Norwich in the United Kingdom and drop ear Norfolk, and there was no place better to do that than in the country of origin. I flew into London’s Heathrow, cleared customs and headed for the taxi stand. Driving to my hotel of choice I made mental notes checking British phone numbers and addresses of those I would visit in the next ten days. The Ickworth kennel of Norwich Terriers and Sheila Monckton was my first stop. It blew my mind. I had met Sheila at the Fells’ home in Oyster Bay and found her to be this nice lady who invited me to visit her. Never did I think she lived in a mansion equivalent to a Whitney or a Rockefeller. The grounds surrounding the manor house went on forever. The Norwich prick ear pups were huddled in a whelping box next to the AGA keeping more than warm in this tremendous kitchen… think Downton Abbey. With my camera in tow we went to a Norwich and Norfolk open show where I was introduced to many breeders. Seeing all the dogs and educating my eye was more than I could have dreamed of. Sheila was a very important patron of the Royal Agricultural Show, what Americans would refer to as a county fair. Her estate was a history lesson in itself. Hanging in her vast dining room was a painting I instantly recognized as a George Stubbs but the subject was a horse and rider, not a dog. The rider was her husband’s relative and the painting was to go on loan to Yale University.

From Sheila Monckton’s I visited May Marshall who, if memory prevails, was the president of the Norfolk Terrier Club in the United Kingdom. From manor house to normal. May was the kennel maid for Sheila Macfie, caring for her numerous Norfolk. Macfie is the one who actually perpetuated the drop ear and red coat color. Another history lesson in the breed. May’s Ravenwood Norfolk were bred in the house, slept in the house and whelped in the house. Their play
yard was fenced in but afforded plenty of room to romp, unlike the Moncktons’ that allowed the Norwich fields to run through. Both different but both committed to their breed. As kennel maid of the most famous breeder of the time, May knew the breed inside and out. Her husband, a Scotsman and firm supporter of docked tails, was equally as informative. The day May married was also the day she was fired. How dare she leave Miss Sheila Macfie! Another history lesson; I was taken to the lady herself, Miss Alice Hazeldine, who owned Ickworth Ready; probably the most famous of all Norfolk Terriers.

Finally I visited Joy Taylor who was not only a perfect mentor but a longtime friend until her untimely passing. I say untimely because Joy was pretty healthy until she came down with the flu, or I believe it was the flu. I attended her more than awesome funeral in the church down the road from her home. The Queen of Norfolks arrived in a straw coffin atop a flatbed horse-drawn carriage. It was the perfect goodbye for someone who taught me so much about the breed. Nanfan Norfolk Terriers were famous worldwide and still are. The “cottage” as she called it was 400 years old with wide plank wood flooring except for the kitchen tiles cut from Cotswold stone. And there sat the always warm AGA with her two Min Pins nearby. In a small attached hallway and bathroom under warming lights was a litter of baby Norfolk. The only warmth in the cottage came from heaters and nighttime hot water bags to keep your feet warm winter or summer. No one, not even me, was allowed to photograph Nanfans without Joy’s approval and a proper brushing. The kennel was what most Americans would call a lean to, and originally served as a stable. Outside one of the stalls was an old, really old table where Joy trimmed her dogs. She believed in a proper brush such as a Mason Pearson rather than a wire brush. To this very day I use a Mason Pearson especially after bathing and drying a dog’s coat. While my stay at her “cottage” was enlightening I never asked her for a Norfolk pup. Minute by minute I was being educated as to good feed, health and exercise. The pots of cooked veggies, beef, bones and chicken stewing away on the AGA for most of the day were for the many dogs she had on her property of 14 acres. From that moment on I visited often, for the Windsor Dog Show, Crufts, Wales, Ladies, and lesser shows. Each time I spent with Joy I learned more. She taught me not to be afraid of line breeding which is how I developed my Max-Well line. Eventually I became well versed in the breed and confident enough to disagree with her when I saw fit.

And then one day in May of 1984 I returned home from a dog show with a message to phone Joy. She was sending me a birthday present, a four-month-old male pup, Nanfan Crunch, already on the plane. I responded with “How come?” She replied with, “You’ve never asked for one and I couldn’t understand you not wanting a Nanfan so I decided to burden you with one.” This “burden” became the backbone of my breeding program. I was doing just fine until Crunch arrived but he changed the breed for me. I bred him to my bitches that, in turn, produced Norfolk of sturdy bone rather than the spindly legs and pups that really needed more body. Crunch was an inch too big overall but he possessed the “you better look at me” attitude needed for the show ring. There was one judge, who shall remain nameless, who really hated him. Probably jealous, but the more that judge complained about his size the more he would win Best in Shows. Beth Sweigart, living on Long Island at the time, and I finished Crunch. I was planning on sending Crunch to a California handler but one night at dinner with Beth my mind was changed. I asked her about a handler in the Midwest and she agreed with me Bob Larouche would be perfect. The rest is history. Crunch went on to become the first Norfolk to place in the Terrier Group at Westminster and he did that three times, followed by his descendants Ch. Max-Well’s Weatherman, Ch Max-Well’s Cyclone and Ch. Max-Well’s Viper.

In addition to the breeders in the United Kingdom you’ve told us about, who were your mentors in this country?

I would have to say Jack Simm was my backbone mentor in all things canine. I loved Jack for his patience and his encouragement, especially when I had bred Lone Ranger (May 1980) and started to show him. I knew Jack through the Collies as he was recommended to my dad when I became a Collie owner as someone who could groom the dog. It wasn’t until I was a young mother that I actually went to Mardomere, where he and Harry Murphy, Desi’s dad, worked. Those were the days of huge kennels on Long Island, the Anderson kennel being one of them. Mardomere was internationally famous for Whippets. I believe Bob Forsyth worked for the kennel as well. Ranger was a small Norfolk but lovely with a true red coat, perfect bite and a great little show dog. He earned his championship quickly between me as his handler and Bob Clyde. Jack was committed to the Fells so it was rather interesting when we would show against one another. I must admit when I was at the end of the lead I loved when I beat Jack. Bob Clyde came into my life because of the Wheatens and often a meeting at my house in Roslyn would include Clyde to discuss coat maintenance. Clyde took Ranger to shows that I couldn’t attend, bringing home ribbon
after ribbon.

The Max-Well Norfolk Terriers are widely known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to? How are the dogs maintained?

A good bitch bred to the right stud should, and for me mostly has, produced good pups. There were many linebred bitches that produced top-winning Norfolk for Max-well. One such was Ch. Max-Well’s Whizard of Oz. She was out of the bitch Ch. Max-Well’s Winter Chill and sired by Ch. Max-Well’s Will Be Good. I named this pup Giggles because she made me smile. Giggles holds the breed record for the most champions produced, eleven in all. I could go on and on, naming many bitches that filled my heart and proved themselves in the whelping box but after a bit, readers would get bored. One bitch I will mention is Ch. Max-Well’s Venus, a top winner with a Best in Show under Anne Rogers Clark.

My kennel is small with only a kitchen sink for bathing. I promised myself no tub because I wouldn’t be getting another large dog. Each dog is crated at night, then in the morning put outside in individual runs by 6 a.m. and fed. In good weather I like them outdoors but if it’s too hot or wintery cold, I push a button, the kennel doors open and in they come to good-sized indoor runs, enjoying the warmth of heat or the coolness of air conditioning. The dogs are fed according to their needs. I firmly believe in a small amount of good kibble and I use one made here on Long Island to which I add cooked carrots, wheat germ, cooked beef, cooked chicken, a quarter of a hard-boiled egg, some cottage cheese and pumpkin. All of this is mixed with a broth from either the carrots or chicken. And of course vitamins. I’m proud to say my dogs live long lives and even in old age look young. I firmly believe in the saying, “You are what you eat.”

Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.

The Norfolk breed has come a long way since my introduction in 1973. There are breeders today who understand the benefit of health testing; something that started during my presidency of the Norwich and Norfolk Terrier Club. It was a hard sell to me and many other breeders, but ultimately having called a discussion with the then president of the Canine Health Foundation we got the message. Members are concerned about MVD (Mitral Value Disease) and the club, both the NNTC and now the NTC, have supported funds for research. As president of the NNTC I was instrumental in getting the membership to vote for division of the club into two. Both clubs formed in 2009, each with its own board and health issues to investigate. I was president of the Norfolk Terrier Club from 2009 until 2013. As a breeder my most exciting times have included Crunch going Best in Show over the famous German Shepherd Dog, Manhattan; having the first Norfolk to place in the Terrier Group at Westminster; having many Max-Well bred and Max-Well ownedchampions (have no idea how many); having the Number One Norfolk in the breed numerous times; and having two homebred Norfolk in the Top 10 Terriers years ago. I could go on and on but records are meant to be broken so breeders, go break them.

I should also note that I love all breeds and have backed a Smooth Fox Terrier, Mini Wire Dachshund, Japanese Chin and Russell Terrier, all of them to the top position in their breeds.

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?

An exciting time for me was in 2001 when the AKC named me the Number One Terrier breeder with the honors taking place in Orlando at Eukanuba. It was wonderful having my family there to see the medallion placed around my neck. AKC named me for a second time in 2007 as Top Terrier breeder and then topped it off with Breeder of the Year. It pains me to see the Terrier breeds declining, not just mine but all. As president of the Long Island Kennel Club for more than 25 years I see the decline in numbers across the board. Pet people don’t understand hand stripping and why should they have to? I tell pet owners it’s perfectly ok with me if you take your Norfolk to a grooming shop and have him clipped. Better to have a clean, neat little guy than one that is shaggy, with skin problems. I believe the spay-neuter concept has held back people from breeding but then again most owners are not interested in breeding. Often I’m asked if the pup I have available has a natural or docked tail. The numbers in Norfolk registered in a year are way down. It’s become difficult breeding to quality stud dogs. I’ve imported Norfolk from the United Kingdom with natural tails and have exhibited them to their championships and beyond. In 2013 when I found myself in need of a handler, I made a list of handlers I thought could not only get the job done but were pleasant and well-liked by others. I cruised Westminster that year making my notes. My selection took me to the hot bed of top Terriers and top handlers in the land of sunny California. I thank you, Amy Rutherford, for adding champions to the Max-Well Norfolks; for giving me the Number One bitch in the breed against a terrific Norfolk named Winston, owned by my friends, Beth Sweigart and Pam Beale; and this year, for campaigning a gorgeous little bitch that I found in a mud bath in the United Kingdom, and making her Number One in the breed, tail and all.

Where do you go from here?

It’s been a heck of a ride and at my now old age of 82, I look forward to the bitch I bred last week having her pups, and the bitch I’m going to breed right now to my old man, a top Best in Show winner, Ch. Max-Well’s Viper. Everyone interested in dogs can have a ride, just go for it! 

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