Barbara Miller of Glen Head, New York, is synonymous with Norfolk Terriers. And not just those from her top-winning Max-Well Kennel. The 2007 AKC Breeder of the Year (and 2002 AKC Terrier Breeder of the Year), Miller was the president of the parent club when her breed amicably split in 1979, creating the drop-eared Norfolk Terrier and the prick-eared Norwich Terrier. However, her earliest years in dogs were devoted to other breeds.
Below, Miller talks about her adventures with Collies and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, why terrier people are a breed apart, and how she came to love what she calls “the little dog at the end of the terrier line.”
The art of the deal
When I was nine, my Father, who was in construction, was building a shopping center on Long Island, and he passed a ‘Collie farm’, as he called it. At dinner, he said he’d take me out to Smithtown to get a Collie.
Trudy Mangels was the breeder. I didn’t want a sable like everyone else had. I wanted something different – a tricolor. I pointed to a puppy in this huge paddock, but he wasn’t available. It looked to me like there were a hundred Collies running around, but I wanted that one, so we left.
The next morning, my father opened up the paper and found an ad for Collie puppies. The breeder, Edith Levine, was in competition with Trudy Mangels, but I didn’t know that. So I chose a dog, and now I had a Collie.
But come Monday, little me still desperately wanted that other Collie. So I came home from school, called Trudy up and told her my father’s workmen would come and repair the outside of her house if I could have that dog. “Does your father know you’re calling me?” she asked. I said yes. I told my father that night at dinner, and thankfully he thought it was hysterically funny. That was my first negotiation.
Girl’s best friend
That dog, Poplar Shadow on the Moon or ‘Paddy’, was the most gorgeous thing you ever saw. He never left my side, and he was never on a leash. I taught him how to jump through hoops, and even how to defend me. One day my brother yelled at me, and I put my forearm across my chest, which was Paddy’s signal to attack.
He went after my brother, who jumped on the hood of my mother’s car. Paddy wouldn’t stop, so my brother went up on the car roof. Paddy just sat there, watching him. I went to my bedroom and started my homework, and every once in awhile I’d look out of the window to make sure he was still there. He was.
Years later, after I was married and had kids, I had a friend, Sue Bobley, who was distraught over losing a dog. I came across an article about this new breed called the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. I called the magazine and asked to have the author call me. She found me a 4-month-old in New York City whose owner had to give him up. I said to Sue, “We’ll pool our money – let’s get this dog.” And that’s exactly what we did. ‘Maxwell Smart’ was big on TV at the time, and her son named the dog Max.
One night, we were sitting in the Manhattan nightclub Maxwell’s Plum, and I said, ‘I’m going to find a female Wheaten puppy, and when I do, we’re going to have a kennel prefix, and we’re going to call it Max-Well.’ That bitch’s name was Twiggy, and she became the foundation for our Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers.
Enter the Norfolk
When I was a kid with those Collies, I was told I had to go to the famous Mardormere Kennels to see their handler and kennel manager Jack Simm, who taught me how to groom. When I got older, Jack was my most important person in dogs, and I started traveling with him and showing.
One day I took one of my Wheatens over to Jack, and I saw this little red dog running around the courtyard. I told Jack that it was the cutest mutt I’d ever seen. And he said, “That is a Norwich Terrier, drop-eared.”
Margaret Streibert, who lived nearby, had just had a litter, and Jack opened the door for me to go see them. I picked the bitch that was the widest, hip to hip. She had a beautiful bite and a fabulous disposition, but she had ears down to her lips and she was as long as a train. When I brought her back to Jack, he asked why I chose that one. And I said, “Because she’s going to have babies easily.” I fixed her ears and her length of body in the first generation.
After 17 years of marriage, in 1973 I ended it, and I gave the Wheatens up, too. I’d had arthritis since I was 15, and it was getting worse. The Norfolks were easier for me to pick up, and so I started with this little breed.
The great divide
Splitting the breed into the Norfolk and Norwich was inevitable. In England, they were interbreeding the two ears forever and ever, and when you do that, you get both kinds. Sheila MacFaie, who kept the breed going through World War II, was a huge proponent of the drop-eared Norfolk. She started to breed only prick-eared to prick-eared, and drop to drop. That’s when it started. In 1979, we finally were able to get two breeds out of this, so we weren’t all in the ring together.
Splitting hairs (and ears)
The Norfolk and Norwich standards sound almost the same, but the dogs are different in make and shape. The Norfolk is off-square, where the Norwich really is square. I think that’s one reason the Norfolk is a better mover because it has slightly more room for error. The Norwich’s ear carriage gives it a foxy expression. Because of the drop-ear, the Norfolk appears calmer, but don’t believe it.
When I register a litter, I also independently register each individual puppy in my name. Otherwise, one or two owners never send in their registrations. When they come to pick up their puppy, they fill out the transfer form, write a check, put it in the stamped envelope I have waiting, and I mail it the next day.
Most people nowadays are not going to take the time to strip out a coat. When it gets out of hand, I don’t mind if my pet people go into a shop and have it clipped. As long as it’s clean, brushed and combed, that’s what matters.
The terrier mentality is different. A terrier can dig under your fence faster than you can say jackrabbit. You have to have fencing buried in the ground, at least six inches deep. If you already have a fence up, bury chicken wire down below it. You have to protect a terrier because they will outsmart you.
Aside from the Irish breeds like the Kerry Blue, the Irish, the Glen of Imaal and the Wheaten, most of our terrier breeds came from the U.K. That’s where the best dogs came from. Many antique dog books and artwork have terriers in them. I think there’s a snob appeal attached to them, and I think it still exists.
In any breed, people make the mistake of breeding to the dog that’s closest to them or the newest star in the breed. I think looking at a pedigree and knowing what’s behind it is the best thing you can do for your breed. Anybody can be a breeder, but what are you trying to accomplish? Are you just trying to pay for your next vacation to the Caribbean? Breeding dogs is a passion, and if you don’t have it, you shouldn’t be doing it.