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Looking Back…To “The One and Only” Dorothy Nickles

From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, February, 2014

By Lee Canalizo

It may still be winter here as I write this…but Spring-like weather will be just around the corner, at least here in Florida, when you are reading this month’s little ditty. And to me, spring means everything bursting out in color…lots of color! And if you’re in dogs and are thinking about those most colorful characters, the legendary Dorothy Nickles comes to mind first!

On paper, one might be surprised Dorothy would be our poster child for all things bright and beautiful. Many would fondly say she was more of a pin-up girl than a poster child; she had that obsequious innocence that cast off a hint of sultriness and sex appeal. She was born in 1910 as one of seven siblings. Her upbringing was rooted in the heart of Texas and she was a perpetual student who went on to be a lifelong educator in many areas yet still managed to find time for sports. Her slight frame didn’t keep her from playing on a women’s basketball team, or taking up roller skating as a professional. Are you getting the feeling that Dorothy might be able to do whatever she put her mind to?

Forget that she was almost always known as “MISS” Dorothy Nickles. She happened to have a long marriage to Mr. Charles Wehrung, who we can all thank for her introduction to the sport from his ownership of a purebred Boxer. Dorothy would add Poodles at some point and found interest in both conformation and obedience, having titled a few in both areas.

Was she a high volume breeder of generations of champions? No she was not. Was she a high level competitor with countless Best in Shows? No she was not. Was she one of the greatest judges that legions of fanciers sought out at every opportunity? YES SHE WAS!!!

How can that be, one might ask. I didn’t have an answer to that until she began to judge Hounds and I had a chance meeting with her. We developed an ongoing relationship on a personal level. Our paths crossed at shows in Houston back in the day when Afghan Hounds had triple digit entries at almost every major event. (30 to 40 were needed just to make a 3-point major at one time… it took 90 for 5 points at the breed’s peak. It’s hard to imagine that now… but I digress.) I was judging a Specialty with Tom Stevenson and was able to sit through all the bitches and Specials with Dorothy. This was long before mentoring was a “requirement” and Miss Nickles put her educational expertise in gear and spent hours asking, questioning and sharing what she knew and what she would need to know in preparation for applying for the breed. She had seen some of my breeds great ones and it was clear she had their image in her head. That’s easy to say and much harder to apply. It didn’t take long for me (and the rest of the Afghan Hound fancy) to figure out she mastered the breed. She had a very dramatic manner in her examination of a breed. Her fingers would just barely tap or touch the parts needed and not much more…unless there was something she wanted to be sure you realized she was aware of…ever so fleeting but oh could that last flick of the finger poke a hole right through a dog if she wanted to make a point. Did I mention that most of her fingers were bedazzled with jewels that any man, woman or child would kill for? Even her glasses had little works of art on them…I did say she was “colorful” in case you forgot.

Dorothy so loved the dogs and the people. She was unabashed about finding a novice with a good dog and give them the moment they deserved, something often overlooked by others.

I was with Michael when he started to judge and she sought him out to share some of her words of wisdom with him. It went something like this:

If you want to be a good judge, you must never judge with your hands in your pockets! Always be doing something with them…be nice to everyone…make sure you look past those rich and famous dogs to be sure there isn’t one better, you might be surprised! And her closing words were, “ALWAYS go to the judge’s dinners. The clubs like to see those they pay to come, and Honey pretty soon you’ll know Show Chairman’s names like you know dogs in your pedigrees!!! Once you get past the humor in her words, I have to admit she had it spot on. If she ever judged for a club, they received a handwritten note. If you ever sent her a photo, you received a handwritten note. If you were sick, you received a handwritten note. Those notes were special, and you knew she was sincere.

Dorothy shared her talent throughout the world. She traveled the world over much to the delight of exhibitors who marveled at her flamboyant elegance and charm. I got to know her sister, Lucy, during some of her travels with her and she forged some very close bonds with a few gentlemen that she considered her kids. Irv McQuerry and Steve Keating were never far from her in every way, shape or form.

Miss Nickles made it into her 99th year and still could radiate more brilliance with one diamond encrusted pinky finger than many half her age! I loved when she would grab the arm of a high-level AKC Official brandishing a huge rosette and make him walk around the BIS ring with them on her arm in defiance of all things “politically correct” to the point where one could see the “color” rising in their cheeks from the overt display of her parade.

When they say “the One and Only Miss Dorothy Nickles”, no truer words were ever spoken!

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Posted by on Sep 6 2020. Filed under Current Articles, Dog Show History, Featured, Remembering Our Past?. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  • October 2020