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Looking Back With Lee – Remembering The ANJELS

Lee Canalizo

From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, March, 1996

By Lee Canalizo

Once upon a time in the Northeast, there was a group of dog show ladies, the best of friends, who happened to call themselves the “ANJELS”. No, they were not like Charlie’s Angels, not so young or tall and certainly not crime fighters! They were all very involved in the dog world, mostly as judges or wives of judges.

The group (in ANJELS order) was comprised of Angela Popura, the “A”, Natalie Stebbins, the “N”, Jean Fournier, the “J”, Estelle Cohen, the “E”, I was the “L” and Sheila Balch was the “S”!

I’m diverting from my usual format to write about them, as they are still among us in some way or other, doing their part for the dog show scene. As a group, we were fun-loving in all respects but contributed much in our own way to the dogs with which we were so involved. (From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, March, 1996)

Estelle Cohen

It was no secret “then” and maybe, justifiably, to be less known “now”…BUT there once was a time when a small, exclusive, and, to some, “elite” cluster of “like minds” would mysteriously band together in perceptive/persuasive ways and it could be said that it might have reflected in their judging.

Whoa…she says! Did “I” just say what you think “I,” said? Well…YES “I” DID!

One must understand that those of whom I speak were indeed well-respected, knowledgeable, and most often revered members of the dog world. The fact that these ladies of such immeasurable stature would agree on exhibits of a certain quality should not be a surprise, and it sure was a fun ride when you were blessed by these influential arbitrators to have such a worthy specimen.

Well, deservedly or not “The Anjels” got tagged with that sort of label by many of those who could sometimes see a pattern to their judging. Was that a bad thing? Absolutely not! These ladies all had strong backgrounds in their respective breeds and our interaction was always supported by intense, breed-specific opinions that made all of us better judges of many breeds. To this day many good breeders seek these ladies out (in the ring or not) with the best of their stock and we all revel in their consistency of opinions throughout the years.

Jean Fournier

What Jean and Angela shared about Siberian Huskies was priceless. Estelle had a firm point of view of her Great Dane breed. Nat knew Dobermans inside and out, and Sheila gave up everything one needed to know about how she envisioned the Alaskan Malamute. I, of course, mentored in Afghan Hounds specifically, and the Sighthounds in general. While none ever did officially judge Hound breeds, I would have trusted any of them to pick a puppy for me, any day of the week! That’s how intense our interaction went.

Angela was and is the youngest of the “Anjels”. She made a mark in Siberians for sure. She is still actively out there as an active club member and officer of the Saw Mill Kennel Club. She is also adjudicating on a regular basis and is now a multiple group judge, living in Westchester County, New York. Angela has this infectious (and somewhat loud) laugh that would could and did get the party started. Listen guys…there is nothing wrong with keeping it light and fun and still being able to sort through an entry and get it right. But for all of us, it was “strictly business in the ring”.

Sheila Balch

Natalie was like a ray of sunshine in our presence! Lofty, regal and always a joy to be with, she was married to the legendary (the subject of a future article) Monroe Stebbins, a handler extraordinaire and beloved AKC Field Rep. She was his constant companion at the shows and we still remember chuckling while watching those two pack up every night to move to a different Holiday Inn and then back just to keep up on a frequent travel incentive they offered. We all tried to do it for free trips, but they were really focused on it. After Monroe passed, Nat moved from her beautiful home to rural Connecticut along with her beloved Norfolk Terrier (also called Sunshine). We “girls” got to visit her fairly regularly for lunch and shopping in this beautiful locale. Nat has since moved to Florida and I am told that she is just about to celebrate her 90th birthday… and most made her out to be one of the young ones! She had good genes for sure that Nat! While she has been absent from the show scene, (which is a great loss for all of us) I think of her often. Her son, Bobby, followed in Monroe’s footsteps as a handler and Bobby’s wife (Linda Stebbins, now Hurlebaus) followed in Monroe’s steps in becoming an AKC Field Rep.

As for the “J” in “ANJELS”, this is our famous lady, Jean Fournier. Not just another in-depth Siberian lady, Jean is legendary in the breed! Jean needs no re-introduction to anyone in the dog show world! She is a very popular and much sought-after judge. She is still a glamour girl and she is knowledgeable and great fun to be around. She has judged in every nook and cranny of the dog world… many times with one of the “ANJELS” and often with our dearest of dear friends, Harry Smith. And no… he wasn’t an official “ANJEL”…but if it wouldn’t have messed up the spelling we would have made him one!

“E” is for my darling friend, Estelle Cohen, the Great Dane Diva! For many years Estelle was one of our most popular and admired ladies in the ring. Estelle broke into the dog show world as a judge after she and Don Booxbaum “agreed to disagree” and she and Russell Cohen tied the knot. Always fair and pleasant, small in stature, but still in charge, Estelle judged three full groups and graced the Garden on many occasions including a Working Group assignment. Since retiring from judging, Estelle and Russell relocated to Northeast Pennsylvania where she spends time with family. We miss her! We miss something always happening to, near, or around her… sometimes it was a good thing, and most times it was a funny thing. Remind me to tell you her favorite joke…but it will never be the same without hearing it from her firsthand.

“L” refers to me, Lee Canalizo, still around after all these years, (I am tempted to quote the song “Still Crazy After All These Years”). As I write, I’m reflecting on the many, many good times and also the tough and sometimes heartbreaking times that I’ve shared with these women. Having had these ladies in my life transcends anything I can put in print. We all shared moments (and still do) that revolve around each other and many of our friends in the game.

Our “S” is Sheila Balch, she of Alaskan Malamute fame lo, these many years. She bred generations of Specialty (3-time National Winner), Westminster, and BIS champions. Sheila was very involved in breed education and with teaching new judges the requirements and nuances of her beloved Mals. She now lives in Brattleboro, Vermont. Shelia has been an AKC-approved judge for over 30 years for all Working breeds and 7 Herding breeds. She has judged at Westminster twice and is sought for many Working Dog Specialties.

Sheila may be the most assertive one of us…change that…there’s no maybe about it! You might have caught her great Jeopardy game show appearance with her super attitude played out for the entire country to see. Since I consider myself to be a graduate of “Jeopardy U”, I was impressed. I’m sure I would have lapsed into stage fright at crunch time had I been on the show. Michael tells of their World Dog Show trip to Madrid with Sheila as co-pilot of their rental car trying to find the way around the city complete with rides down one-way streets with her using every tone and gesture in the book to find the “Hippodrome”!!!! They found it after hours of uproarious laughter.

Love to all you “ANJELS”.

Related Articles: Remembering Sheila BalchLooking Back With Lee – Two Distinctive Ladies from Long Island

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Posted by on Jul 2 2020. Filed under Dog Show History, Featured, Remembering Our Past?. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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  • August 2020