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Remembering – Miss Sunny Shay

To read the complete article click here 210 – May, 2010

From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, May, 2010

By Lee Canalizo

To my readers:

To the many that have sent notes on my articles…I thank you all!

To answer those who have requested a “Look Back” to one of their breeds’ personalities I would welcome a guest writer on occasion. Please contact me at: if you want to contribute an article on someone special from our past.


Looking Back… to Miss Sunny Shay

It will come as no surprise that I choose to write about Sunny Shay. It might be more of a surprise that she wasn’t the first one I wrote about…she undoubtedly has to be the most influential person to my life in the sport, as this was the start of a lifelong obsession. It was the spring of 1961. Jim and I had recently lost a baby son and I was in a deep depression.  Our three children were all in school and I was at a total loss.

We decided a dog would be a happy addition to our grieving family.  In the back of my mind I had always thought about an Afghan Hound, but had no idea where to find such an exotic, mystical beast!  We researched for a time and found a classified ad for the Grandeur Kennels in a town not far from us on Long Island.  We went to visit Sunny at the kennel and during that afternoon we all fell in love… with the mystical beast, the kids with the Grandeur monkey, and Sunny with my husband Jim!

And so it began!

Of course, her touch was felt by many others as well. She almost singlehandedly changed the direction of dog shows with her involvement.

When we refer to these personalities as the “colorful” people in our sport…Sunny was not just colorful….she was a human kaleidoscope! With every turn one was mesmerized by the shapes and forms that were everchanging. To many those colors were filled with wonderment, beauty, and imagination and to others…not so much!

Sunny found her niche in purebred dogs at an early age with a Wire Fox Terrier bought off the bench at a Westminster show in the late 30s. She registered her first “Grandeur” litter in 1941. In 1950 she won a Group at that famed event and in 1957 she was the second Breeder/Owner/Handler (Herman Mellenthin with Ch. My Own Brucie was the first) to win a Best in Show at the Garden. What made it so unique was that Sunny did this with a dog who, on this occasion, his second Hound Group win ever, was to win BIS under one of the most respected judges of the day – Mrs. Bea Godsol. She was also a woman in a “man’s world” with no social status or wealth that sometimes were associated with such plum assignments; and she was Jewish which, in that era, had some bearing. Sunny’s Cinderella story literally opened the doors to the Breeder/Owner/Handler throughout the sport.

Her impact was huge from the 50s to the 70s. Not only was her own breeding skill influential in the Grandeur Afghan Hounds, she was sought after by many of the top breeders for advice, which she freely shared. She was a student in every facet of the sport. She followed the teaching of Lloyd Brackett, author of The Art of Breeding Better Dogs which is required reading for any serious breeder, then and now, which helped her establish a “pure strain within the breed”. She reared her dogs under the guidance of her friend, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, a pioneer in the herbal rearing methods and she successfully found her way into just about every phase of the sport. Her successes are legendary and so too her escapades enroute.

To see Sunny show a dog was an experience. She was plucky and fluid for a sizey woman. She floated around a ring like her charges on the lead. She could stack a dog in a flash with the most subtle of movements. You would kill for her handling ability in the ring today. She was an artist in the ring, and more clever than her competitors in every way, shape and form. If you’ve been around long enough you have a Sunny story or have heard one… someone new to the sport might think them impossible to have actually happened but we old-timers just smile and let them keep wondering if that really could have taken place.

Sunny was such a generous person to a newcomer or novice. When we came to her for that first Afghan Hound,  Jim asked her what was the difference between the $150.00 pet and the $200.00 show dog. Her answer was simple. She said, “Buy the show dog. You’ll see the world!” Who knew? Sunny knew!

Sunny made Ch. Shirkhan of Grandeur an International Champion which in those days was a designation one claimed if they had a Championship in at least three countries. Nowadays no one uses the Int. Ch., but they sure find titles and championships from every part of the globe to add!

To me one of her most treasured attributes was her fondness for kids. We have wonderful memories of her and our kids. Babbie finding her boys clinging to her bosom afloat in their pool early one morning all in their birthday suits! My daughter learning the right way and the wrong way to pet a monkey! Roger’s boys learning to show with her guidance; the list is long, and it’s hard to describe the experiences and adventures without getting misty-eyed.

Her wisdom was absorbed by those she became closest to. She guided generations in the breed and some of those who fell under her spell are still active in the sport and in positions that have impacted many aspects of it. She was a “breeder’s breeder”…The Afghan Hound breed still counts among her “followers” many that have had great success in the ring as breeders and judges such as the Carols: Reisman and Esterkin, the Vaccaro’s: Gene and June (now Mattarazzo), The Sprungs, Barry Deitch, Joan Brearley, Peter Belmont, Hobie Brown, and others no longer with us.

She had uncanny instincts for selecting a puppy in any breed. She could draw you a picture of a breed in conversation that brought the correct vision to one’s eye. She would have made one hell of a judge if time had afforded her that path.

She died in the ring showing. I brought her to the show that day. My life hasn’t been the same since the first day I met that crazy Gypsy woman and looking back that was a life-changing and special day for my family.

PS: If reading about Sunny and her Afghans of Grandeur have peaked your interest in her and the breed,  you might want to visit the website produced by Roger Rechler (her partner in the 70s and owner of the Grandeur Afghan Hounds after her passing) and Michael Canalizo (the private handler and manager of the Grandeur Kennel from 1978 to 2000) .

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