By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Breezy was a beautiful bitch, and Chuck Milner loved her dearly.
He loved the way she seemed to float as she walked, the way she held her exquisitely formed, regal head high like a princess. She had perfectly shaped almond eyes, an aquiline nose. She was very well-traveled and a winner almost from the start.
Two years Breezy's junior, Lana had her special assets, too. She possessed a beautiful coat and a sweet temperament, but was no less aristocratic in bearing than Breezy.
Sitting in the Oak Lawn salon where he works as a hairdresser, Milner gingerly opens two small wooden boxes, filled with coarse, light-colored ashes.
"This is what's left of Breezy and Lana," Milner says, his eyes tearing up. "It's sickening."
Lana and Breezy were prize-winning, registered long-hair Afghan hounds, with superb pedigrees and extraordinary promise.
They were close to becoming champion show dogs and had several good breeding years ahead of them when they met an untimely death two years ago. Their deaths were the result of tragic and unusual circumstances that are now at the center of two lawsuits.
The way Milner tells the story, it is a quintessential Texas tale--of beauty pageants and betrayal, of a canine love triangle and possible medical malpractice.
At the time of the dogs' deaths, Milner's close friend and steady client, Sandra Merlo, was keeping them. Milner had acquired Merlo as a client from another hairdresser at the Stanley Korshak salon, and was in the process of trying to find a new landlord who would allow him to keep his 15 show dogs at home.
Milner says Merlo had offered to look after the dogs while he searched for a new home. Milner says his friend grew extremely attached to the dogs--perhaps too attached.
Allegedly without Milner's permission, she instructed veterinarian William L. Anderson--a prominent and respected Dallas animal doctor who is the official vet of the State Fair of Texas--to have the dogs spayed. Milner says he believes Merlo did this to diminish their worth so he wouldn't want them back; after the operation, Milner would no longer be able to breed or show the dogs.
A day after Breezy and Lana underwent what is normally routine, low-risk surgery, the dogs died--having bled to death during recovery.
Milner was left with his ashes and his anger. And a broken heart.
"I can't even watch the weather report any more," he says. "Everytime I hear the word 'breezy,' I just break up."
Propelled by his grief--and by what he deemed a friend's ultimate betrayal--Milner filed a lawsuit in August, 1994 against Merlo and her husband James Kumpf, accusing them of "illegal conversion"--willfully and without authority assuming dominion and control over Milner's property.
Milner also filed a negligence suit against William L. Anderson and several of his employees, including his daughter Andra Anderson, who performed the operations on Breezy and Lana. Both veterinarians refused to comment, citing the pending litigation.
In court documents, doctors William and Andra Anderson deny the charge of negligence. Merlo also denied that she'd taken Milner's property, claiming the hairdresser had "gifted the dogs" over to her.
Afghan hounds, with their luxurious long coats, super-attenuated frames, and noble bearing, have been Chuck Milner's obsession for the past 20 years. Showing them has been his addiction.
"I think it's a genetic defect," he says of his passion for Afghan hounds. "It's a love affair that goes back to 1968."
Horses were actually Milner's first love. As a youth in Missouri, he showed Tennessee Walking Horses. He fell into Afghans quite by accident. A dog owned by his childhood friend bore a litter, and the woman gave Milner a hound as a gift.
"It wasn't a show dog, but it was a sweet, sweet girl," Milner says.
Not long after, in 1970, Milner bought his first pedigreed Afghan hound for $750. He was smitten with the breed--which has a long, rich, and mysterious history, though it is a relative newcomer to the United States.
Despite a vast amount of research, no one has ever nailed down the precise origins of the Afghan Hound, once widely believed to have existed in Egypt thousands of years ago. (The theory hasn't been substantiated.) What is known for certain is that the first representatives of the breed were brought to the West--specifically England--from Afghanistan during the 1800s. In their native country, which now forbids export of the hounds, Afghans served primarily as hunt dogs, using their sight instead of smell to track down prey.
For Afghan hounds' entry into America, Milner and fellow enthusiasts have Zeppo Marx to thank. In 1931, Zeppo and his wife brought over a full-coated Afghan bitch and dog from England. A prestigious Massachusetts kennel later acquired the pair; the kennel added a champion Afghan bitch (also from England) to its breeding stock, and the trio became the cornerstone of the breed in America.
Shortly after purchasing his first Afghan puppy, Milner immersed himself in the world of dog shows, the ultimate beauty pageant in which dogs are measured against the standard for their breed. Then the various breeds are pitted against each other to see which comes closest to perfection.