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The Dogs of War

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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.

A dog is not considered a champion (designated by "Ch." in front of its registered name) until he or she accumulates 15 points in shows, two of which have to be won in events big enough to be deemed "majors."

Milner spent every weekend traveling to shows throughout the country, meeting other Afghan hound owners and searching out suitable mates for breeding.

"It's the competition," he says, trying to explain the appeal of showing. "Everyone wants to be a winner. And showing dogs is the only sport I can think of where an amateur and a professional can compete, and the amateur has a good chance of winning."

While many people see breeding dogs as a matter of luck, Milner says he can discern a good match. "You have to have an eye for it," he says. "It's like having an eye for art or interior design. A lot of people don't have it."

Milner has bred several champions over the years; one of his dogs is presently ranked 8th in the country among Afghan hounds.

It is an expensive and time-consuming passion. There are travel costs and entry fees--$18 to $20 a show--not to mention the cost of caring for and feeding the animals. If Milner can't make it to a show, he pays a handler--at $40 a day, plus travel expenses--to show his dogs for him.

And to keep the dogs in competitive form, Milner must groom them at least once a week. It is no easy chore. It takes at least two hours to blow-dry each of his hounds with an industrial-strength blow dryer.

"He spent every dime he had on those dogs," says Doreen Greenberg, a local hairdresser who worked beside Milner for several years.

Greenberg remembers when Milner spent several thousand dollars converting his garage into a kennel of sorts, with chain-linked dog runs and beds so his dogs would be comfortable. "He would take turns letting them sleep in his own bed," she adds.

"It started as a hobby, a love for dogs," Milner says. "This is going to sound corny, but now it's my raison d'etre. The dogs need me to take care of them. You're only as good as your last win."

In Milner's pantheon of pooches, Breezy holds a special place.
In the mid-'70s, Milner took a long break from showing and breeding Afghan hounds. He spent his money and free time traveling the world instead. Then in 1985, he gave up a trip to Hong Kong to buy an Afghan puppy.

Milner was at a dog show in Austin when he spotted a litter of five puppies bred by a woman with a reputation for producing winners. He purchased a cream-colored puppy. Her registered name was Komars Ramblin' Rose; she was called "Breezy."

"I fell in love again," Milner says.
The following week, Milner showed Breezy at a dog show in Galveston--his first in a decade. Breezy won Winner's Bitch, garnering her several points because there were enough dogs to qualify it as a "major" show.

"It was incredible," Milner says. "She won in spite of me." Milner showed Breezy all over the country, including Alaska. "She had more frequent flyer miles than most adults."

Milner's brood of hounds grew exponentially over the following years.
"Everyone who knew him knew those dogs were his life," Greenberg recalls.
And his enthusiasm for dogs was contagious. Greenberg says Milner talked her widowed, retired father and his girlfriend into entering the dog-grooming business.

Sandra Merlo also knew of--and shared--Milner's love of dogs. A vivacious brunette, Merlo loved to hear about the latest antics of Milner's menagerie.

Merlo and Milner were good friends who met for drinks and took cooking classes together, and eventually, Merlo asked Milner if Breezy could spend the weekend with her sometime.

"That weekend lasted a week," Milner says. "I had a hard time getting [the dog] back."

Merlo asked for Breezy again, and Milner let his friend keep the dog for a few months in the spring of 1992. "Sandra and I were very close. She became enamored of my dog and I was happy to share her," Milner says.

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Ann Zimmerman

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