Question of the Week
Frank Sabella already had my utmost respect when I showed to him before I began judging. Over the years when we judged together, that respect just grew. The day came when I was judging a large entry in a breed Frank did not have, and he asked to observe under me. What an honor!
After processing the class animals and discussing with Frank what I saw in each one, Frank asked would I mind him staying in for the large specials class. Of course I agreed. Each individual was sent around the ring one at a time, my usual way of first evaluating the dogs. Frank watched each, but when the last specials bitch went around the ring, Frank never took his eyes off her. I commented to him quietly, “I see her Frank, I see her.” Although young, she stood the exam like a true champion, and we both knew she was the one! Later that night the two of us together enjoyed watching her go BIS. It had only taken Frank a moment to pick her out. What an eye for a dog!
His personal spirit will live on for us all, as well as the memory of a great dog man! Perhaps he and his dear friend Annie (Mrs. Clark) will have the big dog show in the sky ready for the rest of us when we get there.
Acworth, New Hampshire
There are bright lights in the “Dog World,” and Frank is just one of them. I got to know Frank more closely through Babbie Tongren. It was great fun to see those two talk away, and, while reputations were not spared, one always learned and enjoyed their discourse and benefitted from their knowledge. Frank was a bright and sparkling person, great fun, and knew what he was about. There are other generations that will grow up in the Dog World; certainly, they will have their keepers and guardians. Frank, for me, was just that – a guardian and keeper, and why I grew to love the Dog World.
Christian Manelopoulos and Rachel Corbin
Haw River, North Carolina
We were fortunate to have many happy memories with Frank. Some at shows, but most away from the shows, whether at dinner with Frank or evaluating puppies at L’Dyne Brennan’s Brighton kennel in West Palm Beach. Our favorite memory was in 2010, when a group of us (Rachel and I, Frank Sabella, and Luiz and Mary Jo Aizcorbe) went to Carnival in Rio De Janeiro as guests of Zuleika Borges Torrealba. We spent about five days together, and all had an incredible time. I remember Frank samba-dancing in Zuleika’s private box with the most beautiful topless “passista” at 4 a.m. in the Sambadrome. My favorite part of the trip was each morning sitting and eating breakfast and talking about Poodles. Hearing Frank, Luiz and Mary Jo talking about Poodles was priceless. We will cherish that time and those talks forever.
Watching Frank with Command Performance, and each time was an exceptional performance.
Talking with him about Salukis and laughing about what escape artists they are.
Watching classes at horse shows and just learning from him.
He was fabulous at the judges institutes. Even choreographed a performance by the field reps and staff. It was priceless.
I made ratatouille and brought it to a show. Frank was staying with Luke Boileau; he took one bite, called Luke over and said we are having this for dinner.
He never stopped teaching and helping exhibitors.
A legend in the sport.
Clayton, North Carolina
Many years ago, I attended a week-long basic AKC Judging Institute. This course featured many dog world “greats,” including Frank Sabella. Each shared his or her expertise in a different area of the sport. Mr. Sabella ended his presentation with an unforgettable dance that, without words, demonstrated the beauty and elegance of Poodles and the passion he had the sport of dogs. It literally brought tears to my eyes.
Marshville, North Carolina
Any words I can write about Frank seem inconsequential compared to the fullness of his being. Simply put, he was an artist with a God-given eye for all things beautiful.
He was funny, entertaining and direct.
I remember hearing a story about someone asking for his honest opinion about their Toy Poodle. He asked them if they REALLY wanted his opinion. They said yes, so he told them something to the effect of, "You should be able to blow a Toy Poodle up to the size of a Standard in your mind's eye and have a Standard Poodle. Honey, if we grew that dog up to the size of a Standard, I'm not sure what you'd have, but it won't be a Standard Poodle." Classic Frank.
As a breeder and handler, I always know EXACTLY what kind of dog to take him. ALWAYS take the silk purse with the hole in it and NOT the perfect sow's ear. Frank had no interest in perfect sow's ears. He also had no poker face when he was judging if he fell in love with a dog.
I recall a time when I had gone WB with a really spectacular imported Whippet bitch. I went back in on my special and handed the class bitch off to an assistant. After he'd gone over all the specials, Frank had the class bitch come into the center of the ring and free-stack as he circled, looking at her from every angle. The handler of the special in front of me turned to me and said, "We're totally screwed with these specials." Yes, we were. Frank carried that class bitch to a huge breed win and then put her second in the group to the nation's #1 hound.
I was always thrilled to see Frank, especially in recent years when he accepted fewer judging assignments. The photo attached is from the last time I saw him: at the AKC show a couple of years ago. He was one of a kind, and I will miss him so.
Lorraine Wegmann Bisso
In the mid-’60s, Frank Sabella showed the recently imported Miniature Poodle Ch. Frederick of Rencroft at Louisiana Kennel Club and was my judge for Junior Showmanship that day. Thirty years later I had the great good fortune to attend one of the early AKC Judges Institutes organized by Mari-Beth O'Neill. Mr. Sabella joined Anne R. Clark and Melbourne Downing among others in schooling 50 new judges in the art, fundamentals and practicalities of judging over the course of five days. Enduring advice from Mr.Sabella was to identify and distill five hallmarks of the breed in as few words as possible so that with just those few words a Martian could identify the breed! We loved it. He also encouraged us to learn from our provisional assignments ,using the hallmarks as building blocks as we mastered the nuances of breed type. His joie de vivre was contagious. He will be very missed!
Mill Neck, New York
How does one try to encapsulate memories of Frank in an e-mail? If there was one word for me to describe him, it would be "spontaneous." Watching him was like looking through a kaleidoscope: every movement and turn brought a delight of color and form. To many he might have always given a "performance," but to me he always provided a lesson. Those who knew him could see his visceral reaction to something about a dog ... you knew instantly where his eye was going ... and it was always to something beautiful, exotic and desirable in the breed. Frank was the most positive judge I ever met, and he was fearless in his quest to know what made a dog/breed unique and what elements of type needed to be highlighted.
He had strong convictions of what a standard depicted. We once went at it over him rewarding a dog of great type but lacking a sound (enough) temperament. He quoted me the line in the standard – "Aloof and dignified" – saying that gave him room for forgiveness. When I reminded him the next words were "yet gay," he was dead serious in telling me that anything in a standard that preceded (came first) carries more importance. I learned something that moment, and I still share that understanding.
Another Frank moment was when he saw me walking at a show with a young bitch that he had given a huge specialty major to. He asked how she did. I told him “another reserve.” He was incredulous that she wasn’t finished yet and asked where I was taking her. My reply was: She just needs a single to finish (having all major wins at a time when you needed 30-plus for a major), and I was just going to small shows. His reply was “MICHAEL … if a judge only draws one point …THEY WON’T KNOW ENOUGH TO LIKE HER!” Think about that … how true is that to this very day? (She finished at her next show with another big major.)
To many, Frank became a friend and mentor. For me it spanned more than 50 years. It was more than just the dogs … there were life lessons shared on a personal and business level. He was so brilliant at anything he did … a top real-estate agent, a florist to the “stars,” a dancer, an elegant equestrian and I don’t think anyone EVER feel asleep at one of his legendary seminars. Watching Frank “in the moment” was like trying to get mercury back in a bottle … there was no way to control that shiny, mesmerizing fluid.
I can’t wait to see what others shared about this remarkable man. One moment is not enough. (The book in me has a full chapter on him alone.) I don’t know what my life will be like not having Frank close by to take a call when something needed his take on … oddly I will always have a part of him with me every time I walk in a ring, and what is so amusing is that he knew I had a few others that shared that space … some of whom were his idols and/or close friends, and a few that he could never understand my association with. And that’s why I loved him so … he was never judgmental as long as you had that passion within.
I don’t know if I could ever belt out a “Fu*king fabulous” when I take a mic at a national specialty to describe my winner … but I sure as hell will be thinking about it in his honor!
Temple City, California
I literally grew up at Frank’s kennel in Granada Hills. My mom Beverly was one of the very first “bucket bitches” in the mid-’60s, as she traveled to shows with him, ran many errands and helped out at the kennel. For me, it was like a dream world, as I got to see some of the greatest Poodles of all time, and spend time with my mother and this charming, handsome and charismatic man. He was so kind to me even though I was so young and eager to be a part of this mesmerizing world. He would spend time with me at the kennel, and even try to teach me how to dance, as he was quite a prolific dancer himself. He would let me brush dogs and never flinched as I stared at him endlessly watching him scissor dogs. We would go to horse shows with him and watch him ride and drive in fine harness with his beautiful saddlebreds ... and that was a sight to behold! He was an absolute magician with dogs, as he could get them to become exactly what he envisioned.
As time went on and I became a breeder-owner-handler, he would surprise me with phone calls of praise and encouragement that meant more than he could have ever known. I cherished being able to grow up around this man, who is truly an icon in our sport and a master of any domain he chose. A true legend of unlimited talent ... we were all so fortunate to have been a part of and witnessed his greatness.
Rest well, Frank – you’ve earned your peace. I am forever thankful for your kindness, and I will miss you so very much. Godspeed.
I have many Frank dog stories. Thought I would share something different. We were out to dinner, a very nice restaurant. Dinner came, and Frank took his tie and flipped it over his shoulder. I must have looked surprised. “Honey,” he said, “this tie cost more than this dinner.” Loved Frank!
Frank Sabella judging the Toy Group the day after the 1978 Toy Manchester Terrier national specialty in Vallejo, California, with exhibitor Mari-Beth O'Neill.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
My crush began long before I met him, and as soon as I saw the famous cover of him on the beach with his white Standard. The best photo ever. I got to know Frank more when I started judging. I attended the AKC, what I call, the 100 course in Florida. Frank gave a lecture and at the end quickly did the changement move. It was flawless, and he was 70. I remember him telling me about his cycling class and the instructor coming over to him and telling him he didn’t need to keep up with everyone, because of his age – well, he showed her.
We were both judging in Waukesha one summer, and were in adjacent rings. I had a gorgeous Kerry come into my ring, not with his normal handler. Frank came over when I was marking my book and asked if that is who he thought it was. I said I have no idea, but I think I found my group dog unless he was sending me something, and without missing a beat he said he wasn’t sending anything great to my group. The Kerry was the famous Mick.
Riding the shuttle back to the hotel after judging Detroit KC, we were all joking around and Frank told me he had a crush on me. You can’t imagine how that made me feel, someone I idolized actually had a crush on me. It was surreal. Then when I attended PCA Frank asked Dennis McCoy to page me. I went over to Dennis and asked what was up. He told me Frank didn’t want me sitting in the designated judges-ed area but he wanted me right by his table so he could discuss his judging with me. I asked Dennis if that was OK, and Dennis said whatever Frank wants, he gets, so I dutifully went over and sat by his table and had a fabulous learning/mentoring session. Each evening we enjoyed dinner together talking dogs, ballet and many other things.
How I have missed him over the last couple of years. It was always such an honor to be in his presence. RIP, dear man. I can see you jete-ing across the heavens.
I did a Whippet in-ring observation with Frank in Atlanta. Watching him examine each dog on the table was like observing an artist at work. Such an educational experience. A master.
Victor, New York
When my late wife and I attended our Judges Program in Kentucky, I will never forget when Frank Sabella took off his shoes and invited – or, shall I say, "summoned" – us of all to do likewise. Which we did, figuring that his background as a dancer would give us all a glimpse into his ability as a judge. When he started laughing and we all put our shoes back on, we realized his message was that as judges, we should all be on our toes!
I have many memories of Frank. He graciously accepted an invitation to judge at the first Purina National Competition in Canada, which I had initiated. As always he was gracious, charming and had an outstanding eye for a dog.
Although we were on the same panel many times, the last time we judged together was in Moscow. The enormous international panel included Mike Billings, Andrew Brace, Paolo Dondina, Guy Jeavons and myself. We would all get together for breakfast and dinner, and Frank and Andrew’s stories were so entertaining, we would be laughing for hours after. Mike became quite ill during the show and the doctor gave her a shot of something that kept her in bed for the entire next day. Nevertheless she gamely went from a freezing January Russia to an assignment in a stifling hot country, I think it may have been Indonesia or the Philippines. If my memory serves, Frank went with her.
He was articulate, erudite and elegant. We will not see his like again.
Jordan L. Chamberlain
Lake Wales, Florida
How to begin? It is important that I say this was a great dog man, and a great man! Always brutally honest; you could discuss anything with him if you were ready for an opposing view!
I saw Frank the first time in 1973, when he was awarded Best in Show at Bryn Mawr KC under Joe Tacker with Ruth Wurmser's Ch. Villa Russe Bismark. It was his last show as a handler. We did not meet then; I was 17, and very intimidated.
Fast forward to the ’80s. I showed a number of Toys for Joan P. Scott, Wissfire Toy Poodles, and was BOW at the Burlington KC show PCA weekend with the exquisite Wissfire Cameo. This cream Toy bitch was like an alabaster statue to me, I adored her! While not terribly sound behind, she stood on magnificent feet, and had beautifully straight front legs well set under her chest. I recall that morning as I groomed her thinking to myself, "Sabella is going to LOVE this!" And he did! At the time, we had an exhibitor in the East that loved to call the measure on anything that looked good enough to beat her. While Cameo was not a tall one, she was ten inches. Frank came down the line and pulled me out. When we were on the table, he said, "Take a deep breath. This will be fine." And it was – she finished that day by going BOW for a 5- point major.
In 1987, I went to PCA with a black Toy dog named Norjean's Black Jack, owned by Joan Scott and Norma Strait. Jack was another dog, in the words of Del Dahl, like Swiss cheese, "full of holes." He was the complete Toy package, under ten inches, shown in a pack to disguise his shortcomings, but, again, stood on lovely feet, and his front legs well set under his chest. Frank spent a lot of time examining him, and then grinned, and said, "Down and back." Off we went, and ended up going Winners Dog to finish!
Joan and Norma were both thrilled, as was I. Precious memories.
The last time I saw Frank in person was in 2014 in Topeka, Kansas. I arrived on the second day and ran into him in the hotel. He said, "Chamberlain, this Toy Group is Westminster quality!" He was right. We used many of the same dogs, albeit in a different order. It was indeed an exciting group of dogs with supreme quality.
Thank you, Dog News, for offering this tribute to a truly great dog man!
I was very fortunate to not only show to Frank Sabella but also to ring-steward for him and get mentored by him in many, many breeds. His words are still in my head as I judge. I would tease him about dogs that I would not show to him because some of my Borzoi didn’t have the elegant head that he liked.
I remember going to his kennel in North Hollywood, where he ran handling and grooming classes for newbies like me in 1964-1967. I acquired a Meisen line apricot Mini through him, attended his classes – my first stint in the AKC show world. Later, I got a Sheltie and took him to those handling classes, too.
I was unaware of his dance background, which explains why he was so graceful and quick on his feet. I felt like such a clod in his presence. But what he taught me enabled me to sign on as an apprentice for another professional handler, travel the "gypsy circuits," later agent-handle and work as a groomer, so he had a major influence on giving me a proper start in the sport. I was always enamored with his big Standards, my favorites. I'm grateful to have known him.
Knickerbocker Dachshund Club
New York, New York
In a league of his own. Hey, Frank – save me a seat at ringside. Thanks for the memories …
Frank Sabella was my idol. He was an artist and a perfectionist, and I really admired him. When he became licensed to judge my breed, I was thrilled to be able to show to him. He examined each dog as though he was approaching a living piece of art. His passion and love for good dogs was evident and warmed my heart. The first time I showed to him, he gave my dogs WD and WB. He gave the special BOB, and when he examined him on the table, Mr. Sabella said, “Lady, you’re killing me. He’s glorious.”
A couple years later he gave an English Cocker bitch I was showing a Best in Show. As handlers we went to hundreds of shows, and to receive recognition from this beautiful man is a most precious memory. We may never see the likes of Mr. Sabella again, and I am grateful to have known him.
West Bend, Wisconsin
I was showing a Bred-By class Bedlington to Frank at the Chicago International show. Right after he judged my class bitch, he loudly announced in the ring, "Now that's what they should look like!"
Then he told the steward to hold all of the exhibitors in the ring while he went to round up three more judges to come watch this bitch move. When they arrived, he had me do the pattern again so he could comment and explain what he liked about her movement. They all chatted for a few moments, then the other judges went back to their rings, and Frank continued to judge the Bedlingtons.
Of course I won Winners Bitch that day. I don't suppose it made the other exhibitors too happy, but I was walking on air all weekend because of that moment. It was so spontaneous, and so Frank Sabella, and it made me feel very special to be recognized by such a great dog man.
Harold R. Brizee, Colonel, US Army (Ret)
Frank Sabella was a kind, sharing, knowledgeable senior judge who helped me in my beginning years as a judge. He seemed to remember me whenever we shared a panel and showed interest in my progress. He was a man I wished to emulate out of my deep respect for him. The dog world has lost one of a kind in his passing. I will always remember him for his desire to aid those beginning their careers.
As a kid, I idolized Frank. My first Dal's name was Tiffany, named after a bitch he was showing at the time. I would watch him groom and show. I never bothered him, but one time he was cutting out a puppy and asked if I wanted to watch him doing it. I almost died! As I sat there and watched, he would tell why he was trimming where he was to fit the structure of the dog. He even let me trim a rear leg. Ohhh, the memories of that day.
One time he must have had nothing to do and was watching Juniors at the Sacramento show. I was maybe 12 or 13. When I came out, he came over, and we had a little talk. He was so supportive and helpful. A few shows later, he again watched the class I was in, and when I came out he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up and took off to another ring. I floated all day.
One time when I was working I could tell he was having a tough day ... when I finished taking photos I asked him if he needed anything. Noooo, I'll make it through. Later I came back to take another photo, and he was beaming! He had found a young dog that really took his fancy. That one dog changed his whole day. Nothing hurt, he almost danced!
Such a special person. Someone who saw something in a chubby kid with a Dalmatian and took time in his busy day to make me feel special and helped me grow and blossom.
Dear Frank ... you will be so missed.
Eva and Ken Berg
Like the entire dog community, we too are saddened by the loss of Frank. When we were actively exhibiting in the Non-Sporting Group, we remember him as a handler with his exquisite presentation of many beautiful Poodles. What a sight to behold. In later years, when Frank became a judge, we remember him with his total concentration and control of his ring. We have fond memories of Frank taking the show lead out of the hand of an exhibitor (many exhibitors) and showing the exhibitor how to best present his/her dog to accentuate the dog’s qualities.
When we joined the judging community a number of years later, we were on a number of panels together and always enjoyed the stories and experiences that Frank shared with us. He was totally dedicated to the sport of purebred dogs, and the health and well-being of each breed. We will miss him!
Since I was 11 years old I showed dogs, and Frank was the most elegant man, breeder, handler and judge of the times! I am 76 and showed my Collie and to my delight won a number of times. I’m very thankful for his advice and interest in my ability to show and own a few good dogs.
Thank you, Frank, for being a great mentor and encouragement in my young years! I owe you a lot and proud that I was able to talk with you at shows as a friend!
I have so many fond memories of Frank Sabella over the years. He was truly interested in everyone in our dog community and their dogs.
My favorite memory was coming back from my first Afghan specialty right before the Garden. Frank had spoken to me and asked where we were staying. He told me he would meet me and show me a few things before he went out to dinner the next day.
I had my dog freshly bathed and ready when he arrived. Frank taught me the finer points of hand stripping and shaping the dog to show outline without making it look trimmed. He had me gait the dog in the halls of the hotel, and taught me how to stand away from an Afghan, but not to grandstand, as most will let down on their outline. There were many great wins with our dogs. Over the years he would always check in and see how we were doing.
One of the last of our true icons. He and his passion will be greatly missed.
Andrew H. Brace
Wirral, United Kingdom
When I was a dog-mad teenager in the Welsh Valleys, my school friends had posters of footballers or pop stars on their bedroom walls. I had a blown-up picture of a book cover that featured a toned bronze god in a white vest with a white Standard Poodle in mid-air on Malibu Beach. The subject became an idol, and someone I researched thoroughly, finding out as much as I possibly could about this man who seemed to have a charisma all his own.
Fast-forward several years, and I was publishing a monthly dog magazine. I heard that Mr. Sabella was coming to Crufts to judge the final of our Pup of the Year competition, so I just had to get an interview. I knew he was a good friend of my mentor and honorary godfather Nigel Aubrey Jones, so I phoned Nigel and asked if he could possibly ask Frank if he would agree to an interview during his stay in London. “Leave it with me” was Nigel’s closing reply.
Not 15 minutes later the phone rang in my office.
“Is that you, Andrew … this is Frank.”
“Frank Sabella, of course. Nigel just called me.”
I became a tongue-tied, gibbering idiot, unable to string two words together, knowing that the bronze god in a white vest was actually on the other end of the phone line. Eventually I regained my composure.
The date was made, and I duly waited in the London hotel foyer as arranged. Suddenly the elevator doors opened and out came this tanned gentleman, smiling, maybe with one or two more wrinkles than he had on Malibu Beach, but still as charismatic.
We adjourned to the hotel restaurant, where I tape-recorded the interview (typing it up later), marveling as countless pearls of wisdom dropped from his lips, many of which I regularly pass on at judging seminars to this day. “As soon as a dog walks into my ring I want it to scream its breed” is one that is forever stamped on my brain.
A few years later Frank was invited to judge a special Bichon Frisé show here in the UK. (Remember, it was he who was asked by Richard Beauchamp and Barbara Stubbs all those years ago to turn the Bichon into a show dog.) I was asked to interview him in front of a live audience over that weekend, and it was a resounding success. Frank was the easiest person in the world to interview … you just pushed the button, and off he went.
As time went on we would meet up more often as I travelled more with my judging, and we often found ourselves on the same panel, either in the USA or overseas. Although our ages and backgrounds were different, we just seemed to nick, and now that the idol-adoration period had passed, I just felt comfortable in his company, happy to just sit and soak up all those stories and hopefully a fraction of the knowledge he had and was always prepared to share.
We were judging together in Portugal in 2012, I think, and I had suggested that he should spend some time in the UK on his way home. Originally my idea was just having Frank as a houseguest and spending quality time with him. By then we had already established Dogworld.TV and I had interviewed a few celebrities in the sport in front of live audiences. This was too good an opportunity to miss. I bounced it off the powers-that-be at Dog World, and I put out a teaser on Facebook – no date, no venue, no price – just asking people to express an interest if they would like to attend An Audience with Frank Sabella. Within 24 hours we had 200 people wanting tickets!
So, the Henley Golf Club was duly booked, tickets went on sale and it was a complete sell-out. The room was packed, and as I began to question the living legend about his colorful life, he enthralled all present with his own unique magic. We produced a DVD of that day and if you can ever find one on eBay, grab it, as they are like hen’s teeth.
This Audience had been such a runaway success that I felt we could take it a stage further and, after some discussion, Frank agreed to return to the UK to hold a handling master class jointly with Jason Lynn. This involved a practical session with live dogs, and I think it’s fair to say that this is the first time we saw young Mr. Lynn really blossom as he shared the stage with one of his idols. It was a fantastic day with a very moving ending as Frank “passed the torch” to Jason.
When we were together in Portugal we had seriously discussed buying a property together and retiring there, as we both loved the country and the people. Carla Molinari even lined up a house in her neighborhood that she felt would be perfect. However, after serious discussions about medical insurance and the like, it was deemed impractical. A dream that never was.
In recent years we kept in touch with phone calls and emails. I constantly tried to explain to him how he could get out of UPPER CASE, but to no avail. We met up whenever possible if I was in the USA and continued phone calls.
I realized a while back that my friend was failing and was sad when I heard he had moved into a care home, worried that those around him would never fully appreciate the magnitude of the man they would be looking after.
We last spoke on his 91st birthday. He sounded tired and frail. I wished I could have been there to pour him a drink and laugh about the times we had spent together, hugging him for one last time.
I was one of the lucky ones. I got to know The Legend. I loved him dearly and will forever be grateful for every moment he shared with me.
Where to begin?
He was indeed one of my treasured mentors. I had tremendous awe and respect about his life in general. So much life was lived.
A win under Mr. Sabella was like a win under Annie Clark and other icons. It meant I was doing a good job as a breeder.
He was the first to refer to a very beautiful and much-admired Whippet of mine, "Torch," as a silk purse when he put him up as a young dog, twice, and I was self-deprecating about his less-than-perfect front movement. He taught me to focus on the strengths, as he had been taught.
He also finished one of my Chihuahuas and told me how valuable she would be to breed because of her perfect mouth and substance. He went on to tell me the dog to take her to.
He just tickled me with his kindness.
Frank Sabella was a kind human being and a no-nonsense dog man.
I spoke with him on the phone a while ago after he went after the AKC and their judge-approval process.
He appreciated hearing from me, but sounded so tired that I worried about him all this time. Hearing he is gone is so tragic.
They don't make them like him anymore.
When I use the frozen semen from long-gone Torch this spring, Frank Sabella will be in my thoughts.
Port St. Lucie, Florida
It was 1993 and one of my first judging assignments. I stood at the entrance to the hotel restaurant and looked at the almost full table of well-known judges, most of whom I had shown to through the years. Frank stood up and said, “There’s a seat here.” Thank you, Frank. Years later, I was running the seminars for Eastern Dog Club, and Frank came to present one on Poodles. I reminded him of the day that he had been so kind to me so many years before.
About a dozen years ago, I had a Schipperke name Ch. Bonchien Mr. Monopoly (“Gates”); not only was this dog pretty but he was my HEART and SOUL. I KNEW that Frank would love this dog, and I easily waited two years for him to be on a panel where I could show Gates to him. The opportunity FINALLY came in June in Blackfoot, Idaho. Gates had won the breed earlier in the day and I was SOOOOOOOOOOOO excited to show to Frank in the group. Then my phone died …
Non-Sporting was last, and I had five hours before I had to show in the group, so I decided to drive the 30-plus miles to Idaho Falls to get a replacement. I was afraid that I would be without a phone for days if I didn’t take the opportunity while I had it. I pulled back into the fairgrounds about 30 minutes after the start of the groups, and almost DIED that Non-Sporting was moved to the SECOND GROUP! It was about a third of the way done already.
I lost my mind crying that I was missing the opportunity of my dreams. I ripped Gates out of a crate, tried to groom him as fast as I could, and managed to make it to the ring as the Bulldog was going onto the ramp. I’m still in a small state of hysterics as Frank let me in the group. He casually went over Gates as I attempted to hold back the gasping from crying so hard. We did our down and back, and at the end Frank walked from one side of Gates’ free-stack to the other and back. He stood there staring at him … like he couldn’t get enough. Around the ring we went to the end of the line …. behind the Bulldog.
Frank walked down the line looking at faces and expression, and when he got to Gates, he had me put him out front! The waterworks started all over again!
I struggled to hold it together while taking pictures on the podium. Frank asked me what the matter was, so I gave him the nutshell version. He patted me on the back and said, “I don’t care” – meaning about being late. “You bring me a dog this pretty, and you win.”
E. L. Sanders
An amazing “dog” man, great and wonderful judge. Looked for the essence of the breed in his choices. We have lost so many of the greats in our sport now. Sadly I'm not sure that we really have enough young people coming up to replace them, at least not with such depth of knowledge.
Port Ludlow, Washington
In August 2001 I attended the AKC Judges Institute in Denver, Colorado. The presenters were Anne Rogers Clark, Frank Sabella, Dr. Donald Sturz Jr., Melbourne Downing and Mari-Beth O'Neill.
I dreamed of becoming an AKC judge and came to see if this was something I really should pursue. I was in awe of the presenters and a bit intimidated. This Institute was probably the most amazing week I have ever spent in my years of judging. The background and experiences these five bestowed on us, with humor and insight, will remain with me always.
The last day we were divided into groups and assigned rings and dogs to judge. Each ring had one of the presenters assigned to critique us. I was assigned Anne Rogers Clark's ring. I froze. Then an arm went around my shoulders and Frank Sabella said, "You will be fine."
And I was. I have never forgotten that moment of kindness. I applied to judge the following year.
Julie L. Mueller
It is almost impossible to put into words what Frank Sabella meant to me personally, much less the entire dog fancy. How can anybody adequately describe everything that Frank Sabella brought into our lives and the dog world?
When I was a child, growing up showing Poodles with my mother, he was my hero, my idol. I only saw his photos in Poodle Review and Kennel Review, but those images emitted such an awe-inspired reaction that I was totally captivated. When I finally got to meet Frank Sabella, I was totally blown away. There are not enough superlatives to describe all of the facets of his personality, much less his talents. Gene and Frank were competitors, but also friends. They had a mutual love and respect for each other. And this was at a time when segregation was accepted, but Frank let it be known, not today in my playground. Frank was quick to enlist the talents of Gene to help take over one of his charges when needed, exemplifying Frank's staunch character.
Gene and I had planned a dinner for a group of friends in Tulsa when Frank was here judging. We had invited Dr. Gerda Kennedy, and when we told Frank, he was so upset! Apparently, Gerda had defeated his beloved Saluki bitch Mumtaz at some time in her career, and he never forgave Gerda. He told Gene, I don't want to have dinner with that woman! Well, maybe, “woman” was not the exact word he used. We ignored him and proceeded with our plans for the evening. I sat Frank next to Gerda, and as we all know, Gerda could sell a fur coat to a polar bear. By the end of the night, they were hugged up and laughing together!
Frank Sabella gave to the world of dogs something that can never be duplicated. He electrified the dog world, setting the bar so high that very few have come close. We are so fortunate to have been blessed with Frank Sabella in our lives, in our dog world and in our hearts, forever. He has left and indelible mark in the history in the dog world and in our lives, and for all who loved and adored him.
I bought Frank’s book, “The Art of Handling Show Dogs,” early on when I was trying to learn more about showing our dogs. As time went on, it was a joy to realize what an excellent and well-respected judge he was. The memory of the day that Mr. Sabella complimented my dog and my grooming and presentation remains one of the high points of my dog life.
Many years ago, we were visiting our Bichon friend Jill Cohen in Malibu. She had invited Frank to join us for lunch, then that night we were going to a club in L.A. As always Jill travelled in a limo, and when we got to the club there was a gathering outside. No idea why – maybe the club was famous.
As we got out, there was a lot of screaming and shouting, and Frank just shouted, “Make way for Roseanne Barr!” and then more screaming. It was a great night, and coming out it was the same again, with Frank just shouting, “Make way for Roseanne!” He stayed the weekend with Jill, and we had such fun.
Anne Marie Kubacz
Jackson, New Jersey
First time we showed to him was on Long Island with our Irish Setter special. He had the specials gait one at a time around to the end. He had me move Gypsy again ... and again. And then free-stack and move again. I was a nervous wreck: She felt good on the lead, but I worried he saw something wrong and wanted to recheck.
Then he put her at the head of the line, and she won the breed. When we got a photo, I said I was grateful he gave her extra chances to move since he clearly saw something that concerned him. He laughed his joyful laugh and said, “Oh, no, she was pure poetry, and I just wanted the pleasure of seeing her over and over.”
Both of us studied at the American School of Ballet. Loved dancing with him whenever we had a chance.
I remember showing a Chinese Crested powderpuff to Frank a couple of years after the breed had been recognized by the AKC. He gave her Winners Bitch for a major and told me it was the first powderpuff he had ever put up! He seemed very “tickled” by this!
Many years ago Frank was judging the Dalmatian national, and I had two puppies in the same class. I got my husband, who had only been in ring a couple of times, to show one. When it was his time for exam, he did his down and back. Frank told him he had a beautiful puppy but you need to move him like this – Frank took the lead and moved the puppy for my husband to watch. Needless to say, the crowd around the ring was applauding, and of course enjoying every minute! I think he gave him second in the large class. Such a very special person!
Judi Hartell, PHA
Smith Point, Texas
Frank Sabella and Jimmy Andrews were great friends. I apprenticed under Jimmy before I became a professional handler. Oh, my, we were all so young, and full of the fire and passion only the young possess! This was back in the early ’60s, before the word “cluster” ever came to mind. There were no RVs, and most apprentices slept in the building on top of the handlers' crates. Jimmy was kinder than most – my partner and I usually shared a hotel room with him.
After showing all day we'd hang around the crates, often with judges, and talk about the day, what dogs won that should have and those that lost and shouldn't have, all in good, constructive conversation – often with laughter! But I learned so much at the feet of these people, not the least of whom was Frank Sabella.
When the bars opened at night, we would all go and dance like crazy until we shut the bar down, then go back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before we'd do it all again! Frank was a fabulous dancer, trained as many of you know, and he and I used to have the best time on the dance floor!
At the shows, it was all business: Frank taught me how to make the best of a less-than-stellar exhibit, how to let a stellar exhibit showcase itself and the handler fade into the background. He threw me under the bus more than once making me take in a breed I had no clue what to do with, telling me to use my God-given and his own given good sense! Jimmy would laugh and shrug and say, "Go get'm!"
I had the very best upbringing in this dog-show world. People like Frank and so many others taught me ethics, good sportsmanship, how to truly bring professionalism to my chosen profession and how to always, always honor my dogs and my clients.
I'll always love you and thank you, Frank – may you and Jimmy dance on a cloud forever.