Grooming & Boarding
'Your Keyes To Dogdom'
From showing dogs to pampering them, Nanhall Pet Spa turns 50
By Carl Wilson (News & Record) Jun 3, 2018
At first glance, you’d think Nanhall Pet Spa had gone to only the dogs.
But Kellas begs to differ. The long-haired black cat strolls nonchalantly from grooming room to gift shop and looks on as clients pick up their groomed pooches.
“He’s the landlord,” Haley Keyes said as she picked up the big cat for a cuddle.
Keyes owns and operates Nanhall with her mother, Frances Keyes.
While Nanhall does cater to plenty of cats, the spa remains devoted to dogs.
In its 50-year history, Nanhall has boarded, groomed and pampered countless pooches.
But when Frances Keyes and her husband, Hall, opened Nanhall in 1968, their passion centered on breeding and training dogs.
And quite a few of those dogs became champions in the canine show world.
“We’ve bred close to 175 champions under the prefix of Nanhall,” Frances Keyes said.
Long before Frances and Hall Keyes opened Nanhall — a combination of their names — the two shared a love of purebred dogs.
“I’ve had dogs since I was little,” Frances Keyes said. “My husband had dogs. His father had airedales. He lived near some of the great trainers of yesteryear in Ardsley-on-Hudson.”
Frances Keyes grew up on Staten Island, N.Y. Her father purchased German shepherds from a neighbor, famed dog trainer John Gans.
It was at a dog show that Frances met Hall. At the time, he was vice president of City Stores. She was a fashion designer.
But the two wanted to devote their lives to breeding and training dogs. They decided to move south and open a kennel somewhere less hectic than New York.
They bought a kennel on 2 acres on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (then Asheboro Street) in the shadow of the Interstate 40/85 overpass and moved to Greensboro with two boys and a daughter.
There they began a career of breeding, training and showing dogs.
“He was called the Dog Whisperer,” Frances Keyes said of her husband, who died in 2010 at 89. “He would take a dog and work it behind the barn and come out and it would be an angel. Everyone loved and respected him in every breed.”
They also trained horses.
“We would work the horses and in between the horses, we would work the dogs as well,” Frances Keyes said.
Frances and Hall Keyes were American Kennel Club licensed dog handlers and were members of the Professional Handlers Association.
They traveled every other weekend with as many as 15 to 20 dogs to shows around the country, usually at the expense of their own needs.
“People always say, ‘You must have so much fun playing with the dogs,’” Frances Keyes said. “Well, it isn’t playing with the dogs. You may be very tired. You may have driven 500 miles. But the first thing when you get there is the dogs get exercised, get fed, get watered. You make sure they’re happy. Then you might get to eat!”
She recalled showing a briard, a large breed known for its “tons and tons of hair,” at a national competition.
“I spent 10 hours grooming that dog. Pulling one hair at a time,” Frances said. “But I won that national!”
The walls of Nanhall are lined with photos of champion dogs.
Of the nearly 200 champions to come out of Nanhall, 37 of them were German shepherds.
“We had two grand victrix (winning title in a specialty breed show). The youngest German shepherd (national) champion and the youngest German shepherd to go best in show (national),” Frances said.
One photo shows a dachshund from Germany that lived with Frances Keyes for two years to be trained. It traveled the world and was a 79-time world champion in its class. Its owner sold it to another owner in Japan for $68,000.
Their daughter Hayley’s dog Charlie, a 13-year-old poodle, has produced champions with every female paired with him for breeding. A breeder in Russia once flew a female poodle to the United States and the dog was driven from Washington, D.C., to Greensboro for one mating session with Charlie. Then it was out the door and back to Washington to catch a return flight. Frances Keyes said the offspring from that mating won best in show in the United States and Russia.
Hayley Keyes, who grew up around animals, came to love them as well. Though she learned to become a dog handler and breeder — she has bred Chihuahuas and her favorite breed, Lakeland terriers — her interests took her down a different path. She became an accomplished groomer.
“That was my passion,” Hayley Keyes said. “And I loved teaching groomers.”
She conducted dog grooming seminars in Peru and Japan. She is former president of the International Professional Groomers, a grooming certification organization. She created a grooming school at Nanhall and would teach three classes a year.
“I had students in Oster Career Start (a competition for fledgling groomers) and for 10 years in a row, we placed one, two and three,” she said.
In 1984, they opened a grooming facility on Spring Garden Street. It is one of the first pet salons to get an AKC certification, Hayley said. That proved it met AKC standards.
Several years later, that facility moved a block west to Manley Avenue and expanded to include accommodations for about 30 to 35 animals.
Over the years, Nanhall has strived to give back.
For many years Nanhall held Doggy Olympics, an annual agility event to benefit the Arthritis Foundation. It was recognized by the Delta Society, a former organization that assisted those challenged with arthritis.
The kennel partnered with the Arthritis Foundation for a long time to raise money and train dogs to be assistance animals, offering them at a fraction of the cost to people physically challenged.
After a lifetime of working with her parents, the helm of Nanhall eventually fell to Hayley Keyes.
“My father always talked about his sons taking over the business,” she said. “One day I looked at him and said, ‘I don’t see your sons here. I’m running it.’”
In 2003, the original facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive was sold to Greensboro Pet Spa and Resort.
Frances and Hayley Keyes continue to operate the spa and boarding facility on Manley Avenue.
Frances Keyes has stepped out of the show ring.
The last time she bred a dog was three years ago.
Hayley Keyes is also spending less time on the road teaching.
“After several years of doing that and showing my Lakeland terriers, I decided it was time to stay at home,” she said.
Hayley Keyes works with the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to bathe and groom shelter dogs and cats for adoption. She also fosters dogs.
“Now I’m able to give back a little, which is really important to me,” she said.
Hayley Keyes said she sees less interest in purebred dogs in favor of rescue dogs and specialty mixed breeds like labradoodles.
The passions that drove Nanhall to success are still there.
The mother-daughter duo recently traveled to Michigan on behalf of a client to select a German shorthaired from a litter of puppies. Hayley Keyes continues to lead occasional grooming classes at Nanhall and seminars in places much closer to home like Kernersville and Charlotte.
Despite the thousands of animals she has worked with over the years, she never grows tired of it, Hayley Keyes said.
“I’ve been in this business since I was a kid, so I’ve basically grown up with them,” she said. “The nice thing is seeing a client I’ve known for over 20 years and seeing the animals that they’ve gotten and seeing them grow and learn how to take care of pets.”
Clients like Carl Cordovano, who brings Max, his 13-year-old Maltese, to Nanhall once a week for a bath.
“They take care of him,” he said. “Whatever he needs.”