Joyce Nilsen


World famous dog breeder and Malibu resident Joyce Nilsen died on Oct. 20. She was 79.

Nilsen was born in 1926 to Lillian Holzman, a niece of Edith Wharton, and Alois J. Holzman in Buffalo, N.Y. She had a brother, Ken, who died at an early age from scarlet fever. Nilsen later named her first son after him. She spent her childhood fishing, riding horses and tap-dancing. Nilsen was captain of the women’s basketball team at USC, where she studied chemistry. When her father retired from his pharmacy and sold the business, she gave up compounding drugs and decided to raise dogs for a living.

Nilsen bred champions every year of her life from age 18 on. She was often featured in magazines.

Joyce Nilsen married Athos Nilsen and they bought a property in Marina del Rey. They named their kennel, Thenderin, after her line. Athos Nilsen was a portraitist. His dog pictures were considered to be as dramatic as paintings, rippling with light and detail. He died at 75, training a horse in the hot sun, but Joyce Nilsen continued on for nearly 30 years more, monitoring the wildlife from her house overlooking the Colony and the beach.

Joyce Nilsen’s ashes will be mingled with her husband’s and kayaked out to sea by their children. A memorial will be announced sometime soon.