The story of “Woodbine, the Pandemic Puppy” starts with Christmas 2019 when James Canavan surprised his wife, Breedette Hayes, with a gift book, “The Curious History of Irish Dogs,” by David Blake Knox.
“We live in New York City but are originally from Ireland, so we were keen to learn more about native breeds,” says Canavan.
It served to stir up an interest in a puppy for the couple with a busy lifestyle – Canavan works in research and development for a pharmaceutical company and Hayes is employed in financial risk for an international bank.
Feeling inspired by the book, they ventured to the American Kennel Club’s Meet the Breeds event at the Javits Center on a wintry Sunday in January 2020
“At this time we were not even window shopping,” recalls Hayes, “it was just a bit of a fantasy.” Well, things changed quickly two months later when COVID-19 arrived, sending many workers to home offices from their customary office-building environments.
Deciding on an Irish Terrier
By April it occurred to the pair that this was their opportunity to seriously explore getting their first dog. “We didn’t have a garden but we would be at home enough to look after a dog, especially for the early stages,” says Canavan. “We thought more critically about our requirements and what breed would be a good fit.”
Their criteria became a medium-size dog that was “pretty hypoallergenic and not hyperactive.” With that established they reached out to the Irish Terrier owner they met at Meet the Breeds a few months earlier to determine if she thought the breed would be a good fit. She agreed, and the hunt was on!
She suggested they contact the AKC and the Irish Terrier Club of America, which were both helpful in referring them to breeders who were planning litters. They spoke with three breeders – in Michigan, Texas and New Hampshire.
“They were two-way exchanges,” Hayes recalls. “We used them as opportunities to find out more about the breed and how we would look after a dog that came to live with us in the city. The AKC’s checklist of things to ask a breeder was helpful in guiding us in these conversations.”
Keep in mind this is not a highly popular breed – it was 120th of 195 in the AKC’s 2020 registration statistics – hence breeders keep a tight grip on ensuring their puppies go to responsible, dedicated owners. Add to that, many keep a puppy or two from each litter for showing and breeding.
They eventually settled on Blue Granite Farm and breeders, Bernice Sullivan and Nora DuBois, in Wentworth, New Hampshire. “While the timing of Bernie’s litter worked, we were impressed with her commitment to the breed and love for her own dogs. Add to that, she helped us understand how to care for an Irish Terrier, including grooming and training,” says Hayes.
A member of a litter of six, Woodbine was born in June 2020 and came with a dramatic story of her own, including last puppy out the door and a near brush with death two months later.
Sullivan explains, “We were working on a culvert along the driveway with several of the dogs nearby playing. I asked my husband (Brian DuBois), ‘Where’s Penny?’ That was her original call name. I noticed the dogs had run off in the direction of an old, unused stone-lined well in the woods that was uncapped. When they began barking, we ran in that direction and found her in the well. All I could see was water at her nose level.
“Brian went in headfirst and grabbed her. His whole torso was in the water as he began pulling her up. I had a hold of his belt and was attempting to pull the two up. There were some pretty tense moments there, but we managed to get her out and ran with her to the house to warm her. We kept throwing towels in the dryer, bringing warm ones out to increase her body temp. It took a couple of hours to rebuild the temperature to a normal point.”
Penny/Woodbine’s registered name is Ch. Blue Granite Who by Water Woodbine. “Who By Water,” is from the Leonard Cohen song, “Who By Fire,” to commemorate Woodbine’s close call in that potential watery grave only a couple of weeks before Canavan and Hayes picked up their Pandemic Puppy. “Woodbine” represents the honeysuckle that grew on the Hayes’ family farm when Breedette was a child.
Adjusting to the City
The rich tapestry of transition was certainly at play for Woodbine as the 12-weeks-old puppy moved from freely romping about a New Hampshire farm to the bright lights, crowded streets and tighter confines of Manhattan.
Well, Woodbine adjusted nicely. “She spends a lot of time either hanging out with us or helping with family activities, such as supervising cooking dinner,” laughs Hayes. “She has her own areas for relaxing including a blanket, a small teepee, and a box for her many toys. Putting her toys back at the end of the day is still a work in progress. At night, her crate is her comfort zone.”
Her favorite walking destination is the dog park at Madison Square Park. She knows the route and builds up excitement on the approach. The daily routine is four walks – two long outings morning and evening and two shorter ones during the day.
Woodbine has her fans on the street, too. “Strangers come up to her on the street exclaiming how beautiful she is,” says Canavan. “We often get asked what breed she is or requests to pet her.”
Becoming a Conformation Champion
On one of those outings along 35th Street when Woodbine was about 6 months old they met a gentleman sitting in his car who beckoned them over and asked to meet Woodbine. “He clearly had an interest in the animal and appeared to cast a careful eye over her, asking us about where she was from,” Canavan recalls. “Woodbine stood her ground for inspection, looking at him with her fiery eyes and keen expression, back straight and hind legs set slightly apart.
“He introduced himself as Dennis Sprung, AKC president, and chief executive officer, and offered us his business card. He asked if we considered showing and pointed out her outstanding breed characteristics.”
Shortly after Canavan and Hayes – whose original intentions were to get an Irish Terrier only as a pet — reached out to Sullivan to discuss breeding and showing Woodbine. Sullivan felt that a successful show career would likely increase Woodbine’s breeding prospects.
Sullivan connected the couple with Robert (RC) Carusi, a professional hander in Oxford, Massachusetts, noted for his adeptness with the Irish Terrier. Woodbine went to “finishing school” for about four months at Carusi’s kennels last summer, where she built on her puppy training for an abbreviated run as a show dog. It worked and under his tutelage she became a conformation champion, finishing her championship with a Best of Winners at the 2021 Montgomery County Kennel Club Terrier Show.
A show career is not in her future. “Our hope would be that ideally, her puppies would contribute to further the breed and that some may make their way into breeding stock in Ireland,” Canavan notes.
Up ahead are adult classes aimed at achieving an AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate. “She is more than a little headstrong,” Canavan smiles, “and likes to do things her way, so this might be a challenge. We hope that test will be open-book.”
The couple did an immense amount of homework before settling on the breed and a breeder. So, what surprises have they encountered on the journey?
“I’m not sure I would say surprises,” says Hayes, “but there has been a steep learning curve with puppy classes and training and learning how to maintain her coat. As she has gotten older she is very protective of our apartment and especially territorial of any dogs that might consider stepping over the threshold.”
This Pandemic Puppy has been the conduit for these two professionals entering a whole new community – purebred dog enthusiasts – with the 120th (of 195) most popular breed on the 2020 AKC registry.
The Irish Terrier is now listed as “at watch” by The Kennel Club with only 389 Kennel Club registrations in 2020. “We felt a bit concerned by this and thought that if we were to get a dog at some point we would like it to be a native Irish breed to help support its continuance,” adds Canavan.
Labeled by The Kennel Club as a breed with a “fiery spirit and daredevil nature,” it was recognized as a pedigree in 1879. The AKC gave it full recognition six years later and characterizes it today as “bold, dashing, and courageous.”
Canavan laughs, “Woodbine definitely has a mischievous twinkle in her eye.”