Full Circle in the PWD

History is simply the story of people. What they did, when they did it, and why.

The Portuguese Water Dog’s history is rich with all of the above.

Meet Deyanne and Herbert Miller, Poodle fanciers from New Canaan, Connecticut.  They had become interested in the Portuguese Water Dog after several trips to Portugal. In 1968, they saw a litter of day old Portuguese Water Dogs at the Al-Gharbe Kennels and fell in love with one of the puppies. In 1969, the Millers imported her. That pup became the first direct import of the breed into the United States from Portugal. Her name was Renascence do Al-Gharbe, but the Millers called her as “Chenze.” In 1971,  Chenze whelped the first litter of PWDs of Portuguese breeding stock in America sired by a male the Millers had gotten after Chenze arrived.  Chenze lived to the age of 15 years old, but there is another thing that made Chenze interesting, and we’ll get to that later.

There are other things that made the Millers significant, too. On August 13, 1972 (when there were twelve known PWDs in the country), the Millers invited a number of people to their home, and these sixteen people established the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. The Millers had also imported a dog named Ch. Charlie de Alvalade, aka “Charlie Brown.” This dog was the first PWD to earn an AKC champion title in 1984, the same year, he won the AKC’s first All Breed Best in Show. Charlie Brown also won the Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 1985, 1986 and 1987, an unprecedented accomplishment.

We pivot here to Chenze’s “birth home,” Al-Gharbe Kennel owned by Mrs. Conchita Branco. Conchita was a pretty interesting person in her own right.

Before she married Francisco de Castelo Branco, Conchita was Conchita Cintrón, nicknamed, ‘The Golden Goddess,” and perhaps the most famous “torera” or female bullfighter in the history of bullfighting. As we personally disapprove of her “sport,” anyone interested in learning more about her can read this. Our interest in her is as the heir to Vasco Bensaúde’s Algarbiorum kennel of Portuguese Water Dogs.

Bensaúde was a rich Portuguese businessman and shipping magnate who 30 years earlier had been regaled with anecdotes about a Portuguese Water Dog named, “The Lion.”  The Lion, or “Leão,” was owned by a fisherman in Algarve. Bensaúde traveled to the Algarve determined to buy the dog, but the dog’s owner would not sell him at any price. Indeed, the fisherman basically said, “over my dead body.”  Okay, we made that last part up, but it is true that the fisherman said he would only part with Leão when he died. A few weeks later, the fisherman actually did die, and his son messaged Bensaúde that he could come and collect Leão.

Leão became the foundation for Bensaúde’s kennel and the ideal model for the breed standard. He went on to sire six litters and 30 dogs before he died in 1942.  Of this dog, Bensaúde wrote: “I do not know if I will ever have a magnificent dog like this, but at least I can say that it was part of my life and my kennel.” In fact, it is said that roughly half of all modern PWDs have Leão somewhere in their ancestry.

Bensaúde bred PWD for three decades, but he had no heirs, and unbelievably, there was no interest in his kennel. Sources vary as to whether Bensaúde’s widow gave the remaining fourteen dogs to a trusted friend – Conchita Branco – or if Bensaúde had bequeathed it to Branco in 1957, but either way, Branco acquired the dogs. She registered the kennel with the name Al-Gharb.  Here we circle back to the Millers and their beloved “Chenze” because Chenze was a descendant of Leão.

In 1984, the Portuguese Water Dog was accepted by the AKC and placed in the Working Group.  In 2006, the AKC registered 1,454 PWDs and 310 litters. In 2019, it was the 49th most popular breed in the country per the AKC.  We’ve read that today, the United States has more PWDs than any other country, though we haven’t been able to verify this.

Image: Portuguese Water Dog by LA Shepard/thedoglover

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