Eighteen shiny little dogs with big eyes and big ears romped and played as they shared toys and a kiddie pool. But on a recent hot summer day, they were much more interested in meeting a reporter and photographer. They took turns jumping into our laps to slather our faces with licks and kisses, each campaigning to be our new best friend.
“If you don’t like a dog that licks, you don’t want a Boston terrier,” said Joyce Davis as four of them snuggled on her lap. “They are very social. They want to be in your face, in your lap and in your bed.”
“Their nickname is ‘The American Gentleman’ because their white chests and dark bodies give them the appearance of wearing a tuxedo,” said her husband, Tom.
The Davises seemingly can’t get enough of these exuberantly affectionate little dogs. They have been breeding in Beaver County for 39 years under the name Davane Kennels (www.viviansbostonterriers.com/directory/listing/davane-kennels). Their current pack ranges in age from 1 to 11 years old.
The kennel’s name is a combination of Davis and Dane, an homage to the Great Danes they showed before they downsized to Boston terriers. Though black-and-white Bostons are the most common, the color of the Davane dogs is white and brindle; their very short black fur is striped with golden brown.
In 39 years, the couple have “finished” 76 champions in American Kennel Club dog shows and provided hundreds of families with pretty pets that don’t quite have what it takes to win in competitions.
One of their dogs, Grand Champion Davane Happy Me, is currently the ninth winningest Boston terrier on the show circuit. Happy Me lives with co-owner Susan Fithian of North Jackson, Ohio.
When Happy Me is done “campaigning” — what dog people call competing at shows — Champion Devane-Trader Higher Ground will hit the show circuit. Higher Ground, who is named for a Stevie Wonder song, is called Stevie by the Davises and co-owner Linda Trader of North Strabane, Washington County.
The other males who live with the Davises are Jasper, Mikey, Freddie, Nino, Blaze and Percy. The females are Fergie, Cookie, GiGi, Diamond, Daphne, Marcy, Evee, Ruthie, Jamme, Pretty and Keala.
Generally Davane has one or two litters a year. Each litter has two or three pups, occasionally a fourth. Females are usually bred only once or twice. The couple is not making money selling puppies. They call Davane Kennels “an expensive hobby” and they work three jobs to support it.
While Mrs. Davis occasionally takes their dogs into the show ring, her husband does most of that. For 30 years he has been a professional handler, which means other people pay him to show their dogs. Mr. Davis, 63, is on the road handling dogs almost every weekend of the year after putting in a full work week at Argos, a cement company in Leetsdale where he’s a manager.
His professional handling career comes to an end this month, when he becomes an AKC show judge. He was recently approved to judge nine breeds —- Boston terrier, chow chow, French bull dog, Great Dane, American Staffordshire terrier, bull terrier, mini bull terrier, vizsla and bearded collie.
Mrs. Davis, 61, works full time at Brady’s Run Veterinary Hospital in New Brighton, where she mans the front desk.
Boston terriers are descendants of bulldogs bred to the now-extinct white English terrier in England in the 1860s. By the 1870s, Bostonians were developing the new American breed. For more than 100 years, Boston terriers have been the mascot of Boston University. In 1979, legislators proclaimed them the official dog of Massachusetts.
Responsible breeders insist on regular, expensive genetic testing of their breeding animals and do not breed dogs that test positive. Boston terriers are tested for juvenile cataracts, knee issues and deafness.
Mr. Davis is president of the Beaver County Kennel Club and Mrs. Davis is president of the Boston Terrier Club of Western Pennsylvania. Every spring, those clubs, along with the Great Dane Club of Western Pennsylvania, sponsor a health clinic where dogs of all breeds can be tested for health issues that their breeds are prone to, including hip and knee problems (dysplasia) in Labrador retrievers and other heavy-boned breeds.
At Davane Kennels, there’s very little downtime. Dogs are let out early in the morning for exercise and potty time. Mr. Davis leaves for work at 6 a.m. and is home by 3 p.m. for the second outing. The dogs, who are always supervised outdoors, are let out once more at the end of the day.
Mrs. Davis usually stays home on weekends to take care of dogs while her husband takes the big RV to shows. A pet sitter occasionally stays at the house so she can go to big shows, including “nationals,” where the top Boston terriers compete.
Home is nearly three acres in rural Ohioville. Dogs play in three grassy yards surrounded by 6-foot-high fences. They also have two big dogs — an Ibizan hound named Amaretto and a Kisma, a Pharaoh hound.
Though all 18 Boston terriers can be turned out at the same time, they usually are exercised in three groups. Bostons usually get along with other dogs, “But I’ll be honest. There are a couple that don’t like each other a lot,” Mrs. Davis said.
A lot of land isn’t needed for dogs that generally grow to only 12-15 pounds, but the Davises love this spot. “I wish we had moved out here sooner,” she said.
The two Beaver County natives lived in Aliquippa until 2007 in the house where he grew up.
A sign at the end of the driveway says Davane Kennels, but there aren’t actual kennels with outdoor runs. All dogs live in the house. Each has a crate, and they take turns rotating through the living quarters when people are home. Every night four or five dogs sleep in bed with the Davises — always under the covers.
Boston terriers “hate the cold,” she said, and very much enjoy sunning themselves. Their short noses make them prone to breathing problems, so their owners must make sure they don’t overheat.
During our visit, a few dogs stretched out atop a picnic table, jumping on and off with cat-like agility.
“We don’t eat off that table,” Mrs. Davis said with a chuckle.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-263-3064 or on Facebook.