Purebred Irish Wolfhounds Breeder Linda Souza Limerick Irish Wolfhounds interview by Allan Reznik.
Where did you grow up?
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: I was born on the peninsula south of San Francisco in San Mateo, California, in 1948 and grew up in the suburban city of San Bruno, between San Mateo and San Francisco. I was the middle child of five. My father was from Richmond, Virginia, and my mother was from San Diego, California.
Did you come from a doggie family? If not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: I met my future husband in high school in 1962 at the age of 14. He was 16. We married after high school graduation in 1967. He was then 20 and I was 18. We will celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary this coming April 23rd. He is my soulmate and a man of integrity and also quite a character, but in a good way. He is also a dog lover but is not interested in attending dog shows. He is my live-in dog sitter when I attend dog shows. We grew together, always sharing the same goals in life. We started out in an apartment in San Bruno and then moved to a duplex in Millbrae, the next town south. The duplex was owned by my husband’s parents and this is where my friendship blossomed with my mother-in-law, Janet Souza. The duplex had a fenced yard and I immediately wanted to get an Old English Sheepdog. I was smitten with the breed from pictures I had seen. Cliff and his mom surprised me with a puppy on my 20th birthday. Janet was a dog lover all her life, but was never allowed to have a dog until she left home. She was raised by her grandmother in a small house in San Francisco. When she married at 18, one of their wedding gifts was $25 cash and Janet immediately started a family by running out and purchasing a Springer Spaniel puppy. We always got a kick out of that story, but it was actually a sign of things to come. Janet also had a Chihuahua, Poms, and a Miniature Poodle while she was raising her three children. Janet fell in love with AmStaffs in 1968 and purchased a dog and a bitch. This was the same year the Old English came into my life and we were all living next door to each other. Janet went to obedience classes with her AmStaff male, and the instructor convinced her to enter an obedience trial at a local all-breed show sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley Kennel Club. Naturally, I accompanied Janet to the show for moral support, no matter which way the dog was going to perform. Fortunately, the AmStaff did not embarrass her. After the obedience competition had ended, we drifted over to see what this thing called “conformation” was all about. The rest became history!
By 1971, Janet decided she liked watching the Irish Wolfhounds at the dog shows because of their calm demeanor and commanding size. She began an extensive search for a grown bitch because she had already learned that purchasing a puppy for show came with risk and it might not turn out. Janet only wanted the Wolfhound for companionship and the sport of showing, but had no intentions of getting involved with breeding. As luck would have it, Janet found an 18-month-old Irish import bitch with 10 points, including one major, owned by an attorney in Santa Rosa. His wife decided she didn’t want that “big dirty dog” in her house anymore. We were so happy he chose the wife over the dog and we got the dog.
The bitch had already been registered and named by the breeder in Ireland. She was Roaree of Limerick, and Janet took possession of her at the Santa Clara Valley Kennel Club in February 1972, exactly 50 years ago. The Limerick in her registered name did not refer to an Irish kennel name but rather to her place of birth in Limerick County, Ireland. Hence, Limerick became our kennel name. We obtained her championship quickly and her second major was awarded by Desi Murphy’s uncle, John Murphy, which was a fabulous surprise when I found this out years later! Janet enjoyed showing Roaree for about a year when she realized she kept going Best of Opposite with her beautiful, smaller bitch. She then decided that instead of trying to find a male to buy, she would breed her own male to show. And so it began. In 1973, Roaree produced her one and only litter of 12 puppies, free-whelped. We had no idea how lucky we were with that first delivery. To this day, every dog we have bred goes back to Roaree in one way or another. She was far from a big girl but about as perfect as we could have asked for as a foundation bitch. She was pure luck for us and lived to be eight years old, with a temperament to die for.
It turns out that 1975 was a very special year for my husband and me. We were informed by my doctor in May that we had a baby coming in December. We also broke ground on the first of two houses we built in bucolic Woodside, California. Our daughter Jamie arrived at Stanford University Hospital in December 1975 and we moved her into the first Woodside home in February 1976. She was two months old. We lived there for eight years, then moved into the second, larger home that we built in June 1984. We lived there for 13 years. We sold that house after Jamie went off to UC Berkeley, and my husband and I decided to downsize and move south of San Jose into San Martin, where we resided for 24 years. We moved to Driggs, Idaho, in June of 2021. My husband fully retired in 2012 and I retired in 2008. In April 2020, because of COVID, my daughter Jamie and her husband (of 17 years), Will Bartlett, purchased a second home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to get their three children out of San Francisco until they could return to the classroom. The second home in Jackson is only 35 miles from our new home in Idaho. They spend all their summers and holidays there, so we felt we wanted to spend that time near them. The children are very busy during the school year in SF, so being closer to them in Wyoming for summers and holidays was the best choice. We are loving our new home in Idaho (yes… even the average snowfall of 100 inches per year). The Wolfhounds think they died and went to heaven with the cold temps and snow. They hated the triple-digit heat of the California summers. They exercise so much more willingly here. It’s the perfect place for them. And no fleas or foxtails!
All during the past 50 years, we showed our Irish Wolfhounds consistently and bred our dogs infrequently. We challenged ourselves to put as few puppies as possible on the ground with the highest possible consistency of quality. I’m very proud to say that I think we were very successful in this effort. We have only produced 16 litters under our roof over these past 50 years, totaling 112 puppies with more than 50 champions… just slightly under 50% of the puppies we have put on the ground. We have bred, owned, and handled National Specialty BOB and BOS recipients, and one of our dogs sired the BOB winner at the largest IWCA National ever (close to 500 Wolfhounds entered) in 1995. Our dogs have also sired four BOS winners at IWCA Nationals. We have been awarded Select Dog and Award of Merit at a National, and we have been awarded Best Puppy at a National. We have also won many, many BOBs at regional specialties around the country. We have campaigned many dogs to the Number One ranking in the country during the past 50 years and mentored both owners and the public about our breed while waiting all day for Group competition. We have also owner-handled three different related Wolfhound males to all-breed Bests in Show. In 2013, the AKC awarded us Hound Group Breeders of the Year. We were thrilled. Janet was still alive to attend Orlando with us and receive the honor, since she was the one who started it all—a night we will never forget. Janet passed in 2016 at the age of 89. We still miss her very much. In 2019, I was “knocked off my chair” at the Purina Pro Plan & Dog News Show Dogs of the Year gala dinner in New York when they announced I had won the Owner Handler of the Year Award, which is voted on by your peers—another night I will never forget. My dear friend, Bill McFadden, was the MC that night. There was lots of ugly crying from me that night!
Who were your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their influence.
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: Our most significant mentor in Irish Wolfhounds was Suzanne Tierney McCombs (Destiny Irish Wolfhounds). Our very first breeding was to a handsomemale who resided with her. He was sired by the 1967 IWCA National Specialty winner, Irish import Ch. Ballykelly Colin, bred by Sheelagh Seale and owned by Mrs. H. Sheppard Musson. Janet and Suzanne became the dearest of friends. Suzanne had some lovely dogs, good breeding instincts, and a fantastic eye for a wonderful dog. Many hours were spent assessing dogs and their pedigrees. We all learned so much from Suzanne, and our pedigrees became intertwined much to both of our benefits. We had also had some minimal mentoring from Renee Poston of the Apple Arbor Kennels in Santa Rosa. She was actually the agent for the purchase of our first Irish Wolfhound, Ch. Roaree of Limerick.
The Limerick Irish Wolfhounds are widely known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: Our breeding philosophy was always to practice limited breeding with the highest quality possible and with consistent results, because we do not want to feel like we are exploiting these wonderful animals in any way. We also feel it is best to not let your numbers get out of control with this giant breed. We always kept a puppy from every litter, so we only bred on the average of once every three years or so. We have always taken the choosing of stud dogs very seriously, never taking shortcuts to save money, and it paid off. We have been blessed with some particularly good-producing males over the years, but we have also imported semen to bring in some different blood which is something we will continue to do.
How many dogs do you currently house? Tell us about your facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: We currently house two Irish Wolfhound males and two Irish Wolfhound bitches, a 15- year-old Whippet, an 11-year-old Cavalier, and a 5-year-old Frenchie. In June of 2021, we left California and moved to 10 acres in the Teton Valley on the eastern border of Idaho/western border of Wyoming. The altitude is 6,200 feet. The Wolfhounds are absolutely thrilled with the colder weather and the little dogs just hang out in the house. The little dogs have a doggie door which goes out to a covered area with faux grass. The Wolfhounds and the little dogs spend time in the house together, but we never put the little dogs in the running paddocks. That could turn into a coursing event if the little dogs start running in the wide, open spaces! We have two large running paddocks, for the Wolfhounds. Both have covered areas for them to get out of bad weather. They spend all day out in the paddocks, with short visits in the house (they must stay out to get adequate exercise) unless the weather becomes too harsh. I believe Wolfhounds need exercise, fresh air, fresh water, and quality food to keep them in top condition. We run the Wolfhounds in pairs, boy/girl. We have an 80’ x 80’ airplane hangar where they sleep at night. I can also use the hangar during the day if the weather turns too harsh. The hangar is fully insulated and heated. We house our vehicles there along with a Cessna and big dogs! It’s perfect, and the dogs love sleeping there at night in their Kuranda dog beds with cushy pads.
Who were/are some of your most significant Irish Wolfhounds, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: Some of our most significant winning dogs in the show ring have been Ch. Shaw of Limerick, Ch. Grianan Ladd of Limerick, Ch. Noinin Cnoc Noll of Limerick, Ch. UrLimerick of Kilmara, Ch. Taryn Tate of Limerick SC, GCH Cash of Limerick, GCHG Limerick Frosty the Showman, and most recently, GCHG Khaleesi’s Drogon of the Seven Kingdoms. The top producers from these males, so far, are Ladd, UrLimerick of Kilmara (Ricky), and Tate, totaling close to 100 champions among the three boys. Our best producers in the whelping box were Ch. Roaree of Limerick, Ch. Timberlane Casey of Limerick, Ch. Kaelyn Gabardine of Limerick, Ch. Halle of Limerick, and Ch. Limerick Jingle All the Way. These bitches produced 19 champions all together, only having one litter each. We know how important the tail female line is in breeding, but we lost our tail female line about 14 years ago (the risk of doing limited breeding). We have survived nicely using our male line instead as the emphasis in our breeding selections.
Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: I feel the only place you can assess the current condition of your breed is at a National Specialty where you have a large entry and a cross-section of dogs. For the few serious, quality breeders we have in this country, I feel our breed is in fine condition. One thing to keep in mind is that our dogs should be athletic hunters and not lumbering draft horses. You can create a Wolfhound with lots of bone and substance, but he or she still needs to be able to move actively and easily with some enthusiasm! I can’t ever remember leaving a National Specialty and being depressed about the condition of our breed. We have had many amazing breeders over the years producing beautiful Wolfhounds.
The sport has changed greatly since you first began participating. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining numbers of breeders? How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: The sport has become very competitive and very expensive. Breeding Wolfhounds has also become extremely costly and it is difficult to find young people who want to put in the time and have the passion, patience, and finances to breed IWs. I’m fortunate to have a daughter and two granddaughters who are committed to carrying on the Limerick legacy, but these situations are few and far between. We need to nurture and mentor young people who have passion for our breed, and help them in any way we can. This is why the all-breed shows are so important, because the public often attends these shows. We have spent thousands of hours over the years answering questions from the public. ANYONE showing genuine interest in our breed should be welcomed with open arms. No question should be considered ignorant. Treat new people with respect and kindness. ENCOURAGE them! My biggest concern for our breed is that we have too many Internet breeders who have a negative impact on some of the poor people getting their first hounds. Some are not doing preliminary health checks or supporting the new owners properly when issues arise with their puppies. Also, we have a lot of foreign dogs being exported to the US with no vetting of the homes here. These are not acceptable practices if you are representing yourself as a breeder of integrity. I have not bred a litter in nine years, but I mentor a wonderful village of people who are passionate about our breed and are willing to listen, learn, and take my suggestions in order to breed better Wolfhounds. I even share my frozen semen with them to their benefit. This is how I’m trying to help continue to bring our breed forward even though I am no longer breeding under my roof.
My fear is that we are all aging, and I don’t feel we have enough new people coming up with the passion and finances it takes to advance our breed. Too many people can’t wait for quality puppies and end up purchasing online. It has been a serious concern of mine ever since the Internet and social media have come into the picture. The Internet can be very good for sharing information, but it is not good because of the ease of selling puppies indiscriminately and not taking responsibility.
Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: Our breeding program is with my daughter, Jamie, who has plans to start breeding under her roof in the years to come when she is permanently living in Wyoming. I have good semen stored for Jamie from all of our best dogs and from some fantastic out-blood. She will be set to do some great breedings down the road. She is 27 years younger than me, so she and her daughters who are coming up behind her have many more years to continue our line. I never had any interest in becoming a judge, but Jamie loves judging. She is already AKC approved for Irish Wolfhounds, Whippets, Afghans, Salukis, and Junior Showmanship. She has already judged in several countries besides the US, including Australia, Wales, and Italy. Also, my beautiful granddaughters, Ella and Tatum, are handling dogs whenever they get a chance and are becoming quite proficient presenting many different breeds, including Wolfhounds, at 16 and 13 years old.
Finally, tell us a little about Linda outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.
Limerick Irish Wolfhounds | Linda Souza: I have very little life outside of my dogs, my family, my dog friends, and my wonderful husband, Cliff. He takes fantastic care of the dogs when I’m on the road for dog shows. I retired in 2008 from a family business, owned by my sister and her husband. I was VP of Operations in their wholesale import company of decorative accessories, furniture, and lighting. My hobbies are mentoring my village of enthusiastic and passionate Wolfhound people, and following football. I will always be a 49er faithful. They were the only wildcard team to advance this
It is a joy to see my protégés having success with their breedings in the whelping box and in the show ring from my breeding guidance. One of the couples I have been mentoring over the last eight years whelped their first litter in 2017 and produced the Number One IW in the country, breed and all-breed competition, for the past three years. There were only three puppies in the litter and he was the only male. This was just as thrilling and gratifying for me as it was for them. I will continue my mentoring until I am unable. Hopefully that will be way off in the future.
We have given our lives to promoting, protecting, and improving the quality and health of our magnificent breed. In return, they have given us love, devotion, and joy beyond all description. We could not imagine life without them.