Two wirehaired pointing griffons have turned the famed actress into a dog person.
Amy Irving has enjoyed a lengthy film, TV and stage career. She quickly became a household name when she debuted on the big screen with the role of Sue Snell, the popular high school student, in the 1976 horror film “Carrie.” She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in “Yentl” (1983). She was twice nominated for two Golden Globe Awards; first for the TV movie “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna” (1987) and then for the feature film “Crossing Delancey” (1988).
She’s a veteran of the Broadway and off-Broadway stage, with appearances in plays that include Broken Glass (nominations by Outer Critics and Drama Desk), Heartbreak House (Drama Desk nomination) and The Road to Mecca (Obie Award winner, Drama Desk nomination).
But there are certain things that few people know about Irving. For one, she provided the vocals for Jessica Rabbit in the scene where the character sings “Why Don’t You Do Right” in the hit live-action/animated film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988).
As for Irving’s life outside of the realm of film, TV and stage, a select few people know that Irving is a converted dog fanatic.
However, that wasn’t always the case. As Irving would describe it, “I wasn’t always a pet person.”
“My mom’s a dog person, so we always had dogs growing up,” Irving recalled. “We had a cocker spaniel. I was about 8, and I was the one who found the cocker spaniel in the living room when she had died. That was traumatic.
“We had beagles,” she continued. “Mom liked beagles, so we had a pair of beagles. We had a German shepherd named Lady. And we had Gulliver, a boxer that was my dad’s dog. We rehomed Gulliver because he kept leaving us to visit Walt’s Gas Station. He loved the smell of gas or he loved Walt. I don’t know. So we finally gave Gulliver to Walt.”
In her adult years, she didn’t have any dogs until she settled down and married filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
“We had a dog but it was his dog,” Irving explained. “That was Elmer, a cocker spaniel.
“I was around dogs all the time, but I never was the one who bonded with them,” she added. “I never was the one who did everything with them. I liked them, but I could have lived without them.”
Years later, when Irving was single and living in Santa Fe, NM, she got an English sheepdog that she named Sapphire. Irving’s busy schedule gave her the feeling she wasn’t the right person to have a pet. And a tragic event only reinforced that belief.
“I was constantly going away to shoot movies,” she explained. “I’d go away for five months, and I’d have a friend stay at my house with Sapphire. She was so high strung that one time when I packed my bags and was driving off, my friends were there with her, but she got so upset that she followed me up the driveway and her stomach flipped and she died.”
Irving said she was overcome with guilt over Sapphire’s passing. With a career that required her to travel to different parts of the world for weeks, she swore off having a pet.
“After that I felt I should not have a dog,” she said. “I loved Sapphire, she was great. When you live alone, you bond with that dog. But after she died like that, I was never going to go do that ever again.”
Irving’s transformation into a dog person started in 2007, when she married documentary filmmaker Ken Bowser.
“Remember, my mother is a dog person, and I was not,” Irving recalls. “When I married Ken, my mother said, ‘You know, if you’re married to a dog person, you have to get a dog.’ She demanded that I become a dog person.”
Bowser researched the breed of dog that suited Irving’s needs, along with a dog that would be friendly with children, guests and have a social personality.
“I like to hike in the woods,” Irving noted. “So he also wanted a dog that would take care of me during hikes, and was big enough that people would leave me alone if I were alone in the country.”
At first, they considered a Spinone Italiano, but Bowser ultimately recommended that they get a wirehaired pointing griffon.
The breed is a strong, medium-sized dog that is relatively rare in the United States. It’s known for being intelligent with a willingness to please. Although adapted for hunting, wirehaired griffin pointers are people-oriented and prefer the company of their owners.
By 2012, they felt the time was right, and they contacted a breeder in Vermont, who didn’t have any puppies at the time. He recommended they check with his daughter, who was a breeder in Missoula, Montana.
They selected a 9-week-old female pup and named her Charlie.
“I always wanted a dog named Charlie, but we decided to get a girl first,” Irving said. “My husband calls her Charlus, the French version, but she responds to both.
“We brought her on the airplane, and we also brought someone else their puppy on the flight back to New York,” she continued. “My husband had the other puppy and I had Charlie, my first time with this little 9-week-old puppy. It was quite the adventure going through security and getting her back in the puppy bag. She had such razor sharp teeth. I was scared of her. It was really funny. I wasn’t used to it.”
Bowser wanted Charlie to be Irving’s dog, so they decided she should be the one to learn how to handle Charlie and also to train the dog in all the basic commands. They contacted Gary Pietropaolo, a certified trainer who runs GFP K-9 Services Inc. A dog trainer since 1985, Pietropaolo is a former police department senior K-9 handler and trainer who has been certified by the Bureau for Municipal Police in Albany, NY, The U.S. Police Canine Association and the American Pet Dog Training Association.
According to Pietropaolo, he educates individuals on how to train their own dog, which he has done with Irving for both of her dogs.
“My job was to go there to teach her, and she really took to my methodology,” said Pietropaolo, who added that his training program involves four to six sessions over the course of a year. “I felt in my gut that she was the right person for a dog. From how she was interacting with Charlie, I kind of knew that she’s a compassionate and caring person. Charlie was a raw dog with no training. It was very young, but I taught Amy how to manage and handle the dog. Management was 50 percent of what we were doing. Amy and Charlie quickly took to the idea. There’s a different dynamic with having two dogs, but now they can let their dogs loose in Central Park.”
“He trained me how to take care of her, and how to get her to come, sit and do everything else,” Irving said. “Charlie and I became inseparable. We’d go hiking every day. She has been a great joy in my life. In the end, I became quite the dog person.”
But while she had bonded with Charlie, Irving felt she was neglecting her husband. Ironically, it was Bowser who didn’t want to leave their dog at home alone.
“It felt like we stopped doing things like going out to the movies,” Irving said. “He wouldn’t leave Charlie home alone for more than two hours. And if you want to drive off to the movies, it could be more than three hours. He didn’t like her to be lonely. I said, ‘I guess we better get a second dog so we can go out and the dogs can keep each other company.’”
This time the couple went to Vermont to find a companion for Charlie. They wanted her playmate to be another wirehaired pointing griffon, so they selected a 9-week-old boy they named Jules. Although her mission was to pick the runt of the litter, Irving recalls that all of the pups were big. Five years later, Jules is now massive for his breed.
“I believe he’s the largest of the breed in existence,” she laughed. “He’s 83 pounds. The boy dogs top out at 65, and he doesn’t have any fat on his body. He’s very fit.”
Irving says she couldn’t be any happier with her life, as is the rest of her family. And she credits her dogs for it.
“My mom is glad that I got there,” Irving said of being a dog person. “Ken’s relieved it happened. [Getting Charlie and Jules] was a risk. Who knows if it would have worked out? Now he sees me lying on the floor with these dogs and he’ll say, ‘You’d never know that you were the one scared of the puppy when we first brought her here.’”
Even Irving’s friends have taken note of her change since Charlie and Jules have become a member of the family.
“I used to walk down the streets of New York City and my husband would stop for every dog,” Irving laughed. “I thought he was so silly. He talked a different language when he talked to these dogs. Now I do that. I’ll stop conversations with people if there’s a dog there. And now my friends who knew me before are like, ‘Wow, you were never like this!’”
Irving takes pride in this newfound love for dogs.
“I could never live without a dog now,” she explained. “I don’t want to imagine these dogs leaving me in my lifetime because I’m too in love with them both. They are our children. My husband and I didn’t have children together. We both have children from our previous marriages, but we met too late to have children together. So these are our babies.”
Although only a year apart in age, Charlie and Jules have very different personalities. According to Irving, the dogs get along great, and treat each other as brother-sister. She describes Charlie as being very intelligent, so she’s naturally the Alpha, and Jules happily follows her on everything.
“When we first brought Jules home, Charlie taught him how to get into the crate,” Irving said. “We have a video of it. It’s so cute.”
Irving describes Jules as her dog and Charlie as “Daddy’s girl,” yet there are those occasions when Charlie still needs her Mommy.
“Jules is my dog, but when Charlie’s scared or sick, she comes to me,” Irving explained. “Jules is off the charts. He’s like a stallion. When I take him into the woods and let him loose, he starts running and leaping through the air. He’s just phenomenal. He takes my breath away.
“Their eyes are so expressive,” Irving continued. “Jules is the lover. He almost looks like King Kong. He’s got that gorilla face with soulful eyes; those big brown eyes. They melt your heart when they look you straight in the eyes.”
Since becoming a dog person, Irving admits that she realizes how beneficial having a pet can be for a person.
“They’re medicinal,” she noted. “They’ll calm your heart if you have anxieties. They’re the best thing for it. They can put things in perspective. Watching their nature, you can understand humans more. Sometimes they remind me of my two sons when they’re fighting.
“Your heart just spills over,” Irving continued. “Every time you come home, there’s this amazing greeting. It’s like I’ve been gone for two years. There’s this amazing energy coming at you. It’s like they’re saying, ‘We’re so happy you’re here!’ It’s pure love. When I’m sad, they feel it. They’ll lick my face and be there for me. I just love it.”
The dogs have certainly had their impact on Irving and Bowser. When talking to Irving, it becomes apparent that she prefers to stay home with her dogs than to be on the road.
“Our traveling days have changed,” she said. “Ken will not go for more than a week away from them. Any time we do anything, it can only be a week. I’ve gone away longer for jobs, but I can only last two weeks. If Ken’s home with the dogs and I’m away, he’ll get me to talk to them on the phone. Charlie knows when he’s talking to me.”
Of course, some dogs have a tendency to behave in certain ways in public or around guests. And Irving has experienced those embarrassing moments, but she understands that’s simply her dogs being dogs.
“Jules, my lover, likes to smell crotches,” Irving said as any proud mother would. “That’s normal, but not to certain people. I have one friend who comes to our house—she’s not a dog person—and he loves the smell of her crotch. I tell her, ‘You should be flattered!’ It’s funny, the people who don’t want the attention, that’s who he’ll zero in on. It’s like fine wine for him.”
Just more proof that Amy Irving has officially become a dog person. And she couldn’t be happier.
Photo credit for top featured image: Zev Greenfield