The Havanese is part of the Bishon family of small breeds which originated in Mediterranean area in pre-Christian times. Bishon family consist of several distinct breeds: Maltese, Bishon Frise, Havanese, Lowchen, Coton de Tulear and Bolognese.
During the days of Spanish empire, Bishons were first brought to Cuba by the Italian sea captains during that island's Spanish occupation who carried them on board for entertainment and to further their personal trade. They were used as presents to the women of wealthy Cuban homes to gain the entry of aristocratic Cuban homes that were otherwise closed to the outsiders. Hence, the entree gift of one of these precious little dogs to the wealthy senoras opened the doors of her home to them. Sea captains were able to establish lucrative trade relationships with rich Cuban families.
These little dogs soon became known as Havanese, probably named for the large port in Havana. They lived exclusively in the mansions of the highest social class of people. They became the “added touch” to a well bred lady’s ensemble. Leaving to go for a carriage ride without your little fur ball would be like going out without your jewelry. They were only given as gifts. Never sold. So precious were they to their families. Havanese dogs were never seen on the streets or public areas. They lived in the rooms and interior courtyards of the wealthy tropical homes.
When life started to change in Cuba, many of the wealthy moved to other countries including Europe taking their precious dogs with them. The Havanese was known as "White Cuban" or the "Havana Silk Dog" and became very popular and recognized by The European Kennel Club. For awhile they were used in circuses as trick dogs throughout Europe, but eventually they became almost extinct even in their native Cuba.
Only three families were known to have left Cuba with their Havanese during the political turmoil of the 1950s and 1960s - Perez and Fantasio families, who were the first Havanese breeders in the US and Senior Barba, a Cuban gentleman who was the first Havanese breeder in Costa Rica. These three exiled families worked together in Florida and Costa Rica for over a decade to preserve the breed, and by the end of the 70s a gene pool was being rebuilt. Combining their forces, they endeavored to preserve the breed from extinction. By 1974 eleven dogs, representing three different bloodlines were gathered from these sources to establish a breeding program by Dorothy Goodale and her husband, Burt. After they had spent years investigating elusive references to these little dogs Dorothy and Burt chanced upon an advertisement for six pedigreed Havanese: a bitch with four female pups and a young unrelated male. Mrs. Goodale placed advertisements in Latin papers offering to purchase Havanese and received only one response. Senior Barba who was moving from Costa Rica to Texas couldn't manage to maintain his canine family. He agreed to sell his five male Havanese to the Goodales. An experienced breeder, Mrs. Goodale began working with the 11 Havanese she has obtained, using the breed standard published by FCI aproved in 1963. In 1979 the Havanese Club of America [HCA] was founded by a small group of newly involved breeders and supporters and the registry was established. Havanese dogs were registered with the Havanese Club of America, and in 1996, Havanese became a recognized breed of the American Kennel Club.
All the Havanese in the world today, save those from the "iron curtain" countries and those few remaining in Cuba, stem from those 11 little immigrants. Remarkably, through all their travels, Havanese type has remained virtually unchanged from that of the dogs painted in the eighteenth century. To preserve it now and for the future is the challenge.
The Havanese are also making a comeback in its native Cuba. The Bichon Habanero Club is working from a foundation stock of approximately 15 dogs and is closely supervising the breeding program. In 1997 the first Havanese was exported from Cuba to the Netherlands.