Friday, January 05, 2018

When Wild Poodles Roamed Africa

I have appended below the breed history of the "Coton de Tulear," from Wikipedia.

This is puppy peddler's dog invented in the late 1960s, at about the same time that the Bichon was being trotted out as distinct from the Maltese.

Note that the breed history here follows the basic structure of most nonsense canine histories:
  1. A specific location of creation, preferably exotic (Madagascar!);
  2. An ancient "possible" provenance (somewhere back there in a 200-year span of time);
  3. A big dollop of romance (Pirates!)
  4. A weak claim for work (any dog can rat and rabbit);
  5. A very recent date of Kennel Club registration (early-1970s);
  6. A named person or two who "discovered" the dog (and who put together all of this nonsense "history");
  7. A bit of ancillary garbage to give the illusion of granular detail;
  8. A putative claim that the dog is descended from some other dog lost in the mists of time (in this case a "Tenerife Terrier").

The Wikipedia entry (no, I am not making this up):
The Coton de Tulear developed on the island of Madagascar and is still the island's national dog. It is believed that the tenerife dog was brought to Madagascar, and mated with a dog of the island, and created unexpected twist. The Coton's ancestors were possibly brought to Madagascar in the 16th and 17th centuries aboard pirate ships. Madagascar was a haven for pirates, and pirate graveyards can still be seen there. Pirates established a base on St. Mary's Island, Madagascar and some of them took Malagasy wives. Whether the dogs were brought along to control rats on the ships, as companions for long voyages, or were confiscated from other ships as booty no one knows. Tulear is a port now also known as "Toliara". The Coton is of the Bichon dog type, linked most closely to the "Bichon Tenerife", and Tenerife Terrier. There have been many stories circulating about the history of the Coton in recent years. Most of them are untrue. The Coton de Tulear was never feral on Madagascar. It did not hunt wild boar or alligators, as its size, strength, and demeanor can disprove easily. It was a companion dog of the Merina (the ruling tribe) in Madagascar. It has very little prey drive, and is not a hunting dog.

The cottony coat may be the result of a single gene mutation. This small, friendly dog caught the fancy of the Malagasy royalty and they were the only people allowed to keep Cotons. When Dr. Robert Jay Russell discovered the breed in Madagascar in 1973 and brought the first ones to America, he coined the phrase the Royal Dog of Madagascar and the name stuck. They were also imported occasionally into France by returning French colonists but were not officially imported to Europe until the 1970s.

The Coton de Tulear was first formally recognised as a breed by the Societe Centrale Canine (the French national kennel club) in 1970, and was accepted by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, which published the breed standard in 1972.

Of course, this is the "straight" version.

If you want your nonsense and blarney ladled thick with special sauce head over to to "The American Cotton Club" (The Cotton Club, get it??) where they have also added in a shipwreck that has the little dogs swimming through surf to shore!

Right.  Marvelous! Full applause!

The American Cotton Club jumps the moon when they go on to write:

The original Cotons on Madagascar were feral surviving by hunting and scavenging. One of their favorite meals was small wild boar native to Madagascar. They were able to adapt to the natural diverse and rugged conditions on the island. They lived in the rain forests and scrub of southern Madagascar near the sea and the port of Tulear. They had to survive arid conditions on the island as well as the Monsoons. The Cotons led a much different life than their pampered Bichon cousins in Europe. This brought about a strong constitution for survival, a keen intelligence, vigilance, adaptability, alertness. They also learned to live in packs increasing their odds of survival. It is possible the tropical climate of Madagascar influenced the coat developing into a light and airy cotton which was a natural air conditioning.

  Fantastic. Tell us more.

And, of course, there is more. The dog was adopted by the Merina tribe (was that on Survivor, season two?) and became a pampered dog that could only be owned by royalty. To back this all up, an ancient book is quoted, and never mind if that ancient book (it has not yet been scanned by Google!) describes a completely different dog from the one detailed here here.

History!  Fact!  Romance! 

What a marvelous dog! 

Can I put you down for two?  

Why yes, but I would like to get one straight from the island so I know it is the real deal. 

On straight from the island?  Right.  Small problem there. 

You see due to their huge popularity in France and the extreme poverty of Madagascar, there are now virtually no "true" Coton's in their homeland of Madagascar!  Any dog you get from there is likely to be a fake.  And there is lots of that going around...

Oh dear!  What a tragedy.

Just imagine going to the Genesee Valley and finding no Genessee Valley Beaver dog, or the Outer Banks and finding no Kill Devil Terrier.  This is a tragedy every bit as epic as that!

A "very pretty example of the race" circa 1970.

Of course, this "modern" dog is not exactly the same as that brought to Madagascar by pirates.  It is not exactly the same dog that survived the shipwreck, that swap to shore, that was owned by royalty, and that hunted wild boar in large feral packs.

No, it has been improved! 

In fact, it has been improved so many times it looks completely different now. 

Even the "breed standard," written in 1969, has been "improved," first in 1987, and then again in 1995, and then again in 1999. 

And, of course, that's just the European standard. 

There's also an American standard.

So the "standard," as you can see, is as solid as a rock.  These are dedicated lap dog breeders, and form follows function like a fish follows a water buffalo.

My favorite breed history of the Coton de Tulear, however, is not written by the French, or the British, or the Americans.  It appears on a Dutch site where, according to Google Translator:

As a result of the colonization in the 16th and 17th century, the dodo, a large sort of turkey-like bird that lived on the islands of the Indian Ocean, went extinct.

As a result of that colonization, in its place another brave Dodo species in the Indian Ocean formed in the shape of the Coton de Tulear.

Fantastic! And, of course, absolutely true. Now, how many can I put you down for?

Descended from packs of wild toy poodles that killed wild boar in Madagascar!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Feral" ! Haha, love it.

Thanks for the ever entertaining digging for this kind of nonsense.

Btw... a while back you wrote a marvelous portrait of the great Baktrian Terrier. Unfortunately I forwarded a link to it to a friend with a small dog. She finally figured out what breed her dog was. And I didn't get it. So in the end I have lost a friend... and I still don't know if she truly thinks she owns a Baktrian Terrier or if she is just mad that I (unknowingly) put that trap down for her.
Some people... *sigh*