2009-06-10 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
I love old dog books. My hunt for the Westminster Kennel Club clubhouse site in Babylon has added to this fascination. One particular volume has peripheral ties to Westminster. Reading The Manual of Toy Dogs and Their Treatment written in 1905 by Mrs. Leslie Williams, a wealthy London lady, is a step into a time capsule, a very opinionated time capsule.
I'm still hogging the
book I bought as a gift for a friend in February. Thissecond edition Toy dog book has an interesting pedigree. It came from the Francis P. Fretwell collection. During the dog show I got the Toy manual at the Hotel Pennsylvania when I went over to pick the vintage bookseller's brain about Babylon Westminster. Later Mr. Stifel, Westminster's historian and Sari Tietjen the Best In Show (BIS) judge perused the pages at the Metropolitan Dog Club BIS Brunch. Certain remarks amazed, yet puzzled them too.
Fretwell was a Poodle breeder who died in 2005. At his South Carolina home, he amassed his Monfret Cynological Library, the largest canine collection in the world- well over 12,000 volumes in two dozen languages listed in a hard to follow catalog of 600 plus pages. Other private biblio-dog collections have been bequeathed to universities like William & Mary or to the AKC Library but Fretwell died intestate, so his heirs are selling the books via a private dealer.
The "Mrs. Williams" toy dog book is a treasure chest. It's written in the voice of London upper class, giving a glimpse into the dog fancy and veterinary beliefs a century ago plus her views on breeding, diet, grooming, diseases, and remedies. My vet was kind enough to go over the book with me page by page to try to unravel some of her antique medical references. She makes claims- some prophetic; others completely off base, but as my vet said: "I'd never want this woman as a client; she'd be harder to deal with than you."
Space won't permit every interesting point so instead I'll offer a taste of the manual. If you like it, I'll let you in on a secret so you can savor more flavor of the Toy dog blast from the past:
* London High Society: Puppies should be born in "the mistress's dressing room or some similar luxury" preferably "in a big, deep arm- chair" which later serves as a puppy playpen. She rather pups stay in the house-"in the kitchen that opens into the garden…. Some folks, whose lower regions do not answer this description, or whose servants are not amenable, may have an unoccupied stable at their command". Later she says that tail docking should be done by a skilled veterinary surgeon and never to let an "ignorant person, as a groom or coachman, do it."
*Don't Mess With Mother Nature: The author preaches hands off when dogs whelp, declaring: "Nature will bring the puppies into the world far better than our clumsy hands, and the merest little tyro of a year-old bitch generally possesses the marvelous instinct teaching her to put her babies comfortably on the sea of life."
* TheToy Menu: Theauthor, an early proponent of the raw diet and variety in 3 meals a day, advocated meat for dogs. She despised oatmeal and Indian corn so much that she wanted a law passed to abolish "farinaceous feeding". She was right when she attributed certain skin conditions to malnutrition but wrong when she said that worms came from a diet lacking in meat. "It is far better to give a toy a very small dinner…of roast meat cut up; or a little boiled mutton and rice; or a bit of cutlet minced, than to give a much larger dinner of rice and biscuit flooded with milk or soup. The last meal at night should above all be dry. Half a penny sponge cake makes an excellent supper for a toy dog."
*Breed Remarks: According to Mrs. Williams, Poms were more difficult to housebreak while fawn Pugs averse to going out in wet or cold weather. (After reading this I did an informal survey, asking a lady with both a fawn and black Pug, who said neither Pug would venture out when it rained.) Yorkies "would never be without friends" (yes, they are ever popular) but black & tan King Charles are "unintellectual".
*Grooming Rules: Bathing must be done sparingly. "Short-coated dogs should never be bathed, if at all possible, but certainly not less than a fortnight before a show" while longhaired dogs should go in the tub about 48 hours before entering the ring. She was emphatic that Yorkies and Malteses not be rubbed up and down because this encourages curliness, a "fatal" show fault. Oh, my!
*Distemper Prophecy: Thedistemper virus was a real threat in 1905. Dogs often picked it up at shows. Mrs. Williams describes two forms of distemper but these do not seem to resemble the gastro/respiratory and neurological types seen now. Has the virus mutated? She erroneously calls Stuttgart's disease (leptospirosis) the new distemper. Throughout the book she refers to puppy pox on the underbelly, comparing it to chicken pox, and cites a theory that some felt dogs that had puppy pox would be less apt to get a severe case of distemper. Puppy pox, perhaps a pyoderma, staph or impetigo, didn't ring a bell with any modern expert. However, she predicts the distemper vaccine which wasn't developed until the 1950s when she states "someday we will have a crusade for stamping these horrible diseases out, or discover prophylactics."
Want to read more… about strange home remedies, about pros stepping on the toes of novices' dogs in the ring, about nursing mother dogs "suckling fits" which we now understand are caused by calcium depletion and often fixed by giving Tums? Just Google "Mrs. Leslie Williams Toy Dogs" and the complete third edition appears online because of a time limit on the copyright law…Go look. What are you waiting for? "It's 10 pm. Has your dog had her sponge cake yet?"
For Adoption: Two dog classics are available strays at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon. Both have unregistered microchips. "Snoopy" in Cage 13 is an older Beagle sold in 2000 but sadly the puppy mill store doesn't keep owner records that far back. "Duke" in Cage 15 is "Lassie" incarnate. This fantastic 7 yr. old sable Collie stood like a soldier while the vet tech and groomer hand scaled his teeth. He also posed next to his body double on the Milkbone box.
Males: Akita mix Cage 1; "Phelps" Retriever who swam the Babylon canal Cage 5; "Skitz" great tabby in the lobby.
Females: "Hallie" Pit mix, longest at the shelter; spotted Dachshund; senior red Doberman Cage 44.
**Last Hope Wine Tasting Fund-Raiser at Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington- Fri. June 19 from 6-9 pm. See www.lasthopeanimalrescue.org or call 631-205-5069.