Come, sit, stay: New dog mu­seum un­leashed in New York

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LIFE - By Jen­nifer Peltz

NEW YORK: It’s a mu­seum that in­vites vis­i­tors to come! Sit! And stay.

The Amer­i­can Ken­nel Club Mu­seum of the Dog opens Feb. 8 in mid­town Man­hat­tan, re­turn­ing to New York after three decades on the out­skirts of St. Louis.

The col­lec­tion boasts por­traits of royal and pres­i­den­tial pets, ar­ti­facts that trace ca­nine his­tory as far back as an es­ti­mated 30 mil­lion-year-old fos­sil and de­vices that “match” vis­i­tors’ faces with dog breeds and let peo­ple try their hand at ba­sic dog train­ing with a vir­tual puppy.

While there won’t be ac­tual dogs ex­cept for spe­cial oc­ca­sions, the mu­seum hopes to give vis­i­tors “an un­der­stand­ing of the his­tory of dogs, how they came to be in such dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety,” said Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Alan Fausel, a long­time art cu­ra­tor and ap­praiser seen on PBS’ “An­tiques Road­show.”

About 150 pieces from the ken­nel club’s mostly do­nated col­lec­tion are on view at the mu­seum, which also has a li­brary area for pe­rus­ing some of the club’s 15,000 books.

Fanciers will find im­ages and in­for­ma­tion on ca­nines from bull­dogs to bor­zois to Bedling­ton ter­ri­ers. There are some just-don’t-knows, but the col­lec­tion is fo­cused on pure­breds.

The ken­nel club, which runs the na­tion’s old­est pure­bred dog reg­istry, has taken heat over the years from an­i­mal wel­fare ac­tivists who view dog breed­ing as a beauty con­test that fu­els puppy mills. The club ar­gues there’s value in breed­ing to hone var­i­ous traits, from com­pan­ion­abil­ity to bomb-sniff­ing acu­men, and hopes the mu­seum helps make the case.

“I think the best thing to take away is the fact that dogs were meant to have dif­fer­ent jobs,” Fausel said. “It’s learn­ing why they were pur­posely bred for cer­tain jobs, and their ac­tiv­i­ties and their at­tributes.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion ranges from the sci­en­tific – such as a skele­ton of a 19th-cen­tury smooth fox ter­rier that was im­por­tant to shap­ing the breed – to the whim­si­cal, in­clud­ing one of pho­tog­ra­pher Wil­liam Weg­man’s im­ages of Weimaran­ers in hu­man­like sit­u­a­tions (in this case, ca­noe­ing). There’s also a tiny, elab­o­rate, Ed­war­dian-style dog house for a Chi­huahua, and a wall of movie posters cel­e­brat­ing ca­nine stars from “Lassie” to “Beethoven.”

Other pieces speak to dogs’ stature in real life. A paint­ing of a fox ter­rier mourn­fully rest­ing its head on an empty arm­chair de­picts Cae­sar, a pet so cher­ished by Britain’s King Ed­ward VII that the dog marched promi­nently in the monarch’s 1910 fu­neral pro­ces­sion.

The col­lec­tion also fea­tures paint­ings of White House dogs: U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s Scot­tish ter­ri­ers, Bar­ney and Miss Bea­z­ley, and one of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s Eng­lish springer spaniels, Mil­lie.

“Dogs have en­riched our civ­i­liza­tion, and wo­ven them­selves into our hearts and fam­i­lies through the ages, and I am de­lighted to see them ac­knowl­edged” in the mu­seum, then-first lady Bar­bara Bush wrote in a 1990 let­ter.

The mu­seum opened in the ken­nel club’s for­mer head­quar­ters in New York in 1982.

Seek­ing more space and hop­ing to at­tract more than its roughly 15,000 an­nual vis­i­tors, the mu­seum moved in 1987 to a his­toric house owned by St. Louis County.

An­other planned move, to a new de­vel­op­ment in a nearby city, didn’t ma­te­ri­al­ize. Nei­ther did the hope­d­for at­ten­dance boost: The mu­seum counted un­der 10,000 vis­i­tors last year, Fausel said.

St. Louis County of­fi­cials didn’t re­turn a call Thurs­day, but Parks Di­rec­tor Gary Bess told the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch this week the mu­seum’s for­mer home will be rented out for events and ex­hibits.

It of­fered some­thing un­matched in the new lo­cale in a high-end Man­hat­tan of­fice tower: Vis­i­tors can no longer bring their own pet pooches. And ad­mis­sion rates are higher: $15 for most adults in New York, com­pared to $6 in St. Louis County.

But the ken­nel club hopes the new mu­seum, in a glassy street-level space a block from Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal, will boost at­ten­dance to 80,000 to 100,000 peo­ple this year.

A minia­ture Aus­trian Pug Band, circa 1870, on dis­play at the Amer­i­can Ken­nel Club Mu­seum of the Dog in New York.

A wall of movie posters cel­e­brat­ing ca­nine stars.

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