Pets in the Victorian Home - Miniature Dogs
For a fashionable woman in Victorian England a pet miniature dog was as indispensable as an opera box or presentation at court.
For a fashionable woman in Victorian England a pet miniature dog was as indispensable as an opera box or presentation at court. She was nobody without her pet who accompanied her wherever she went, and was fed and housed, according to canine requirements, as daintily as the heir to the title and estates. In spite of the devotion of mistresses to their dogs, however, it must be admitted that they were extremely fickle in their attachments, as the fashion in lapdogs changed as rapidly as that in gowns and bonnets.
During one London season, the favorite miniature dog had been the small animal known as the Schipperke, mainly because its hair was short and black. Long-haired dogs in drawing-rooms and boudoirs were found to be incapable of existing together because white hairs on furniture and gowns were absolutely distressing. Even a poodle was found to be a nuisance, and required its own valet or maid to keep it in condition.
“Lapdog” was the old-fashioned name for the miniature dogs called toys, and quaintly indicated where the line was drawn between household animals. They were dogs small enough to be held in the lap, and they were, without a doubt, pets for the parlor, requiring the care of the lady herself, or of a well-trained maid.
Mineola Dog Show, Pekinese "Pou-sa" belonging to Mrs. J.P. Morgan Jr., 1908. Image: Library of Congress #LC-DIG-ggbain-01898
A popular toy was the Skye, a droll little bundle of hair, who was so short that his long hair almost swept the ground as he waddled about. His deficiency in height was amply atoned for by his length, for he came perilously near in resembling the weasel, being at least three times as long as he was high. Nine or ten inches tall and twenty-five or thirty inches long was his approved measurement, and the weight considered proper for these inches was from sixteen to seventeen pounds. Though the Skye was little and of peculiar shape, and though he was called a "toy," he was a genuine dog all through — full of life, a good watcher, intelligent, affectionate, peaceable in disposition, and not inclined to quarrel, and, above all, fond of children. The Skye Terrier came in two varieties: one with pretty, long, hanging ears, and a tail which drooped gracefully to correspond; the other with pert little standing ears. Both of the little beasties had long coarse hair that, happily, notwithstanding its inconvenient length, did not curl or kink. A dog of this breed came in a choice in colors — black with sonic white hairs interspersed; fawn color with black or dark brown tips to the hairs; and light gray with black tips — which was the prettier and more desirable.
Then there was the Yorkshire — as to his qualifications for residence in a human family, opinions differed widely. For he was one of the dogs women were reproached with keeping, who required more care than an average child. He must not only be washed and dressed and fed as carefully as a child, but in addition he must be thoroughly brushed and groomed, from the tips of his sharply trimmed ears to the end of his docked tail. The Yorkshire needed a special attendant, who could give an hour or two daily to keeping his coat in order, and as much time to exercising him. If his hair tangled, which it had a fatal tendency to do, he was submitted to unlimited brushing; if he scratched himself — and what dog does not? — he was clad in mittens so that he could not relieve his torture. When the ordeal of his morning toilet was over, and the Yorkshire was well brushed and combed, he was eminently fitted to spend his day — or what was left of it — sleeping on a satin cushion in an upholstered dog-basket.
But the Yorkshire did not take the prize either for beauty or for care required to keep him in order — that belonged to the snowy bundle of hair named the Maltese. The Maltese was rarely seen in nineteenth century America and this creature was truly a martyr to beauty. The tail of the Maltese was as beautiful as the plume of the Persian cat, and was carried gracefully over the back as the cat carried his. His weight was seldom over six pounds. The whole animal looked more like a bit of bric-a-brac to adorn a drawing-room than like a dog. His coat was very long and light, and silvery white in color. He could hardly move without tangling it, and a tangle was a serious matter, requiring removal by drawing out one hair at a time. By no means dared one resort to so rude a process as brushing; indeed, so delicate is the texture, that nothing harsher than the softest baby's brush could ever be used on this dainty “creation.” If he had the misfortune to get a spot on his precious coat, no vulgar washing could remove it; it was cleaned as carefully as the most delicate fabric in the Victorian lady’s wardrobe. His regular bath was by no means a common washing; it was performed with a soft sponge, using a particular fluid made of fresh eggs and warm water, and administered with extraordinary care, to avoid tangles and colds, to which this pampered canine was exceedingly liable. The most scrupulous care was exercised about his food — little meat and no grease would go into his stomach. He would do without regular exercise, and—unfortunate creature!—he too wore mittens.
The King Charles and the Blenheim Spaniels were always beautiful and charming pets, whether they happened to be in fashion or not, and they had the advantage of not requiring such absolute and exclusive devotion that their mistress or their maid must sacrifice everything to their care. One could keep either of these dogs and still have time to read a little and entertain occasionally. The King Charles was a fine black with rich tan markings; the Blenheim, white with markings of red. Both had round heads, snub-noses, and projecting foreheads; eyes large and dark and far apart; ears set far down and very long, with heavy fringe of hair. The dog would not weigh more than eight or ten pounds; the hair of the body was soft and wavy but not curly, while on the docked tail it was very long and silky. More intelligent little fellows than these two Spaniels were hard to find. They delighted in learning tricks and going of errands about the house. They were devotedly attached to their friends, and in every way desirable.
The Toy Greyhound, however beautiful, was never, except in very warm weather, a pleasant object to have about, because he was always miserable and suffering with cold. He would wear a thick blanket out-of-doors, and even then it was painful to see him shrink and shiver. His most desirable color was clear fawn, of which there were no less than four shades— golden, doves, blue, and stone. Other colors were cream, red or yellow, black, and mixed. With this dog every pains were taken with his diet in order to preserve his chief distinction — a slim figure. He was lively and interesting in the house, unusually affectionate and good-tempered, but not remarkably intelligent. He was also painfully timid, which was a part of his nature. He was not very satisfactory as a pet, for he was always delicate in London climate, and needed particular care, such as bathing with a damp sponge only, followed by rubbing and careful wrapping up to prevent chill.
A rare choice in small house pets was the Japanese Spaniel, or, as some called him, the Japanese Pug. He was graceful in form, with a snub-nose, large dark eyes, long hanging ears, and a tail curled up like a Pug's. His coat was black and white in color and soft as silk. He could reach the weight of eight pounds, though if he did manage not to exceed three he was much more valuable. The aristocrat of the family had yellow instead of black to set off the white of his exquisite wavy coat. Both varieties were rare and costly even in Japan, and very difficult to procure in Victorian London. In earlier times none but the highest nobles were allowed to possess one. This little Japanese was one of the most intelligent of his race, affectionate, and exceedingly sensitive. He was also very active, and altogether a most attractive pet. He would be given the softest of cushions, the most comfortable of quarters, and the best of care to nourish.
[Edited from article by Olive Thorne Miller - Harper's Bazaar, 1893]
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