HAVANESE ABC's

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Havanese

Havanese history

The purebred Havanese is a member of the Bichon family which includes the Bichon Frise, Coton de Tulear, Bolognese, Maltese, Tvetnaya Bolonka, and perhaps the Lowchen. This group of small long-haired dogs is very old and originated in the Mediterranean in pre-Christian times. The first known representation is a statue of a Maltese-type dog unearthed near Cairo Egypt. This artifact is dated 600-300 B.C. Maltese-types are also featured on Greek vases dated about 500 B.C. Ancient writers including Aristotle and Timon made numerous flowery references in prose and verse to the little white dogs from Malta.

Frederik II with his tiny companionFor centuries these lap-sized charmers have been bred exclusively as companion dogs to provide love, amusement and pleasure; a role which they fulfill very well. These tiny breeds were companions to the wealthy and socially powerful and as such, their owners had the means to indulge their fancy in any way they chose. Once the obligatory formal family portraits had been painted, these affluent owners freely commissioned numerous less formal paintings often including their precious pets.

Many antique portraits, most notably from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, feature a companion dog that is similar in looks to one or another of the Bichon breeds as they are now established. This portrait of Frederico II Gonzaga - Duke of Mantua with his small companion by his side was painted by the great artist Titian around 1523/1525. This painting currently hangs in the Prado in Madrid.

From the original antique "small dog", a number of varieties evolved. As the centuries went by, interesting variations developed into separate and distinct breeds around major port cities; each with a slightly different temperament and appearance.

It is difficult to accurately pinpoint the origin of the Havanese breed. Their history is drawn from conjecture and historical possibilities rather than documented fact. The many theories of their evolution and development are based on a composite of fact, fiction and legend; however, all sources do agree that the Havanese was always a small breed exclusively owned by the wealthy and socially powerful. The Havanese breed is descended from the old-world bichon types of small companion dogs such as antique versions of the Maltese and the Caniche ( ancestor of the Poodle). They are neither spaniels nor terriers. Both Italy and Spain appear to have played a part in bringing the Havanese to the new world.

Sailing Ship

Hypotheses

Theory # 1 - One hypothesis is that Italians from Emelia moved to Argentina with their little bichon-type dogs, where they were bred with a small South-American poodle (now extinct) to create a new breed. Later, the dogs made their way to Cuba, where they became known as the Havanese.

Theory # 2 - Others, including the esteemed writer, Deschambre, were convinced that the Havanese were descended directly from the Maltese, and that the Spaniards brought the breed to the West Indies where they were known as the Havana Silk Dog.

Theory # 3 - Another theory is that the breed arrived in Cuba during the days of the expanding Spanish Empire.

Theory # 4 - The theory held in most popular belief is that of the Cubans themselves. Cubans maintain that the first Havanese were brought to their shores by commercial ship's captains who raised them on board their ships or perhaps exchanged them with other traders. In those times, sea merchants were a rough and tumble lot. Approved cargo was often traded for more lucrative illicit cargo along the way. In all likelihood , there were as many pirates and private traders as there were commercial traders supplying the island. Any sea merchants arriving on Cuba to engage in trade knew their financial success depended largely on the support and business of wealthy Cubans. Presenting affluent wives with the gift of a small rare dog was a clever ploy that turned out to be instrumental in gaining the traders entry into the influential Hispanic homes that might otherwise have turned them away. The captains of different vessels traded dogs with each other so that they could return to each port with a dazzling variety of coat colours to enchant and delight the families. According to this theory, it is this extensive trading and colour mixing that resulted in the very impressive coat variety of today's Havanese which can be found in every colour and nearly every variant of marking seen in dogs.

Theory # 5 - Cuban author, Zoila Portuendo Guerra, who was the founder of the Habanero Club in Cuba brings forth perhaps the most logical theory in her book titled "Bichon Havanese". Her extensive research has attempted to sort through the lore, fact and fiction and presents a very plausible progression that incorporates facets of the many other theories long held in popular belief. She is adamant that there have been two Cuban breeds.

According to her, the first of these, was the now extinct "Blankito de la Havana" developed on the island in the16th and 17th centuries during the days of Spanish colonization. This breed would have been a refinement of small bichons and lap dogs brought over directly from Spain or smuggled in illicitly by pirates and sea merchants. During these times, in Europe, the height of fashion were tiny immaculate white dogs as companions to the ladies of high society. The Cubans emulated this fashion in the development of the Blankito. He would have been a very small dog, weighing just 3-6 pounds, pure white, with a very silky, perhaps curly long coat. This original Cuban dog, the Blankito would have been the breed that returned to the continent in the early 18th century to be recognised with much fanfare. Much of the confusion surrounding the breed may come from the fact that in Cuba it was erroneously referred to as the "Maltese" while in Britain it was acclaimed as the "White Cuban". It was known throughout the rest of Europe as the "Havanese " because it came from Havana or later as the "Havana Silk Dog" because of their profuse soft coats. Mrs Guerra maintains that the Blankito would have remained a tiny white charmer till the early 19th century.

In the early 1800's many immigrants from Continental Europe settled on the island bringing with them their own little lap dogs, most notably small coloured poodles from France, Belgium and Germany. These new dogs were bred with the Blankito and a new breed subsequently evolved, a little bit larger and with a coat of many colours. The author portends that this second native of Cuba, created on the island during the 19th century is the Havanese breed as we know it today. Is this finally the actual account of our breed's history and development? ...... perhaps .... but who can say for sure?

What we do know

We are likely to never actually know the truth and the true origins will always remain lost in a blend of fact, fiction and folklore. Regardless, by all accounts, the Havanese as had the Blankito before it, became popular as the pampered pet of wealthy residents of the island of Cuba and was most popular in the capital city of Havana. The exclusivity of Havanese ownership was jealously maintained by the upper social classes. These tiny companions were as cherished and treasured as precious jewels. Havanese were a frequent sight in villas, manors and on country estates but; just as the well-to-do women who owned them, these little dogs were rarely seen in the streets or public places. They lived out their lives in pampered luxury in the rooms or interior courtyards of their tropical homes. It was said that on special occasions or on Sunday afternoons, these women, decked out in their most elegant finery , would ride through the streets of the capital in their carriages with their precious Havanese at their side. These dogs were also known as "Perritos de la Falda" (Skirt dogs) because they were small enough to hide beneath a lady's skirts. During their days of favour in Cuba, Havanese were bred but never sold. Litters were carefully planned and precious puppies were subsequently gifted as special tokens of esteem to favoured friends or in thanks to someone who had provided a valuable service to the family. One of the best-known Cuban breeders was Senora Catalina Laza, the wife of a wealthy sugar baron. Many of her friends were the lucky recipients of her generosity.

Cuba

As happened to many other dog breeds according to the fickleness of fashion, the popularity of the Havanese dimmed as the years went by... Havanese numbers dwindled until they eventually became almost extinct -- even in their native Cuba. Revolutions are seldom kind to dogs. The Cuban revolution of 1959 nearly destroyed the breed. Thousands of people fled the island turmoil in great haste, with few of their possessions in hand. Since many fleeing people expected to return in a few weeks or months, their beloved little pets may have been left behind, entrusted to the care of a friend, or faithful servant. Since Havanese were associated with the ruling class, those that remained on the island may not have faired very well. As had occurred following the French and Russian revolutions, the cherished breed of the over-thrown classes may have been actively or passively eliminated. Only three families are known for sure to have taken their Havanese with them when they fled Cuba, including the Fantasio and Perez families. These and perhaps a few other dedicated exiles in Costa Rica and the USA persevered for over a decade to preserve this breed. For years it seemed doubtful if any Havanese remained in Cuba.

Saving grace

In the early 1970's Bert and Dorothy Goodale of Colorado began looking for a small breed to raise which would have a calm temperament and intelligence; attributes that they most cherished in dogs. They had considerable experience raising Irish Wolfhounds and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers. After a few years of investigation, elusive references to the Havanese had caught their attention, but no one knew how/where to obtain them. The Goodales chanced across an advertisement that resulted in the purchase of 6 pedigreed Havanese. These included one dam along with four female progeny and a young unrelated male. The Goodales became completely enchanted with the delightful nature of the breed and strove to gather more of the little Cuban exiles. Some months later, through advertisements placed in Spanish language papers came another breakthrough. Ezekiel Barba, an elderly Cuban who had fled during the revolution and subsequently settled in Costa Rica was moving to Texas to live with a daughter. Because of failing health, he could no longer care for his Havanese entourage. He entrusted the Goodales with 5 of his Havanese. This gave the Goodales two new bloodlines to work with. Both the first and second groups of dogs displayed the same look; sweet, gentle temperament and were of similar size ( as adults , averaging 10-12 lbs and 9-10 inches tall). Based on the written pedigree information that came with the dogs , a 1963 breed standard and her years of breeding knowledge, Dorothy carefully began a breeding program to prevent the possible extinction of this delightful toy breed. We, who have come to know and love the Havanese, will be ever grateful for her dedicated efforts.

Havanese stamp Not till 1991 was anyone sure that the Havanese still existed in Cuba. The Bichon Habanero Club was established to study the island's remaining indigenous dogs to ascertain their purebred status. After careful study and consideration, a closely supervised breeding program was put into place using a foundation stock of approximately 15 dogs. In 1997 the first Havanese was exported from Cuba to the Netherlands. As in days gone by, the Havanese is again making its mark as the Bichon of Cuba, though no longer as a token of high society. In Cuba today, Havanese can be found in great numbers in the Capital of Havana as well as in the towns throughout the countryside. Whether he is peeking through balcony railings, gracing a country porch, or walking at his owners side; he is a charming pet for all. In a loving tribute to its native breed, Cuba chose the image of a Havanese to grace a 1992 souvenir issue postage stamp.

The Havanese, uncommon though no longer rare is gaining popularity in North America and throughout Europe.


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