People have been in love with man’s best friend for centuries. Besides being loyal companions, dogs have assisted humans in various roles, from herding and hunting to service and rescue, over the years.
The rich history of these beloved creatures is now on display in New York City at the American Kennel Club (AKC) Museum of the Dog, which opened February 8.
“There are a number of associations around dogs and animals, and we all have similar goals,” says Alan Fausel, director of AKC cultural resources. “The American Kennel Club is the only one that has this history of the dog. We want to preserve that history. It tells the story of the history of man and dog.”
The idea for the museum was inspired largely by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, who organized the Morris and Essex dog show in the 1950s. According to Fausel, the Morris and Essex dog show was so popular that they brought in special trains from Penn Station. At times, more than 50,000 people would show up to the event. After Dodge’s death, the AKC carefully preserved most of her collection.
The AKC Museum of the Dog originally opened in 1982 in the New York Life building at 51 Madison Ave. before moving to the St. Louis, Missouri, area in 1987. After spending decades outside of St Louis, it’s back in New York with a larger collection of art and added interactive elements for adults and kids.
I was lucky enough to get a private tour of the new space, which houses one of the world’s largest collection of canine-inspired fine art. The tour started on the main floor where Fausel led me through a beautiful gallery of dog paintings.
“We have a lot of glass, so we put in several walls that actually pivot and change for the exhibitions,” Fausel explained.
The opening exhibition is called “For the Love of all Things Dog,” and it includes collections from the museum as well as the AKC. There are more than 100 paintings and 200 3D works of art, featuring artists such as Maud Earl, Sir Edwin Landseer and Arthur Wardle.
“People tend to gravitate towards this one,” Fausel said as we approached “Millie on the South Lawn,” which is Christine Merrill’s painting of Barbara and George H. W. Bush’s well-loved English Springer Spaniel. Next to the painting is a framed letter from Barbara describing her love of dogs.
“Dogs have enriched our civilization, and woven themselves into our hearts and families through the ages, and I am delighted to see them acknowledged [at the AKC Museum of the Dog],” she wrote in the letter, dated 1990. “Dogs help us with law enforcement and help the blind to see; some protect us, others entertain us, and they all return the love they are given tenfold.
“Animals, especially dogs, have a way of bringing out the warmth and humor in most people, and I am so glad they have always been part of my family,” the former First Lady continued.
As we approached the stairs, I admired the two-story vitrine of canine figurines.
Fausel pointed out pieces from Mexico, China and Japan. He spoke with me about some of these donations, explaining that people tend to collect their favorite breed.
Another highlight of the museum are its interactive exhibits. At the “Find Your Match” kiosk, you can pose for a photo and get matched with a dog breed that’s right for you. As you can see from the photo below, I was matched with an affectionate, courageous and spirited Australian Terrier. Thank you, kiosk; you get me!
Another interactive exhibit called “Meet the Breeds” contains a database of all 192 AKC-recognized dog breeds. When you approach the interactive table, you use your finger to select whichever dog you are curious about and drag it into the dog house.
From there, you can learn about the breed, including its appearance, origin, attributes, history and fun facts.
On the second floor, Fausel showed me a virtual interactive dog, Mollie, that I found especially enjoyable. You can show Mollie how to sit, fetch and speak, and even give her a treat once she completes each task. I became so emotionally invested in this exhibit that when I heard Molly bark as we walked away, I called back, “Don’t worry, Molly, we’ll be back soon!”
The museum also features a library section on the second floor where visitors can sit and enjoy books about their favorite breeds. Guarding the bookshelves is the skeleton of Belgrave Joe, a Fox Terrier who lived in the late 19th century. This famous dog is responsible for several award-winning descendants.
Near the library entrance, you’ll notice a small studio set. The museum crew plans to livestream shows here twice each week. They will conduct interviews with experts about topics such as therapy dogs, veterinarians and secrets of the museum. You can catch these segments soon on AKC.TV.
The museum, located in the Kalikow Building at 101 Park Ave., is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with special hours during the week of the AKC’s Westminster Dog Show. Prices are $15 for adults, $5 for children, and $10 for students, active military and veterans.
If you visit with children, ask about the Arty app. In the app, Arty the dog leads the children (and kids at heart) on a treasure hunt through the museum. There also is an app for adults that will display information about each dog painting.
When I asked if dogs were allowed into the museum, Fausel said, with a smile: “Service dogs, yes, and dogs here for interviews.”
Lindsey Johnston lives and works in Brooklyn, New York as a freelance writer, photographer, and restaurant manager. She likes short walks on the beach and eating ice cream on the daily. Although she doesn’t currently have pets of her own, she loves meeting neighborhood dogs and sending telepathic messages to the cat in the backyard.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Lindsey Johnston