Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who Let the Dogs Out: Pekingese.

Domesticity aside, dogs are usually considered masculine animals. You rarely, if ever, see puppies on birthday cards intended for girls. Dog meat contains a lot of yang (masculine) energy. "Bitch," the term for a female dog, denotes a woman acting like a man. No matter how cute a dog is, it's still masculine.

There are still some dogs that would make people question that perception. Toy dogs with long hair, like the Pekingese above, tend to be seen not as fully feminine, but definitely effeminate in American culture. This is not so in China, where the Pekingese is associated with royalty and, umm, this:

Pekingese dogs are based off of the Chinese perception of a lion (also called a Foo Dog or shishi). Not a real lion - a creature the Chinese made up out of every awesome animal on the planet after hearing stories about lions. China has never had lions, but they heard that whatever a lion was, it was the king of beasts. They also presumably had to get in the car - err, rickshaw - if a lion ever came around. 

The Chinese soon began breeding dogs on their idea of "lion." The "lion" had poofy hair; check. The monkey face, well, they improvised by making the Pekingese's face as flat as possible. (British show standards later outright said, "muzzle must be apparent." Good show!) Other origin stories say that the Pekingese was a cross between a lion and a monkey (or some other small animal). Whatever the case, the Pekingese was treated as a being so sacred that it could chase away demons - and foreigners.

RAWR! >:3

For the longest time, Pekingese could only be owned by members of the Chinese Imperial Palace. In particular, the Empress Dowager Cixi was very fond of Pekingese and kept several in her palace - supposedly, one for every outfit she could manage. For those of you who do not know Chinese history, Cixi was one of the many reasons China hated female rulers; she was basically their Marie Antoinette. As if building a giant jade boat instead of giving her country a decent military was not enough of a slap in the face, she also set the standards for the Pekingese breed. Charming. 

As the Pekingese became even more popular outside of the court and spread to other countries, another disturbing trend came into fashion: "Sleeve Pekingese." Pekingese were bred to be extra-small so that they could fit inside the flowy sleeves of the Chinese nobility. Thus concealed, they could be used for assassinations. Given how bitey a small dog can be, that should not be a surprise. Breeding for these mini-dogs of mini-dogs was eventually outlawed by another Chinese empress; this act alone makes her more palatable than Cixi.

Some dogs were born too late to directly benefit from Empress Tzu Hsi's kindness.

In general, breeding for small size in dogs is not the best idea. Toy dogs in general die from trauma more than anything else. Both the cardiovascular and neurological systems are at high risk. Flexible though the wolf genome may be, it has its limits.

The Pekingese also has some specific health requirements. The fur needs daily combing. The same coat that makes Pekes attractive can also lead to overheating. The flat face comes with its own issues, such as major eye problems and a high risk of respiratory disorders. There is virtually no way to screen for any of these.

You wanna know something really disturbing? Pekingese are one of the oldest breeds of dog. They go back at least 2,000 years. Genetically, they have more in common with wolves than Huskies. That just goes to show you how versatile the canine genome was before we started playing with it...and how easy it was to play with. The question is not, "can we do this?", but "should we?"

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