Mad Dog! Mad Dog!

Imagine our surprise to learn that white Pomeranians are prone to develop rabies.  They aren’t, of course.

But if we had been living in 1907 and read the chapter on Pomeranians in the Kennel Encyclopaedia published that year, we would also have read the comment made by Vale Nicholas in which he noted that larger white Poms had been banned from New York Dog Shows in the 1880s because, it was suspected, they were prone to develop the disease.

There was a time in New York City’s history when the bone-chilling cry of “mad dog!” had the power to instill dread and upend the lives of citizens. Summer months in the late 1800s and early 1900s usually saw newspapers lit up with reports of rabid animals, and “helpful tips” on how to avoid “mad dog” bites included dispatching the family dog.  In 1876 alone, hydrophobia claimed the lives of several teenagers in New York City, the report of rabies often met with overreaction.

The inexplicable belief that a white Pomeranian was especially vulnerable to the virus may have stemmed from a New York Times article dated May 24, 1876 entitled, “A Whited Canine Sepulchre.” In the piece, the writer essentially assassinated the character of the Pomeranian by virtue of its relationship to Spitz dogs which the writer described as “thoroughly and irredeemably corrupt,” a “tireless and shameless thief,” and except in rare cases, “completely devoid of affection.” The writer went on to assert that, “three-fourths of all the cases of hydrophobia which have occurred in this City or its vicinity during the last few years have been directly or indirectly traceable to rabid Spitz dogs.”

He or she didn’t hold back.  Modern science, of course, would have annihilated the author’s contention.

In truth, white is not only one of the original breed colors, but the first Pomeranian champion was a white Pom named CH. Rob of Rozelle.  In 1776, Queen Charlotte of England imported two white Pomeranians, and when her granddaughter, Queen Victoria, visited Florence Italy in 1888 and saw her first white Pom, she was so smitten, she imported a 7.5 pound, white female named “Gena.” White Pomeranians have been owned by Mozart (his was named “Pimperl), as well as Frédéric Chopin, Martin Luther, Sir Isaac Newton, and Michelangelo.

Michelangelo died just shy of his 89th birthday which in 1564 was quite old, indeed.  Sir Isaac Newton had mercury poisoning and died in his sleep.  Mozart died of a subdural hematoma, while Chopin died of pericarditis, likely a complication of his tuberculosis. Martin Luther suffered a cardiac infarction; Queen Charlotte passed away from a pulmonary embolism five hours after giving birth, and the cause of death of her granddaughter, Queen Victoria, was a cerebral haemorrhage.

None died of rabies contracted from a white Pomeranian. Just saying.

White is a recognized color in the breed by all kennel clubs worldwide, including the AKC which recognized it in 1900.  Today, the breed standard reads, “All colors, patterns, and variations there-of are allowed and must be judged on an equal basis.”

​The Pomeranian’s genome comprises around three billion base pairs of DNA, but only eight genes are related to the Pomeranian’s coat color. One source that maintains that a snow white (what some call “ice-white”) Pomeranian with no trace of yellow (and not to be confused with a cream Pomeranian) is perhaps one of the rarest colors of Pomeranians today, and that breeding a true white can take as long as five generations to get right.  We defer to Pomeranian fanciers as to the accuracy of these statements.

We have to conclude with Michelangelo, and what his last words were reported to be: “I’m still learning.”  Well, so are we.

Image of white Pomeranian puppy by © Dmytro Synelnychenko | Dreamstime

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