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Long Coat Chihuahuas – The Last Variety

by Amy Fernandez

In 1952, the Long Coat Chihuahua became the last recipient of AKC’s coveted designation of separate variety status.  AKC hasn’t wavered from that policy for a half -century despite the convincing evidence many clubs have presented for their breeds. The fact that the Chihuahua Club of America attained this holy grail suggests that the Long Coat was exceptionally deserving of that designation. In reality, the decision provoked substantial controversy throughout the dog world.

Although Long Coat type and quality had improved dramatically by 1952, a number of prominent Chihuahua authorities expressed ambivalence about the idea. For instance, British breeder/judge Hilary Harmer, who lived in Mexico for several years, bluntly called the Long Coat “an entirely American-made breed” in her 1968 Chihuahua Guide.  “I have visited 27 of the 29 states of Mexico and there is no doubt that they never existed there before 1959 …it was obvious that in order to produce a long coated Chihuahua, crosses with long coated breeds were necessary. In the early days of this century, the chief breeds used for this evolution were the Papillion and the Pomeranian.”

In contrast, conventional Chihuahua history maintained that both coat types existed in their present form from the get-go.  That was partly true. Early Chihuahua breeding yielded a hodgepodge of coats – long, short, flat, wiry, curly, and everything in between, which reflected the breed’s eclectic heritage.  Thick, furry, rough coats predominated, but most experts considered the flat, smooth coat ideal.  Selecting for it was relatively easy since it was a dominant trait.

The breed’s foundation stud, Caranza, was the prototype for ideal Long Coat type. Unfortunately, he was a one-off deal. The famed Chihuahua historian, Ida Garrett, chronicled her observations about Long Coats during her stint as the club’s AKC Gazette columnist. In July, 1932 she said, “the few good longhaired Chihuahuas that I have known have either come from Mexico or have been direct descendants of Caranza, a red long hair brought from Mexico by Owen Wister. The Merons are descendants of Caranza and this family of Chihuahuas occasionally throw longhaired puppies.” She saw Caranza at Wister’s Philadelphia kennel in 1903, describing him as rectangular, weighing three pounds, with an ideal apple-domed head, correct ear and eye shape, level topline, profuse red coat, long ear fringe, squirrel tail, and unshakable confidence. Like most contemporary authorities, she considered him purebred despite his undocumented ancestry. That opinion was reinforced by his ability to consistently reproduce his admired traits.  Caranza sired legions of progeny during his short life. Unfortunately, Caranza Jr. was not among them. His descendants were primarily Smooth Coats.

Along with plenty of other stuff, the elusive Long Coat gene lurked somewhere in the Chihuahua gene pool and most breeding programs occasionally yielded long and semi- longhaired specimens. A few were successfully shown during the 1920s.  In 1926 AKC encouraged these efforts by offering prizes for Best Long Coat Chihuahua at their Sesquicentennial show in Philadelphia.

Interest in Long Coats grew concurrently with Chihuahua popularity. Breeders were attempting to track and stabilize the trait, which became somewhat easier as overall type improved. In her July 1932 column, Garrett candidly noted the growing demand for them and offered a warning to prospective breeders. “This is not an easy matter. Selectively breeding parents of this type seldom throw true… During my years of experimental breeding from 1909 to 1916, I crossed small, smooth Chihuahuas with about every known small longhaired toy dog to see whether the real longhaired Chihuahua could be duplicated. He was not.” She added that her results were no better two or three generations later when she backcrossed. Her Chihuahua hybrids inevitably reverted to Smooth Coats.

Of course, we now have a much better understanding of the genetic transmission of coat types. Garrett’s experiences were predictable when trying to stabilize the recessive longhair trait. Moreover, smooth and long were far from the only coat types spicing up Chihuahua breeding back then.

Garrett never concealed the fact that she had crossed Chihuahuas with Yorkies, Poms, and Poodles, and she wasn’t alone. Unfortunately, traces of those experiments remained evident in the Long Coat, a source of lingering prejudice for decades thereafter as breeder Russell Kauffman noted in his 1952 book. “The battle for the Long Coats waged for many years, with many famous old breeders taking the offensive… they have brought out some of the finest specimens and shown them to championships despite the bitter contentions declaring them to be crossbred.”

A few dedicated breeders persevered in their quest to forge pure Long Coat strains. They included Edith Rhodes, CCA president from 1939 to 1945. She staked her claim in Long Coat history when her homebred dog, Petchiquie, went Winners Dog at the 1935 CCA National. Garrett reported on the show in the November Gazette. “The Chihuahua Club of America held its fall specialty September 20 and 21. It was a distinct gain for the breed in several respects. Classes were separated for the long- and shorthaired types. Mrs. H.P.D. Reilly judged and came away more enthusiastic than ever about the longhaired type. In males, four of each coat competed for best male, the judge awarding it to the Long Coat Petchiquie who should be a champion by now.”

Don Sergio was the most significant Long Coat bloodline to emerge during these years. Its foundation stud, Don Sergio, redefined the Long Coat’s competitive potential by siring five champion progeny including Ch. Don Sergio of Boca Raton, the top winner for both varieties in 1941. Despite these milestones, skeptics remained unconvinced as Kauffman noted.  “Mrs. Rhodes consistently championed this variety for many years, despite the prejudice she encountered from breeders and judges.”

Fanciers were then unaware that AKC would soon discontinue the option of separate variety status. After decades of debate, CCA finally decided to confront the Long Coat situation, as Kauffmann recalled, “At the 1950 meeting of the CCA it was agreed that more breeders would specialize in Long Coats, and that an effort would be made to secure AKC Studbook designation of the variety when puppies are registered.”

The club submitted its petition to AKC just under the wire. It was granted in June 1952 and took effect in August. Within a year the Long Coat’s credibility was definitively affirmed when  Ch. Ross’s Bonita Bambino won the 1953 CCA National. She charged out of the gate in 1952 winning 70 of the first BOV offered for Long Coats along with four groups and 27 placements from August to December that year.

Although Chihuahua popularity never waned during these decades, this move undoubtedly helped the Long Coat to achieve prominence. And there is no question that many other breeds could benefit from that revised status. Even so, AKC continues to deny those petitions because, in reality, the whole thing comes down to the mood of the board.

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Posted by on Sep 10 2014. Filed under Current Articles, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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