NEW YORK — It’s a museum that invites visitors to come! Sit! And stay.
The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog opens Feb. 8 in midtown Manhattan, returning to New York after three decades on the outskirts of St. Louis.
The collection boasts portraits of royal and presidential pets, artifacts that trace canine history as far back as an estimated 30 million-year-old fossil, and devices that “match” visitors’ faces with dog breeds and let people try their hand at basic dog training with a virtual puppy.
While there won’t be actual dogs except for special occasions, the museum hopes to give visitors “an understanding of the history of dogs, how they came to be in such different variety,” said Executive Director Alan Fausel, a longtime art curator and appraiser seen on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow.”
About 150 pieces from the kennel club’s extensive, mostly donated collection are on view at the museum, which also has a library area for perusing some of the club’s 15,000 books.
Fanciers will find images and information on canines from bulldogs to borzois to Bedlington terriers. There are some just-don’t-knows, but the collection is focused on purebreds.
The kennel club, which runs the nation’s oldest purebred dog registry, has taken heat over the years from animal-welfare activists who view dog breeding as a beauty contest that fuels puppy mills. The club argues there’s value in breeding to hone various traits, from companionability to bomb-sniffing acumen, and hopes the museum helps make the case.
“I think the best thing to take away is the fact that dogs were meant to have different jobs,” Fausel said. “It’s learning why they were purposely bred for certain jobs, and their activities and their attributes.”
The exhibition ranges from the scientific — such as a skeleton of a 19th-century smooth fox terrier that was important to shaping the breed — to the whimsical, including one of photographer William Wegman’s images of Weimaraners in humanlike situations (in this case, canoeing). There’s also a tiny, elaborate, Edwardian-style dog house for a Chihuahua, and a wall of movie posters celebrating canine stars from “Lassie” to “Beethoven.”
Other pieces speak to dogs’ stature in real life. A painting of a fox terrier mournfully resting its head on an empty armchair depicts Caesar, a pet so cherished by Britain’s King Edward VII that the dog marched prominently in the monarch’s 1910 funeral procession.