Westminster’s Winner: 11 Things You Didn’t Know About the Pekingese

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Malachy, the "Best in Show" winner at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Malachy, the 4-year-old Pekingese, won “Best in Show” on Tuesday at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The tiny bobbing puff ball — who already has 114 titles to his name — stole the prize from under the noses of 2,000 other purebreds. In the final round, he beat out a Dalmatian, German shepherd, Doberman pinscher, Irish setter, a Kerry blue terrier and a wire-haired Dachshund at Madison Square Garden. This is the fourth time a Peke has taken top honors at Westminster, though there’s been a two-decade drought for the breed. In celebration of Westminster’s reigning pooch, here are ten things you didn’t know about the Pekingese, according to the book Pekingese by Caroline Coile.

(PHOTOS: “Best in Group” Winners at Westminster)

1. Many people know that Pekes were the favorite lap dogs of Chinese emperors. Not everyone knows that the Pekes are likely descended from Malteses, which first appeared in the Mediterranean. The Maltese probably made its way to China via Rome during trading in antiquity.

2. In ancient times, the ancestor of the modern Pekingese — a stout little creature with a short muzzle — was called a “ha pa” dog, which means “under table.” They were kept by wealthy Chinese families as early as 700 B.C.

3. By the time the Pekingese had become a proper breed during the T’ang dynasty, only the Chinese imperial family was allowed to keep them.

4. Lions aren’t common in China, so when artists wanted to model the big cat — a symbol of the Buddha — they used the Pekingese, hence their “lion dog” nickname.

5. In the palace, Pekes were regarded as living symbols of the Buddha and thus received royal treatment. That meant perfume baths, personal servants, scrumptious treats (think shark fins, quail breasts, spring-bud tea and antelope milk). They also played key roles in imperial ceremonies (some announced the emperor’s arrival with a bark, while others carried his train).

6. The smallest of the Pekingese were called “sleeve dogs,” because they were tiny enough to be totted around in an imperial robe.

(PHOTOS: Westminster Dog Show Winners: Where Are They Now?)

7. Palace eunuchs were put in charge of the palace’s extensive Pekingese breeding operation. When the dog’s popularity declined during the Ming Dynasty, only eunuchs and women kept them, though they didn’t sink so low as to be served as food — as other dogs were.

8. During the T’ang dynasty (700 A.D. To 1000 A.D.), when the breed reached its apogee, the penalty for stealing a Peke from the palace was “death by a thousand cuts.” There was less danger of the dogs getting away themselves — the Peke is said to have been bred with bowed legs to make it hard for it to waddle away from the palace.

9. As the Second Opium War raged between Anglo-French forces and the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Xianfeng fled his Summer Palace in the Forbidden City in 1860, taking the some 100 Pekingese living there with him. He ordered that those dogs that couldn’t be evacuated be killed, so they wouldn’t be captured by enemy forces. Some survived, however, and five were taken to England, where one “Lootie” was presented as a gift to Queen Victoria. She later had Lootie’s portrait painted by the renowned artist Landseer.

10. Britain’s Natural History Museum features a stuffed red Pekingese named “Ah Cum,” who was one of London’s first Pekingese champions and died on New Year’s Day in 1905. He was owned by Mrs. Douglas Murray, whose businessman husband smuggled him out of China in 1896.

11. The last Empress of China, T’Zu, sent dogs as gifts to Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice and J.P. Morgan. She died in 1908, leaving behind a poem about the “lion dog,” which is said to form the basis of the current official standard.

PHOTOS: Backstage at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show