Brief History of the Coton de Tulear

The Coton de Tulear was exclusively the dog of Royal Malagasy Nobles, but now this exceptional, elegant companion is available outside that legendary land. 

The Coton de Tulear is a member of the Bichon family of dogs. The Bichons (as well as Poodle and Briard) are descendants of an ancient European breed, the Barbet.  A small, short-haired descendent of the Barbet, the "Bichon Tenerife," was introduced to the Canary Islands by the Spanish. Then Tenerife gave rise to the modern, Mediterranean Maltese, the French Petit Lion Dog, Bichon Frise, the Italian Bolognese, the South American Havanais, and the Coton de Tulear.

The Tenerife, now extinct, were introduced the Indian Ocean Islands of Mauritius and Reunion by sailors in the 16th and 17th centuries. The breed acquired a long, cotton-like coat, (perhaps the result of a single mutation), and was known as the "Coton de Reunion". The Coton de Reunion, a valued possession, accompanied merchants, officials, and pirates on their voyages.

The Coton de Reunion is extinct, but its descendant, the Coton de Tulear, appeared at the pirate and slave-trading port of Tulear, Madagascar, during the 17th century. Adopted but the ruling Merina [MARE-in] tribal monarchy, it quickly became known as "The Royal Dog of Madagascar". During it's long development on Madagascar, a native hunting dog, the Morondava Hunting Dog, was added to the Coton's ancestry, giving this Bichon-family breed extraordinary soundness and stamina.

The ruling Merina controlled the breed closely. They forbid both coastal tribesmen (85% of the population) and non-noblemen to own a Coton. At the turn of the 20th century, conquering French colonists adopted the Coton as well. Today, usually only social-climbing Malagasy and Frenchmen own a Coton de Tulear.

The Coton is the "Official Dog of Madagascar," and has been honored on a postage stamp. In 1970, the world-wide French Kennel Club (FCI) recognized the Coton de Tulear as a rare, pure-breed. Unfortunately, political and economic crises on Madagascar now threaten the Coton with extinction in their native land.

In 1974, three years before Cotons appeared in Europe, Dr. Robert Jay Russell, a biologist studying Madagascar's lemurs, sent Coton breeding stock to America. Dr. Russell's father, J. Lewis Russell, founded Oakshade Kennel in New Jersey, and the breed was enthusiastically received. The Coton has been featured on ABC's Good Morning America and has appeared on The David Letterman Show accompanied by actress Glenn Close, a devoted owner.

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The founding club and registry is formed

Following the creation of a standard fro the breed in 1974, the Coton de Tulear Club of America [CTCA] was formed by Dr. Russell in 1976 to maintain the Breed Standard, Pedigrees, Stud Book, History, and Registrations for all Cotons in the Western Hemisphere. The Coton is one of the world's rarest and most desirable dogs. As of August 2005, nearly 2,000 Cotons de Tulear produced by 80 breeders worldwide were registered by the CTCA. In contrast, more than 70,000 Cotons have been produced in Europe since 1977.

In 1988, Laurie Spalding became the secretary of the Club. In 1996, the club hosted the first Coton Convention, 'Coton Convention I', held April 26-28 in Port Republic, New Jersey. Also in 1996, the club produced the most comprehensive book about a rare breed dog ever published: "The Coton de Tulear Book".