“There’s a social media post by Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel where they had pictures of what dogs they thought they looked like,” says Alan Fausel, the executive director of the American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog in Manhattan, New York City. “So I took both of their pictures and put them into our interactive Find Your Match machine, which uses facial recognition technology to tell you what dog you look like.” Alan reveals that the singer Timberlake came out as a Yorkshire Terrier and the actress Biel was cast as a Border Terrier.
Decades before the days of assigning dog breeds to celebrities, the Museum of the Dog was founded back in 1982 with the goal of celebrating the role of dogs in society and educating about the benefits of the human-canine bond. After relocating to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1987, where the museum ran for 32 years, a decision was made to return the establishment to New York City in 2019 — a move that prompted a transformation from an analogue institution into a more cutting-edge organization that embraces virtual technology and interactive experiences.
“The quote I’ve used is we’re taking it from a Ford Model T car to a spaceship,” says Alan, who formerly worked for the auction house Doyle, where he came to deal with dog- and cat-centric artworks. He adds that the museum is proud of the way it integrates digital kiosks, including one where visitors can learn to train a virtual dog, with the traditional foundation of a 4,000-volume library of historical dog books and a 1,700-piece collection of canine art and artifacts.
One of the Museum of the Dog’s most revered historical displays is a 30 million-year-old fossil of an ancient dog called the Hesperocyon, which is now extinct.
“Today, it would look more like a meerkat or a mongoose,” Alan says.
Pride of place goes to the skeleton of Belgrave Joe, a Fox Terrier who prospered in the late 19th century. “He was a very prolific breeder and they sort of called him the Abraham of his breed,” Alan explains. “They say that before Belgrave Joe there were Terriers that chased foxes, and after him there were Fox Terriers.”
Allowing visitors to gain an insight into the history of various dog breeds while also gaining a better understanding of the animal’s role in modern society is a key part of the museum’s focus.
“These are purpose-bred dogs, and they have jobs and they take it seriously,” says Alan, who has a 2-year-old Welsh Springer Spaniel called Gemma. “It’s about knowing what those dogs’ tendencies are and what they want to do. They’re effectively looking to you as the alpha member of the pack.”
After a reflective pause, Alan adds, “You learn a whole lot about the history of dogs and why they look the way they look and act the way they act.”
For more info, visit: museumofthedog.org
Photos Courtesy of American Kennel Club/Museum of the Dog