One of the Yale Peabody Museum’s more unusual, and probably unique, collections is the Leon F. Whitney Dog Collection in the Division of Vertebrate Zoology, known in the 1930s as the “Dog Hall of Fame.”
The collection was the idea of Leon Whitney—a local veterinarian, prolific writer on veterinary and other topics, developer of animal foods, breeder of bloodhounds, and student of genetics. In 1928, while attempting to write an article on dog breeds of the 19th century, Dr. Whitney found it difficult to track down relevant information. He realized that a collection of champion dogs of his own time would be a valuable reference for future study, indicative of genetic diversity and the results of selective breeding, and providing a record the current standards of the various breeds. He proposed to the Peabody, to enthusiastic support, that he would select the dogs to be housed and exhibited at the Museum.
It was hoped that eventually the collection would include one or two prime specimens from each of the 85 or 90 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (and also samples of the various wild dog-like species). Using show catalogs as well as his knowledge of the dog world, Dr. Whitney picked the champions he wanted and wrote to their owners requesting that, when the dogs died of disease, injury or old age, they be sent to the Yale Peabody Museum. By 1943, 49 champions had been received, 12 had been mounted (skins and skeletons) and put on display, and 32 others had been promised.
World War II slowed work on the preparation of the dogs, and eventually interest in the collection waned. The mounted specimens were taken off display and replaced by the North American dioramas on the Museum’s third floor.
As Leon Whitney hoped, the collection, now mostly in storage, has become an important scientific and historic resource. Indeed, the champions dogs are among the most actively studied specimens in the mammal collections of the Museum’s Division of Vertebrate Zoology.
— Barbara Narendra, Archivist
The Yale Peabody Museum’s collections are available to legitimate researchers for scholarly use. Loans are issued to responsible individuals at established institutions. Loans and access to the collection can be arranged through the Collections Manager.
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