HAVANA, Aug. 30th Cuba is not only known in the world for its cigars and rum but also for being the homeland of the Havanese, a charismatic companion dog that was born on the island two centuries ago.It is a furry, vivacious, cheerful and affectionate little lapdog that has always been very popular in Cuban homes. And, although until the 1990s it was almost unknown, today it can be found, reaping success, on beauty tracks on all continents.
In the United States, where it is seen a lot on the streets, it occupies number 25 — out of a total of 1999 — in the list of the most popular canine breeds, according to the latest ranking published by the American Kennel Club — the canine association that governs there everything related to purebred dogs.
“Retrato de una joven,” Cuba, 1797. Photo: author’s archive.
Other graphic testimonies, although not Cuban, are found in European paintings and engravings, and in some treatises from the 18th and 19th centuries dedicated to dogs.
But time goes by, life goes on, and fashions, tastes and human interests change, as do dog breeds, since breeders and dog lovers always seek to improve or modify them according to their preferences, sometimes crossing them.
And this was the case of the white, which was mixed with other breeds of a similar type and thus gave way to the Havanese, which is a slightly larger dog (maximum 27 cm at the withers) and which can currently come in any color, although in the past it was predominantly white or light cream — never the color of a cigar, as many like to repeat.
The white, for its part, became extinct in Cuba over time, although even in the first decades of the 20th century, the occasional specimen could be seen in Havana, like this one in the photo, which dates from 1927.
Starting in 1990, however, this Cuban dog breed that had been somewhat forgotten experienced a true renaissance. Its breeding was organized, a club was founded to guarantee its conservation and development and, in this way, in a few years, the Havanese once again prospered in its native country.
For the first time, it competed in the national exhibition tracks with excellent results and in 1993 the first Cuban champions climbed to the podium. It could be said that it was its golden age in Cuba.
In 1992, the Ministry of Communications even dedicated a postage stamp to it as part of a collection celebrating the creation of the Cuban Dog Federation and its 7 founding clubs.
Today not too many Havanese are seen in Cuba because other breeds have become fashionable and also because dogs, like other cultural and heritage values, are affected by the crises and ups and downs of life and history, and this Cuban breed has certainly had to experience difficult stages.
Even so, there are still some hard-working local breeders who, aware of the valuable cultural and heritage treasure they have in their hands, continue to bet on it.
Meanwhile, the Havanese shines in the world with its own lights, standing out in the most important exhibition circuits, winning prizes and the admiration of all those dog lovers who recognize its extraordinary qualities of empathy, charm, good character, sweetheartedness and affectionateness.