The Foggiest Notions: Canine History’s “Misteries”

Cornelis “Kees” de Gyselaar AKC Gazette, “Times Past”—Breed histories can be frustrating. No matter how diligent the researcher, the historical trail inevitably runs cold and the hard facts give way to conjecture. At such moments, a writer has little choice but to inform readers that a certain aspect of a breed’s story is “shrouded in the mists of history.” Ah, the mists of history. In breed studies, that handy little phrase turns up often. Things get especially misty when researching a “people’s dog,” as opposed to breeds favored by the aristocracy. With rare exceptions, the activities of the “people” (that is, about 99.98 percent of the world’s population) were considered too insignificant to report in chronicles written before the 20th century. As an AKC employee, I have unique advantages over other dog writers and illustrators. With the nation’s finest canine-research library 20 paces from my desk, the resources of the AKC Museum at my disposal, and the dog smarts of the AKC and its member clubs just a holler away, I can usually find my way through the mist. But not always. Some time ago I made a drawing of historical figures who have AKC breeds named for them—Louis Dobermann, Jack Russell, the Duke of Gordon, St. Bernard, and King Charles II. The Gazette published the cartoon with a note asking, how many other people with breeds named for them can you name? More than one response put forth Cornelis “Kees” de Gyselaar, an 18th-century Dutch rebel for whom the Keeshond was named. I decided to track it down to the source. I first consulted a breed book by Anna Katherine Nicholas, who says straight off that the Keeshond was the “people’s dog.” (Uh-oh. I can already feel the mist creeping in.) Nicholas cites Cornelis de Gyselaar, a patriot leader of the 1700s who opposed the rule of the royal House of Orange. His nickname was “Kees,” the Dutch diminutive of Cornelis or Cornelius. From Hutchinson’s Dog Encyclopedia I learned that the name Kees was so ubiquitous in Holland it became slang meaning a “common man,” as we today use the name Joe, as in “just an ordinary Joe.” The working-class antiroyalist party was therefore nicknamed the Keezen and the Keeshond was adopted as its symbol, while the Pug became the mascot of the royalists. (Hutchinson adds a helpful note assuring us that “Kees” has no connection with the word cheese, which I thought was very Gouda him.) Next, the Keeshond entry in The Book of Dogs says the breed might be named for Cornelius “Kees” de Witt, also a Dutch patriot, who preceded de Gyselaar by a hundred years. Other authorities assert that the breed took its name from neither de Witt nor de Gyselaar, but from de Gyselaar’s dog, also named Kees. So the breed could be named for one of two men nicknamed Kees. Or it could be named for their political party, or a dog, or a combination of any and all of these. I don’t know for sure. The truth is shrouded in the mists of … well, let’s just say I don’t know for sure. —Bud Boccone Read the latest AKC Gazette here, and follow us on Facebook.