Masterpiece the Poodle

by Sundays

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Pooch Who Brought the Breed to Fame

A Short History of Poodles in the United States

Before 1960, you may be surprised to know it was the beagle who reigned supreme on the American Kennel Club breed registry, since they were both hunting dogs and family pets. 

The ‘50s, though, were a time of poodle mania. It was a combination of their intelligence, temperament and, for lack of a better word, customization. Poodles sport hairstyles from the functional and mundane to the absolutely outlandish, and the reasoning behind their distinctive style is twofold. One, poodles physically need a haircut in order to keep their manes from weighing them down. Two, as Jill H. Pellettieri explains in Slate magazine:

Poodles’ haircuts evolved into some of the more ornate and elaborate incarnations we see today when the animals gained popularity in France, particularly in the 18th century under the reign of Louis XVI. Poodles, especially the smaller varieties, were popular with the nobility, who would mold the little dogs’ hair into extravagant styles, sometimes mimicking the ornate pompadours that French men and women wore themselves at the time.

It is because of nobility that poodles gained such popularity in the first place. Their rise to doggy power in the U.S. can be traced to one self-proclaimed nobleman (and nobledog) in particular: Count Alexis Pulaski, or as he was also known, Mr. Poodle.

Pulaski was “a well-known breeder, entrepreneur, mid-century society page fixture, and passionate advocate for multi-colored poodles,” according to the AKC’s Library database. “He owned kennels in Willimantic, Connecticut and New Brunswick, New Jersey while his store and salon Poodles, Incorporated was on 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.”

Pulaski’s Poodles, Inc. was no ordinary kennel. It served as a luxury salon, outfitter, as well as a commercial breeder and dog retailer. It has been noted that what made Poodles, Inc. stand out was not its air of grandeur, but Pulaski’s dedication to one single breed. Poodles, Inc. served equally as a social club, complete with a list of famous clientele, including Eva Peron, Judy Garland, Dolores Del Rio, Clare Booth Luce, Gary Cooper, and Hattie Carnegie, according to the AKC.

Who was Masterpiece?

In 1946, Pulaski struck dog-world gold with one litter—and one puppy—in particular. Out of the small litter of grey miniature poodles, it was Masterpiece who became a star. According to the AKC:

He won his first show in the puppy class in Westminster in 1947 and ultimately held Champion, CD, CDX, and UD titles, which were said to have been earned within weeks of each other. Earning $11,000 annually in stud and modelling fees. Masterpiece was claimed by his owner to have the highest appraisal value of any dog in history, and in fact prince Ali Kahn tried to purchase the dog for $25,000 for his wife Rita Hayworth. 

Pulaski travelled the world with Masterpiece, a declared “ambassador of goodwill” to Europe, Cuba, and Haiti, and host to annual fashion shows at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Their antics were regularly featured in gossip and society columns.

Masterpiece was quite literally doggie royalty, turning heads and raising ears wherever he went. The beautiful boy sported a sort of Modified Continental haircut, with the top half of his body full and long, and the bottom half cut short. It was his personality, though, that was the real showstopper. According to Pulaski, the pooch was thoughtful, fun, and brilliant. Masterpiece’s most notable trick? When Pulaski would ask, “Are you a communist?” the small pooch would shake his head, “No.” 

Though he was a coveted creature, Pulaski would never sell him. How could he? As pooch parents ourselves, we all know how egregious giving away a tried and true family member would be. Masterpiece was, without a doubt, not for sale.

The Great Dognapping of 1953

Masterpiece spent nearly all his time in the company of Pulaski. Most days, in fact, were spent at Poodles, Inc. Both Pulaski and Masterpiece were permanent fixtures of the shop; Masterpiece being a spectacle in and of himself. 

As dog parents will know, you can't keep your treasured companion in sight at all times. As Ariel Wodarcyk wrote for Interesting Things, the crime happened in the blink of an eye:

One afternoon in late May, at around 1:15 in the afternoon, Pulaski told police that he left his usual work area on the main floor of Poodles, Inc. to take a phone call. He was gone no more than 15 minutes, he said, but when he came back upstairs and called out for Masterpiece the poodle didn’t come. 

That wasn’t like Masterpiece. Pulaski’s staff searched the store from top to bottom, but the tiny dog was gone—and Pulaski seemed devastated. 

Pulaski was shattered. Who would do such a thing, he wondered. Unfortunately according to some, anything worth money is worth stealing, including someone’s beloved pet. Pulaski wasted no time plastering New York City with missing posters. Police issued an alarm in thirteen states. Extensive media coverage was given to the missing Masterpiece. And though sightings were reported (someone said they saw a brunette woman walking away from Poodles, Inc. with a grey miniature poodle at around 1:30 pm the day of the kidnapping), Masterpiece was never found, and his dognapper never caught. 

Unsurprisingly, Pulaski never recovered from his loss. Poodles, Inc. turned into a sort of shrine to Masterpiece, and Pulaski—without Masterpiece around as the breadwinner—closed up shop in 1956, three years after the life-altering crime. 

What actually happened to Masterpiece? Here are some theories ... 

1. Masterpiece Actually Died

Because of the level of grief expressed by Pulaski after his disappearance, some think that Masterpiece actually died that day and Pulaski wanted to make one more cash grab before letting his beloved pooch go. This seems weird and unlikely, because if Masterpiece passed away, Pulaski could have thrown a massive dog funeral instead of turning his shop into a shrine.

2. He was sold on the Black Market to Unknown Breeder

At first thought, this seems like the most likely scenario. But breeders have to trace the pedigrees of their dogs, and if the reason to steal Masterpiece in the first place would be to make money off the world’s most popular dog, the breeder would have no choice but to identify Masterpiece.

3. He simply Ran Away

This theory is highly unlikely, because Masterpiece was so well trained and intelligent. It just doesn’t seem like a dog with a (seemingly) good life would pick up one day at six years old and choose to leave. This is definitely the Disney-fication, quasi-Aristocats scenario, and we’re just not buying it.

4. Someone Stole Him out of Love or Pity

Lastly, someone could have felt bad for Masterpiece. Though the pooch lived the high life, he was constantly working and attending large events. It’s the most likely scenario that someone, who believed themselves a good samaritan, simply stole Masterpiece when no one was looking, and lived a quiet life with him for the rest of his days.

We’ll never know what happened to Masterpiece, but we hope whoever dognapped him did so out of (crazed and misplaced) love. We like to imagine he spent the rest of his long life relaxing in a flower field in the Hamptons, playing and swimming and sleeping all day, living the dog life. 

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