The History of the Bichon Frise
Historical sources seem to agree there was a “small dog of antiquity” from which many varieties evolved in several geographical areas throughout the centuries.
Egypt developed as a nation approximately 3100 B.C. – but not as a seafaring nation. Minoans and the Phoenicians became the sailors, trader and colonizers throughout the Mediterranean area and up the west coast of Europe while some even traveled west to the Orient. Many of the “small dogs” were taken to the countries and islands west of the Mediterranean as they were being colonized. Some went to the Canary Islands, especially the island of Tenerife, the largest of the islands. It is here historians feel the Bichon Frise developed as a specific breed, although for many years it was called “Tenerife Bichon”.
There are four breeds considered to have mutual descendants:
1. The Maltese (undoubtedly the oldest, from the island of Malta);
2. The Bolonaise (Northern Italy);
3. Havanese (amazingly, Cuba!); and
4. Bichon Frise (the Canary Islands – Tenerife).
Many want the Coton du Tulear (Madagascar) added to the list with their
close resemblance to these other breeds.
Many countries developed special interest in their dogs, forming “clubs”, organizing activities for their specific breeds, writing “descriptions” and even holding early competitions for their particular types/breeds of dogs. The Bichon grew in popularity, especially in France, and on March 15, 1933 an official Standard of the Breed was adopted, as written of by the president of the Toy Club of France of that day.
In France in 1952, Helene and Francois Picault acquired their first Bichon Frise. Captivated by the breed, they purchased a second, Etoile de Steren Vor. The de Steren Vor line would have an impact on breed development in many countries in following years.
The Picaults’ daughter Rene had married an American and left France. In 1956, the Picaults decided to join their daughter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after acquiring some additional dogs for breeding purposes. In 1958 they met Azalea Gascoigne, a local sporting dog breeder (under the GASCOIGNE kennel name), who also became interested in the Bichon, even going to France to acquire dogs for herself, as she felt there was great potential in the breed.
The Picaults daughter moved to the San Diego area in 1960 and her parents followed, hoping for more success in promoting the Bichon Frise than they had previously found. The following year they met Gertrude Fournier, who had bred and shown Collies under the CALI-COL prefix., and she became interested in this new breed. Two years later, when the Picaults decided to abandon further involvement in the breed, Mrs. Fournier acquired ownership of all their Bichons, including the original dogs brought from France.
In the early 60’s, another San Diego resident, Mayree Butler (REENROY) acquired Bichons and joined Mrs. Fournier in her promotional efforts, making Southern California somewhat of a breed focal point. However it must be acknowledged that many individuals from the Midwestern and eastern states had acquired Bichons, either through Mrs. Gascoigne or by themselves acquiring dogs from Europe.
There was growing knowledge of the breed with virtually no coordinated activity. At this juncture, Ms. Fournier and Mrs. Gascoigne met in San Diego, realizing that a “parent club” was essential to coordinate efforts to acquire the desired goal of AKC Full Breed Recognition. Thus the Bichon Frise Club of America, Inc. was established in 1964, with Azalea Gascoigne as President and Gertrude Fournier as Secretary and Registrar.
Another Californian, Barbara Stubbs (CHAMINADE) acquired her first Bichons in 1967 and immediately became addicted. Shortly after, upon the advice of a Poodle breeder, Richard Beauchamp was contacted with publicity in mind. This editor/publisher of the prestigious Kennel Review magazine published picture-pages of the breed plus some general information, which gave national coverage to the “new breed” and its progress toward recognition. Mr. Beauchamp soon became involved with the Bichon as a breeder (the BEAU MONDE kennel name is well known) and later through his work on the Breed Standard. Both became early supporters of the breed and worked closely with the BFCA parent club over the years.
Advice and support was also given in the late 60s by then Executive Secretary (later President) William F. Stifel of the American Kennel Club. His recommendations: more national exposure……more local Bichon clubs across the country with “matches” (think of them as “practice shows”) to be held on both the local and national level. His good advice may well have enabled earlier recognition of the breed!
In 1971, the Bichon Frise was given Miscellaneous Class recognition by AKC. In April, 1973, the Bichon Frise received Full Breed Recognition as a Non-Sporting Breed. On April 7, 1973, the Bichon Frise Club of America held its first Sanction B Match in Las Vegas, Nevada, with 111 dogs entered from around the country.
By this date there were eight local Bichon clubs across the nation:
BFC of Greater New York BFC of New Jersey BFC of New England Buckeye BFC Chicagoland BFC L’Enfant BFC BFC of Dixie BFC of San Diego
The two Sanction B and two Sanction A Matches were held as required. Then on May 14, 1976, the Bichon Frise Club of America, Inc. held the First National Specialty Show, Obedience Trial and Sweepstakes in San Diego. They are still held annually in the late spring at different venues around the country.
Look back at the time frame involved in the Bichon’s progress from the ’60s to recognition and the first Specialty Show ………….it is a truly amazing story!
This historical review of progress from France to AKC recognition was prepared by Mrs. Barbara Stubbs whose book, The Complete Bichon Frise, is the acknowledged authoritative history of Bichons Frises in the United States and around the world. Her kennel name is Chaminade.