I Am A Lhasa Apso

  • By Ellie Baumann 
  • Lhasa Tales ~ Nov 1977

I am a small dog whose ancestors managed to adapt to the rigors of the Himalayan plateau. The fittest survived, prospered and, eventually, some of the descendants reached this country in the early Thirties. I am descended from this stock.

Adverse conditions high in the mountains of Tibet forced my evolution to follow paths on which other high altitude dwellers were also embarked. Since the area from which I came is an especially cold one with killing frosts as early as August, my body structure had to adapt to the cold as well as to the height of my homeland. I have a shorter tail, shorter limbs, and shorter ears than dogs who live in the tropics. My body is very sturdy and solid with short, heavy bones. I look as if I could go long distances and not tire easily.

Under my coat is a sound body that is quite heavy for its size. People are surprised when they find that under all that hair is an animal who is put together like a tank. I need heavy construction to stand the stress of cold and altitude.

I have not been in this country too long compared to some other dogs you see at a dog show, but those who already know what I look like will probably remember very clearly where you first ran into me. I am not like any other dog that you would meet on a city street or a county lane.

I have a long coat that stretches down to the ground and completely covers my feet. Some people call me the “Jelly Bean” dog because I come in all colors. I can be one solid color or a blending of several colors. I can be plain, or I can be spotted. Of course, with a long-haired spotted dog, the coat just keeps growing and the spot stretches out into a stripe instead. If that happens, I’m called a parti-color. I’m even brindled but again, as the coat grows longer and longer, those brindle lines all run together and you have something like layers of different colors – an overlay.

My head is a little hard to see sometimes for there is so much hair on it. I have a beard. Yes even our ladies are bearded – and my ears blend right into the beard and all the rest of the coat. And, unless the hair is out of my eyes, you wouldn’t know that I could actually see you for my eyes are well hidden by what my owner calls the “head fall.” My tail is generally up, carried in a curl over my back and it’s often hard to know if I really do indeed have a tail. It can be held so tight to my back that you don’t know that it is really there, until I straighten it out and stretch it out on the ground behind me when I sit down …

Sometimes I can be found in a pet shop, but I hope that if you go looking for a Lhasa, you will go to a breeder who is trying to produce the perfect dog rather than the one who is out to sell a litter a month or so many dozen puppies a year.

I am a breed that was raised to be an indoor dog. In Lhasa – the capitol of Tibet – I used to live in the palace of the Dalai Lama before the Communists took over, and in almost every big monastery in Tibet there were a lot of my relatives living right there with the monks. Some people call me the “The Holy Dog of Asia” because of this, but all that I really did was to keep the monks company in their lonely and cold cells. Some people say that I am the faithful dog who followed the Lord Buddha around and who could be turned into a ferocious lion in the twinkling of his eye. I guess that is why so many call me the “Lion Dog.”

The AKC Standard alls for me to be the golden colors of the lion, but the Tibetans say that their lion is the mythical snow lion who is always white with a blue mane. I haven’t seen any white Lhasa with a blue mane so far, so I guess we’ll just have to stick with the western idea of how a lion should be colored.

I can live a long time if you care for me properly and my breed generally outlives the great big dogs, like the Saints and the Danes, or the little ones like the Chihuahuas and the Pomeranians.

There aren’t any bad personality traits in my breed that have to be beaten out or trained out of me in order for me to live in close contact with all kinds of people. I have an even, obliging disposition.

Of course, when I’m going to a dog show, then I look super beautiful because that is first of all, a beauty contest, and I want to look my very best. But with general care and brushing, I can stop traffic on any street, for I am a beautiful, graceful and elegant animal.

After all, I AM A LHASA APSO!!


Current Editorial note: Dog shows were originally started in the mid 1800s in England as a means of evaluating breeding stock … a process which continues today. It is not a “beauty contest” as noted above, although some might argue otherwise. Dogs shown in conformation events are not being judged against each other. They are judged against the written standard which outlines the “ideal” dog for that particular breed. If interested in learning more about the dog show, AKC has an excellent resource …

The Brightest Star

Lhasa Tales - Orion

A bit of research finalized … please see the link below for the full article in pdf form:

“Every February, long about the time the Westminster Kennel Club is gearing up for its televised show, the question comes up regarding how many Lhasa Apsos have placed on the green carpet. Thanks to some diligent research by Marsha Susag, we now have that answer … starting in 1957, 20 have had group placements.  ” Four of those 20 placed twice, taking back-to-back honors the following year. A father/son duo picked up the honors in 2020/2021.

The Brightest Star 2021

The Shantung Terrier

Our submission today comes from the very talented dog writer Susi Szeremy and founder of National Purebred Dog Day®.

The Shantung Terrier: What Is It?

Shantung Terrier
Shantung Terrier, Jack

Part travelogue, part memoir, part travelogue, and part political viewpoint, the 600-page book, “Intimate China: The Chinese as I Have Seen Them” would today raise eyebrows.  The narrative shared by Mrs. (Alicia) Archibald Little of when she arrived in China as a new bride in 1887 was a “no holds barred” view of this country and its people by this prolific writer and campaigner for women’s rights. Chapters covered a range of topics from superstitions and caves, to weddings and (warning — disturbing photo at next link) footbinding, which she vehemently opposed.

In Chongqing where she and her husband lived, she was viewed as an oddity.  Women did not go out in public, and Little often traveled around China dressed as a man to avoid attracting attention which could end badly.  Still, Mrs. Little did her best to challenge the expectations of local inhabitants.  Her account of what she saw in daily life spared no detail, and was written from the perspective of a 19th century woman.  She could be regarded, however, as an early feminist; for several years, she was the leading campaigner in Europe against binding feet, and even founded the Tien Tsu Hui, or Natural Foot Society.  She lectured and delivered her talks with x-rays of the deformed feet, and shocked her audiences with accounts of women killing themselves during wars because they knew that they couldn’t run to save themselves.  Today, some would say her memoirs expressed British cultural superiority.  Our interest in the book is her mention of “Jack,” her Shantung Terrier, a breed we had to investigate at length to ultimately learn what it was.

We found another reference to the Shantung Terrier in a book about dogs of Japan, as well the mention that, “Westerners no longer referred to any breed of dog as “Shantung Terriers” as these canines were probably related to dogs that became standardized as the Tibetan Terriers.  In the book, “Travels on Horseback in Mantchu Tartary,” by George Fleming, the author also mentions the Shangtun Terrier as “equal to the finest Skye terrier, to which it bears a very striking, if not complete resemblance. He later mentions their ”long soft bluish-white hair that conceals their bodies and almost obscures their eyes {and that] the Chinese call them ‘Silken-Haired dogs.’”

What the heck was the Shangtun Terrier?

Ultimately, our research suggests that the name, “Shantung Terrier” was used to refer to both the Tibetan Terrier and Lhasa Apso.  Based on the photo seen here of Alicia Little’s “Jack,” what do you think he was?

However, we conclude by going full circle back to Alicia Little and Jack.  She wrote, “Jack, our faithful friend, and constant companion during nine years of travel, a beautiful long-haired terrier from Shantung, he too lies in a little grave, though his lustrous, intelligent eyes haunt me still.  Let no one lightly enter on a Chinese dog as companion – they make themselves too much beloved, become too completely members of the family.”

Of that, we suspect, no owner of either the Tibetan Terrier or Lhasa Apso could disagree.

(Note:  Besides accessing through Google Books, one can download a Kindle copy of  “Intimate China: The Chinese as I Have Seen Them”  at Amazon for the princely sum of $1.99)

The Lhasa Apso in New Mexico

A Wild West Tale of a Boston Heiress,
Her Lhasa Apso and a Navajo Medicine Man

Several months ago, a beautiful antique photo caught my attention:  a portrait of a distinguished woman cradling a lovely Lhasa Apso.  The photo identified the woman as Mary Cabot Wheelwright, 1878-1958.  But I was most curious about her dog!  How did she come to choose this sacred dog breed of the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet?  What roads did she travel during her lifetime?

Mary was a wealthy heiress from a prominent Boston family who came to the desert southwest after her parents’ death.  She was 40-years old on her first trip to a dude ranch in northern New Mexico!  She had been schooled at home and was very protected, but felt a genuine awakening to explore the world.  The Wild West — cowboys and riding horses on trail drives — captured her spirit.  The cowboys who took her on those first camping trips in the early 1900s insisted she learn to ride western style in the saddle with no whining about cook-stove food or how hard her bedroll was each night!  They did tease her about her need to be lady-like, drinking tea instead of their boiled coffee.  In 1923, with fellow trailblazers, Mary completed a 550-mile journey on horseback in 29 days, climbing the sacred Navajo Mountain to reach the famous stone arch of Rainbow Bridge, a revered and holy site to Native Americans.  President Teddy Roosevelt made his own pilgrimage to this naturally formed 300-foot high rock formation in 1913.

During one of her many trail rides, Mary was introduced to a famous Medicine Man from the Navajo tribe.  She was more than curious about his life and honored to accompany him to many tribal ceremonials throughout New Mexico and Arizona.  Mary felt called to preserve these wonderful stories, myths, and rituals of the Navajo Indian and asked Hostiin Klah to be her guide.  She fearlessly embraced the Navajo culture as her life’s destiny.

Mary never lived full time in New Mexico, but returned from her cabin off the coast of Maine several times each year to continue her exploration of the Native American culture with visits to trading posts and challenging journeys deep into the red hills of the southwest.  She asked the owners of a dude ranch if they knew of a home she could purchase in the area.  They took her to Alcalde, NM to see a run down Spanish colonial adobe with acreage.  She immediately bought the crumbling ranch house with numerous outbuildings and asked them to restore it for her.  The ranch is called Los Luceros, Spanish for “bright star.”  She hired a groundsman, a housekeeper and eventually added a chauffeur to navigate a car over winding dirt roads for grocery shopping, ranch supplies, and to meet her arrivals at the train depot after trips east.  She graciously opened her home to visitors during her absence while traveling abroad.  Mary hired a young woman writer from Texas, Maria Chabot, to manage the ranch and arranged in her will, for Maria to inherit Los Luceros.

In 1934, Mary joined an expedition to Asia, sailing from Vancouver to China in a three-month adventure from April-July.  She greatly anticipated the journey to the Wutai Shan Mountains (highest mountains in China), sacred site of five mountain peaks and home to over 40 Buddhist monasteries, temples, and a surviving building from the ancient Tang dynasty.  The trip was perilous and demanding as Mary and her party traveled by lurching Peking carts and often on foot.  She loved meeting the people of the region, studying their language, culture, art, and the Buddhist and Tibetan faiths.  Sharing food and stories with pilgrims, being welcomed as special guests of monastery priests—all of these experiences provided Mary with opportunities for collecting Asian artwork, prayer wheels and Tibetan mandalas.  Especially touching to my own heart, Mary brought home her first and favorite Lhasa Apso.  She named the little lion dog Tai-Tai.

Just a note on the Lhasa Apso or Lhasa Terrier breed:

“Also called the ‘Lion of Tibet’, these small dogs were bred as watchdogs in villages, near Lhasa, the remote capital of Tibet and center of Tibetan Buddhism.  They were used as inside sentinels in monasteries and noble homes.  They were never sold in Tibet, but throughout the long reign of the Manchu Dynasty in China (1583-1908), the Dalai Lama sent them in pairs as sacred gifts to the emperors and imperial families.”

The early Asian bloodlines of the Lhasa Apso are as tangled as a bowl of noodles.  Very thankful for those intrepid explorers of Tibet and China who recognized the distinctive, long-haired breed and committed their hearts, time and quality breeding to insure the dogs’ survival.

Mary was often described as being passionate, stubborn, driven and not always easy to be around. She found great comfort and friendship with animals, especially the wild birds on her ranch and in the company of her Lhasa Apso dogs.  Tai-Tai was bred with dogs Di Di and Menkie at Los Luceros, producing several litters of puppies, among them Foo, Chumbi, Go Long, Fluffy and Povi.  Keeping with Tibetan tradition, Mary gave puppies as special gifts to the following friends:  Augustine Stoll, Louise Lambert, Alice Goodwin, Miss Bieber, and Mrs. McComb.  Her dogs were entered in the New Mexico Kennel Club Dog shows, often winning ribbons, some for best in breed.  Housekeeper Mildred Posey took care of all the dogs while Mary traveled, following Mary’s orders for carefully feeding/measuring food and maintaining a long row of dog beds in the ranch home’s entry way.

As Mary’s collections of Navajo recordings, Native American and Asian art grew, she approached the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe to build a museum housing all of her cultural objects.  However, they opposed her idea of creating the museum in the shape of a traditional Navajo hogan (a Navajo dwelling).  Friend Amelia Elizabeth White donated her land for the museum, located near the Laboratory of Anthropology.  The museum was established by Mary and Hostiin Klah in 1937 and named The House of Navajo Religion.  Two years later, the name was changed to The Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art and in 1977, it became known as the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

On July 29, 1958, Mary passed away quietly in her cabin on Sutton Island, Maine. A cherished Navajo song-prayer was recited at her memorial service in Santa Fe:

“Before her it is beautiful
It shows the way
Behind her it is beautiful
It shows the way
This that is beautiful
It shows the way
May she ever walk in beauty.”

I like to believe Mary’s spirit flew across the Rainbow Bridge to be with her beloved Lhasa Apso Tai-Tai.  May they always walk together in beauty!

Kathy Rasmussen,  March 2, 2017

(Be sure to scroll to the end for photos!!)

For a much fuller, detailed description of Mary Cabot Wheelwright’s life, a new biography has recently been published:  Mary Wheelwright, Her Book by Leatrice A. Armstrong Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, New Mexico

For my research I used these additional publications:  History of the Los Luceros Ranch, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, By Corrine P. Sze, Ph.D.

Maria Chabot – Georgia O’Keeffe   Correspondence 1941-1949 (Over 700 Letters) Editors:  Barbara Buhler Lynes & Ann Paden

Ladies of the Canyons ~ by Lesley Polig-Kemps

A Quilt of Words: Women’s Diaries, Letters, and Original Accounts of Life in the Southwest  1860-1960 ~ by Sharon Niederman

Heaven’s Window: A Journey Through Northern New Mexico ~ by Michael Wallis

Albuquerque Journal Newspaper New Mexico

New Mexico Kennel Club Dog Show article, July 15, 1937

Photocopies from research publications and from the Mary Cabot Wheelwright Archives, Wheelwright Museum

I encourage you to visit The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and explore Mary’s incredible collections, celebrate her legacy.
Address:  704 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, New Mexico  87505

Make arrangements to tour the Los Luceros Ranch, off State Route 68 in Alcalde, New Mexico   Phone:  (505) 476-1165

Make a pilgrimage to Sutton Island, off the coast of Maine, where Mary spent several summers in an old shipmaster’s cottage.

Thank you to:  ALAC Breeders (The American Lhasa Apso Club); Debby Rothman, Fleetfire/Timbers for Sweet Pete (2004-2016); Fran Strayer, El Minja for Tess, aka Tempest in a Teapot; Vickie Kuhlmann, ALAC Board Member and Lhasa Apso Rescue Colorado

Patient and kind research librarians:
Laura ~ Jefferson County Public Library, Lakewood, CO;
Allison Colborne ~ Laboratory of Anthropology Library, Santa Fe, NM

Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Chippewas of Rama First Nation)
PR and Web Coordinator Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

Encouragement/Laughter/Prayer:  My Posse of Gal Pals

Love from my very own Cowboy:  Joe

Two photograph sites online of Mary Cabot Wheelwright with her Lhasa Apso dogs from the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

» Mary Wheelwright- Her#22EFF99   Two photos of Mary Cabot Wheelwright with her dogs from the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

Young Mary sitting w Apso on floor.jpeg

Mary, 20 years old, in her Boston home with her Lhasa Apso sitting on the floor beside her.

Mary sitting w dog

» Photo portrait of Mary Cabot Wheelwright with her Lhasa Apso sitting on her lap.  Taken in 1954 at the Los Luceros Ranch home by Colorado Springs photographer Laura Gilpin (1891-1979).

Wheelwright w car

» A Certain Fire- Mary #22EC05B    Photo of Mary Cabot Wheelwright, standing by her car with her Lhasa Apso dog on a leash.   Photo file scrolls left to right at the top of this site from the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

Kathy Rasmussen has long been an Apso fancier and graciously provided this article detailing her research on Mary Cabot Wheelwright.Lhasa Road - KR