FOUR-LEGGED FAME

Phu Quoc Island counts among its many treasures a particularly beautiful breed of dog.

By Le Diem on January 16,2018 04:32 PM

FOUR-LEGGED FAME

Photos: Catherine Lane

After bringing two dogs from Phu Quoc Island in the south of Vietnam home to England, Catherine Lane was surprised to receive offers of £10,000 ($13,400) for each of their puppies. While it may sound like a unbelievable sum to pay for a pup, those in the know understand the value and uniqueness of Phu Quoc dogs. 

Rare and pure

Phu Quoc dogs are one of three Ridgeback breeds in the world, joining the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Thai Ridgeback. They have a unique appearance, with a ‘ridge’ of hair running down their back that grows in the opposite direction to the rest of their coat - something not seen in any other breeds.

The Phu Quoc Ridgebacks, of course, also share the name with the island where they were first sighted. People who migrated to the island in the 17th century went about catching and domesticating them.

Their origin is somewhat controversial. Some assumed they originated from a type of French breed or the Thai Ridgeback and were brought to the island by fisherman. But there is no breed even remotely similar in France, while Thai fisherman could not have made the 500-km trip to the island all those centuries ago, and the difference between Thai Ridgebacks and Phu Quoc Ridgebacks are clearly apparent. In 2008, the Vietnam Kennel Association (VKA) released evidence proving that the Phu Quoc Ridgeback is a unique breed, and it was then recognised by the Federation Cynologique Intenationale, the largest international federation of kennel clubs.

FOUR-LEGGED FAME

Phu Quoc Ridgebacks were isolated from the rest of the world for centuries, creating a pure bloodline and exclusive gene that makes them rare. There are only some 800 around the world registered and recognised by VKA.

This is why Catherine chose to take the two Phu Quoc Ridgebacks home. She wanted dogs that were a bit more interesting than other breeds. After holidaying in Vietnam, she quickly fell in love with the breed and spent months searching for and then importing ‘Moon’ and ‘Sirius’ to Brighton in 2015. She became the only person in Europe to own and successfully breed a litter of Phu Quoc Ridgeback pups

Every walk along the famous beach in her hometown results in her being stopped numerous times by people wanting to know what breed the beautiful jet-black dogs are. Their four pups, also jet black, received a lot of attention and soon became among of the most expensive dogs in the world, joining Lowchens ($10,000), Rottweilers ($8,000), Samoyeds ($8,000), Tibetan Mastiffs ($7,000), Egyptian Pharaoh Hounds ($86,500), and Japanese Akitas ($4,500 and up). One pup was exported to a new owner in Dallas, Texas, while another went to the Seychelles and two others to Milan in Italy.

Beautiful and courageous

FOUR-LEGGED FAME

Jet black is one of four traditional coat colours of the Phu Quoc Ridgeback, along with spotted, dark reddish brown, and a mix of golden brown and black, creating unique ‘tiger stripes’. Its hair is short and hard. It’s completely different from Thai Ridgebacks, which have brown and grey-black hair that is so short they appear almost hairless. Phu Quoc Ridgebacks have a tapered tail while their tongues are peppered with black and blue spots. In addition, a tapered belly, straight legs, and webbed feet allow them to swim and run exceptionally well. They are also very good at climbing trees.

Phu Quoc Ridgebacks actually appeared in Europe many years ago. In the late 19th century, three were given to the Paris Zoo by a French official in southern Vietnam and Cambodia. The dogs were described in specialised journals by many zoologists, as it was the only breed in the world they had seen with the distinctive ‘ridgeback’. Many nobles and dog lovers from Sweden and Italy came to the Paris Zoo just to see them.

A few years later, another pair of Phu Quoc Ridgebacks, named ‘Xoai’ (mango) and ‘Chuoi’ (banana), were brought to Europe from Vietnam by another French citizen and proceeded to win first and second prizes at a dog show in Lille in 1894 and another in Anvers, Belgium, in the same year. Dutch Count Henri de Bylandt, who was an examiner at the Anvers show and the author of definitive books about dogs, such as ‘Dogs of All Nations: Their Varieties, Characteristics, Points, etc.’, compiled the standards for Phu Quoc Ridgebacks in his book ‘Les Races de Chiens’, which described more than 300 breeds.

Not only good looking, Phu Quoc Ridgebacks are also relaxed and sociable. They tend to be friendly to everyone, as Catherine found while walking them. Moon and Sirius are also pleasant to have around, nudging people in the hope of being patted.

PHU QUOC RIDGEBACKS WERE ISOLATED FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD FOR CENTURIES, CREATING A PURE BLOODLINE AND EXCLUSIVE GENE THAT MAKES THEM RARE.

Phu Quoc Ridgebacks are also famous for their loyalty. Catherine herself experienced this, when Moon and Sirius managed to save her from a deadly viper attack at the villa she was staying at in Vietnam.

In fact, saving their owner’s life, including an emperor on one occasion, gives the Phu Quoc Ridgeback a certain glory. Four such dogs belonging to Emperor Gia Long, the first emperor under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) saved his life twice. Both were when he was chased by the enemy. The first time he hid next to a shelter of otters, with the four dogs blocking the entrance. When the enemy’s dogs arrived, the clever ‘bodyguards’ opened the entrance and let the otters escape, scattering the enemy’s dogs and causing chaos. The emperor then escaped. The second time he was hiding in a bush and was protected by the dogs while his enemy thrust their spears everywhere. One dog covered him with its body when a spear came near, and the three others fought to open a way for the emperor to run. After taking the throne, he honoured the four dogs with the title ‘God of Dogs, the General’.

Dogs of legend

Phu Quoc Ridgebacks were already looked upon as the King of dogs by island residents, for their intelligence and courage. When people first arrived on the island, fishing and hunting sustained them. Along on any hunt were the Ridgebacks. Even when domesticated, they retain their excellent hunting skills, following prey until stopped by their owners. Local people still tell stories of dogs being too keen when hunting and becoming lost for a few days then finding their way home, many times catching prey and proudly showing it to their owner. But the battle between the six ‘King of Dogs’ and the ‘Lord of the Snake’ has become a legend.

Back then, every hunter prayed not to meet the ‘Lord of the Snake’, for this meant certain death. The giant snake moved on its tail; its body rising up dozens of metres, taller than trees. Those lucky enough to meet one and escape never hunted them again.

Once a hunter encountered the monster. He threw everything down and ran away as fast as he could. Safe, he realised he had forgotten his three ‘companions’. He called on other hunters to return and fight the snake to save his beloved dogs. After hesitating, they decided to go together and slay the monster.

When they returned to the site of the battle, however, they were surprised to see six dogs. The original three, according to the legend, summoned ‘reinforcements’. They worked together. Two at the front lured the head of the snake while two others tried to bite its body and the remaining two went for the tail. When the snake turned its head to save its tail, the dogs continued to attack it. After 40 minutes, the snake was dead. None of the dogs were bitten.

Since then, Phu Quoc Ridgebacks have become one of the symbols of the island and a token of pride among local people.

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