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How the Kooikerhondje was saved from extinction by a Dutch baroness in World War II

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NEW YORK — While the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje is one of two new breeds represented at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 2019, the dogs’ history in their European homeland dates back hundreds of years.

The breed’s mouthful of a name translates to “Dutch duck trapper’s small dog,” and owners call them “Kooikers” for short. Kooikers developed in the Netherlands sometime before the 16th century, when they were used to lure waterfowl into traps built at the ends of hand-dug ponds as part of a hunting technique called tolling.

According to Deborah Bean, an expert on the breed, the legendary dog Pompey — the beloved pet that saved 16th century Dutch prince William of Orange from assassins by jumping on his face while he slept — was a Nederlandse Kooikerhondje.



Pompey’s breed is in dispute, as pug owners also claim the heroic canine, but representations of William of Orange’s dog on multiple statues far more closely resemble a Kooiker than a pug. And Pompey’s valorous dedication to his owner matches with the behavior of a contemporary Kooikerhondje.

Detail of Pompey on a statue of William of Orange originally cast in 1848, now standing at Rutgers University (PHOTO: Wikipeia)

They are devoted to their owners,” said Bean, whose Kooiker named Prima Donna is competing at Westminster. “They focus intently on their people. They are not a breed that can live in a pack or in a kennel. They must be with their people. They were developed to work one-on-one in this very close relationship.”

The development of firearms to hunt ducks, and retrievers to fetch them, ultimately jeopardized the Kooikerhondje. But during German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, Baroness van Hardenbroek van Ammerstol dedicated herself to rescuing her homeland’s storied breed.



“She sent peddlers from her estate with a snippet of cloth the right color and a black and white photograph of her dog,” said Bean. “When they noticed a dog anywhere in their travels in the Netherlands, they would send her a postcard, and she would get out on her bicycle during the war to go look at those dogs.”



With a female found for her in the Dutch countryside, van Hardenbroek van Ammerstol was able to breed the first litter of modern Kooikers in 1942. The breed was fully recognized by the Dutch kennel club Raad van Beheer in 1971.  

(USA TODAY Sports)

Today, owners say, Kooikers make great pets for people with experience raising dogs.

“They’re very versatile, and they’re very smart,” said Margaret Aldridge, who has owned and bred Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes since 2002. “They can make up their own games and be independent. They like having you with them, but they can entertain themselves.”

“They’re not a breed for a first-time dog owner,” Bean said. “They are as smart as a border collie, and as tough as any terrier, and they need someone to train a dog who is both firm and sensitive at the same time.”

Competing with pointers, setters and spaniels as part of the sporting group, the Nederlandse Hooikerhondje will get its first shot at Westminster’s Best in Show honors on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Pompey, presumably, would be proud.



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