Baobab Silhouette
Madagascar, the Red Island, is home to some of the rarest and most endangered species on earth. From this exotic habitat, the Coton de Tulear breed traces its early development.
Oral histories eventually lead to the recording of several fascinating legends which surround the origins of the Royal Dog of Madagascar. Historical facts are shrouded by the passage of time. However the charming anecdotal tales offer tantalizing clues regarding the heritage of the Coton de Tulear breed. These intriguing stories may be read on the Coton de Tulear Breeders of Excellence website.
Legendary Coton de Tulear Stamp
Modern Madagascar Map
This page, instead, focuses on the contemporary story of the Coton beginning with the recognition of the Coton de Tulear as a distinct breed. It has been written that during the 1950’s, a small breed dog from Madagascar began to appear in Europe. This occurrence would seem logical since Madagascar was a colony of France at the time. The Societe Canine de Madagascar (Malagasy Kennel Club) was created in 1966 by Louis Petit. Lionel Coudre, a Coton de Tulear breeder and owner of d’Ivandry Kennel in Madagascar at the time, was also an early member of the club. The Coton de Tulear was initially registered as a breed in its country of origin, on May 15, 1968, with the Societe Canine de Madagascar. Shortly thereafter, the Societe Canine de Madagascar sought breed recognition from the Federation Cynologique International (FCI). By 1971 the Coton de Tulear was recognized by FCI with the establishment of the first, original breed standard. The Malagasy Kennel Club held this early FCI Standard. In the same year, another version of the FCI Coton de Tulear Standard was adopted in Europe. The primary discrepancy between these two original standards was in regards to coat color. The Malagasy Kennel Club’s published FCI Standard allowed for some coat color, specifically white with black markings in its Coton description. U’Rick, in Madagascar, was the first Coton de Tulear granted official FCI registration in 1972.
James is fondly referred to as the “great granddaddy” of the breed. He appears in Coton de Tulear registries around the world as an early ancestor. James was purchased in Madagascar and was owned by the d’Ivandry Kennel for a period of time. James eventually was brought to Europe. Monsieur Coudre, owner of the d’Ivandry Kennel, departed Madagascar in 1976 and returned to France.
Contemporary Madagascar Coton Stamp
Ring Tail Lemur
The Coton de Tulear made its USA debut in late 1974. Dr. Robert Jay Russell became aware of the breed in 1973, while researching lemurs in Madagascar. He originally sent two Cotons, Jael and Jiijy from the Billy Kennel in Madagascar, to his father (J. Lewis Russell) in the States. Lew Russell then established Oakshade, credited as the first American Coton de Tulear kennel. Jael, sired by U’Rick of Billy, was one of Oakshade’s foundation Cotons. In 1976, the Coton de Tulear Club of America (CTCA) was formed and embraced a somewhat different breed standard, co-authored by Jay Russell and Lee McGeorge Durrell. However the FCI description of a Coton de Tulear remained the breed standard by which Cotons were judged at shows worldwide.

During the latter part of the 1980’s, legislation was proposed to preserve and protect the Coton de Tulear as a purebred dog in Madagascar. The future law restricted the exportation of authentic Cotons. Individuals with Malagasy residency were permitted to depart the country with only two purebred Cotons de Tulear.

Madagascar was considered a strategic location during the Cold War period. The country hosted visiting statesman and dignitaries from around the world. As a gesture, the sovereign gift of a Coton de Tulear was given to former French President, Francois Mitterrand, as well as various Soviet ambassadors.

Madagascar Flag

People Going to the Market/Madagascar (8/96)

©Haroldo Castro/CI

Due to political instability in Madagascar, European residents brought many of the best examples of the Coton de Tulear breed back to Europe. Eventually without the presence of the European community within Madagascar, market interest in the progress of the breed collapsed. Malagasy breeders gave their puppies to friends, neighbors and relatives. Neuter and spay procedures were life-threatening surgeries in underdeveloped Madagascar. Thus the Cotons bred freely with other native dogs inhabiting the island. The development of the breed closely paralleled the socio-economic and political climate of Madagascar. Unfortunately today, it is quite difficult to find a purebred Coton de Tulear in Madagascar.

Out of the mists of time, the modern day world is fortunate to have inherited the affectionate Coton de Tulear’s quick wit, agile sturdiness and alluring beauty, as vividly portrayed in the legends of the past!
Madagascar Ship Stamp


We gratefully acknowledge Henry Kaiser for permission to use Malagasy music from A World Out of Time, Vol. 2 and Conservation International for their Madagascar photographs by Haroldo Castro.


Coreen Savikko of Hoof ‘n’ Paw Haven, who lived and worked in Madagascar from 1987-1991
Coton’s World by Eli del Luca
The Official Coton de Tulear Book by Robert Jay Russell, Ph.D.
Cathy Regan formerly of Mountainaire Cotons, avid worldwide pedigree researcher
Les Cotons de Tulear d’Ivandry (Catherine Cellier, daughter of M. Coudre)
Lords and Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings with Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar by Alison Jolly

© Tiger Lily and Harley Watercolor Portrait by Carol Lee Porter

Copyright 2005-2022 Windy City Coton [Gayle Geldermann] | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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Updated February 25, 2022
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