Thursday, December 27, 2012

Two Maltese

A furry Maltese in white and hairy Maltese in black

On an island that is 122 square miles, and 18 miles by 8, there are 400,00 people living in my home country of Malta. It is to say the least pretty crowded, with the third highest density of all the countries in the world, after Monaco and Singapore. For the record, the countries with the lowest density are Mongolia, Namibia, Suriname and Iceland. There are of course many more Maltese and people of Maltese origin in other countries, especially in Australia, Canada and the USA, comprising of people who have emigrated over the years. The Maltese are a mixture of Northern Africans, Europeans and suggesting common ancestry with Sicilians and a genetic input from both North Africa and the Middle East. Studies have indicated that the Maltese population has Southern Italian origins, with little genetic input from the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.
Yet there is a breed of dogs called Maltese, and I was finally able to take a picture with Max, an 8-month old puppy belonging to the Watt family from Bend. They were visiting their parents in my parish, my deacon Jim and my parish Secretary Carole. This ancient breed has been known by a variety of names throughout the centuries. Originally called the "Canis Melitaeus" in Latin, it has also been known in English as the "ancient dog of Malta ," the "Roman Ladies' Dog," the "Maltese Lion Dog." The Kennel Club settled on the name "Maltese" for the breed in the 19th century.
The Maltese is thought to have been descended from a Spitz-type dog found among the Swiss Lake Dwellers and was selectively bred to attain its small size. There is also some evidence that the breed originated in Asia and is related to the Tibetan Terrier. The dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with the migration of nomadic tribes. The oldest record of this breed was found on a Greek amphora found in the Etruscan town of Vulci, in which a Maltese-like dog is portrayed along with the word Melitaie. Aristotle was the first to mention its name Melitaei Catelli, when he compares the dog to a mustelid, around 370 BC. The first written document describing the small Canis Melitaeus was given by the Greek writer Callimachus, around 350 BC. However, Strabo, in the early first century AD, identifies the breed as originating from the Mediterranean island of Malta, and writes that they were favored by noble women.

The Watt family who own Max.
Maltese are bred to be cuddly companion dogs, and thrive on love and attention. They are extremely lively and playful, and even as a Maltese ages, his energy level and playful demeanor remain fairly constant. Some Maltese may occasionally be snappish with smaller children and should be supervised when playing, although socializing them at a young age will reduce this habit. They also adore humans, and prefer to stay near them. The Maltese is very active within a house, and, preferring enclosed spaces, does very well with small yards. For this reason, the breed also fares well in apartments and townhouses, and is a prized pet of urban dwellers. Some Maltese may suffer from separation anxiety.

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