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Antiquibles Dog Museum

Written by Helen Bryant.

Bully the brindle bulldog stares balefully out from his glass case. He is man’s best friend—or was, back in the 1800s. After Bully died, his owner had him stuffed. That’s what man customarily did with his best friend in Victorian times. Today, Bully stands stiffly alongside a dog-shaped humidor and some glass Chinese Foo dogs in the “World’s Largest Dog Museum,” a conglomeration of nearly 8,000 canine collectibles in Elm Mott, just north of Waco.

The Antiquibles Dog Museum is inside the Antiquibles Antique Mall, on the Interstate 35 access road at Exit 345 in Elm Mott, just north of Waco. Hours: Daily 10-6. Admission: Free. Call 254/829-1921; www.antiquibles.com.

If you’re hungry after your visit, rest assured there’s good food in the area. Hop 2 miles south down the road to I-35’s Exit 343, where Heitmiller’s Family Steakhouse (254/829-2651) serves up juicy, affordable steaks and burgers Mon-Sat 11-10. Or drive 8 miles north to Exit 353, and grab some kolaches or a sandwich at the Czech Stop (254/826-4161) in West. It’s open daily, 24 hours.

It’s an unassuming little museum, tucked inside the Antiquibles Antique Mall, on the east side of Interstate 35 at Exit 345. But aficionados of dog collectibles manage to find it.

“We’ve had visitors from all over the world,” says Barbara Hays, who owns the dog museum and Antiquibles with her husband, David. They’ve been collecting dogs for nearly 40 years. In addition to the ones on display, the Hayses have thousands more at home and in the antique mall’s office.

The museum has a celebrity connection: About half the dogs on display come from a collection amassed by director Ron Howard’s aunt, Julia Hall. When Julia died, her will bequeathed all the dogs to her housekeeper, who kept them in 60 boxes in her garage in Oklahoma for 10 years until she decided to sell them. Her ad in a trade magazine reached the Hayses, who roared up to Oklahoma to buy them.

“It took us two months to open all the boxes,” Barbara says. “We’d do one a day, they were so much fun. At the bottom of each box were the best dogs.”

The collection includes, of course, an autograph hound signed by the cast of Howard’s sitcom Happy Days. There’s also the full-body dog cast from the movie There’s Something About Mary.

But most of the dogs at the museum are true collectibles, each valuable as a work of art or a rare kitsch item.

There’s an automaton dog from the 1800s. Wind it up, and its mouth and eyes move.

An ancient Egyptian Anubis (a jackal, the god of the underworld) stands in a display case near a saddle marked “1930s dog saddle.”

Dog saddle?

“In the 1930s, and even earlier, they used to have greyhound races with monkeys on the dogs’ backs,” Barbara ex-plains. “The monkeys sat in the saddle. They had on little jockey uniforms and everything.”

This museum proves there’s virtually nothing that can’t be crafted in the shape of a dog. A chocolate mold, hitching post, space heater, glove stretcher, bookcase, planter, coat rack, inkwell, nutcracker, boot scraper—the museum has canine versions of them all.

There are dogs made from wood, porcelain, glass, soap, shells, and bones. A 1930s papier-mâché figure of the RCA Victor dog sits with ear cocked to hear “His Master’s Voice.” A Buster Brown sculpture is accompanied by his dog, Tige. There’s a tiny dog suspended in a marble. A 1940s dog head has clocks for eyes (one tells hours, the other minutes). A spice rack holds a row of Boston terrier spice jars.

A rifle has a dog head carved on its stock. A curling iron is housed in a bulldog’s mouth. A Scottie perched on the side of an ashtray has a most novel way of extinguishing cigarettes.

One display case contains oodles of poodles—thousands of them, some standing, some sitting, some on the phone—as well as some excruciatingly long ceramic dachshunds. And countless salt-and-pepper shakers of myriad breeds.

For all its pooch proliferation, is this truly the world’s largest dog museum? In terms of square footage, the largest is the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog in St. Louis, which comprises 14,000 square feet. But its collection is confined mostly to 500 works of art—paintings, sculptures, and such—no stuffed bulldogs, humidors, space heaters, or automatons. Elm Mott’s museum has the edge in sheer numbers and eclecticism.

Some of these collectible doggies are so adorable you’ll want to take them home, but you can’t. They’re not for sale. The Antiquibles Mall has some that are, however. You can’t go wrong with a kitschy canine knickknack.

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