Portrait by Serov of Prince Yusupov with Gugusse,

Part 1 – Felix Yusupov, The Man Who Killed Rasputin

In the course of my research into the story of Ortino and Tatiana, I encountered the famous portrait of Prince Felix Felixovich Yussupov* and his French Bulldog. The painting, which now hangs in the Kremlin Gallery, was painted by Royal portrait painter Valentin Serov. Intrigued, I soon learned that the fresh faced young boy pictured so tenderly cradling his dog was one of the cadre of royalists responsible for the murder of Rasputin.

Almost one hundred years after his death the legend of Grigory Rasputin, The Mad Monk and “Little Father”, lives on. Confidant and advisor to the Court of Czar Nicholi Romanov, the man referred to simply as “Our Friend” by the Czar’s wife and family in their diaries was reputed to have mesmerizing powers, and was loathed for the influence he exercised in the court of the last Czar of the Russias. His power was especially galling to the influential and wealthy Yussupov family, who were not used to having to share the ear of the Romanovs.

An aristocratic family of great reputation and illustrious history, the Yusupovs were among the wealthiest and most influential families in Czarist Russia. Yussupov estates dotted the Russian landscape from the Crimea to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the splendor of their palaces rivaled even that of those of the Czar of Russia in scale and sumptuousness. In the capital, the Yussupovs had three palaces, including a sprawling building on the Moika canal, which was the family’s primary residence.

A flamboyant young man of striking good looks, Felix was the second of two sons born to Princess Zanaida Yussupova and her husband, Count Elston-Sumarkoff. Felix was infamous for his high spirited antics. He delighted in dressing in his mother’s finest clothes when frequented the nightclubs of pre revolution Russia. There is a story that Felix himself loved to spread, intimating that none other than Edward VII of England (a fellow French Bulldog fancier) tried one night to make the acquaintance of a certain ‘beautiful and mysterious woman’. That woman, of course, was Felix in masquerade.

Felix was considered to be quite vain about his looks – not surprising, since he was often referred to as “the most handsome man in Russia”. This vanity extended to Felix’s French Bulldog, Gugusse, who is pictured with him in his famous portrait. Gugusse, who was originally christened “Napoleon”, was purchased by Felix and his mother on the Rue de la Paix in Paris, during a trip to the Paris Exhibition of 1900.

The Yusupov family in 1912: Prince Felix, Prince Nicholas, Count Felix Felixovich Sumarkov-Elston and Princess Zinaida.

The Yusupov family in 1912: Prince Felix with Gugusse, Prince Nicholas, Count Felix Felixovich Sumarkov-Elston and Princess Zinaida.

Felix insisted that it was Surov who requested Gugusse pose in the portrait with his master, calling the dog “his best subject”. As shown in photographs, Gugusse had drop ears – incorrect for a French Bulldog, according to the newly written French Bulldog standard. Felix, not wanting to have his French Bulldog portrayed as anything less than perfect, had Serov paint Gugusse with the proper “bat” ears the newly written standard specified.

Prince Felix Yusupov and Gugusse in Serov Portrait

Felix and his French bulldog, Gugusse, in portrait by Valentin Surov

Felix writes quite extensively about Gugusse in his memoirs –

For eighteen years, Gugusse was my devoted and inseparable companion. He soon became quite famous, for everyone knew and loved him, from members of the Imperial family to the least of our peasants. He was a real Parisian guttersnipe who loved to be dressed up, put on an air of importance when he was photographed, adored candy and champagne… He was most amusing when slightly tipsy. He used to suffer from flatulence and would trot to the fireplace, stick his backside into the hearth and look up with an apologetic expression.

Gugusse loved some people and hated others, and nothing could stop him from showing his dislike by relieving himself on the trousers or the skirts of his enemies. He had such an aversion for one of my mother’s friends that we were obliged to shut him up whenever she called at the house. She came one day in a lovely gown of pink velvet, a Worth creation. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to lock up Gugusse; no sooner had she entered the room than he made a dash for her. The gown was ruined and the poor lady had hysterics.

Gugusse could have performed in a circus. Dressed as a jockey, he would ride a tiny pony or, with a pipe stuck between his teeth, would pretend to smoke. He used to love going out with the guns, and would bring in game like a retriever.

The head of the Holy Synod (*Supreme Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.) called on my mother one day and, to my mind, stayed far too long. I resolved that Gugusse should create a diversion. I made him up as an old cocotte, sparing neither powder nor paint, rigged him out in a dress and wig and pushed him into the drawing room. Gugusse seemed to understand what was expected of him, for he made a sensational entry on his hind legs, to the dismay of our visitor who very quickly took his leave, which was exactly what I wanted.

I was never parted from my dog: he went everywhere with me and slept on a cushion by my bed, When Serov, the well-known artist, painted my portrait, he insisted that Gugusse should be in the picture, saying that the dog was his best model.

Gugusse reached the ripe old age of eighteen and when he died I buried him in the garden of our house on the Moika.

An inveterate playboy, Prince Felix was well traveled, and had visited most of the great cities of Europe. He completed his education at Oxford in England, where he resided in a stylish London flat which he had painted black and carpeted with lavender floor coverings. Felix quickly became the center of fashionable society, enjoying a care free life of parties, balls and theatre. While in London, Felix acquired another Frenchie, an event he mentioned in a letter to his friend Dmitri Yannovich:

“I have now a new pet, a charming little French Bull Dog, given to me by our friend Andrei. He is simply too charming with his little prick ears, but does snore rather insufferably. I shall bring him with me when I return home”.

Felix Yusupov with his family and French Bulldog, Punch

Felix with his family and Punch, the French Bulldog he was given while at Oxford

Felix referred to Punch as “most eccentric”, and claimed that checked patterns – even if on linoleum flooring- drove Punch wild. In his memoir, Felix recounts stories of Punch’s antics, and his hatred for checked fabrics –

One day when I was at Davies my tailor’s, a very smartly dressed old gentleman, wearing a checked suit, came in. Before I could stop him, Punch rushed at him and tore a huge piece out of his trousers.

On another occasion I went with a friend to her furrier’s; Punch noticed a sable muff encircled by a black and white checked scarf. He immediately seized it and rushed out of the shop with it. I, and everyone else at the furrier’s, ran after him halfway down Bond Street, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that we managed to catch him and retrieve the muff, happily almost intact.

As he had mentioned in his letter to Dmitri Yannovich, Felix did indeed bring Punch back home to Russia with him during the holidays, and planned to then bring him back to Oxford when classes resumed. Felix, unfortunately, had forgotten that dogs entering England were required to stay in quarantine for six months. Not one to conform to society’s requirements, Felix devised a plan to spare Punch ‘jail time’ –

As six months in quarantine was out of the question, I decided to evade the law. On my way to Oxford in the autumn, I passed through Paris and went to see an old Russian ex-cocotte (nb: prostitute) whom I knew. I asked her to come to London with me; she would have to dress as a nurse and carry Punch, disguised as a baby. The old lady agreed at once, as the idea amused her immensely, although at the same time it frightened her to death.

The next day, we left for London after giving “Baby” a sleeping draught so as to keep him quiet during the journey, Everything went smoothly and not a soul suspected the fraud.

Felix apparently owned several more French Bulldogs during this time period. In a letter he wrote to a family friend in 1914, Felix wrote:

“I am greatly pleased with the French Bull bitch my friend has just sent me from Paris. She is of finest quality and pleasing color.

I shall look for another such when I travel there again in May”.

* Note: throughout my research I have seen the name “Yussupov” spelled several different ways, likely due to various translations from the Cyrillic. For the sake of clarity, I have chosen to use the spelling Prince Felix himself seems to have used most often. – back to top

Ema the Pumpkin Spice Princess

It’s Pumpkin Season For Pets!

We might all get tired of Pumpkin Spice everything, but the common pumpkin is healthy and beneficial for cats and dogs in lots of different ways.

I have a few go to things in my arsenal that I suggest for dogs who have sensitive stomachs, food intolerances, leaky gut or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Tops on that list? Plain old pumpkin, a food that has an almost magical range of benefits for dogs with stomach issues.

Pumpkin is rich in fibre, and low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and it’s a good source of Vitamin E, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium. A 2010 study in the “International Journal of Pharmacology” shows that pumpkin contains powerful antioxidants – compounds that protect cells from free radicals, and help the body to fight immune disease. This same study shows that Pumpkin acts as an anti inflammatory, soothing the stomach lining and reducing inflammation in the gut.

Pumpkin fibre has an equally beneficial effect for both diarrhea, and constipation. For dogs with loose stool or diarrhea, the fibre in pumpkin helps to bind stool, while it also absorbs water from the gut. Pumpkin’s anti inflammatory properties soothe the stomach and the intestinal lining. The same fibre helps constipated dogs, by bulking up and softening stool, and improving intestinal motility. For cats, pumpkin can help to prevent and eliminate hairballs, and (just like with dogs) it eases both constipation and diarrhea.

Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil are very much in the news at the moment, especially after the Dr. Oz show did a segment touting the effectiveness of pumpkin seed and pumpkin seed oil at combatting everything from prostate problems to skin issues. This isn’t just hyperbole, either – a clinical study at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) showed Pumpkin seed oil is beneficial in treating overactive bladders, urinary tract infections and bladder inflammation – common conditions in many dogs, especially elderly dogs and spayed bitches.

If Fido is a bit on the fluffy side, you might be feeding him a specialized weight control kibble. The ‘weight control’ in most kibbles come from simply adding more fibre to the kibble recipe used in non diet foods. This fibre source can be anything from beet pulp to cellulose from pine trees (yes, really). Skip the garbage fillers, and add bulk and flavor to your chubby dog’s diet with the simple addition of a few tablespoons full of pumpkin.

You can purchase canned Pumpkin puree at pet food specialty stores, or in the grocery store. If buying canned pumpkin at the grocery store, make sure to choose plain Pumpkin, and not sweetened and spiced pumpkin pie filling. You’d be surprised how much canned “pumpkin” contains large portions of much cheaper squash varieties. Libby’s Brand canned pumpkin is certified 100% genuine pumpkin, but in fall, when fresh Pumpkins are everywhere, it’s super easy to make your own homemade Pumpkin puree, and it easily freezes into individual portions.

To give your dog the benefit of pumpkin seed oil, take the seeds you retained while cleaning your pumpkin and lightly roast them (directions below) and then feed either whole, or give them a quick puree in your magic bullet or food processor.

Easy Pumpkin Puree Method (from the Farmer’s Almanac)

  • Cut a pumpkin in half and then into fourths.
  • Use a large spoon or scoop to remove the seeds, and set aside (Seeds are edible and nutritious too. Save for roasting.)
  • Place the pumpkin skin-side down in a roasting pan. Add a little water to cover the bottom of the pan and cover.
  • Place in a 300°F oven. The pumpkin will take about 1 hour to bake, unless you are working with a small one.
  • Test the center of the pumpkin for softness with a knife. When the pumpkin is done, it will slice easily.
  • Remove pumpkin from the oven when it’s ready and uncover.
  • Allow to cool slightly to the touch.
  • Cut the fleshly part away from the hard outside shell. Chop the fleshy part into 2” to 3” inch chunks.
  • If the pumpkin will be used solely for pies or breads, process the pumpkin cubes in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  • Store pumpkin in the freezer for future use. Freeze in storage containers or pressure-can in pint-canning jars.

Lightly Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • Preheat oven to 400°F
  • Rinse pumpkin seeds in colander under cool running water to remove pulp
  • Lightly oil baking sheet or roasting pan with 1 TBSP olive or coconut oil
  • Spread seeds in an even layer on pan, tossing to coat in oil
  • Roast for 15 – 20 minutes, until seeds are just golden
  • Cool and store in airtight jars or plastic containers
  • Feed whole seeds by adding to food, or to pets as a snack
Dogs love frozen ice cream treats!

Frozen Kefir Pops – Healthy Summertime Treat for Dogs!

healthy Frozen Kefir treats for dogs

Frozen Kefir pops for dogs make a great summertime treat! These treats aren’t just a tasty way to keep dogs cooled off – they’re also loaded with beneficial ingredients that are good for your dogs.

Kefir repopulates beneficial gut flora. It naturally aids digestion, and helps strengthen digestive health in dogs with food allergies. Kefir can also help alleviate stool eating. An added benefit is Kefir has been studied for its ability to increase milk production in animals (all my nursing girls get a daily bowl of Kefir with Manuka Honey). For dogs with an overgrowth of candida yeast (foot licking, ear shaking, and yeasty facial folds), Kefir can help to fight a yeast overgrowth.

Parsley, Mint and Dill are tummy soothing herbs with loads of added benefits for dogs. Dill, like garlic (but without the dangerous side effects), has been studied for its ability to prevent bacterial overgrowth. Parsley is loaded with vitamins, and the flavonoids in parsley function as antioxidants and help prevent oxygen-based damage to cells. In studies, extracts from parsley help to increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood.  Spearmint or Peppermint has been used for thousands of years to soothe stomachs and freshen breath. In addition, it has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms, and as an anti-inflammatory.

Cinnamon fights bacterial infections, freshens breath, and can help alleviate type 2 diabetes.

Manuka Honey is rich in natural antibiotic capability, as well as helping to soothe digestion, repair inflamed tissue, and it adds a subtle sweetness to the tart tang of Kefir.

Fresh summertime fruits give added flavor to frozen treats, along with extra vitamins and fiber.


Large tub plain kefir
1 TBSP Manuka or other honey
1/4 TSP Cinnamon
1 small bunch each fresh parsley & mint
1 Mashed Bananas
1/2 cup hulled chopped Strawberries
1/2 cup washed blueberries
1/2 cup chopped mango


Mix kefir with honey, herbs and cinnamon

Mix Kefir, honey, cinnamon, herbs and fruit of choice. Beat well on high, by hand or with hand mixer.

Freeze for at least four hours, in your choice of:

Popsicle containers (try using a beef stick or cookie as a substitute popsicle stick), small individual yogurt containers, or silicon molds. I used silicon bone molds, for individual treats.

Pour kefir mixture into molds and freeze

Serve outdoors, for a healthy, cooling treat for dogs!

Dogs love frozen ice cream treats!