My mother died ten years ago. But she lived long enough to take back a slander that influenced my dog decisions for thirty years.
As I was growing up, the only breed she totally dismissed was the greyhound. I’m paraphrasing but her position was essentially that greyhounds are too stupid to be worthy of the name of dog. She had one as a small child. His name was Skeeter (?). He didn’t fit in somehow.
Over her long long life she had Irish Setters, multiple terriers, German Shepherds, and Boston terriers (then called Boston Bulls). She was devoted to them all, a fine mom to her many charges, one of whom may have saved her life after a car accident — one of those notoriously stupid Irish Setters, no less.
In her final, failing days, she still had Mandy, but Mandy was also growing very old. I took up residence with her, and Lady Laird kindly lent me her greyhound Patrick for company because my mother was in and out of herself by then.
Patrick made more of a difference than I did. My mother sat in her living room and the ever calm Patrick curled up in the front room, content to be no problem to me. But he acquired the habit of checking on my mother about once an hour. He was never a licker. He would just come and stand near her for a bit. She put her hand on his head for a bit. Then he would go lie down again.
It occurred to her she should have something to give him. We told her about Cheezits. So she asked for a bowl of Cheezits at her chair side. Same routine as before. He came to check on her, she laid a hand on his head, but with her other hand she grabbed a Cheezit and gave it to him, which he accepted gravely before retreating again. It was their thing.
Her eyes lit up when he visited. He was so beautiful, so room-filling, so gentle, so serene. Her angel.
This is the greyhound soul. There are many sighthound breeds and varieties, but somewhere inside all of them is this combination of acceptance, quiet comprehension of human emotion, and uncritical love. They don’t learn how to fetch. You can bounce a nerf ball off their noses a hundred times and it never dawns on them to catch it. They don’t really play. But they love stuffed toys that have eyes and limbs. They like gathering them in and protecting them on their beds and couches.
And they also run like nothing you’ve ever seen, faster than every other dog breed and faster than any other mammal but the cheetah. Patrick once saw a squirrel across the street when I was walking him. He accelerated to full speed within the length of the leash. Only the adrenalin of terror at losing him enabled me to haul him in. Thought he’d dislocated my arm. Thankfully, he pulled up at the last possible second.
This is why there are sighthound variations. Speed and acceleration are useful traits for humans who want hunters, guardians, and competitive athletes. Scottish Deerhounds are the Incredible Hulk of sighthounds. Greyhound build but huge, overwhelming speed and endurance, heavy bones, and the strength to take down a deer in the open field.
Borzois, once called Russian Wolfhounds, are also built like greys but with hair long enough to thrive in Siberian winters, and the pack aggression to take down wolves.
Afghans. You think they’re sissies? They’ve hunted and killed in Afghanistan longer than anyone on earth but other born Afghanis. The hair? It gets cold in the mountains. The longevity of the breed? Fidelity to family.
There are Salukis. All the breed guidance tells you not to expect a close relationship. In them the greyhound reserve is transmuted to distance. But they have lovely feathers.
And windhounds. People want smaller Borzois. Here they are. A new breeding experiment.
Two others I’ll point to today. Staghounds. A direct cross between deerhounds and greyhounds. They can run down coyotes. Not an AKC breed because they’re hybrids, not necessarily interbred to breed standards. Here’s some background.
And, finally, Doberman Pinschers. One of the most feared of all breeds. Fast, intelligent, beautiful, and loyal. But with teeth. Also definitely part greyhound.
Why do I mention Dobermans? Because some of our closest greyhound friends just replaced two prematurely mortal greys with this little guy:
Where am I going with this? Sighthounds are distinct because they see. Us. All different kinds. That’s how we should be here. Not all the same but clear of vision. Not confused by all the myriad misdirections of our culture, politics, and media. I concede I’m part Doberman. That shouldn’t sever our familial ties. Faint hope?
Maybe. You tell me.
P.S. Apologies if any of this seems sentimental. Today is my dad’s birthday. He was born in 1922 and died in 1999. He thought the country was done way back then. Don’t you hate it when the old man was right all along? But I’m still his son. Just because the war is lost doesn’t mean you stop fighting. Fifteen years now. Sometimes I gasp for breath. Forgive me. What manner of sighthound was he?
Happy Birthday, dad.