The Extended Sighthound Family. Are you a member?

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.

Russians. Always strength in numbers

Russians. Always strength in numbers.

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.

You looking at me? Well, I'm looking at you too.

You looking at me? I’m looking at you too. I can forgive. Can you?

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.

I understand. I just don't care that much.

I understand. I just don’t care that much. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And windhounds. People want smaller Borzois. Here they are. A new breeding experiment.

Got coyote?

Pretty little things. Less muscle. More eeriness.

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.

Got coyote? Ice cream's okay too.

Got coyote? Ice cream’s okay too.

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:

I. See. You.

I. See. You.

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?

Called the Lurcher. Not big but a relentless courser.

Called the Lurcher. Not big but a relentless, tireless courser.

Happy Birthday, dad.

Boss talks a lot. I'm tired. And bored. I'm just a deerhound.

Boss talks a lot. I’m tired. And bored. I’m just a deerhound.

13 thoughts on “The Extended Sighthound Family. Are you a member?

  1. We had a Dobi for 13 years. He was what they call a “Worlock”. He got him for a 6 year old child with emotional issues. She named him Iolaus .They loved each other and he protected her from herself. . . We all cried when he passed.

  2. Sad to say, my only real experience with these beautiful dogs is through your posts and words, I’ve had to live vicariously through you. You’ve used them to elucidate the face of God, the soul of an innocent being, a faithful friend and something much deeper.

    I don’t know which fine breed I identify with — one who’s loyal, soulful eyes, not so quick to bite, gentle with kids. I don’t think I’m anything purebred, though — a good mutt, hopefully a one of a kind friend to his family. We had a wonderful white half-wolf dog growing up, one blue eye and one brown. Only a couple of us knew that Abby was short for Abnormal. She must have had some samoyed or husky in her, and her wolf howl when my dad made low whistles with his hands was haunting. She was a silent white shadow on our rolling campus where I grew up, and she only trusted the five of us. Your post unlocked all of these memories for me, and I thank you for that.

    • Half wolf? I hope that’s not the full extent of your canine experience. Historically, they’re more dangerous than timber wolves or pit bulls. A schism of the soul. Not the same species. Dogs excel at reading our faces and look to us for problem solutions. Wolves excel at keeping to themselves and regarding us as the rival predators we are. Mixing the two is like adding nitro to glycerine. Constant caution is necessary and compromising, even if it’s subconscious.

      The discussion is not about who’s purebred. Any human can be a sighthound. The challenge is always to see clearly rather than bark your head off about what others claim they see.

      Think about getting a dog for your boys. Probably not a greyhound. Carelessly opened doors can be a catastrophe. Not an ideal circumstance with small boys in the house. But there are many breeds (and thoughtfully rescued mutts) that will teach lessons of love and loyalty and the responsibilities associated with the privilege of love and loyalty. Dogs are not apart from us. They are very much conjoined with us. And they do have souls. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn that.

      The one advantage of breed is a degree of predictability you won’t find at the pound. You know how big they’ll get, what propensities they have. Standard poodles are smart, Jack Russell terriers are energizer bunnies, Golden Retrievers are devoted but a handful, Deerhounds are impossible, etc. Too many people opt for a pig in a poke and are dismayed by what they get. Especially if you don’t have extensive experience of dogs, you owe it to yourself to do serious research.

  3. I’ll forgive you for not remembering our two wonderful Shiba Inu, the small version of the mighty Akita, bred for hunting bears in Japan. Jadi (our rescue, we didn’t want to rename her) and Kai (the fierce male pup) made our original family of four in the years before we had the boys. They coexisted for a while in an overlap, but since Shibas are among the last primitive breeds of dogs, we realized there was a real bite risk with James, our youngest, and Kai’s food aggression. We sadly rehomed Jadi the Old Lady with my in-laws, and found friends among the rescue network to pass Kai along to. It broke our hearts, but it was the right thing to do. Until that sad day, those dogs filled our lives with their humor, perception, interaction with each other (not always pleasant), and deep love and loyalty to us. 12 pound Jadi withstood an attack from an escaped 70 pound German Shepherd; Kai faced some severe intestinal issue due to stupid students tossing chicken bones on the campus grounds. As we nursed them through these trials, we realized just how fortunate we all were to be together at the moment in time.

    So yes, another dog is coming and quite soon, hopefully even this summer since we’re not moving. I don’t want you to get the idea that dogs are not a vital part of our lives — have been and will be, from here on out. We are Dog People for life, and you’re right, the boys need to be dog people too.

    • No worries, and I’m actually quite grateful that you got me remembering them, inspiring me to think about the next great dog relationship. For visual reference, here are Jadi and Kai. I don’t know if we’ll ever get another Shiba, but we could do worse. They were amazing creatures. Family members.

  4. Sorry I haven’t been around lately. We went on an absolutely terrible and pointless trip that degraded my faith in the future of this country even further. Worst of all, upon our return we discovered our big dog somehow tore a ligament in her knee. I don’t know if it happened while we were gone or if it was something bound to happen due to her size, but it has greatly upset me. We got her x-rays and the vet told us she has also had arthritis in her hips for some time, which we didn’t know. I understand this sort of thing is common in big dogs, but she is only 4 or 5. Now she’s going to need surgery and the vet gives her a year or two before the same thing happens in her other leg.

    Until we can get that done, she has been hobbling around on three legs. She is a velcro dog and always wants to be where the people are and still tries to follow us around like she used to. I don’t want her to move too much but I also can’t keep her locked up in her crate. She’s half duck tolling retriever and half something else, and I’m worried that the something else is what caused her to grow to twice the size they told us she’d be and that her frame wasn’t designed to handle all the extra weight. There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it. I don’t know how much pain she is in, I imagine it’s a lot, but even so she doesn’t cry or whine about it. She keeps hobbling to wherever we are to lie down near us even if we try to set up a comfortable place for her in another room.

    Our little shi-tzu, usually a very annoying dog, knows something is wrong with his big sister and has been leaving her alone. The day she was at the vet getting x-rays, he spent the whole time curled up in a ball, completely silent. Very out of character for him. When they are outside, she will be slumped against the door and he will be several paces in front of her, sitting on his haunches, continuously scanning the back yard like he is standing guard for her. Breaks my heart.

    • Nice to have you back in these here parts, Tim. I’m sorry to hear about your poor pup.

      Where (generally) did you go that led to such despair? Sounds awful.

    • Bad, I know. No good to tell you we’ve been there because we’re not there with you right now, which is all that matters.

      Thinking of you.

      • Thank you. I appreciate it. I need to send you an email about this trip, too, once I’m all caught up with work and have time to gather my thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *