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    Posted byadmin on Wednesday, May 07 @ 23:44:58 EDT
    Contributed by admin

    Submitted by SARAH from The Iowa Department of Agriculture.


    The greyhound is one of the most famous and infamous dogs in history.  With a legacy spanning 8000 years, the history of the greyhound follows along a very close timeline with human history.  When humans prevailed, greyhounds prevailed.  When humans suffered, so did the hounds.  Throughout all the major events of Western Civilization, the dogs referred to as “great hunters” followed every step of the way.

    The earliest known depictions of the greyhound date back to 6000 B.C. in the area of what is now Turkey.  Temple drawings found in the city of Catal-Hayuk depict domesticated dogs with long slender bodies bred to hunt.  The dogs very closely resemble the modern-day greyhound.  A funerary vase with startlingly similar drawings dating back to more than 4000B.C. was discovered in what is now Iran.  Anthropologists know that the artworks of this era and region were used almost exclusively to do*****ent items and events of cultural or spiritual significance.  To be illustrated in such a way implies that these greyhound ancestors were important to pre-Biblical, Arab societies.  In addition, references to greyhounds can be seen in the ancient works of Persia (Iraq), Jordan, and most of the Middle East and North Africa.  Unfortunately, no successful DNA tests have been done on these ancient ancestors, so how much the modern greyhound has evolved since pre-historic era is somewhat speculative.

    The pinnacle of human adoration of the greyhound goes back to ancient Egypt.  The Egyptians considered the greyhound to be first among all animals, humans included.  Ancient Egyptians worshipped Anubis, a deity resembling the greyhound who judged which souls were worthy to travel to the “underworld.”   Greyhounds were reserved the privilege of riding in caravans atop camels, a gesture reserved for only the uppermost society.  In fact, to prevent the greyhounds from being bred to more “common dogs,” they were placed in special hunting camps, often given better treatment than human members of the hunting parties.  Recreational hunts were first established during this period to test the greyhound’s skill and stamina. Many Pharaohs and ancient rulers, among them Ahmenhotep, King Tut, and Cleopatra kept greyhounds in their court.  The birth of a greyhound in ancient Egypt was second in importance only to the birth of a first-born son.  Greyhounds were often buried with their owner in special tombs after their death, and mummified greyhound remains have been found.

    It is interesting to note that the greyhound is the only dog mentioned by breed name in the bible (Proverbs 30: 29-31).  However, while worshipped and revered by the Egyptians, they are referred to almost with apprehension in the Bible.  Praised for their beauty, Islamic and Jewish perceptions were nonetheless that the dogs were unclean.  Greyhounds found some favor with the nomadic Middle Eastern peoples for their hunting skills and tolerance for people, but being wolf-kin they were more often regarded as savage and disagreeable by such tribes.  Once it was discovered that these dogs could hunt alongside humans, even humans on horseback, the misconceptions about their temperament somewhat faded.  In fact, the name Saluki, means “hunter hound” in Arabic.  The Saluki and greyhound are two dogs closely related through both history and genealogy. 

    The rise of the Greek and Roman Empires introduced greyhounds to much of Europe.  The Greeks considered greyhounds to be the companions of the goddesses Hecate, goddess of the earth and Hades, and Atremis, goddess of the hunt.  Respected and exalted even more by the Romans, greyhounds accompanied the armies and navies of the Roman Empire as it conquered Europe.  Greyhounds were generally warmly received wherever they went in Europe, especially in what is now the United Kingdom.  Interestingly, do*****ents dating back as far as 3500 years ago depicting greyhounds have been found in England, thousands of years before the Romans arrived. Revered by the Celts and Druids, the dogs were also quickly adopted as the choice dog of English royalty as early as the 9th century.

    However, during The Dark Ages, serfs and peasants of ancient England met greyhounds with almost the same resistance the dogs felt with the nomadic Middle Eastern tribes.  Due to severe famine, poverty, starvation, and rampant disease plaguing the era, the Dark Ages almost meant extinction for the breed.  As if starvation was not bad enough, peasants dismissed the dogs as sinister for their association with pagan religions. Luckily, the lovable greyhounds became dog of choice for many monasteries and other Christian religious orders.  In the eleventh century, laws were passed to protect the favored breed of royalty and cloth alike.  “Meane persons” (commoners) were forbidden to own a greyhound, and the punishment for crimes against greyhounds paralleled the punishments for crimes against noble male citizens.  Killing a greyhound was punishable by death.    

    The Renaissance restored the greyhounds to their place of glory.  The consensus is that the name greyhound was originally “grei hundr”, and Old-English term used at the time that meant, quite simply, great hunter.  Greyhounds made appearances in Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales”, Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Henry V,” and appeared prolifically in tapestries and artworks of the time.  It became a status symbol for the wealthy to be immortalized in a portrait alongside the dogs of kings.  Greyhounds were trained to perform daring feats of skill and bravery, such as bear or wolf fighting. The Feudal Court also engaged heavily in the sport of greyhound coursing during this time.  Although coursing originated in the Roman Empire, Queen Elizabeth I is credited with establishing the first formal rules for coursing as a sport in the 16th century. The “Sport of Queens” was born.  Eventually, greyhound coursing became so popular and advanced, that the laws were relaxed and the newly emerged middle classes were allowed to own greyhounds.

    The greyhound often accompanied explorers on their expeditions.  Their most famous exploration was reaching the New World with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage.  Greyhounds were invaluable to the Conquistadors in establishing European settlements in the New World, particularly in Central and South America.  However, due to harsh forest laws and lack of established civilization, greyhounds did not take up permanent residency in the United States until the 1800s.  Their uncanny ability at hunting coyotes, wolves, and the occasional rabbit made the young Midwest the ideal location to raise the noble breed.  American Society embraced the greyhound; in 1885 the dog was listed in what was only the second edition of the American Kennel Club registry.  The AKC cited its most valued trait: companionship.

    Finally, in 1912, the world of greyhounds was changed forever.  Patrick Owen Smith invented the mechanical lure.  Greyhound racing was born.  It was followed by the opening of the world’s first circular greyhound racetrack in Emeryville, CA in 1919. Pare-mutual wagering was established in California in the 1930’s, triggering what is today a multi-billion dollar industry.

    Despite spanning the globe and facing some of the harshest times in the history of civilization, the symbiosis between people and greyhounds remain little changed.  Originally close cousins to the Saluki, the dogs were bred for over 8000 years for superior hunting skill, unparalleled speed, poetic beauty, and true lovability.  The greyhound proves some things get better with time. 

    For more information, contact or read:

    “The Greyhound” by Hugh Dalziel

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