Throughout history the Greyhound has been the darling dog breed of royalty and nobility. From the ancient Egyptians, who often mummified and buried favored dogs with their owners; to the English nobility who enacted a law banning so fine a beast from being owned by mere commoners. Even the Bedouin (who as devout Muslims shun dogs in general for supposedly being unclean) since time immemorial have so revered the Greyhound (or its derivative or ancestor) that not only was contact permitted, they even allowed the consumption of game caught by such dogs.
Fast forward to today and it is hard to believe that this dog breed once held such an esteemed position. Currently over 100,000 Greyhound dogs are destroyed each year worldwide, as a result of the cruel sport of dog racing!
In times long past a messenger carrying both good news and bad always supplied the good news first in order to lessen the effect of the bad news and thereby increase his chances of living to see another day (hence the expression: Don’t shoot the messenger!) So borrowing from that tactful approach, this article shall address the Greyhound’s glorious past first before covering its dismal present:
This is a dog that stands apart from the other dog breeds not only for the fact that it happens to be the speed champion of the dog world but also because it holds an unparalleled array of records which include:
1. The fastest dog in the world across short distances: the Greyhound dog can attain speeds in excess of 40 mph (64km/h)
2. It has the longest stride of any dog breed whilst it is in full flight. One dog is on record of having covered a distance of 30 feet (9.14m) in a single leap. The Greyhound’s sprint is described as a double flight gait which involves the dog at some point having all of its feet off the ground. When a dog is sprinting it propels itself first with its hind legs and then momentarily lands on its front feet before cantilevering off those while reaching forward with its hind feet (at which point for an instant all four feet are off the ground).
This double-flight gait is extremely fast but also very unstable which explains the many injuries that befall racing dogs. The Cheetah which is the fastest mammal on earth has a somewhat similar sprint pattern which also entails the Cheetah’s four limbs being fully off the ground at some point. The Greyhound however is no match for the Cheetah which can attain speeds of 70 mph (114 km/h) and maintain that speed for 3.5 miles!
Though the Greyhound cannot match the Cheetah’s speed, it obviously is no slow coach either and the reason why this dog breed can attain such speeds (other than its obvious aerodynamic-enhanced morphological structure and muscle mass) is because it packs so much hemoglobin in its blood. Those elevated levels of hemoglobin ensure the transfer of more oxygen to the tissues which also bestows the Greyhound dog’s blood with a sludge-like quality (thick blood). If the human heart were to attempt pumping such a thick mixture of blood it would most likely go into failure.
3. This dog breed boasts the longest documented history of any dog breed. Ancient drawings and records place them as a distinctive breed over 6000 years ago.
4. The Greyhound is the most expensive dog breed; it is not unusual for champion racing Greyhounds to command a price tag in excess of $70,000!
5. The Greyhound dog is the one breed that has been most favored by royalty and the aristocracy throughout all of dog history. In fact so much so was this dog breed viewed as the epitome of canine excellence that a law was passed in England in 1014–part of the Forest Laws–which categorically forbade commoners to own such a dog! Those persons other than nobility who were permitted to own a Greyhound, such as Freemen, could only do so, so long as the dog was deliberately maimed if they lived within 10 miles of a royal forest.
Interestingly enough, royal households used to employ select dog-mutilators whose job was to rove around the countryside ensuring that nobody not born of noble birth or titled by the king was in illegal possession of them that was not lamed! However, as the acreage of the great forests dwindled, and with the rising importance of agricultural and domestic livestock food sources, the function of the Greyhound dog declined correspondingly! Even so the Greyhound still remained the favorite dog of the landed gentry especially as the popularity of hare coursing grew. By the 1800s hare coursing had become a favored pastime of the upper classes in England.
Origins & History
The Greyhound dog is evidently a breed of antiquity stretching back thousands of years. There are several references from many ancient cultures citing the this dog breed throughout history. Although many dog books note them as having originated in Britain this is very unlikely. It would be more accurate to concede that this dog breed in its modern form most closely resembles the dog that was selectively gene-trait refined according to English standards.
Historical data tends to suggest that the Greyhound evolved from early Sighthounds that existed in ancient Egypt. Paintings, decorations, and other artifacts from early Egyptian culture celebrate a dog very similar in appearance to the Greyhound. Indeed several pharaohs are known to have owned Greyhound-looking dogs. Some of the pharaohs included: Cleopatra (yes the seductive femme fatale), Tutankhamen, Queen Hatshepsut, to name but a few. The Greyhound also so happens to be the only dog breed to be mentioned by name in the Bible (Proverbs 30:29-31, King James Version). Ancient Greek and Roman mythology is rife with tales describing Greyhound-like dogs.
It is not unreasonable to speculate that the ancient Greeks attained their first specimens (or at least its progenitor) from Egyptian merchants. In Greek mythology their gods were often portrayed with Greyhounds. The Romans in turn probably first stumbled across the these dogs via their interaction with the Greeks. However it is equally possible the Romans got their original hounds from the Celts, seeing as the well-regarded Roman authors, Ovid and Arrian often referred to the Greyhound as a Celt Hound. However, whatever the Greyhound’s origins, what is known is that since its earliest affiliation with humans, this dog breed has wowed mankind the world over with its speed and agility, most notably through the sport of coursing. Hare coursing is an old sport practiced since the time of the Romans who probably exported it to Britain when they invaded.
Strangely enough it appears that the Romans were much more sporting than their modern dog-racing counterparts, with respect to the welfare of both the dogs and hares involved in the coursing event, as amply illustrated by the following excerpt written by Roman Flavius Arrianus (Arrian) in 124 AD: “The true sportsman does not take out his dogs to destroy the hares, but for the sake of the course and the contest between the dogs and the hares, and is glad if the hare escapes…whoever courses with greyhounds should neither slip them near the hare, nor more than a brace (two) at a time.” Simply put, no more than two dogs were to be used in the chase and they were not to be released too close to the hare!
The Many-Named Dog
Across the breadth of time this dog has been designated almost as many names as the number of years for which the breed has existed (okay…I’ll admit that’s a bit of an exaggeration but you get the point). In the English language alone, the Greyhound has had at least 50 names. Unsurprisingly there has been considerable debate concerning the meaning of the various names:
1. Grewhound; the “Grew” portion of the word meaning “Greek.” A similar but variant school of thought postulates that the “Grew” was actually “Graius” which still means Greek; again these old English names tend to lend credence that the dog breed originated elsewhere other than Britain.
2. Greyhounds are certainly anything but grey so it is highly unlikely that the word ever reflected the breed’s color. Some believe that the “grey” in this dog’s name was once “grei” which meant beautiful.
3. Great Hound; another school of thought speculates that this hound was once known as the Greathound (the name evidently reflecting the dog’s exalted status in gentrified society) but as time progressed the term somehow mutated into “greyhound.”
The few examples above are a minuscule sampling of the various names the Greyhound has been called at one time or another during history in some variation of the English language.
The Harsh Unforgiving World Of Dog Racing
It truly is hard to imagine how so exalted a dog breed could end up where it is today–slaughtered in the thousands each year. This is all the more shocking when one considers that at some point in Greyhound dog history it was a crime punishable by death to kill one (during the reign of King Canute). However currently each year thousands upon thousands of these hounds are destroyed, a good number before they’ve even attained the tender age of 2 years!
The reason for this mass slaughter can be defined in 3 words: Greyhound Dog Racing! Every year the dog racing industry breeds several thousand dogs, far more than the number that get to compete. The reason for this over breeding–ambitious hound breeders looking for that elusive but ever so lucrative champion dog racer! The dogs that don’t make the cut are typically destroyed or in some cases actually subjected to a fate worse than death!
The dog racing industry certainly pulls no punches with respect to the maltreatment of animals. Since the inception of modern dog racing around the 1920s, the Greyhound (and affiliated industry animals that act as live bait) has suffered unimaginable cruelty; in this industry there is no reprieve or second chance and the vast majority of dogs never get to live anywhere near their expected life expectancy! Instead most dogs are befallen by anyone of the following fates:
2. Experimented upon as a laboratory animal; the Greyhound’s superb physiology makes it a prime lab candidate for cardiovascular research;
3. Shipped abroad to countries such as China where animal cruelty laws are extremely lax (to say the least); and let’s not forget that dogs often end up on the dinner table there; and
4. Used as food fodder in commercial dog feed (euthanized pets are commonly recycled as commercial dog chow).
A very small percentage of lucky dogs eventually make the transition from Shelters/Rescue Home, to permanent adoption! One need only conduct a cursory search through online Greyhound Adoption centers to see just how bad the problem really is. And perhaps the most tragic aspect of this tragedy is that this dog breed truly is a sweet-tempered and loving dog that some have described as the “speediest couch potato!”