Have you ever been at some event or gathering when someone walked in and took over the room? Perhaps it was the host, or the guest of honor, or maybe a well-known celebrity. But the moment they walk in, the electricity changes. Conversations slow, eyes turn, the air seems to get sucked out of the room. I have seen it with people on numerous occasions, but the day I met Diggory was the first time with a dog.
He came into my son’s living room from the basement apartment where he lives with his owner, Will. His arrival was unexpected. The door to the basement opened and there he was, striding confidently—majestic and regal—into the room. Diggory is a fawn colored, seventy-five pound, three-foot-tall greyhound. I was nearest the door sitting at the kitchen table, so he came to me first, gazed at me across the table, sniffed my arm, and moved on. He checked both humans and dogs as he circled the room, moving with the easy, fluid grace of an elite athlete. He finally curled up on an impossibly small dog bed in the corner.
From the moment I saw Diggory, I could see why greyhounds are such special creatures. Diggory is the essence of the dog breeder’s credo form follows function. From his sleek, aerodynamic head to his broad chest that curves into a tightly tucked waist, his smooth hide is stretched over muscle and bone without an ounce of fat.
Greyhounds have been an object of fascination for artists, poets, and kings for as long as human beings have been civilized. Legend has it that Cleopatra had coursing greyhounds and they were the hunting hounds of ancient mythical gods and goddesses. Over the centuries, greyhounds have traveled with explorers and generals, adorned the suites of kings and queens, and appeared in fine art and literature.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), greyhounds belong in the Hound Group—a diverse lot that defies generalization. Hounds can be long, low dachshunds or Irish wolfhounds, the AKC’s tallest breed. The group includes elkhounds, coonhounds, deerhounds, Afghans, and beagles. Most hounds share the common ancestral trait of being used for hunting. Some use an acute sense of smell to follow a trail. Others demonstrate a phenomenal gift of stamina as they relentlessly run-down quarry. And then there is the blinding speed of the greyhound.
Greyhounds may not be in the AKC sporting dog group but make no mistake, greyhounds were bred for the hunt—primarily for hunting in the open where their pursuit speed and keen eyesight were essential. The original use of greyhounds was in running down smaller animals for meat. In the British Isles and on the Continent of Europe, they were prized for their ability to chase deer for meat and sport. Later, they became specialized in competition hare coursing. Some greyhounds are still used for coursing in artificial lure sports like dog racing. Before he retired, Diggory was a racer. He ran under the name Mega Diggory and some of his races can still be seen on the internet.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the “sport” of dog racing.