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From Ancient Aristocracy to Blood Sport

Origin of the Greyhound - Ancestors of sighthounds first appeared among Middle Eastern nomadic peoples. In a movable camp setting, it was common for dogs to follow the camp, eating from its trash. The presence of these dogs was tolerated because of the guard service they provided. But the dogs were regarded as wild and disagreeable, as evidenced by most references to dogs in the Bible, with the exception of Proverbs 30:29-31, which praises greyhounds by name. At some point, a special kind of dog that could hunt along with humans was discovered or bred. These sighthounds were given a special place inside the camp or even inside the tents so that their breeding might be controlled. Some of the oldest known depictions of greyhound-like dogs: in Turkey in temple drawings from 6,000 BC, and in Iran on a 4,000 BC funerary vase.

 

Ancient Egypt - In Egypt, the ancestors of modern greyhounds were used in hunting and kept as companions. Many Egyptians considered the birth of such a hound second in importance only to the birth of a son. When the pet hound died, the entire family would go into mourning. The favorite hounds of the upper class were mummified and buried with their owners. The walls of Egyptian tombs often were decorated with images of their hounds. An Egyptian tomb painting from 2200 BC portrays dogs that look very much like the modern greyhound. Many Egyptian pharaohs, including Tutankhamen and Cleopatra, are known to have owned greyhound-type dogs. The Egyptian god Anubis, a hound-type dog, is frequently displayed on murals in the tombs of the Pharaohs.

 

Ancient Greece - The first breed of dog named in western literature is mentioned in The Odyssey, written by Homer in 800 BC. Odysseus is away from home for 20 years fighting the Trojans and trying to get home against the opposition of the god Poseidon. When he finally returns home, he disguises himself. The only one to recognize him was his sighthound Argus. Art and coins from Greece depict short-haired hounds virtually identical to modern greyhounds, making it fairly certain that the greyhound breed has changed very little since 500 BC.

 

The Greek gods were often portrayed with greyhounds. A hound often accompanies Hecate, the goddess of wealth. The protector of the hunt, the god Pollux, also is depicted with hounds. One myth tells of how a human named Actaeon came upon the goddess Artemis taking a bath in a river. She punishes his impropriety by turning him into a stag. He is then hunted down by his own hounds. Depictions of this scene occur many times in Greek and Roman art.

 

Arab Tradition - The Saluki, which almost certainly shares with the greyhound a common ancestor, has been used as a hunting dog by Arab peoples for thousands of years and is still used by some Arabs today. Arabian Bedouin for centuries have been devout Muslims, and so follow ritual restrictions against contact with dogs. But they don't consider their Salukis to be dogs and so don't believe that contact with them is unclean. The Quran permits the eating of game killed by hawks or Salukis (but not by other dogs). The Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan make the same distinction between Saluki and dog, so this probably goes back long before the birth of Islam in the seventh century. Bedouin so admired the physical attributes and speed of the Saluki that it was the only dog permitted to share their tents and ride atop their camels. In early Arabic culture, the birth of a Saluki ranked in importance just behind the birth of a son.

 

Middle Ages - Greyhounds nearly became extinct during times of famine in the Middle Ages. They were saved by clergymen who protected them and bred them for the nobility. From this point on, they came to be considered the dogs of the aristocracy and the killing of a greyhound was punishable by death. In 1014, laws were established that stated that only the nobility could own greyhounds. Old paintings and tapestries of hunting feasts often include greyhounds.

 

The term “greyhound?may come from the old English "grei-hundr," supposedly "dog hunter" or high order of rank. Another explanation is that it is derived from "gre" or "gradus," meaning "first rank," so that greyhound would mean "first rank among dogs."

 

Renaissance - Renaissance artists considered the greyhound a worthy subject, depicting greyhounds in a variety of settings from sacred to secular, with an emphasis on the hunt. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) mentioned greyhounds in a number of his plays. In Henry V Henry's speech to his troops just before the Battle of Harfleur compares people to coursing greyhounds:


I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start.
The game's afoot.

 

18th & 19th Centuries - The English Earl of Orford created the first coursing club open to the public in 1776 in Norfolk. Orford crossbred greyhounds with several other breeds, including the bulldog, in pursuit of greyhounds with greater stamina. Despite legends to the contrary, his efforts were unsuccessful and there is no evidence that the bloodlines of these crosses survived. Later attempts to cross greyhounds with Afghans also proved ineffective.

 

Greyhounds remained a familiar sight among the royalty and nobility of England in the nineteenth century. The husband of Queen Victoria had a pet black and white greyhound, Eos, who appears in many court portraits.

 

Greyhounds were imported to North America in large numbers from Ireland and England in the mid-1800s not to course or race, but to rid farms of a virtual epidemic of jackrabbits. Greyhounds also were used to hunt down coyotes who were killing livestock.

 

The US cavalry used greyhounds as scouts to help spot Native Americans, since the greyhounds were fast enough to keep up with the horses. General George Custer reportedly always took his 22 coursing greyhounds with him when he traveled. He normally coursed his hounds the day before a battle, including the day before the Battle of Little Big Horn.

 

Track Racing - Around 1912, Owen Patrick Smith invented the mechanical lure. He opened the first greyhound track in Emeryville, California. Six years later he owned 25 tracks around the nation, including tracks in Florida, Montana, and Oregon. Florida became the US capital of the sport after dog racing was introduced there in 1922. Greyhound racing became one of the most popular spectator sports in America. Attendance at tracks was nearly 3.5 million in 1992. The over 50 tracks in America ran a total of 16,827 performances in 1992, over which fans wagered almost 3.5 billion dollars.

 

For the first year of their lives greyhound puppies live together with their litter mates. Training starts when they are just weeks old, as they race each other in runs that are about 250 feet long. They are placed in individual crates in the kennel between 4 to 18 months of age, where they spend most of their time between exercise periods and training. By age 18 months, their training usually is over and they are sent to the track. They are given six chances to finish in the top four in their maiden race. If they do not, they are retired ?returned to the breeding farms, put up for adoption or euthanized. The best runners go to the most competitive tracks.

 

Each state has its own rules regarding the grading system. The most common grades are A, B, C, D, E, J, and M. Generally if a greyhound fails to finish first, second or third, in three consecutive starts (except in Grade E or M), or fails to earn more than one third in four consecutive starts in the same grade, that greyhound will be lowered one grade. Dogs whose performance improves or declines still may be moved to higher or lower-graded tracks.

 

Most racetracks in America have a kennel compound to house the approximately 1,000 greyhounds needed to operate the track. Each track has a list of 16-20 kennels which may operate there. Greyhounds must be leased to one of those kennels by their owners in order to run at that track. Normally the kennel owner takes 65 percent and the dog owner 35 percent of the greyhound's earnings.

 

Greyhound racing has hit hard times. In Britain, its popularity declined in the 60s. Many tracks closed in the 70s and 80s, and the industry has experienced ups and downs in the 90s. In America, greyhound racing flourished in the 80s but has lost popularity in the 90s, due in part to the rising popularity of other forms of gambling as well as rising public sentiment against the exploitation of greyhounds. A number of US tracks have closed their doors in the last 2 decades. There are currently 22 tracks still open in the US, with 13 of them located in Florida.


 



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Last Update: 03/02/13