A WATCHFUL reader – “RufusLelevrier” – suggests there are some doubts about long term purity of the greyhound breed, something I championed in a recent article.. Well, we may never know the precise answer to that, not over such a long and mostly undocumented period. Nevertheless, there is more evidence for the case than against it.
First, though, the Lord Orford caper, late in the 19th century in England, has been strongly disputed as no specific evidence exists. The alleged introduction of the bulldog genes would have been a mighty task anyway, given the relative sizes of the two breeds (there was no AI in those days).
Amongst many, a lengthy report by forensic investigators James McCormick and Susan Burley shot down the theory. They pored over correspondence and media articles from the period and studied a range of breeding patterns of the day. Amongst their conclusions was this..
“These extracts illustrate the turmoil in Lord Orford’s life during the time and period when the mythology regarding the crossing of a bulldog with a greyhound was founded. It would seem that Lord Orford’s chief steward was unable to read or write, and the hired workers would hardly have been capable of sensibly recording any worthwhile breeding project, and this casts serious doubt to the claims surrounding the evolvement of a bulldog cross and the possibility that the champion greyhound CZARINA could have been conceived in this manner. We are of the strong opinion that the modern greyhound has not inherited any genes which purport to have arrived as a result of cross breeding of this kind. We are also of the opinion that the emergence of Lord Orford as the owner of champion greyhounds is unlikely to have been connected in any way to the alleged cross breeding which might, or might not, have taken place”.
However, even if the story were true, the potential impact would probably have been quite small. Communications within and between countries were not that good in those days and the alleged experiment was said to have lasted only a brief time.
The long term picture poses a different question as the 6,000 year purity concept would have been largely undocumented or limited to local geographical areas. Remember the printed book, as we know it now, is only some 600 years old.
However, the circumstantial evidence is pretty solid. A major factor would have been that the greyhound was almost always in the care of people of high standing – i.e. those who could afford to maintain, train and utilise the greyhound for its hunting prowess. Owners such as kings and queens abounded, from the pharaohs of ancient Egypt through the Greek and Roman periods to the nobility of England and Scotland. One of the most recent would have been Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, who commissioned statues and paintings (by Lucien Freud) of his favourite dog. Prince Albert, incidentally, learnt about greyhounds in his native Germany.
The greyhound’s specific qualities were not really available in comparable breeds (Salukis, Borzois, Afghans etc), and certainly not in Lurchers, which were also used competitively but by the lower English classes (see the Heartbreak TV program). To lose those speed and chasing characteristics would be to lose the breed.
Another major indicator is that wall carvings, again from 3,000 BC in Egypt, clearly show a dog which is unmistakably a greyhound in shape and size, and looking obviously like the greyhound of today. Of course, the Animal Life Encyclopaedia claims that these were simply “greyhoundlike dogs” and that “our modern dogs did not descend from these early domesticated forms”, as such. Perhaps so, but these are assertions, not proof. If they were not greyhounds, what else could they be that would pursue their prey in the same way, and be worthy of sculptures which had to be sponsored by the country’s leaders?
The greyhound may well have lived in different groups around Europe and the Middle East but the logical conclusion is that they were still all greyhounds. In some cases – in snow covered regions, for example – it is suggested that they grew longer hair but there is no accompanying theory or proof that they were anything but greyhounds and no doubt boasted the same DNA as their cousins in other regions.
Indeed, that may be the secret. Can anyone take on the task of comparing DNAs from different eras? It’s a big ask but it would answer the question definitively. And it has certainly been done for humans (ie the genome project). That would really give the industry something to trumpet to a wounded public.
Again, too much of a good thing
Once again, stewards have queried the heavy burden placed on a dog with a high racing frequency. Once again, it came from the Hunt camp and occurred in race 9 at Geelong last Friday.
Harrier Bale, a maiden, was having its 12th race between January 15 and March 13. Most of them were poor efforts but this time it ran 2nd, although in moderate time. That’s an average of 4.8 days between each race. In the recent batch it raced three times in five days, which caught the steward’s attention. A previous, similar example concerned Dyna Malaise.
While breaking the maiden status is often a challenging task for connections there must be ways of doing the job other than over-racing it. Surely, that defeats the purpose.
Of course, all the stewards could do is ask the question. There is no rule which says you can’t do this, never mind the lack of common sense or the effect on the dog’s welfare, especially in the current climate.
However, on this subject, industry management cannot claim ignorance of the practice. Nor can the owner of both these dogs, Paul Wheeler. Both should be taking action.