Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sight Hounds

Scottish Deerhound, Hickory Wind, the newest Westminster Best In Show, has brought a category of dogs into public awareness that does not usually enjoy great popularity: Sight Hounds.

Organizations and experts are not in complete agreement about which breeds to include on the definitive list of Sight Hounds, but core breeds which are on all lists are:

Afghan Hound



Irish Wolfhound


Scottish Deerhound


With the exception of the Whippet, developed in the nineteenth century, these are large to very large dogs whose beginnings reach back into antiquity. They share two distinctive characteristics: acute long distance vision, and speed. For centuries, they were companions of landed aristocrats. Their time was spent much the way their masters' time was spent: hunting out of doors; lounging indoors--"indoors" being a luxurious tent, a castle, a palace, or a simple mansion.

You might have noticed that luxurious tents, castles and palaces are not common in the United States. We do have a number of Mac Mansions--but usually they are not surrounded by large estates. One could say these dogs have lost both their employment and habitat. So their rarity--with the tragic exception of the exploited racing Greyhound--is understandable.

As an admirer of Sight Hounds, I am deeply conflicted about Hickory's win. Was I rooting for her? Yes indeed! Am I concerned that the accompanying publicity will motivate some very unsuitable humans to decide that they want to acquire a Scottish Deerhound--or some other Sight Hound? Yes indeed!

So. Let me explain once more what it is like to have one of these magnificent Sight Hounds as a member of your household. And yes. A Sight Hound is a full member of its household.

1. They want to BE with you. They may or may not want to OBEY you.

2. They will NOT be happy to be restricted to floor level. Sometimes they will settle for a comfy cushion, but usually they prefer a sofa or love seat.

3. They don't play fetch. But if it's moving, they'll chase it. If they catch it, it's THEIRS! Cats, small dogs, rabbits. There's a difference? Who knew?

4. They CANNOT be trusted off-lead or unconfined. Not. For. A. Second.

5. They are quiet and they prefer a quiet household. No shouting,please. Their Serenities require serenity.

6. They really HATE to be left alone.

7. No Sight Hound--even those with rough or long coats--should be left out of doors unattended for long periods. They may be big dogs, but they're indoor dogs.

8. Sight Hounds are NOT watch dogs. If a prowler enters your house, your Sight Hound will do one of the following: a) Slip out the door as the prowler enters. b) Hide. c) Greet the "house guest" as a good host should, perhaps guiding the newcomer to the family silver or a brand new t.v. d)Sleep soundly as family valuables are loaded into a truck. e) Any combination of a,b,c,d.

9. Sight Hounds have unique medical issues and must be treated by veterinarians who understand these issues.

Why, then,you might ask, do people choose to live with a Sight Hound--or, more likely, Sight Hounds?

That's a tough question. The best answer I can manage is: For the pleasure of their company. Either you experience pleasure in a Sight Hound's company, or living with one will drive you crazy.

Sight Hounds are relics of a bye-gone time, aristocrats of the ancien regime who have never quite been able to learn the ways of the bourgeosie .

They share our homes, trust us to figure out their needs and protect them from the depredations of a fast paced, mechanized world. In return we receive loyalty and companionship that have nothing to do with obedience, embodied in a living work of art.

Those are the terms of life with a Sight Hound. If you can't accept them, don't even consider a Sight Hound as a companion.

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