Posts Tagged ‘greyhound’

erika the red

Erika the Red is our new racing greyhound bitch We do have a litter planned for later this year, and the puppies will be available for sporting homes.

We picked her up at Wheeling Island yesterday,, and with greyhound racing fading away, we’re going to try to keep these lines alive for the future.

She is a very gentle dog. Think giant whippet, and you’ll come close to describing her.

She gets along with all the whippets. Poet wants her BAD. And the Static thinks she is his mommy.




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I will be doing this soon enough, but with a whippet that will be sent after a plastic bag.

The hares being coursed and then cared for in this video are Irish hares, which are a unique subspecies of mountain or blue hare that is endemic to Ireland.

We do not have a hare for coursing in most of the Eastern US, so we’re bag chasers. There are some European brown hares that were introduced to New York State, and those would be the nearest coursing hares to me.

Snowshoe hares live deep in the coverts of mountain laurel and are usually taken with the use of beagles and basset hounds.

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Beautiful  N Red

Beautiful N Red at turn out at Derby Lane. St. Petersburg, Florida, on Christmas Day 2010.

I am not known for my conservatism. Indeed, I am definitely on the other side of the spectrum, but on some issues, I am not an ideologue, especially those issues that deal with animals that have a purpose.

What I am about to write might cause me to lose some readership, but I feel I have to say what I do think about this issue. This issue is the continued existence of commercial racing greyhounds in North America.

Many states have banned wagering on greyhound. My native state of West Virginia is still one that is very much into greyhounds and wagering on them. The former governor’s family was a devotee of greyhounds and greyhound breeding, and his successor has made a point to keep the hounds subsidized in the state budget.

But West Virginia will not keep the practice alive. The real market for greyhound racing is in Florida, and now Amendment 13 is on the ballot for this coming election.  My guess is that Florida will ban it. Democratic voter enthusiasm is way up in Florida, which is a good thing for 95 percent of the things I care about, but the odds that the typical Democratic voter is going to see through the nonsense that everyone “believes” about greyhound racing are not particularly high.

Greyhound racing may have been cruel in the past. They may have shot the racers after they couldn’t run anymore. They might have let the dogs run live meat rabbits that would be hung down from the lure.

I saw all these things on tabloid news shows when I was a kid, but I didn’t assume that the entire enterprise of greyhound was immoral. Even at that age, I thought they should just ban cruel practices, and I thought that greyhound adoption was just a great idea to stop people from shooting their retired dogs.

star in a crate

Star enjoying her spacious crate.

In the end, that’s what most states did for a while, but big money wanted the practice to end entirely. Casinos didn’t like having their revenue tied to racing, and many states had requirements that casino licenses be tied to greyhounds. Ban the practice, and the casino licenses would be liberated from the dogs and whatever fines and regulations go along with them.

I have come to know several track insiders, including my current partner. I’ve heard stories about the old trainers, true dogmen of the highest order. These were men who could tell which muscle was pulled simply by how the dog was limping and could tell you the bloodlines of the greyhound simply by looking at it.

They were not like the horse trainers who make massive salaries training their racers. These were men who made money on the dogs, but they lived mostly austere existences. The dogs were their passion, and the skillset was passed on from generation to generation. Whole families devoted themselves to breeding for and caring for the dogs.

If this Amendment 13 passes, the biggest state with legal greyhound racing will end this whole culture. All this knowledge and all this passion will be dashed away.

And all because people simply believe that greyhound racing is inherently cruel. I’ve been told by my friends in Florida that many dishonest political ads are filling the airways. Some are making claims of mass fatalities at tracks, with no supporting evidence given.  One wag even put up a Halloween display showing greyhound tombstones with the names of greyhounds that supposedly died at the tracks.  Strangely, people on social media who owned the dogs wound up sharing live photos of the dogs named on the fake monuments, showing that the dogs were not dead at all. They had been adopted.

Further, the end of greyhound racing is also the end of greyhound adoption. Many people have relied upon a steady supply of retired racers to fill their homes with their favorite breed.

What likely will happen is that those in the know will buy up racing greyhounds from the trainers and kennels. NGA dogs can still be registered in the AKC, and these dogs certainly will be.  They will then be bred for amateur racing and dog sports, and because they will be bred like any other sport breed, you will likely be able get an eight-week-old puppy from a breeder. But you will pay a big price for it. The racing greyhound will become like the racing whippet, a dog owned by amateurs only, and not one easily procured at retirement.

derby land greyhounds

Fuzzface Monte counter-surfing at Derby Lane. Note the size of the crates in the background.

So people who own retired racers now are essentially setting up a situation where when their current dog dies, it will become so much harder to find another dog to fill the void.

I would urge Florida voters to vote down this Amendment 13.  I would urge them to speak to the real greyhound people, who are not the monsters portrayed in 30 second ads.  These are among the last of the true dogmen, and their ideas and thoughts and expertise are not to be laughed at.

And certainly not squelched because a well-funded animal rights campaign has deemed them and their livelihoods undesirable.




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Greyhound/Pembroke corgi:

Photo courtesy of Nara U.

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This dog is described in a letter in Country Life Illustrated (19 December 1908):


While out ferreting the other day at Parford, on Dartmoor, I took the photograph I enclose of a greyhound retrieving a rabbit, which I thought might be of interest to some of your readers. When this dog was out with us it was quite the exception for a wounded rabbit to get down a burrow; consequently, we were able to ferret the whole length of the hedges without leaving gaps, as is generally the case when one wants to avoid the chance of the ferrets laying up. The dog belongs to a keeper in Chagford, who told me he had great difficulty in training him in the first instance. If a rabbit was missed and bolted away from the hedge it was often caught and retrieved after an exciting course, which greatly added to the day’s sport and relieved monotony. As to the dog’s parents, I was unable to obtain any information, but he had the appearance of being a fairly well-bred dog (pg. 892).

That last line is used make certain that this dog is a greyhound and not a cross between a greyhound and a retriever.

The dog is mostly black, and that might suggest that someone bred a greyhound to a retriever at some point to get both the color and the behavior.

Grantley Berkeley did cross one of his deer greyhounds with a retrieving “Newfoundland.”  The resulting puppy– Wolf– was a very sagacious retrieving lurcher.

There are certain greyhounds that will retrieve within the population, and these do not necessarily have retriever blood in them. The only characteristics that this particular dog has that might suggest retriever ancestry are its black color and the retrieving behavior.

But neither of these is necessarily indicative of being a greyhound/retriever cross of any sort.

The retrieving behavior is widely distributed among domestic dog breeds. My grandmother’s miniature dachshund, who ruled me with an iron fist (as would any Prussian autocrat worthy of the name) was an 8-pound retrieving fool.

And there are plenty of actual retrievers that would rather eat than retrieve anything.

Because retrieving is widespread in dogs, it makes sense that virtually all retrievers living in Britain had some level of crossbreeding. They were the performance-bred mongrels of the sporting gentry.


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“Hound Coursing a Stag” (1762) George Stubbs.

The dog is one of those big “deer greyhounds” that appear in some of the breed literature.

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(Source for image)

Last week, I wrote about the story of Smoaker, the retrieving “deer greyhound” that belonged to Grantley Berkeley. Smoaker became famous for coursing deer on his own, and for being of great use on the shooting line, fetching shot pheasants and other small game as well as an retriever.

On the occasion of Smoaker’s death, The New Sporting Magazine carried an article and several letters extolling the virtues of this remarkable dog. The article points out that Smoaker’s son is similarly gifted as a deer courser and as a retriever.

However, not much is said about Shark in the piece.

So I had to hunt around to find out more about him.  The Berkeley provides the following account in Edward Jesse’s Anecdotes of Dogs (1858):

His son Shark was also a beautiful dog. He was by Smoaker out of a common greyhound bitch, called Vagrant, who had won a cup at Swaffham. Shark was not so powerful as Smoaker; but he was, nevertheless, a large-sized dog, and was a first-rate deer greyhound and retriever. He took his father’s place on the rug, and was inseparable from me. He was educated and entered at deer under Smoaker. When Shark was first admitted to the house, it chanced that one day he and Smoaker were left alone in a room with a table on which luncheon was laid. Smoaker might have been left for hours with meat on the table, and he would have died rather than have touched it; but at that time Shark was not proof against temptation. I left the room to hand some lady to her carriage, and as I returned by the window, I looked in. Shark was on his legs, smelling curiously round the table; whilst Smoaker had risen to a sitting posture, his ears pricked, his brow frowning, and his eyes intently fixed on his son’s actions. After tasting several viands, Shark’s long nose came in contact with about half a cold tongue; the morsel was too tempting to be withstood. For all the look of curious anger with which his father was intently watching, the son stole the tongue and conveyed it to the floor. No sooner had he done so, than the offended sire rushed upon him, rolled him over, beat him, and took away the tongue. Instead, though, of replacing it on the table,the father contented himself with the punishment he had administered, and retired with great gravity to the fire.

I was once waiting hy moonlight for wild ducks on the Ouze in Bedfordshire, and I killed a couple on the water at a shot. The current was strong; but Shark, having fetched one of the birds, was well aware there was another. Instead, therefore, of returning by water to look for the second, he ran along the banks, as if aware that the strong stream would have carried the bird further down; looking in the water till he saw it, at least a hundred yards from the spot where he had left it in bringing the first; when he also brought that to me. Nothing could induce either of these dogs to fetch a glove or a stick: I have often seen game fall close to me, and they would not attempt to touch it. It seemed as if they simply desired to be of service when service was to be done; and that when there were no obstacles to be conquered, they had no wish to interfere (pg. 33-34).

So Shark was a bank runner, and Berkeley apparently lived at the time when bank running was not seen as an undesirable behavior in retrievers. Of course, one can see in that account that a bank runner could be a useful dog. Shark did not waste time charging back into the river to hunt for his bird. Instead, he efficiently ran down the river bank to see where the current had carried the duck. That’s something we don’t want our retrievers doing, but in the real world, it has a definite utility.

Shark, like his father, was unlike normal retrievers in that he didn’t carry around objects that had nothing to do with hunting. This may be the result of them both being greyhounds, and greyhounds are beasts of prey. They actually kill the prey they are sent after. These two dogs were adept at killing red deer, and retrieving shot birds and other small game was just a step below coursing.

Now, Shark would be bred to “Newfoundland” bitch, which, in the 1830’s and 1840’s, would have been among the first choices for a retriever. This breeding produced what would have what we would today call a lurcher– in this case, a retrieving lurcher. The story of the retrieving greyhound family continues through a dog from this breeding named Wolfe:

Wolfe’s mother was a Newfoundland bitch. He was also a large and powerful dog, but of course not so speedy as his ancestors. While residing at my country house, being my constant companion, Wolfe accompanied me two or three times a-day in the breeding season to feed the young pheasants and partridges reared under hens. On going near the coops, I put down my gun, made Wolfe a sign to sit down by it, and fed the birds, with some caution, that they might not be in any way scared. I mention this, because I am sure that dogs learn more from the manner and method of those they love, than they do from direct teaching. In front of the windows on the lawn there was a large bed of shrubs and flowers, into which the rabbits used to cross, and where I had often sent Wolfe in to drive them for me to shoot. One afternoon, thinking that there might be a rabbit, I made Wolfe the usual sign to go and drive the shrubs, which he obeyed; but ere he had gone some yards beneath the bushes, I heard him make a peculiar noise with his jaws, which he always made when he saw anything he did not like, and he came softly back to me with a sheepish look. I repeated the sign, and encouraged him to go; but he never got beyond the spot he had been to in the first instance, and invariably returned to me with a very odd expression of countenance. Curiosity tempted me to creep into the bushes to discover the cause of the dog’s unwonted behaviour; when there, I found, congregated under one of the shrubs, eight or nine of my young pheasants, who had for the first time roosted at a distance from their coop. Wolfe had seen and known the young pheasants, and would not scare them.

Wolfe was the cause of my detecting and discharging one of my gamekeepers. I had forbidden my rabbits to be killed until my return; and the keeper was ordered simply to walk Wolfe to exercise on the farm. There was a large stone quarry in the vicinity, where there were a good many rabbits, some parts of which were so steep, that though you might look over the cliff, and shoot a rabbit below, neither man nor dog could pick him up without going a considerable way round. On approaching the edge of the quarry to look over for a rabbit, I was surprised at missing Wolfe, who invariably stole off in another direction, but always the same way. At last, on shooting a rabbit, I discovered that he invariably went to the only spot by which he could descend to pick up whatever fell to the gun; and by this I found that somebody had shot rabbits in his presence at times when I was from home.

Wolfe accompanied me to my residence in Hampshire, and there I naturalised, in a wild state, some white rabbits. For the first year the white ones were never permitted to be killed, and Wolfe saw that such was the case. One summer’s afternoon I shot a white rabbit for the first time, and Wolfe jumped the garden fence to pick the rabbit up; but his astonishment and odd sheepish look, when he found it was a white one, were curious in the extreme. He dropped his stern, made his usual snap with his jaws, and came back looking up in my face, as much as to say, ‘You’ve made a mistake, and shot a white rabbit, but I’ve not picked him up.’ I was obliged to assure him that I intended to shoot it, and to encourage him before he would return and bring the rabbit to me (pg. 34-36).

The “Newfoundland” mother that Wolfe had could have easily been a St. John’s water dog or an early wavy-coated retriever. Berkeley does not say anything about Wolfe’s progeny and concludes his story about his greyhounds with a description of his current greyhound bitch, Brenda, who has also learned how to retrieve to the gun. It is possible that Wolfe could have contributed some to other retrievers, but I cannot find any accounts that clearly state this. It would make sense that such an intelligent dog would have been a great asset to anyone’s retriever breeding program.

Berkeley’s account of Wolfe shows something that science has recently just found out about dogs:  They have a sense of rules. Wolfe knew that he wasn’t supposed to bother white rabbits or young pheasants. He learned these rules simply by spending time with his master. Dogs can learn a lot just from being with us, and considering his Newfoundland/retriever heritage, one would expect him to have  very strong sense of wanting to please his humans. When he was sent to shrubs, he knew that he would bother the young pheasants– a violation of the rules. He also was deeply vexed when he was sent to retrieve the shot white rabbit, which he had learned he was supposed to leave alone. In both cases, he had to disobey rules, and he just didn’t feel comfortable doing so.

The story of this family of unorthodox retrieving sighthounds is truly a fascinating chapter in the history of retrievers. Perhaps Wolfe’s descendants live on in modern flat-coated and golden retrievers, or maybe he was bred back into greyhounds and a little “Newfoundland” courses through the veins of some racing and coursing dogs.

Whatever the case, Wolfe, Shark, and Smoaker were truly remarkable dogs. They defy the conventions of the modern dog culture, which worships the notion of the specialist dog. Greyhounds are to race or course. Retrievers are to retrieve. And that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Ah. But it wasn’t always that way.

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