Far away in the Arabian deserts a beautiful race of greyhounds has been known from time immemorial. So ancient is this race that it is claimed for them that they were the first dogs to become the hunting companions of man.
The life of the wandering Bedawin tribes has ever remained unchanged; thus the Arab greyhounds, living in unaltered condi-tions,and required always for the same sport, century after century, have also remained unchanged.
The Arabs consider that the greyhound came originally from Syria with the horse, and even as the Bedawin have handed down their world-famed breeds of horses from generation to generation, so they have carefully preserved their race of greyhounds known as Saluki (Slughi).
Nefissah, a beautiful specimen of the Gazelle-hound. or Slughi. of the "Shami" or Syrian, variety, bred in England by the Hon. Florence Amherst. The featherings on ears, legs, and tail are a characteristic of the breed
The wonderful land of Arabia has "many histories known," so the story of the gazelle-hound has to be traced from most varied sources - Egypt, Assyria, Persia, India, ancient Greece, the records of the Crusaders, travellers, and early European navigators, Eastern and Western art, and from the ancient literature of the Arabs.
Even the name Saluki is full of historical interest. Early Arab "savants" discuss the word. It is said by some to be derived from certain towns called Salukia, in the Selucidae king-dom of the ancient Greek Empire in Asia, and by others to come from Saluk, a long-since vanished town in Southern Arabia - places once famous for their armour and hounds. The Persian term for Saluki, which is "tazi" means "Arab," and is applied also to their Arab horses.
Masculine: Saluki (classical); Slughi (colloquial in Egypt and Algiers). The form "Slughi " is adopted by French, Germans, Dutch, etc., in their classes at shows. Feminine: Silaga (classical); Slughia (colloquial in Egypt and Algiers). Plural, Selag. Tazi, or Sag-i-tazi.
Slughis are known in those districts where Arab immigrants, conquerors, and traders have penetrated, and the Bedawin also export them to India with their horses. They are greatly valued by their Arab owners, and pedigrees of famous Slughis are cherished among the Bedawin tribes.
These gazelle-hounds are beautiful creatures and fine sporting dogs. An English traveller thus describes them: "Like the Arab horses, they are small, but strong and wiry, with great powers of endurance. . . . Both remarkable for shape and symmetry."
A group of pedigree Golden Slughi puppies. This breed is at present a rare one in England, and dogs and puppies command high prices
Their colour is generally cream, fawn, white, or golden, and sometimes black-and-tan. They are about twenty-three inches in height, and an average weight is 42 lb. A Slughi can clear at a spring a height of six feet six inches.
Gazelle-hounds gallop higher than English greyhounds, and get over rough ground in a wonderful way. Their feet are flat, and specially formed for travelling over the yielding sand; their speed varies from twenty-one to thirty-one yards a second.
In ancient Egyptian writings the simile is used: "As swift as light or a greyhound." This poetical idea of their speed vieing with light is also seen in a favourite name the Arabs give to their greyhounds of "Luman," or "La'aman," a "flash of light."
The Arabs divide the Slughis into four varieties, the two most distinctive being the "Nejdi," a smooth-coated variety from the district of Nejd, and the "Shami," or Syrian, variety, also smooth-coated, but possessing feathered ears, a beautiful feathered tail, and a slight feathering on the back of the legs.
Dogs of the Nejdi variety were imported long ago into Africa by the Arabs, and are now used extensively for hunting in the Sahara. The Slughi Shami are well described in the words of a traveller in Aleppo in 1794: "The greyhounds are of a very light and slender make, with larger ears than our English greyhound. Their ears and tails are covered with long, soft hair, which adds somewhat to the beauty of the animal."
The other two varieties, which apparently much resemble each other, have less feathering on ears and tail, and are distinguished apart by Arab experts, who call them the "Omani" and "Yemeni" Slughi. These different varieties are often met with in the same districts, but native breeders are very careful to keep them distinct. In introducing this new race into Europe, importers of these dogs should be most careful to keep each variety of Slughi pure. To confuse the identities and lose the individuality of the different types would spoil all interest for fanciers and scientific breeders, and do away with the historical and topographical value, which in so ancient a race is specially important.
As various specimens of other races of greyhounds from the East are occasionally brought into England, it is important, in establishing kennels in this country, not to spoil them by indiscriminately crossing the different breeds and varieties.
Breeders and exhibitors of specimens of any of the newly imported races of Eastern greyhounds should guard against confusing the small and lightly made Slughi Shami, generally known to Europeans as "Persian greyhounds," with the similar but larger types from Persia, the thickly coated breeds from certain districts of that country, or with a fine, though distinct, breed of dog, the heavily coated greyhound of Afghanistan.
In the desert Slughis are used to hunt hares, foxes, and other animals, but their principal sport is the "gay chase of the shy gazelle." For this they are generally used in conjunction with a hawk. A traveller in the East describes the sport as follows: "When dogs appear, the gazelle instantly takes alarm, for which reason the sportsmen endeavour to get as near as possible before slipping the dogs, and then, pushing on full speed, they, through the aid of the falcon, which is taught to strike and fix upon the head of the gazelle, retard its course by repeated attacks till the greyhounds have time to come up. . . . The sportsman must ride hard who wishes to be in at the death."
The advantage of this style of hunting is well described in " A Pilgrimage to Nejd," by Lady Anne Blunt: "The Nefud is so covered with bushes that without the assistance of the birds the dogs could have had no chance, for it was only by watching the hawk's flight they were able to keep on the hare's track. It. was a pretty sight, the bird above doubling as the hare doubled, and the three dog? below following with their noses in the air."
The best Slughis are said to be able to bring down gazelle unaided by a hawk. Gazelle-hounds are not only used as a means of catching game to add to the Arabs' often frugal meal of dates and curds, but the Bedawin sheikhs enjoy the pastime of hunting, and are masters in the art of falconry. They also race their rival hounds.
Though the despised "dog," or "kelb," in the East is looked upon with contempt, the Saluki, or "hound," has great consideration shown him. The women help to tend the Slughis in puppyhood, and in striking camp the puppies may be seen among the baggage, mounted on the camels with the children. On the march the Arabs will also carry their "greyhounds on camel-back, lest the burning sand should scald their tender feet."
It is not only in the lone deserts that these dogs are thus prized and tended. If we glance at the varied pages of their history, it will be noticed that they have always been valued. In Egypt they were the favourites of the great men of the land. Mummies of Slughis found in the tombs of the kings and elsewhere reveal the respect shown to them. The Bedawin pay to the race the highest possible compliment by saying that Mohammed possesssed some Slughis
Crusading records show that these d were greatly prized by Europeans for sport in Palestine, and the name "Rishan, or "feathered," a favourite one given to dogs of the Syrian variety, is also supposed by a tradition still held in Syria to be a survival of the name of King Richard Coeur de Lion, who is said to have owned some of these beautiful desert greyhounds.
Slughis adapt themselves well to a northern climate, and make exceptionally faithful and affectionate companions. They show in their bearing the pride of an ancient race, and in every movement the attributes of their fine sporting ancestry. A glamour of history and romance surrounds these beautiful creatures, which makes them a most valuable addition to the ranks of household "pets."
They are still so new a breed in England that their market value cannot quite be estimated. Fifty pounds has been given for a grown dog, and puppies are valued at about twelve to twenty guineas.