Book Review: The Reign of the Greyhound

The Reign of the GreyhoundThe Reign of the Greyhound by Cynthia A. Branigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thorough, historical love letter to man’s pointiest friend.

I learned a lot, mostly how greyhounds were revered as angular, embarrassed gods due to their artificially selected ability to run stupid fast and catch rabbits real well. (This is called coursing).

They come from Egypt, which I kind of knew, but I didn’t consider the implications. Sighthounds are dogs with vision as good as ours, and it’s what they use to hunt, as contrasted to most dogs who follow their nose. Greyhounds are the prototype sighthound, and Egypt, Greece, and Rome were so content with them that they never bothered making more than slight modifications; most of these modifications resulted in making the greyhounds slighter (Italian greyhounds and whippets).

In Afghanistan they brewed up an Afghan, which is like a greyhound on a Pantene commercial. It’s also a little hardier and better at hurdling, since the mountains are rocky and cold. These weren’t considerations out on the Sahara, which is why greyhounds can work their way up to 45 mph in open flat land. You know, like a desert is.

The Irish, in their fashion, decided to make them huge and train them to fight. Not each other, of course. What kind of barbaric, antiquated, ass-backward cultural mores would promote dogfighting? They’re man’s best friend! It takes a special kind of sociopath to make their best friends fight for their amusement, and they should be shot repeatedly and fed to said dogs. No, the Irish trained their increasingly monstrous highland greyhounds to fight wolves.

This selective breeding, combined with hill-sprints, a chillier climate, and a presumable diet of potatoes and stout, led to the creation of the Irish Wolfhound, a 200% scale model greyhound that tops out around 200 lbs of hoary, active, and unflinchingly vigilant muscle.

Same, tbh.

Unfortunately, the stars that burn biggest burn fastest or something, because irish wolfhounds only live six to eight years. That’s like getting a giant, shedding goldfish that could kill you, but would never. Unlike cats. Don’t get me started.

Greyhounds are mostly comprised of muscle and knees, and are living every bodybuilder’s fantasy of not even having a subcutaneous fat layer. They never need a cut. Permanent contest-readiness. The issue is that fat serves biological functions, like insulation and joint protection. A mastiff, nature’s perfect lardass, can plop down on any surface up to and including those anti-homeless spikes and grab a quick 36 hour nap because they are their own sofa. The life-critical portions of a mastiff are ensconced in an envelope of blubber, like a loveable square-head walrus. Mastiffs can do this in virtually any climate, although it’s very rude to expect a short-hair mastiff to sleep outside, what the hell is wrong with you, he deserves better, you also deserve to be shot and fed to him.

Sorry. Sorry, dogs are just… so much better than people. I digress. Greyhounds have no fat, and their skin is so thin that they need to sleep on a couch or in a special doggie bed or they’ll get skin lesions from the floor. They also can’t go outside without a stupid doggie sweater when it’s cold or they’ll catch pneumonia. A stupid doggie sweater would rob another breed of their joie de vivre, but greyhounds are innately majestic, and the accessories only complement their swagger.

When I was a lad, one of my classmates was very pro-greyhound and, as a result, vocally anti-greyhound racing. For most of my life, I put racing in the same category as dogfighting, badger-baiting, and what the PETA videos say about meat-packing plants. This book claims the racing industry has come a long way in the past 20 years. The kennels provided for the racers are as spacious as a “kennel” can get, and positive reinforcement is the new coin of the realm since it works better than beating the everloving piss out of animals.

(Protip: This is statistically true of most humans, too. Although I admit some people really need to get the everloving piss beaten out of them.)

The racing industry has also partnered with greyhound rescue organizations, of which there are presently over 300, and they ship retired greyhounds out to become superfast couch ornaments for loving homes as soon as they turn 2. These pups are still twitchy, but I’ve fostered and adopted a lot of rescue dogs in my time, and racing greyhounds don’t sound nearly as traumatized as most of them were at the get-go.

I was hesitant about getting a greyhound because I am a ruff-n-tumble dude and wanted a dog with matching temperament. However, that would require getting a shepherd or retriever, bred for ADHD presentation, and that wouldn’t be fair to put in a city apartment, any more than it is for me.

But Alexander the Great had a greyhound named Peritas that attacked an elephant. That’s about as ruff-n-tumble as it gets. The elephant won, sure, but Alexander held a huge doggie funeral, then had a statue of Peritas built and named a city after him.

I don’t see any cities named after that elephant.

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