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How to be a saluki owner in Russia

Nino with our baby George and our dogs - going to the park Do you have any pets?
Yes, I do I have 5 dogs.
Five??? Why do you need so many?
I love them.
Ah, ok! And what breeds they are?
First I have a saluki
Saluki? What is saluki?

This is so typical that I can't count how many times I have had to explain why I need so many dogs, I still have difficulties answering the question "what is a saluki". Well Let's say he is my friend, probably the only one that doesn't ask me stupid or typical questions.

His name Caravan Qaniis ibn Jiruwan (although he prefers less bombastic "Darius"). He is nearly 3 years old, and he is the first saluki imported to Russia after the former USSR disappeared into the shadow of history. Many things disappeared, and Salukis were one of the saddest losses in this list. I know there were dogs of this breed in USSR, but I have yet to find any of their progeny - and it would appear this is because there are none

I was just 12 years old when I was first smitten by a desire for a saluki.
In 1989 I saw my first picture of a Saluki - it was in a large book, something like "Dogs of the world". I still remember that gorgeous hound a cream-coloured bitch with a funny pup. What impressed me was their appearance they seemed so different to what one would expect of a dog probably this is because they aren't dogs. They are Salukis. 

My Darius came from Caravan Kennel. His breeder, Lotta Brun, was the only person brave enough to send her pup to Russia. Another brave woman, my wife, had a trip to Norway to bring him to his new home. After almost 10 years the desire was finally fulfilled in late September 1999 I went to the Moscow airport "Scheremetjevo", to meet my first Saluki (he was also the first "live" Saluki I ever saw, not just a photo). 

At that moment we were (and hopefully still are) young and very enthusiastic about Salukis. Both my wife and I have had dogs before and we thought that we were ready to make a serious attempt to promote this breed in our country. We had no idea how we would go about this, but we had will to try - and so we did.
 
Dariy playing with our Irish setters

So, how does it feels to be a Saluki owner in Russia? Now I can answer this question

Saluki is obviously a very "flashy" breed, and you always draw a lot of attention when someone sees your dog (I live in Moscow, a city with 12 millions people) constant attention is nearly always guaranteed. For the first few months I tried many times to explain this breed of dog. A simple answer, "Saluki", doesn't help much, so finally I hit upon the more or less correct description of "Persian borzoi". 

People here are quite strange. We have lots of dogs in our country, but after the most common "breed", the mongrel, people usually know only a few more. The most common are huge guarddogs and various toybreeds. The only sighthound that people can usually remember, is the Russian Borzoi even the word "Sighthound" in Russian sounds like "Borzoi" (the original meaning of the word is "fast"). Nevertheless, I still hear the question: "what dog is it?" a minimum of 4 times a day, so now I can say that having a Saluki makes one's language easier to understand. After 3 years of explaining the word "Saluki" I probably can explain everything.

People who ask you about your dog, are always the ones who like to identify your dog for you - and I must say that this makes owning a Saluki here quite funny. Those "expert's" main choice is definitely an Afghan Hound, mostly with the comment "such a good Afghan, but why did you trim him strangely?". The second guess is "very light Setter". Our other 3 dogs of 5 that we have are Irish Setters, this even seems quite logical. 

A short introduction - our 2 setters came from the UK a year after our Saluki arrived. My wife is completely addicted to this breed, and she will probably divorce me if I don't tell you how good, beautiful and perfect they are. Well, they really are.
 

The tendancy is to identify a Saluki, with something more familiar that is generally very common even at dogshows! Even by judges, which is what makes owning a saluki here particularly quite surprising. Like all normal people, we started to show our dogs in some small shows (small shows here mean up to 200 dogs in all breeds, while the biggest Moscow show usually has 2500). They are usually judged by local judges, so we have had to face some very interesting comments from experts who are new to this breed (like me only a few months before) and have seen their first Saluki. The comments like "ears set too high" or "average angulations", followed by "not enough fringe on ears" will probably make you give you an idea of the type of Afghan hound preferred here.

Our saluki Dariy winning a Group

 
Darius in snow

All of these facets in owning a Saluki in Moscow, are, of course, the most just amazing and easily explained and have certainly done no harm. It is probably typical of any new breed that is introduced into a country at least I've heard of some very strange comments regarding Russian Black Terriers when they first appeared on the European show scene. 

Even very experienced judges take time to learn new breed specifics.

All these problems were forgotten once we started to visit big international shows - the judges on our best shows are mostly foreigners or Russians with a huge experience in judging all over the world, so for them Salukis aren't a big surprise.
More importantly, for us we aimed to familiarise people with Salukis. The easiest way to achieve this was to show our dog as often as we can. 

Which brings me to the fourth thing I've learnt, together with my Saluki Geography. 
 
Dariy sleeping in a bus on the way to the show

As long as we live in one of the biggest countries in the world "showing your dog" often means thousands kilometers every year. For his first show year, Darius was shown nearly 25 times at shows of all sizes in 9 cities, including for example St.-Petersburg (8 million citizens, 800 km away) and Voronezh (1.2 millions, 900 km). 

We are very lucky that all 5 of our dogs love shows, but Darius is really a gift of the Gods since he loves to travel too! I have never seen a dog so enthusiastic about travelling. When he sees us packing all of the dog tools (like brushes, collars, coats etc.) he really becomes happy - all of these journeys are therefore very pleasant.

The fifth and final point in owning a Saluki is exercise. In a huge city one hasn't many places where we can allow our dogs to run free, so we have to care for our boy's health and form in another way and as a result racing became a very important part of his life. Here in Russia we have hunting with sighthounds allowed from October until March and more than a half of all Russian borzois are familiar with live hares and foxes, sometimes even with Wolves, so originally racing seemed a good way to train dogs in summer, when hunting is prohibited. However, in a very short time hunting and racing became separate disciplines, and now racing has become a common way to spend Saturdays (our usual training day) for many sighthounds enthusiasts - at least in Moscow. 
 
Dariy racing Dariy & Kjara (our smooth saluki) racing

Year after year, national racing championships have become increasingly prestigious and impressive.

Although I doubt Darius would ever gain the title (he can't compete for it as long as he is the only racing Saluki for the whole country) he is still well known to most followers of this sport here. A Saluki racing the on track with Borzois seems, of course, a bit strange for the first time, but after a few weeks it became a familiar sight. This was probably first place where someone once said quite spontaneously - "oh, here comes a Saluki. How good to see we have this breed in this country!" This may actually sound and a bit pathetic, but this was probably the first time we felt we were not "strange people with a strange dog", but were normal Saluki owners in Russia. This is not that strange, actually, and is not too different to owning a Saluki anywhere in world.

Many things have changed now - at the moment, just 2,5 years after Darius's arrival, we have 12 Salukis in the country. This probably isn't an impressive number, but it ensures 4 or 5 Salukis at each of the main shows, and seeing a Saluki there doesn't surprise anyone any more. These dogs are very different, they have come from many different places, but this is not that important - the most important is that the interest in Salukis are growing here.

At the last show - Moscow and Russia biggest, "Eurasia-2002", I heard a question I wanted to hear. One lady, a Borzoi owner, asked me: "Didn't you think about a bitch and your own breeding? It would be a good idea to breed them!". The answer she heard was simple "She arrives in July." 

George Kozelkoff
January 2002

salukis Kjara & Dariy
Dariy and Kjara, 2003
  


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