Irish Wolfhound Times
(Irish Wolfhound Database and Breed information Exchange)
The dogs of Boytown
By Walter Alden Dyer 1918
IWT Editor note:. The book "The dogs of Boytown", the author tells us is not a town that really exists. The author states that Boytown is based on a small town in Connecticut, Massachusetts, USA and that the anecdotes told below were told to two boys. Whilst the book is a work of fiction, the author describes the Greyhound and other dogs, including the Irish Wolfdog pretty well and is obviously knowledgeable on the subject. So whilst this extract is anecdotal I thought it appropriate to include it in our library of articles. Interestingly, towards the bottom of this article the author writes - "The Scottish deerhound is similar in most respects to the Irish wolfhound, but is lighter, speedier, and less powerful. They have a common ancestry, though the two breeds were distinct as long ago as the twelfth century". That is a very intriguing comment! Noting that the Richardsononions argue that the Deerhound is a degenerate descendent of the Irish Wolfdog, it is intersting to note that the author specificallty states the two breeds were distinct as long ago as the twelth century"....
After discussing dog shows some more and speculating as to the outcome of the morrow's contests, Ernest, whose thirst for dog learning was insatiable, reminded Mr. Hartshorn of his promise to tell them about the breeds of the greyhound family.
"The greyhound proper," said he, "is of course the first to be considered. It is perhaps the oldest distinct type of dog now in existence. Likenesses of greyhounds are to be seen in relics of Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculpture, and the type has altered surprisingly little in seven thousand years. It was developed for great speed from the first and was used in the chase. Unlike the other hounds, the dogs of the greyhound family hunt by sight and not by scent.
"The whippet is merely a smaller greyhound, but has been bred as a separate variety for upward of a century. On a short course the whippet is faster than a racehorse, covering the usual 200 yards in about 12 seconds. Whippet racing as a sport has never taken hold in America and we have comparatively few of the breed here. You have already been told about the Italian greyhound. It belongs to the greyhound family but is classed as a toy.
"Although speed is the thing for which the greyhound is most famous, stories have been told which illustrate the breed's fidelity and sagacity when his master makes a comrade of him. I will tell you one of these tales. A French officer named St. Leger was imprisoned in Vincennes, near Paris, during the wars of St. Bartholomew. He had a female greyhound that was his dearest friend and he asked to have her brought to him in prison. This request was denied and the dog was sent back to St. Leger's home in the Rue des Lions St. Paul. She would not remain there, however, and at the first opportunity she returned to the prison and barked outside the walls. When she came under her master's window he tossed a piece of bread out to her, and in this way she discovered where he was.
"She contrived to visit him every day, and incidentally she won the admiration and affection of one of the jailers, who smuggled her in occasionally to see her master. St. Leger was at last released, but his health was broken and in six months he died. The dog grieved for him and would not be comforted by any of the members of the household. At last she ran away and attached herself to the jailer who had befriended her and her master, and with him she lived happily till the day of her death.
"Now we come to one of the grandest breeds of all—the Irish wolfhound. It is a breed of great antiquity and of great size and power. The Latin writer Pliny speaks of it as canis graius Hibernicus, and in Ireland it was known as sagh clium or wolf dog. For in ancient Ireland there were huge wolves and also enormous elk, and the great dogs were used to hunt them. These hounds were even used in battle in the old days of the Irish kings.
"Two classic stories are told of the Irish wolfhound. One is of the hound of Aughrim. There was an Irish knight or officer who had his wolfhound with him at the battle of Aughrim, and together they slew many of the enemy. But at last the master himself was killed. He was stripped and left on the battlefield to be devoured by wolves. But his faithful dog never left him. He remained at his side day and night, feeding on other dead bodies on the battlefield, but allowing neither man nor beast to come near that of his master until nothing was left of it but a pile of whitening bones. Then he was forced to go farther away in search of food, but from July till January he never failed to return to the bones of his master every night. One evening some soldiers crossed the battlefield, and one of them came over to see what manner of beast the wolfhound was. The dog, thinking his master's bones were about to be disturbed, attacked the soldier, who called loudly for help. Another soldier came running up and shot the faithful dog.
"The other story is that of devoted Gelert which you may have heard. Robert Spencer made a poem or ballad of it."
"I've never heard it," said Jack Whipple.
"Nor I," said Elliot Garfield.
"Well," said Mr. Hartshorn, "it's a rather tragic story. Put into plain and unadorned prose, it runs something like this: Gelert was an Irish wolfhound of great strength and great intelligence that had been presented by King John in 1205 to Llewelyn the Great, who lived near the base of Snowdon Mountain. Gelert became devoted to his master and at night 'sentinel'd his master's bed,' as the poem has it. By day he hunted with him.
"One day, however, Gelert did not appear at the chase and when Llewelyn came home he was angry with the dog for failing him. He was in that frame of mind when he met Gelert coming out of the chamber of his child. The dog was covered with blood. Llewelyn rushed into the room and discovered the bed overturned, the coverlet stained with gore, and the child missing. He called to the boy but got no response.
"Believing that there was but one interpretation for all this, Llewelyn called Gelert to him and in his wrath thrust his sword through the dog's body. Gelert gave a great cry of anguish that sounded almost human, and then, with his eyes fixed reproachfully on his slayer's face, he died. Then another cry was heard— that of the child, who had been awakened from sleep by the shriek of the dying dog. Llewelyn rushed forward and found the child safe and unscratched in a closet where he had fallen asleep. The father hurried back to the bloody bed, and beneath it he found the dead body of a huge gray wolf which told the whole story. In remorse Llewelyn erected a tomb and chapel to the memory of faithful Gelert and the place is called Beth Gelert to this day."
There was a suspicious moisture about more than one pair of eyes as Mr. Hartshorn finished this narrative, and he hurried on to less tragic matters.
"The Irish wolfhound is to-day a splendid animal," said he, "and the breed deserves to be better known in this country. It has had an interesting history. There was a time when it nearly died out in Ireland, and the modern breed was started with the remnants some fifty years ago, with the help of Great Dane and Scottish deerhound crosses. The new breed was not thoroughly established, however, until the latter part of the last century. As a made breed, so called, it is a remarkable example of what can be accomplished by patient, scientific breeding. The Irish wolfhound is a big, active, sagacious, wonderfully companionable dog, muscular and graceful, and as full of fun as a terrier.
"The Scottish deerhound is similar in most respects to the Irish wolfhound, but is lighter, speedier, and less powerful. They have a common ancestry, though the two breeds were distinct as long ago as the twelfth century. The breed was a favorite with Sir Walter Scott.
"The Russian wolfhound, known in Russia as the borzoi, is one of the most graceful and aristocratic of all the breeds, combining speed, strength, symmetry, and a beautiful coat. He has been used for centuries in Russia for hunting wolves and has been bred as the sporting dog of the aristocracy."
"It makes a dog show a lot more interesting to know something about the different breeds," said Ernest Whipple.
"Of course it does," said Mr. Hartshorn. "And if I am not mistaken, I have told you something about almost every breed that you will ever be likely to see at a dog show or anywhere else."
Soon afterward they separated for the night
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