To a few hundred dedicated exhibitors, the Lompoc weekend in late July means more than just another couple of California shows. For many years this was the highlight of the show season for those of us who love sighthounds, the closest thing to what Montgomery County means for Terrier folks. In the 1990s and early 2000s, there could be as many as 800 to 900 dogs entered at the Western Sighthound Combined Specialties, held on the same grounds as the all-breed Lompoc Valley KC all-breed shows the same weekend. These days the makeup of the WSCS has changed a bit – more about that below – but any weekend that can attract over 700 entries for just one single breed deserves to be highlighted.
Sighthounds are the long-legged members of the Greyhound family that hunt by sight rather than scent. They have a strong prey drive and are so fast that they can overtake and catch their quarry on their own. This hunting method, called coursing, dates from hundreds of years before the invention of firearms, and although it’s now largely a remnant from the past, it’s still a popular sport in many countries. Lure coursing, the modern, artificial version of the original, offers the dogs good exercise, but is otherwise just a pale shadow of “real” coursing. The kind of sighthound that’s used for open field coursing depends both on the topography and the prey, and sometimes the dogs may be accompanied by hunters on horseback. Sighthounds obviously do best in open terrain, where a scenthound would be lost and the prey would be able to escape anything but the fastest pursuit.
What Is a Sighthound?
There’s much debate about just what a sighthound is and what it’s not. Everyone agrees that the Greyhound and the Saluki, each with a history going back thousands of years, best exemplify the archetype, but as the original sighthound spread across Europe and Asia, separate breeds developed over the centuries, often as a result of crosses with local hunting dogs. Borzoi hunted wolf in Russia for hundreds of years, Deerhounds and Wolfhounds descend from Greyhounds that probably arrived with the Romans in the British Isles – although the modern Wolfhound is, truth be told, mostly a skillful modern reconstruction of the original. The difference between Salukis and Afghan Hounds isn’t always nearly as obvious as it may seem from ringside at modern shows, and while the Whippet obviously has a lot of Greyhound characteristics, its even smaller cousin, the Italian Greyhound, is not even considered a sighthound by some, since it was developed not for hunting, but as a companion dog.
There are many other sighthound breeds that we don’t see much of at AKC shows. The Sloughi and Azawakh are currently in AKC’s Miscellaneous class, and at FCI shows in Europe you may come across, for example, the Spanish Galgo and the Magyar Agar from Hungary. Some breeds are considered as belonging to the sighthound group by some, but not by others: Ibizan and Pharaoh Hounds are usually included, Ridgebacks and Basenjis more seldom.
A few breeds that previously participated in WSCS have, for various reasons, absconded elsewhere in recent years, and in 2013 the American Whippet Club moved from Lompoc to Long Beach, which further depleted this year’s WSCS entry. Still, seven specialty shows attracted 621 entries in the regular classes at Ryon Park in Lompoc over Thursday and Friday, July 25 and 26. There were two Wolfhound specialties, parent club events for Greyhounds and Scottish Deerhounds, a regional Borzoi specialty, and – most importantly – two big Saluki specialties, with large entries at the weekend’s two all-breed shows as well. The Saluki Club of America had 195 dogs entered on Thursday, there were 208 the next day at the San Angeles Saluki Club, 174 at Lompoc Valley KC on Saturday and 164 on Sunday. This adds up to 741 breed entries over the weekend; if you include sweepstakes, etc., you reach a total of 864 entries for Salukis alone. That’s a high figure for any breed, and in view of the fact that AKC doesn’t register more than a couple of hundred Salukis per year it’s a truly amazing figure. (Registration figures are only my estimate; AKC no longer publishes registration totals.)
The Birth of the American Saluki Association
The Sunday all-breed show marked the American Saluki Association’s 50th anniversary of supporting the breed entry this weekend. The ASA was started in 1963 by a few dedicated Saluki lovers at a time when the breed was still rare in America. The group decided to support the breed entry at Santa Barbara Kennel Club, then already one of the biggest and most glamorous dog shows in the U.S. – or the world, for that matter. They called themselves the Saluki Fanciers of Southern California and achieved the “astronomical” entry of 12 dogs that year. Already by the next year that number more than doubled, with entries coming from far and wide, which also resulted in a name change – first to Western Saluki Association and later to the American Saluki Association. There could be no official specialty show, however: AKC can only recognize one national organization for a breed, and although the Saluki Club of America had been largely dormant for several years it was still the official “parent club.” Nevertheless, the ASA has continued to support the breed entry at the all-breed show, although the focus eventually shifted from Santa Barbara to Lompoc. I’m not sure when the record was reached, but as early as in the late 1970s entries were so large that a second judge was needed to take care of the overflow numbers.
The Saluki Club of America, newly re-energized, has now for many years held a national specialty in Louisville, Ky., that’s among the biggest for any breed. The relationship between the two clubs was not always completely amicable in the past, but these days they cooperate so well that they can host events on the same location during the same weekend, to the benefit for everyone.
Since I was lucky enough to be involved in ASA in its early years, while working in the kennels of its first president, Dr. Winafred Lucas, it was particularly interesting to note that the Srinagar kennel that Dr. Lucas started was still well represented at these shows. Now maintained by daughter Afton Lucas Blake, Srinagar bred and co-owned several entries, and the BOB winner at the Saluki Club of America specialty was in fact sired by a Srinagar dog out of a Srinagar bitch. How many other kennels continue to produce top winners for more than half a century?
Another regular feature of this big Saluki weekend is the focus on international judges. All four breed judges came from abroad: Rudi Brandt is a sighthound specialist and Whippet breeder from Denmark, Elizabeth Guthrie has the Elarabie Salukis in Australia, while Nina Neswadba in spite of her youth has owned Salukis for many years in Austria, and Juan Miranda, who judged the Sunday ASA entry, is an Afghan Hound specialist from Mexico. Juan has shown successfully in the U.S. on many occasions, both as a junior handler and in regular competition. At 24 years of age, he is already approved to judge all breeds at FCI shows, something that would be virtually impossible in the U.S., where most judges are twice as old before they even get their first Group. Juan judged breeds from four of the seven AKC Groups over the weekend, with complete confidence and as far as I could see without any problems at all. There must be a moral there somewhere, but I’ll leave it for you to figure it out.
A highlight during the weekend was the art show and champagne reception hosted by the American Saluki Association at the Veterans’ Memorial Building in Lompoc on Thursday night. Titled “Celebrating the Saluki,” the exhibition featured 66 beautifully displayed contemporary artworks (1950 to the present) in all media, originals or limited editions, many created by well-known Saluki fanciers and on loan from breeders, exhibitors and collectors. It was an impressive event, proving conclusively that a breed of such extreme aesthetic appeal as the Saluki is capable of inspiring artists to heights of creativity. There was a beautiful, glossy, color catalog, and the 125 guests nibbled on appetizers with the champagne. Art Exhibit Chair Nancy Leising had worked for two years to prepare this exhibit and had every reason to be proud of the result.
Favorite Work of Art
I’m not going to tell you what my favorite work of art was. In such an impressive display, it wouldn’t be fair to single any one out for that reason. However, I will tell you what a pleasant surprise it was to see Kay Finch, she of the famous Crown Crest Afghan Hounds from the 1950s and ‘60s, represented by a bronze she had sculpted of her wonderful Saluki ‘Pinky,’ Ch. Crown Crest Allah’s Gold. It was also fascinating to speculate to what degree Kay had influenced contemporary artist Susan Bahary, whose bronze Saluki head, at least to my eyes, appeared inspired by Kay. Susan told me she had, in fact, met Kay as a very young artist, and that she, of course, was slightly overwhelmed by the experience.
There’s nothing like admiring the live dogs at a show, but when there’s an art show on the same weekend as the dog show, this definitely adds an extra flavor, especially when it is of this caliber.