They are part of a group of dogs we classify as sighthounds meaning that, when hunting, they rely more on their vision than their sense of smell. And sighthounds DO go back to ancient Egypt in the form of the Saluki. A 2004 study of canine DNA classified the Saluki as one of 12 “Ancient Breeds,” but that same study found that modern greyhounds, while looking a great deal like salukis, are actually closer genetically to some herding dogs. Other sources say they might also have a lineage to the "Vertagus", a hunting dog bred by the Ancient Celts of Eastern Europe, making their way around the world in the 5th or 6th century BC.
So, while their origin is a bit cloudy, it is true that every pedigreed greyhound in modern times can be traced back to dogs that were recorded in English racing studbooks in the 18th century.
My family adopted two retired greyhounds from that robust lineage almost ten years ago. They’ve now both passed away, but they’ve left quite a mark on me. Me, the guy who didn’t want dogs in the first place and was resistant to getting them. In my defense, I think I was reluctant because part of me wanted to avoid the crushing grief that I now feel having lost two of my best friends- two animals who loved me without condition, and I them.
These dogs were my closest companions during tough times. Through a divorce, a shift in careers- during the most challenging years of my life- these funny little creatures were here. They slept in the same bed with me and in some ways, kept alive the caretaker in me when my kids had left. No matter how bad I fucked up my life and no matter how hard the road to recovery, I had a couple beating hearts that still relied on me and looked at me fondly. And this grief that I feel now when I look at the chair they used to sleep in, or I come home to a dark house, or realize that I don’t have to refill their water dish, it’s as tough to navigate as losing a relative. I’m hoping this essay will lift some of the weight that I still feel some months after the last one passed.
Greyhounds are leaners. They will sometimes show affection by standing close to you and just leaning. I guess I’m saying that I leaned on them too.
So to honor them I’d like to point to a little of the breed’s contibution to art, where they have been represented in many ways; as an ideal animal, as matters of historical record, as companions, as partners to gods, and also lovingly crafted in memorial portraits, at the behest of grief-stricken patrons like myself.