April 2, 2013

Silken windhound, a guest post by Sarah


I don’t remember exactly how my sighthound obsession started, although I suspect it had something to do with an extremely life-like, nearly life-sized statue of an Afghan hound that my aunt had.  I can vividly recall running my hands over its carved details when I was very young, willing the open, grinning mouth and lolling tongue to give me a kiss.  When I first read Deerskin at 19, a few weeks after my precious childhood dog, a scruffy-looking chihuahua/poodle mix, had succumbed finally to kidney failure, that was it.  A full-blown obsession was born.

My eye immediately fell to the regal, graceful Borzoi; all sweeping lines and glorious curls of fur.  The health problems and short lives troubled me, as did the question of bringing home a dog who would grow up to weigh more than I do,* when I was living in a home with a yard almost small enough for me to bump into the far wall if I turned a cartwheel at the near one.#

So I sighed wistfully every time a sighthound came into my field of vision, and joyfully accosted any I saw on the street and pined away for my gorgeous giant.  One fateful day, I happened to purchase a copy of Dog Fancy (which I very rarely did, but this was a Sighthound Issue) and turned upon a full-page ad for Silken Windhounds… “the little hound with the big future.”

Calantha, a bit damp after chasing her doggy friend through some sprinklers.

I knew almost every dog breed that existed,$ and could name them on sight% but I had never heard of Silkens.  And since most people I encounter don’t either, I’ll give you a brief history of them.  Silken Windhounds were created starting in the 1980’s in the United States by breed founder Francie Stull.  She had previously bred champion-winning Borzois, and felt that the sighthound group had a hole; there were no small, long-haired sighthounds.  She set out to remedy this, and also went out of her way to breed for exceptional good health in all the dogs.  She started with Borzois and a strain of long-haired whippets and eventually created the breed we have today; a medium-sized, long-haired^, healthy, long-lived+, sweet-tempered dogs.

Just LOOK at her sweet face!

Despite their dazzling beauty, their upkeep is actually quite easy.  Give them the occasional bath and combing and that’s about it.  Like most sighthounds, they are quite content to help you hold the furniture down most of the day as long as they get daily opportunities to display their incredible speed.  Did I mention they are blazingly swift?  They have proven themselves to be just as quick as greyhounds, reaching speeds up to 45 miles per hour (about 72 kilometers per hour).

Boy, she can run.

But they are not simply fleet, they are exquisitely nimble.  I never, ever tire of watching Calantha++ streaking full-speed, pivot and flip end-to-end without stopping, then continue on the other direction.  She could stop on the head of a pin with an unknown number of angels dancing on it.  Watching her is a kind of magic; a beautiful, powerful, balletic poetry.##

She is not falling over, she is in the process of turning

And that’s all wonderful.  Having a dog who looks like carved marble and feels like satiny down is an exceptional bonus, but the most beautiful thing about a Silken is its soul.  Calantha has rightfully earned the nickname The Magic Dog through her ability to calmly, sweetly win over people who previously disliked or were afraid of all dogs.  She is kind and gentle, and has an immediate affection for babies of any species.  She is clever and thoughtful and occasionally a brat who wishes to eat only cat food and chicken jerky for the rest of her life.**  She is my friend, deeply devoted to me, but also willing to welcome in any new person I introduce with no reservations.  She does the whole unconditional love thing so much better than any human.^^

Cuddling with my cat Byron when he was a baby.

Calantha has one special skill of her own, which while I can’t confirm it to be a breed trait, I would not be surprised if it was, given their beauty: she is an excellent artist’s model.  It’s not simply that she’s easy on the eyes; she knows that when the camera comes out, she’s to hold a pose and not move.  Especially if silly hats or wigs are involved.  This is very handy for me; I am a fine art photographer, and I frequently take self portraits which Calantha often joins me in.  Most of the time she is a very willing participant since I have reinforced her modeling so heavily with praise and treats.  She will most happily wear bizarre items, anticipating the chicken jerky in her future.

About to be given chicken jerky. Intense concentration is required.

But she drew the line at the Bunny Ears.  The Bunny Ears were given to me by my husband, for their sheer absurd, excessive cuteness.  And of course, my immediate thought was to make Calantha wear them.  So we went outside with the ears and my camera, I asked her to sit and I placed them on her head.  She sat.  She sat quietly and watched with disbelief as I proceeded to take photographs documenting my abuse of her.  She is very well behaved; even under such extreme conditions, she let the ears rest upon her head.  But the moment I lowered my camera, she smacked them off her head with vengeance.

Abuse. LOOK at the abuse.

One of the self portraits I dragged Calantha along to, very early one morning.

That’s my girl.  :)

Sarah Allegra is a fine art photographer and self portrait artist in Los Angeles. If you don’t mind some occasional artistic nudity, you can read her blog here:  http://sarahallegra.wordpress.com/



*I am exceptionally tiny.  I have mostly learned to accept this.

#While it is true that I was a gymnast when I was young (see previous footnote) and I can still turn a very sloppy, unsightly cartwheel if the situation truly demands it, I cannot recall if I ever actually attempted one in this backyard.  Trust me that there would have been problems negotiating the space if I had.

$I had been given a Dog Encyclopedia for a gift one year and just read the whole thing cover-to-cover.

%It’s true.  My husband can do this with cars, so if we’re out together we’re always telling each other what the cars and dogs around us are.

^Not Afghan long-haired; Borzoi long-haired, with glorious whorls and swirls of fur.

+Silkens are known to live into their teens, and occasionally the early twenties; a feat quite unheard of in dogs their size.

++Many people ask about the origin of Calantha’s name.  It’s a bit of a long story, but I will try and condense it for you.  I have been enamored with George Gordon Lord Byron’s poetry since I first came across it in my early teens.  As I discovered more about him as a person, I became mildly obsessed with him.  He certainly engaged in some truly odd behavior, but I found him completely fascinating, and his poetry more beautiful and meaningful than any I’d ever read.  One of the great affairs he had in his life was with Caroline Lamb, wife of poet Charles Lamb.  She is the one who famously described Byron as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”  Despite that, they had a torrid and very public affair, which Byron eventually ended when he fell for another woman.  Poor Caroline was deeply wounded, and after some time wrote a very thinly veiled account of their affair in a book called Glenarvon.  The title character Glenarvon was Byron’s fictional stand-in, and Caroline called the version of herself in the book Calantha.  When I first came across it, I was struck by what a beautiful, elegant name it was.  I liked that using it to name my dog was a very obscure Byron reference (of which there are many in my life, including the non-obscure one of my cat being named Byron).  So she became Calantha, or Cal for short.

##I am not simply watching her through a lens of love and affection; the grandeur of her running has been confirmed by many impartial individuals.

**Neither of these would happen, especially the cat food one, as she came very close to giving herself pancreatitis after sneaking some.

^^Myself very much included.


Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.