What is it with Stephanie and Salukis? If you’ve known me for any length of time, you will see that I absolutely love salukis and dogs of all kinds. They are a recurring subject matter within my artwork!
If you’ve read my blog post about Spotty, you will know that from as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved dogs. When I had the chance to pick out a book as a kid, it was often a dog breed dictionary or a story with dogs as the main character. I remember when I was nine or ten, my favourite book was about an abused dog, “Beautiful Joe” and was based on a real dog who had his ears and tail cropped. I’d read that book, crying and wonder how such cruelty could even exist. I decided to always be a friend to dogs.
In one of my dog dictionary books, I remember seeing a cream saluki puppy. I laughed at how long her neck and “grasshopper legs” were and how enormous her eyes were. I thought she was kind of strange, but cute at the same time. I had never met a saluki in person, but I read that they were slightly aloof, sensitive, and difficult to train, and could never be let off a leash because their prey drive was so strong. I also learned that they were called "The Royal Hounds of Egypt" and are one of the most ancient dog breeds. I did not know if I would ever cross paths with one of these near mythical beings.
Fast track to when I was 20 and moved to Ontario for school. Unfortunately I had to leave my aging pup, Spotty behind, but I knew my parents would take good care of her. I had just moved to Oakville and was exploring the trails in the lakeshore area with my cousin who had come to visit me. The sun was shining, the lake was sparkling, and there was a gentle breeze as we walked a winding path. As if from a vision, two red, deerlike creatures, the sun highlighting the fur on their ears and tails were galloping straight towards me. They were salukis! I talked with their owner, who happens to show salukis and have the occasional puppy litter. She told me how wonderful they are, that they are affectionate in their own way, and can occasionally be let off leash. I felt like I was walking on clouds and knew that as soon as I was out of an apartment, I would find a saluki.
For four years, I visited dog shows, just so I could see salukis and learn more about them. Yes, I was the weird girl who asked the owners, can I pet your saluki? I went to lure coursing events and saw them run. Salukis running at full tilt and zig-zagging across a field is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.
After four years in Ontario, after I finished my illustration degree, I moved back to Winnipeg and into the house that I live in now. A few months before moving in, I started looking for litters of saluki puppies. At the time, there were not many rescue salukis available.
Finding a saluki is not a simple task! In Canada there are a handful of breeders, but they tend to have very careful, highly planned litters only every couple of years. No puppies were available in Canada at the time. I saw that there was an expected litter from a breeder in California, so I contacted this lady. She sent me updates and pictures as soon as the puppies were born. I fell in love with a small black and white boy in the day 3 photo and decided to name him Grubby.
The breeder continued to send me pictures of Grubby over the next two months and I loved him, despite having not met him yet! At 8 weeks, Grubby flew to Minneapolis and I drove to pick him up.
He was the sweetest little guy and he followed me everywhere. His little back legs were extraordinarily long, so that he had to kind of step them to the side as he chased after me. He didn’t like sleeping in his cage even though it was right beside my pillow on the bed. So, on his first night, I opened the door and he stumbled out and stretched out right across my neck and slept soundly.
Two nights later though, he did not sleep. He started coughing. After a few hours of restlessness, I became very worried. His gums started turning white from lack of oxygen, so I rushed him to the emergency vet. From having an x-ray, it was seen that his heart was much larger than normal and I was told that he was having congenital heart failure. I was heartbroken. I loved this little hound so much already. I had waited four years to get a puppy like him and now I was faced with the decision that it would be best to end his short life. So I kissed his soft little forehead, held his white paw, felt his last puppy breath and said goodbye to sweet Grubby.
The breeder was shocked and so very sorry about what happened. She said “I have one beautiful red girl left, would you like her?” So my wonderful Penny was flown to Winnipeg, several weeks later.
Right away, I saw that she was a very regal, reserved, yet sweet hound. She didn’t follow me everywhere, but she showed her affection by glancing my way and by nibbling my arm. She took away the sadness of losing Grubby, and I would not want to imagine life without her!
She has taught me that salukis always find the best seat in the house, are discriminating eaters, they always like their paws kept clean, and that a tail wag from her should be seen as the highest honour. She is such a gentle, sensitive creature. At first I worried that Penny was also going to be unhealthy, but I just tried to appreciate every day that she had to spend with me. Five years later, she not been unwell even once!
About two years after I got Penny, I saw that a new rescue group had started up: Arabian Saluki Centre of Canada. This rescue group works with shelters in the Middle East and brings salukis over to Canada to find new homes. The dogs are flown over with flight buddies, people who are already making the trip to Canada and they adopters or foster families meet at the airport to pick up their new hound. To date, they have brought over 70 salukis to Canada.
I look at these salukis often and hope that they find good homes. It really hurts to see a dog that is neglected and in need of care. I think it is amazing that organizations like this exist!
For a while, I’ve thought that Penny might like to have a friend. She absolutely loves to run and I thought she would like a running partner or someone to share the couch with. One day, I saw a picture of a little guy named Taheem.
I knew just three things about Taheem: he was found on a beach in Qatar, he was about one year old, and he may have been a racing dog. His ears had been cropped and this is a sign that he made have been a racer. It was his adorable face and big dark eyes that captured my heart. Once I found out that he is good with cats, I filled out an application for him. Amazingly, he could be put on a flight that was coming in two weeks. This was very lucky because often there is a long wait (upwards of six months) to find a flight buddy.
Kent and I drove to Calgary to pick up our new four legged family member. We grew very worried after almost three hours of waiting. They were not letting Taheem through customs. All I could think about was how scared he was, being locked in that kennel for so long and not knowing what was happening. As I was waiting, Kent all of sudden said “Look Steph!” and a crate labeled “Second Chance Rescue” was being wheeled towards us. When I looked inside, I was struck be how tiny this saluki was, all curled up in one back corner of the crate. I carefully opened up the door and it took some coaxing to get him to step out onto the floor.
I placed new martingale collar around his neck and carefully adjusted it as small as I could make it. To think I had been worried that the collar would not be large enough! Instead of trying to get him to navigate through the noise and confusion on the leash, I scooped up my long legged pup and held him safely as we made our way through the parkade. He seemed relieved and grateful when we placed him in the back seat on blankets and pillows and he immediately curled up.
On the long drive home, this poor jet lagged pup slept, but kept on opening one eye to peer at as. What was he thinking? Probably “who are these people and where am I going?”. But I like to think that he finally felt safe and that everything was going to be alright.
We’ve had him for two weeks and it is incredible to see this little creature opening up and revealing his own personality. He's already put on a couple of pounds and is living a hound's dream. This pup loves life and soaks up all the affection and attention we have to offer.
I’ve illustrated his whole story and will continue to add to it. I plan to make a page that shows the story in it’s entirety. I'm at around twenty pages so far
I am so grateful for these sweet creatures that add so much to our lives!
Please feel free to share your experience of getting one of your dogs in the comments section. I may be inspired to do an illustration of your dog for you!