A tribute to the Saluki — more than a mere dog

BEIRUT: This tribute to the Saluki is long overdue. Even today, in Saudi Arabia, a Saluki is not a common sight. Many expatriates have left the Kingdom without ever catching a glimpse of this exceptionally graceful dog. 

 In the foreword to this book by Terence Clark, Alan Munro, British ambassador in Riyadh in the early 1990s, recalls how a young driver, after seeing the attractive silky head of a Saluki sitting on his passenger seat, asked: “Is that your girlfriend, mister?”

 In Saudi Arabia, ever since its domestication 5,000 years ago, the Saluki was used for falconry hunting and as a guard dog. Fast, clever, loyal and bold, Salukis are Bedouins’ best friends. They are very special, as Terence Clark discovered the day he acquired his first Saluki. He was then in Baghdad, serving as the British ambassador in Iraq. After several failed attempts, he finally obtained a travel permit and headed for the small town of Kalar in Iraqi Kurdistan to look for a Saluki. 

He was met by “the most majestic cream Saluki with a flowing, silky tail but no feathering on the ears. It was superbly built, with the prominent muscles and sinews of the coursing Saluki, and its feet were reddened with henna, which it is believed hardens the pads against damage over rough terrain,” wrote Clark.

 His proud owner insisted that the Arabic word for dog, “kalb,” should never be used when speaking of a Saluki because “a Saluki was not a mere dog.”

Abdullah Philby recalls in “The Empty Quarter” (1933) how Al-Aqfa, his Saluki, went missing but found his way back by following a set of tracks. 

“The intelligence of the desert Saluki is almost human,” he wrote. 

In “The Salukis in My Life,” described as “part-memoir, part-travelogue,” we are left with enchanting memories of traditional hunting expeditions with Salukis, but we cannot fail to notice how relevant the old Bedouin traditions are to contemporary life. It is satisfying to read about the renaissance of the Saluki breed in the Gulf region, promoted by the younger generation’s enthusiasm and passion.  

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