Real Dogs

Is there still a place for real dogs in our world? Yvonne McGehee contemplates the prospects. She is a borzoi breeder who lives in Idaho, still running the dogs the in the way that they shoould be run, and found, on a visit to Hungary, a single dog with the old fire:

“… my beliefs collided with reality in a garden in Hungary. This gold dog will never be able to do what she was born for; never, not even once. She will hope and hope until hope fades and her body grows too old to do what she once so desperately wanted.

“Meanwhile, the yaks lay contentedly on the ground, inert and happily so. These dogs who so resemble blankets are happy in their garden. They have no desire to use even the full extent of it; happy to lay nearest to the gate back to their kennel. They have no hunter’s body, and they have no hunter’s heart and mind. They have no desire, no mental desire and no physical desire, to move those heavy round limbs ending with heavy round feet, in anything resembling a sighthound’s way. They are suitable, the best fit for their situation. They are perfect here, in this tame place, with their domesticity, with their show-ring-selected bodies and minds. They are the products of static selection, based on static appearance and on somebody’s ideas of what must be the right thing for this breed to look like. The plush silky coat is gone, replaced by yak hair; the muscles, cut with definition and tendons hard as cables, are gone, a bland flat smoothness taking the place of sharp-cut convexity; the bladed tapering limbs, ending in feet so fine you can see the veins feeding them and the tendons working them and the details of the joints, these are all gone, exchanged for hairy round balls. Hair on the head and extremeties fine like a mouse’s; this, from an early breed description, is gone. And the behavior is gone as well. The hunter’s attentiveness, living all in their eyes and ears, alert scanners of the horizon; gone.

“They have evolved. Under static selection, where hunting is an aberration, where trips to the dog show are the only outing they will have, they are the output of evolution toward a domestic dog who resembles a borzoi. They are facsimiles. They are happy here, eating their commercial foods, sleeping their undisturbed sleep, living through entire lives in this garden. They do not suffer frustration and disappointment. They will never grow bored and restless, they will never crave to be on the other side of this fence, to go, to run as hard as their muscles and bones and lungs can manage, to hunt, to feel the fast warm fur in predatory teeth. Their hearts do not long to stretch out lightlimbs over large empty spaces. The borzoi as I have tried to understand it, as I have striven to breed it, is completely missplaced here. And here is all there is; this is what the world will be, ever more crowded, ever more restricted, ever more domesticated. It is the gold girl who suffers here.

“It is the gold girl who is the borzoi, the only borzoi, in the garden.”

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