Kate Ferguson, Sale
LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
MINE is a small home filled with hounds.
I adore my own two, but then there’s a sweet, mellow crew of fellow greys and their lovely owners that have become a cherished part of my world and together, right now, we’re celebrating.
For the first time, in 135 years, greyhounds in the state of Victoria do not have to wear muzzles.
The oldest breed of dog, the fastest and the first to be listed as a pedigree, greyhounds are truly a sight to behold in full flight.
They are second only to the cheetah in terms of speed and will outpace a racehorse, at least in a short distance sprint.
Their long, lean bodies and relatively sparse hair may seem unfashionable in an age of short, woolly dogs, but their enduring presence as working dogs and as home companions suggests they’re not disappearing any time soon.
Greyhounds have shared space with humans throughout history, from their days as domesticated wolves in the highlands of Ethiopia where they were valued as great hunters, through to worship by the ancient Egyptians, to icons of elegance in the Art Deco period.
They sprinted through the hunting grounds of European aristocracies and were protected by royal command under the Forest Laws of Britain’s early medieval period, when all but the rich and powerful were prohibited, on pain of death, from ownership.
Over time, laws became more lax, but hounds remained valued hunting companions.
It was only when a peculiar new sport from America, which involved pitting greyhounds together on a straight track, moved to the United Kingdom in the early 20th century, that they became known, as per Jack Lang, as ‘the working man’s racehorse’.
It’s commonly assumed that this is when the dogs began to be muzzled, but that’s not quite the case.
In Victoria, in July 1884, the Dog Bill was passed, insisting that “no person shall exercise or train any greyhound within the limits of any city … unless every greyhound is first properly muzzled”.
The law was enacted with a particular concern for dogs of any breed breaking loose from a hunt and attacking sheep.
The breeds nominated for concern in discussions at the time were not greyhounds, but perhaps their long association with hunts leant them some infamy.
The first greyhound race in Victoria was in the late 1920s, where, subject to the Dog Act, dogs ran fitted with muzzles while on the track.
To this day, dogs are required to be focussed on a lure, and the odds of a field of eight dogs running and only one getting the ‘prize’ does hold the potential to end in tears for such expensive animals.
Their hair is sparse, their skin easily torn and their long limbs vulnerable; dogs are muzzled to minimise on-field spats.
Off track, they have no more need of a muzzle than any other breed.
The image of them as ‘Hannibal Lector’ dogs perhaps says more about us than it does them.
It’s a strange thing that we humans, so quick to indulge ourselves in acts harmful to animals — live export of stock under terrible conditions, inhumane puppy factories — then lay the blame at the foot of the very animals we exploit.
But there’s a positive end to the story. From New Year’s Day, Victorian owners of greyhounds and their beloved dogs have been able to rejoice, as the ban on their being able to walk in public without uncomfortable wire muzzles fitted over their ears has come to an end.
You may have seen greyhounds without them.
That’s because they have passed an exhaustive behavioural test to prove that their competitive thirst is well behind them, if indeed they ever showed such traits.
As with any dog, some do, some don’t.
Unlike every other dog, this breed has had to prove their ‘worth’ over and over again, and that’s why those of us who adore them celebrate the overturning of the muzzle law and thank the members of Victorian State parliament who voted to make this happen.
We look forward to the day when public perception also shifts, so that our dogs are never met with fear and suspicion as we take our walks.
Above all, to all our friends who accept that these are gentle giants, we thank you (with smiles, and with tail wags) as this latest, more humane period of the breed’s long history by our sides, begins.