In 1919, the AKC recognized 74 breeds, the Labrador Retriever being its most recent addition two years prior. The Border Collie was still 75 years away from being accepted, and breeds like the Vizsla, Tibetan Spaniel, and Shiba Inu were beyond the imagination of the average American dog owner. In those days, we trusted National Geographic to bring us information about life in exotic places, and images so beautiful (if not bizarre), that it felt criminal to throw any issue of the magazine into a rubbish bin.
We gazed in wonderment at images of strangely dressed people, and the strange animals in their world. In 1919, one of those animals was the Persian Gazellehound, or what the National Geographic’s “The Book of Dogs” also called the “Slughi.” “This ancient race,” we read, was “one of the most peculiar….and most puzzling of dogs…Possibly no dog known has changed less from our earliest knowledge of it to the present day.”
This was dramatic stuff, and to prove it, the image seen above depicted a brace of exotic dogs controlled by an even more exotic man in native dress. “The Book of Dogs” helped us understand why the breed was so strange by pointing out that “the first peculiarity to strike the eye is the curious combination of short, close body hair, with silky, flowing Afghan fleece on the ears and long silken feather from the stern.”
One hundred years after the publication of those words, we know the breed as the Saluki, and the breed was far removed from the daily life of early 20th readers of the magazine. Today’s youth have no concept of how highly anticipated illustrated magazines like Life, Look, and National Geographic were to curious readers with an insatiable appetite for news. Back in the day, readers gazed upon the illustration of these dogs and read, “A fact tending to show the antiquity of the ‘slughi’ is that no combination of known dogs seems to be capable of producing a creature just like him.”
Perhaps one day if life is found on another planet, we will marvel in awe much the same way as our great grandparents did at the “peculiar” beauty of the Saluki whose picture they saw in a book. We are far luckier. We get to see them in motion on TV, or in real life at a dog show, or perhaps in a friend or neighbor’s house. The irony: Through technology, our world shrinks and we become better acquainted with its glorious assortment of breeds even as modern life sees some of them becoming at-risk breeds.