Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Life with an Irish Wolfhound - CuChulainn Deo Irie


You know, some things just happen in life when the stars align and the Gods decide that maybe it is time to make things interesting for some lonely human. Little did I know it might be me. After years of fruitless searching for an Irish Wolfhound wherever I was traveling from coast to coast, I was about to give up.

Now I admit my standards might be a little excessive. But I had studied everything I could find about these dogs over the years although I was surprised to discover just how little was available. I mean this is one of the oldest breeds of dog in existence and can be traced back at least 3,500 years to ancient Ireland. This dog was the stuff of Irish legends.

"I will give thee a dog which I got in Ireland.
He is huge of limb, and for a follower equal to an able man.
Moreover, he hath a man’s wit and will bark at thine enemies but never at thy friends.
And he will see by each man’s face whether he be ill or well disposed to thee.
And he will lay down his life for thee.”

(from "The Icelandic Saga of Nial”)

According to Irish Wolfhound websites, The dog of kings and the king of dogs, the Irish wolfhound is a living symbol of the Celtic people. A dog from the time of heroes, it is entwined in Irish lore and legend. The tallest of dogs, the noble Wolfhound is an enormous, rough-coated shaggy-browed hound, built on galloping lines and is a member of the Greyhound family and combines their great speed with enormous power. Even as he lies by a modern hearth or romps about an enclosed yard, gallops in a meadow or along a beach, it is easy to imagine him as the prominent figure he once was in the feudal life of the Middle Ages. He was coveted for his hunting prowess, particularly in the pursuit of wolf. With the disappearance from Ireland of these animals, and the excessive exportation of the dwindling ranks of Wolfhound, the breed was allowed to become almost extinct.

Wolfhounds were, indeed, so highly thought of that only kings, warriors, nobles and bards were legally allowed to own them. They were the companions of the regal, and housed themselves alongside them. But their function was far from ornate - they were considered the guardians of their noble masters, and they were indeed bred to hunt wolves and capture wolves, and to go in for the kill. It is not surprising to note that there are no known wolves in Ireland today.

A dog of nobility, an Irish wolfhound was so valued in the 1700s that a condemned man could buy his life with one. Once upon a time the Irish Wolfhounds were used to fight wild animals in the arenas of imperial Rome. They were known to have defeated lions in battle.

Queen Elizabeth was given a pair of Wolfhounds in the middle of her reign and Lord Cromwell, in 1652, was so concerned about the exportation of Wolfhounds from Ireland and the rapidly vanishing breed that he banned any further exporting. By the later part of the 19th Century, Irish wolfhounds very nearly became extinct. An Irish wolfhound was the first pure-bred dog in the New World; one traveled with Columbus on his fourth voyage.

In spite of its size, the Irish wolfhound is absolutely trustworthy with children. All this information plus the fact my mother's side of the family was from Ireland was enough to convince me that I needed one to complete my portfolio of canine sidekicks which by this time was pretty extensive.

I determined that I must find one whose parents were natives of Ireland in order to make certain I was getting close to the original breed since cross breeding and limited numbers of wolfhounds tended to weaken the breed after too many generations away from Ireland.

Now I studied the breed standards and fully expected to find what is known as the "super breed" which refers to a throwback to the ancient lineage. These are standards that come closer to the ancient breed than modern dogs. I was not disappointed.

AKC MEET THE BREEDS®: Irish Wolfhound
An Irish Wolfhound must be "of great size and commanding appearance." He has a large, muscular greyhound-like shape, and he is the tallest of dogs, but not the heaviest. A superb athlete and an endurance runner, an old Irish proverb describes him perfectly: "Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked." The breed’s recognized colors are gray, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn and others.

Irish Wolfhound Breed Standard
General Appearance
Of great size and commanding appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is remarkable in combining power and swiftness with keen sight. The largest and tallest of the galloping hounds, in general type he is a rough-coated, Greyhound-like breed; very muscular, strong though gracefully built; movements easy and active; head and neck carried high, the tail carried with an upward sweep with a slight curve towards the extremity. The minimum height and weight of dogs should be 32 inches and 120 pounds; of bitches, 30 inches and 105 pounds; these to apply only to hounds over 18 months of age. Anything below this should be debarred from competition. Great size, including height at shoulder and proportionate length of body, is the desideratum to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a race that shall average from 32 to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry.

How could you not want to experience sharing a home with an ancient member of Irish royalty? These gentle giants were the stuff of legends and at long last my search for the perfect Irish Wolfhound with genetic ties directly to Ireland came to a conclusion in northern Maryland.

When I moved to Maryland a few years back I discovered a breeder in Northern Maryland with puppies meeting the exact qualities I required. A male, first generation removed from Ireland and with all the classic standards the American Kennel Club expected in a show quality dog though I had no expectation of ever showing him.

Unfortunately the breeder said all pups were taken and she would call me when the next litter came along. I was disappointed having come so close for the first time in several years. But a week later she called me back and said the buyer of one from Georgia had been diagnosed with cancer and could no longer devote the attention to the dog necessary so she cancelled her order. He was mine if I wanted him.

When I got to the breeder two pups were left to pick up, a male and female. They were the cutest, most innocent looking little wolfhounds resting in their cage. About 7 weeks old, there was absolutely nothing about this little guy that foretold of what was to come. So I sat down and waited to see if he would come to me. The male made the first move then along came the female. But the male crawled up on me and parked himself. I was surprised at how small and delicate it seemed at seven weeks old compared to the vision I had of the full sized warrior.

So I walked away with the little critter and on the journey home he started whimpering, maybe he wasn't quite ready for adventures. By the second night away from mamma he was sleeping with me curled in my arms or sprawled across the pillow above my head. It was quite cute. Six years later he is still sleeping with me although now I am the smaller one, but that gets a little ahead of the story.

His first week he inhaled some strong flea and tick spray and literally died, seizing up and suddenly stopped breathing with no heartbeat. I grabbed the little guy and ran into the bathtub and shoved him under freezing cold water and somehow the shock jolted him back to life.

It was then I decided he was a fighter, having already faced death and come back so I named him CuChulainn Deo Irie, Gaelic for CuChulainn, warrior spirit of Ireland. Since no one in Coltons Point spoke Gaelic I just called him Coolin, or Cu for short.

I had no idea what I was getting into with this unusual little creature. He grew in spurts, in about six week intervals. He would eat like a horse during that time, grow a couple of inches and a lot of pounds, then stop growing for six weeks. Every time his color seemed to change.

I waited a year to start exercising him as I knew large breed dogs face their most dangerous period the first year when most people over-exercise them when their bones and joints are still in fluid. Then we took two walks a day of approximately 2 miles total. I knew he was allergic to flea treatment because of his near death experience so I had to find some natural way to fight fleas and ticks since he did like to romp through the woods and along the shore.

After two trips he refused to go to the vet and I had to find a most unusual vet in Southern Maryland who would make house calls. Dr. Guyther and her Vet-A-Pet traveling show became one of Coolin's great friends and admirers. The doc treated horses so I knew she could handle Coolin.

As he continued to stretch out at an alarming pace a few things became obvious. First, he could never be left in a kennel because he simply would not fit in a cage. His idea of a cage based on my raising him was the living room. Second, he did not like dog food as he did not consider himself a dog but a far superior being.

From day one he insisted on sleeping with me and for the first year it was on the bed. It was the genetic breeding, I could tell. Slowly but surely a host of mysterious habits came from Coolin as he grew into his royalty genetics. Once he got too big for the bed he would only lie down on his own bed. Since he liked to hang out with people some of the time and stay out on a porch there had to be two beds, one inside and one out, with about five comforters each.

This was a most peculiar dog. He like having a light cover on him even though he had a fur coat. Then there were the pillows. He insisted on a pile of pillows. These I moved from bed to bed. When he moved to the bed he would arrange them under his head or push them to the side so he could lie on them.

As he grew and surpassed the breed standards I began to wonder. You see, AKC said the Wolfhound male should get about 32-34 inches high and weigh an average of 125 pounds. Occasionally a genetic throwback would come along more like the ancient breed and could weigh up to 175 pounds. They also said he should stop growing at 4 years old.

Coolin shattered the breed standards. He now stands nearly 39 inches at the shoulder, and measures over 7 feet 3 inches from nose to tail. As for the weight, with no fat whatsoever he still weighs in at about 250 pounds. That makes him much more like the ancient super breed.

Concerning the things no one told me about Wolfhounds, where do I start? No one mentioned the two beds, or that he liked them clean. If the top blankets and pillow cases were not regularly cleaned he refused to lie down on the bed. And my little Lord demanded he get baths, toweled and brushed weekly. What in the hell was that all about? I never owned a dog that demanded baths.

Then there was the eating. As for the diet, forget it. What I ate he ate unless he ate better. Hands down peanut butter sandwiches are his favorite, along with sushi, salads, hamburgers, hot dogs and on and on. He prefers variety, as in a different meat each day. Some days he refuses to eat what I serve and will not touch the food until he gets what he wants. He just won't have a bad chicken day.

For breakfast his Irish breeding makes him love crescent rolls. After breads or rolls he expects a small bowl of milk to wash down the food. He may be the slowest eater I've ever seen. One small bite at a time and chew it 25 times, then swallow. Then wash the legs and feet and eventually he will get back to the food. Half hour meals are the norm.

When he eats, which he does lying down, the food must be no closer than 3 inches from him. Too close and he moves away. Too far away and he waits for you to move it closer. When he eats half the plate he expects it to be rotated so the food is close to him. Don't rotate and he don't eat. If he is getting several different things for his meal don't dare mix them. I may give him meat, wet dog food, dry dog food and bread for a meal. He gets up and changes position before he will eat the next course of his meal.

Are you beginning to get the idea that Coolin thought he was moving in with the Rockefellers or Rothschilds, not me?

A people person, Coolin wanted to hang out with the humans but did not like being touched unless he gave you permission. If people approached him and didn't follow directions a low growl would rumble across the room. It would stop anyone.

Acutely aware of his size and the hazards of being huge, Coolin was very careful. He would not walk on wood floors. Of course my whole house has wood floors so he only went where I put rugs. His long, gangly legs kept him from attempting to walk up flights of steps. He knew better. He would never enter a room he could not safely back out of.

Most astonishing of all, in spite of the fact he looked down on most tabletops, he never knocked anything off a table or knocked over any furniture. And we never caught him stealing food off the table. We had been warned the Wolfhound was entirely capable of snatching a steak or roast but only when you were not looking. He didn't.

Coolin has a variety of voices he uses to communicate with you. There are different tones and sounds when he wants food, wants out, wants you to come play with him, and wants to be left alone. If you study them you develop a whole new way of communicating with animals. His mysterious eyes are also used to communicate. If I ask him what he wants his head continues facing you but he shifts his eyes to what he wants, like the water bowl if it is empty, or dirty. He might want his towels put down over his bed when coming in from the rain. If he is hurt he will show me where so I can fix him.

Other dogs are inferior creatures to Master Cu but he did make friends with an abandoned Irish Setter named Holly and shared his home, food, bed and masters with Holly. He is the most unselfish animal you will meet. He also saved birds that were hurt and brought them to me to fix. When lying on the front porch little birds would fearlessly hop around him as his eyes followed them picking up crumbs of his food.

He really does not like being around small dogs as he is afraid of hurting them accidently, they move too fast. Nor does he like being around small children for the same reason. If a Wolfhound is raised with the children they are exceptional guardians and playmates.

The Irish Wolfhound is a sensitive, meaning they have a mystical sense of the character of a person. It was why they were favorites of the ancient Druids and were often used as Demon chasers to protect Celtic villages from evil. If he senses evil or something wrong with someone he will not let the person near you.

Mostly they are gentle giants, incredible companions, lovable bears and amazing athletes. Loyalty is inherent, protecting you is a given, nursing you when you are sick or hurt is automatic and knowing how to read your every emotion is commonplace. You could not find a better friend. But you better be ready to provide your Little Lord with royal service. They do not stay little for long.


1 comment:

Phyllis, Las Vegas said...

Catching a glimpse of Coolin on visits to the Point is a highlight for me. He is truly a majestic animal. Happy New Year!