Finland's first desert bred Salukis

Regab with pups, Farha is the one on the right

I first fell in love with a Saluki at age 8. She was a small Saudi Arabian bitch, the clever heroine of a children's story. And so my mind was made up: one day I would live with Salukis, breed Salukis, write about Salukis… and one day I would own a real desert bred beauty of my own. The years passed, my Saluki family grew and so did my interest in the Eastern Saluki. I asked breeders why they did not import from the desert and was told it was next to impossible and in any case they did not want to risk losing their established kennel type by bringing in the unknown.

Finally, in 1997, I read Gail Goodman's book The Saluqi - Coursing Hound of the East. So many wonderful stories by people who felt about Salukis just as I did and who further proved that it was indeed possible, if not easy, to import desert bred hounds. I wrote to Gail Goodman who generously gave of her time and knowledge, and helped me make many valuable contacts and like minded pen friends across the globe.

The chain led to Dr Zafra Sirik in Israel, chairman of the Israeli Sighthound Club and patron of Israeli desert bred Salukis. Years earlier she had begun the arduous task of tattooing and registering the Salukis of the Negev desert in hope of reassuring the Bedouins of the value of keeping the breed pure and also making it possible for breeders to use these hounds as viable outcrosses, thus widening the genetic base of our breed. This then was what I had been looking for.

After bombarding Dr Sirik with pleading letters I finally met her in Finland in 1999. She agreed to help and so the search for suitable puppies began. I wanted a male and a female, preferably from separate litters, this for future breeding. I would take the bitch, and a like minded lure-coursing judge and Saluki fancier, Seija Kotti-Rantala, would take the male. Dr Sirik found my bitch pup with a Bedouin breeder, Sultan Abu Rekiek, in the village of Tel Sheva in the Negev desert.

Farha's siblings from two litters

He had mated the half-siblings Regab and Risha, both grizzle smooths and both sired by a local legend, his own Pontiac. The result was a litter of four, two males and two females, from which Zafra selected my Farha, also a smooth grizzle. Farha al-Faifa remained with Sultan until 6 months of age when Zafra fetched her and took her to Tel Aviv. For the first time in her life Farha walked on a lead and rode the elevator to Zafra's flat, where she delightedly made the acquaintance of Zafra's Greyhounds, ate their food and fell asleep on their bed…

Later that day she moved to the household of Shai Spector Kfar Ruth, a Jewish Saluki owner, with whom she lived for two months until her arrival in Finland. Shai had Farha dewormed and vaccinated, luxuries she had not known in the desert where her mother had cared for her pups alone, chained to a wall with the pups on bare sand. Zafra has since begun helping the Bedouins care for their dogs by providing food and veterinary care when possible. These are poor people who do not have the time and money to pamper their dogs as we do. Though Salukis are given privileges mere dogs are not, since they must be fit to hunt for their masters, they are nontheless, unsentimentally, animals. Farha's breeder Sultan for example is a pious Muslim who does not touch the dogs though he does hunt with them. (If he does touch them he performs a purifying ritual afterwards.)

Sultan's kennel

The dogs live in a makeshift kennel - old Pontiac sports the locally popular version of a doghouse: part of an old car with a grass roof! Pontiac is well-known among the other Bedouins as a hunter and stud dog and is also a rarity because of his age -9 years- as most Negev Salukis have a life span of 5 to 6 years as they are then replaced with younger, stronger hunters. Hunting is illegal in the state of Israel, but the Bedouins still relish this ancient practice, driving out into the desert at dusk with their Salukis, hoping to hunt away from prying eyes.

Zafra e-mailed me Farha's picture and I approved, so now we had only to find the male. And find him Zafra did, with his Jewish breeder Sima Gelem. Zafran Asli, or Safi as he is now called, a smooth, was bred entirely from Bedouin stock and so met with our approval, again from a picture via e-mail. Via e-mail we also learned, much to our surprise, that Zafra had taken both our puppies to a show in Tel Aviv, with Norwegian Kari Nylen judging. Farha won her class and Safi was Best Puppy.

Farha and Sara

February 11 2000 our long-awaited puppies finally arrived at Helsinki airport. Farha was then 8 months, Safi 4,5 months old. The pups impressed us greatly from the get-go not only with their beauty and soundness but also with their unflappable temperaments. No sooner had they stepped out of their crates than they began eating from the bowls set before them, smack in the middle of a busy terminal! Once they had eaten they just as calmly allowed themselves to be admired and photographed by our entourage of ten. "They're lovely!" I kept telling Zafra, "they're lovely!"

The drives to their respective homes went peacefully, but when we arrived at our destination and Farha stepped out of the car she was in for a surprise. The ground was ice-clad and very slippery -she could not understand what had happened to it. Like Bambi on ice her paws slid out in all directions and with each step she fell over. For the first couple of weeks Farha merely marvelled at the weather -just when she thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. Even with her warm coat I had to push or carry her outside. Still, in March she was fully acclimatised and refused the coat, even asking to be let out in the snow. What a wonderfully adaptable breed ours is!


Farha quickly made friends with my other dogs, two Salukis and two Dachshunds. I had worried that she might not like the smaller dogs but I needn't have, all went well though she was a little puzzled by them at first. Food was a problem in the beginning as Farha seemed under the impression that whoever got to the bowls first ate that day. She would guard her food ferociously (though not with me, only the dogs), gulp it all down and then go outside to throw it up and eat it again at her leisure. By now she's learned to wait her turn and eats calmly with the others. She is a joy to look at and live with and I could not be happier with her.

Safi has visited us a couple of times and Farha always remembers her travelling companion. He too has taken to his new life and the family's other two Salukis, actually having been adopted by the older male of 13 years! The other day his owner Seija had a visit from a vacuum salesman. With him was an Iranian gentleman learning the trade. Safi walked into the room and the Iranian stared at him and said, "Where does this dog come from? How is it possible that such a hound is in Finland?" Seija naturally told him the story of these dogs and the man was very impressed, saying he had not seen such an animal since he left Iran. Seija pointed to her two Finnish bred feathered hounds explaining that Finland had plenty of such hounds, but he remained adamant that they were not true Salukis. He asked if he may touch Safi and asked whether Seija realised what a fine and valuable hound he is, commenting that his cream colour makes him especially treasured. High praise indeed!

Risha with puppies

Since neither Farha nor Safi have more than two documented (and thanks to Zafra's work, registered) generations in their pedigrees, they've gone into a special registry here. This means that they can compete for national but not international titles. Their offspring will have full FCI registration as long as their intended mates have at least two registered generations in their pedigrees. I hope to use both in my breeding.

These fine hounds have taken us all by storm. They are happy, affectionate and obedient, soundly built workmanlike yet graceful creatures with beautiful light movement. We hope to share many happy years with our desert hounds and their offspring.

Micaela Lehtonen
Qashani Saluqis
Previously published in Saluki International spring/summer 2001