No dog on earth appears more surely born to wealth and leisure than the Afghan hound. Its naturally tailored slacks and casual coiffure make the sleekest members of the jet set look disheveled by comparison. But, more than good looks, the Afghan has talent: it can run as fleetly as the wind on the hills of Kabul, where its ancestors hunted leopards.
In some of the smarter Eastern dog shows of late, Afghan fanciers from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut have taken to matching their dogs against one another in speed as well as beauty. They have even banded themselves and their hounds into an organization known as The Eastern Coursing Club.
Some of the best Afghans in the nation took part in a recent meeting of the ECC in doggy Greenwich, Conn. They spent the morning, as all good show dogs must, being groomed and posed and stared at and prodded by stern judges. Then, the judging done, the dogs moved out to the coursing field to strut all that stuff. The race was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. but, as Bob Gilson, an ECC founder, said, "nothing ever starts on time," so it was 2 before things really got under way.
Gilson and a friend, Frank Holder, had spent the morning roping off a 15-foot-wide, 180-yard-long straightaway and setting up the starting box, a formidable wooden shed divided into four stalls painted blue, white, red and green. When the gate opened, the dogs were supposed to take off after a foxtail pulled along the course by a fishing reel. Trouble started when it became clear that only a few of the 24 entrants had raced before or had any understanding of the principle involved.
Some of them refused to get in the gate at all, others (fortunately muzzled) tried to bite the handlers who picked them up and pushed them into the stalls. A couple of the dogs just stood there, shaking, trying in vain to free themselves of the colored silk saddles that they wore so spectators could tell which dog was which.
The dogs raced in heats, and when each batch of four runners was ready the starter alerted the man in charge of the foxtail by means of a walkie-talkie, then waved a checkered flag.
Up went the gate and out came the dogs—some of them. Although an experienced courser was put in each heat with the novices, his example was not always followed. One black Afghan simply stayed inside the box watching the foxtail recede. Kenjy and Kuri, cream-colored brothers owned by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Towne of Darien, Conn., stopped to admire the brave start of a handsome black competitor, then nosed along the ropes, sniffing at spectators. Another cream hound got halfway up the course, stopped, looked bored, then turned around and headed back to the start.
"There's that darling little bitch who won this morning," said a woman in orange as Ann Barry's silver-coated Lysandra took off like Buckpasser.
The bitch in question—Lysa for short—an excellent racer despite her show-dog look, had not coursed for eight months, but she easily beat Rhoda Winter Russell's Dusty (Duchess Royal Dhus-Tee), a California-bred hound already timed in 11 seconds on a 180-yard track. Another heat winner was Lobo, a frisky black that lives in Brooklyn and came to Greenwich with a record of 12 victories in 12 starts. Lobo gets his exercise running along Manhattan Beach and is a serious competitor. On the course at Greenwich he proved as speedy as ever, and just as grumpy if another dog bumped him. When it wasn't his turn to race, however, Lobo howled support from the sidelines, drowning out most of the large, cheering crowd around him.
Lobo and Lysa were matched in the final, and they came leaping out of the box with coats flying, ears flapping and feet thumping (but quietly, because Afghans don't make much noise, even on a racetrack). In just 12 seconds it was all over.
The winner by about an Afghan length was Lobo. Still undefeated, as smooth and fashionable as ever, he headed back to Brooklyn with a silver bowl and only slightly soiled feet.