Wolfhound without a wolf

Cycling along the boulevards yesterday afternoon, husband met this Irish Wolfhound puppy walking his owner (also in photo). A beautiful animal, but with a heartbreakingly short life-expectancy.


Wolfhound you were once in the dim past, a life of high esteem, and the wild open spaces, wolf-running. A century of selection, to bring you back, almost dodo dead, has made you, big puppy, a candle in the wind. In your eyes, nothing of the ferocious wolf-hunter that terrified the Roman legions. A soft light shines, tender and timid, and in their depths, a question—why am I?

Too big, bones too long, heart too far from toe tips. Beautiful and damned, and handful of years of life, and destined to die from inherent diseases. Brown-eyed beauty, a pure product of genetic engineering, you ask, why am I? And I have no answer.


Ephemeral joy,

birth to precocious old age,

spring melts to winter.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

28 thoughts on “Wolfhound without a wolf”

    1. They are fantastic to look at. It’s a shame they almost died out, and an even greater shame that when someone had the bright idea of reconstructing the race with a bit of this and a bit of that, the idiot breeders latched onto one blood line and have used it to excess. Now they are all tainted and condemned. Poor beautiful critters.

  1. I once helped a wolfhound mix up out of a lake. He’d gone over the walled edge, excited by waterbirds. His mistress was hanging on to his leash for dear life. Quite a powerful haiku at the end of it!

  2. Jane, six to eight years is the average, but many breeders are producing lines now that make it past ten years. Our first, Finn, passed this spring a week before his tenth birthday. I’ve heard of one recently who just turned an incredible 14. But if you know these dogs and their big hearts, 14 is still too soon.

    1. That’s great to hear. There was a time, when I was a child, that eleven, twelve years was quite common. I have a feeling the dogs were rather smaller than they are now. Six years is such a feeble life expectancy for these majestic dogs, it has to be because of over-breeding a tiny gene pool. If some breeders have found a way of putting the wrong right, more power to them 🙂

      1. I think you’re right, Jane. Although my girl and her nephew top 160 pounds, their breeder stresses vigor and longevity. A wolfhound breeder who talks size first is one I’d avoid. Bone cancer and heart disease still take too many of these soulful giants, but I think the breed has turned around for the better.

      2. I do hope you’re right. I’d have loved to have had one, and half-considered adopting one of the many I’ve seen on the lists of sight-hound care groups, but they have all been to give a five-year old a final year or two of life in a loving home! They are dogs that are probably already sick with the disease that will kill them and the owner can’t face the bills. It’s tragic. Long life to these emblematic animals—they deserve better than genetic manipulation and its consequences.

      3. Jane, in my experience, I’ve seen wolfhounds of all ages up for adoption. The Irish Wolfhound Club of America is a great place to start. Not all are old or ill. And people who have had one wolfhound invariably wind up getting another. They retain the spirit of their ancestors from ancient Ireland. I’ve never known a dog like them, and I’ve lived with many over the years. Irish wolfhounds’ humans are fanatics about the breed. They get under your skin because of their intelligence, old-soul qualities and huge, loving hearts. And fortunately, they’re one breed I believe is getting stronger.

      4. I’m in France so it’s not the same. There aren’t very many breeders and the sighthounds in general aren’t popular, so I suspect it will be quite a long time before much changes here. I don’t know how the breeding world functions though, so I could be completely wrong.

      5. That’s a shame. Sighthounds are so elegant. I don’t know what the situation there is but I do understand your concern about breeder genetic manipulation. Many breeds here in the U.S. have been ruined by breeders playing to popular notions rather than solid, sound health. Wolfhounds and their cousins, the Scottish deerhound, come from ancient stock. There’s evidence that wolfhounds came with the first humans to Ireland 8,000 years ago. But by the mid-1800’s, they were nearly extinct. A Scottish veterinarian revived the breed, using the few wolfhound he could find, and boosting his line with Scottish deerhounds, Great Danes and a Tibetan mastiff. This coincided with the creation of the first formal breed clubs. This is where the genetic bottlenecks began and it affected all types of dogs, herders, rat dogs, hunting hounds and retrievers. Not only was the gene pool limited, but breeders began to stress exaggerated features which led to today’s stressed and sickly specimens in some breeds. Some breed clubs avoided this trap, though. Today’s Scottish deerhounds have changed little in hundreds of years thanks to wise club leaders. Wolfhound breeders in the 1970s and ’80’s went for size and blunter snouts. That trend is being reversed today, thank goodness.There’s more attention to a more diverse gene pool today, too. My girl Oona has a father from Scotland and a mother from Florida, two very different lines. This is what smart, caring breeders today do. The biggest health threat today is pesticides and poisons in their food, envionmental threats that boost cancers and lymphomas. But…the less popular breeds tend to be the healthier ones since breeders are not designing dogs to meet popular tastes. This has been the salvation of deerhounds and wolfhounds.

      6. There isn’t an indigenous sighthound in France, and just over the border in Spain, the regional breed is so despised that it has rubbed off on its neighbours. I adopted Finbar through one of the many associations that rescue Galgos, Spanish Greyhounds. In the south of Spain they are used mainly for hunting though they do race them too. Andalucia is an extremely poor region and pretty brutal. If you google Galgo, you’ll discover horrors you’d maybe not know about. They have no more legal right to protection than a workman’s hammer. Their treatment is abominable and nobody bothers to do any of the prettyfication that has ruined so many beautiful breeds. The associations reckon that about 50,000 Galgos are killed every year because they didn’t catch enough rabbits or run fast enough or produce good enough pups. At an individual level, it’s a disaster, but the appalling treatment has kept the ‘breed’ as tough as old boots. Finbar is not far off 30″ at the shoulder so he’s quite a big dog, but his life expectancy, from the records of the rescue associations, is 15/16 years, even after malnutrition and abuse in the first years of life.

      7. I’ve read that about Spain, Jane. It’s horrible. Galgos are such magnificent dogs. I do hope Finbar exceeds longevity expectations:)

      8. He’s ten now and still scares the daylights out of the other dogs when he ‘plays’ with them ie bowls over at 40 mph and tramples the slow coaches who can’t get out of the way quick enough 🙂

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