ALGERIAN SLOUGHIS IN THE USA
By Bernd Fritzsch, Ph. D
Rsassa at Shi'Rayan and Bensekrane's Saff at Shi'Rayan
Dominique de Caprona 2010
Entering the Chicago O’Hare airport after a trip through rain and fog,
I realize that the plane has another 15 minutes before it will land.
Pacing up and down between exit A and B so as not to miss anything, I finally
see the dials telling me that the plane has landed and the exit will be
number B. There I am standing and waiting until some 20 minutes later
I see Joseph and Joel Mangelsdorf coming out with the boxes carrying two
young Sloughis from Bensekrane, Algeria. The arduous trip is almost
over, but first we have to get out of the Chicago area before the traffic
makes this impossible. So, the boxes go in the van, the people jump
in and off we go to the first rest area on I-80. Here we take the
little guys out and walk them on the grass. Meanwhile the weather
turned beautiful, sunny and mild and they enjoy every bit of it.
I am watching them move around, for the first time on a strange ground
after multiple hours of travelling in boxes to come all the way to the
USA. They are sniffing and finally the little bitch decides to pee.
They are careful and walk on the leash like pros, despite the fact that
they never have been on a leash before. We let them walk another
20 minutes, but the little male decides not to do anything. My first
impression: they have an outstanding conformation with perfect angulations,
ear and tail positions. In the end we clean the boxes, add now blankets
and drive on to the first overnight resting place, my condo at Iowa City.
After the car is parked in the garage we walk them on the lawn, but only
the little girl, Rsassa, decides to pee. We finally take them in the house
and here, in the end, the little boy, Saff, relieves himself for several
minutes on a piece of rug. Clearly, he does not yet understand the
concept of peeing on the grass. Saff and Rsassa get some toys to
play with while we are going upstairs to relax. Within a few minutes,
Saff, the little male appears in the kitchen: he has understood how to
walk up stairs. In contrast, Rsassa stands on the other end of the
stairs and tells us in unmistakable terms that she feels unhappy about
this. So we lead Saff back down to her, step by step. Once
down, he rushes back up, and Rsassa imitates him. One more down with
Saff and Rsassa and both have understood how to run up and down the stairs.
At just over 4 months and a grueling trip just completed it already indicates
how bright those guys are, precisely what is needed to maintain the wits
of the Sloughi before it gets bred down to a simple minded show dog
that will not be able to learn to run up and down stairs in a heartbeat.
After a nice dinner (canned food) our Sloughis exercise their newly acquired
skills, dashing up and down the stairs and come for treats and cuddling
into the kitchen. Finally they go to sleep until early the next morning
when a high pitch little voice wakes me up: time to go out.
I walk them and both do their business on the grass, fast learners.
We get everyone in the cars and drive the final stretch to Sloughi heaven
in Crescent, Iowa. A smiling Dominique awaits us, caressing the two
little guys, they are home now. It is a beautiful day, windy, sunny
and cool. They play in their play pen and three grown-up people are
watching them, amazed how they took this entire ordeal apparently with
great ease. After some relaxation time we introduce them to our Sloughis
in small groups, separated by the play pen grid. What an excitement
on both sides. Our little Moroccan import manages to dig under the
fence within minutes to be closer to the new puppies. Amal and Rsassa
will get along well, no doubt. The afternoon is spent sleeping, drinking,
eating, talking until everyone is exhausted.
Dominique and I are studying the little guys, outstanding specimens for
the breed. The little male, Saff (which means straight in Arabic)
is very careful, moving around gently. In contrast, Rsassa is a little
bullet (the meaning of her Arabic name), ‘attacks’ him, and is the center
of the action. Both are light redsand, her with a faint mask, him
without. They are perfectly angulated, as to be expected out of a
hunting dog line and are of squarish build. In the evening we let
them run in the several acres big fenced enclosure, Joseph and Dominique
taking images to document the first free running of the little Algerien
Sloughis in their new home. Saturday and Sunday go by and as of today
I am positive they are feeling fully at home. This morning they were
introduced to the ultimate treat for Sloughis, fresh bread with a thin
spread of ‘Leberwurst’. As it turns out, Joseph is feeding his Sloughi
way back in Germany also ‘Leberwurst’.
of our doing.
Some 6 years ago, Joseph had contacted Dominique to discuss the outlandish
possibility of perhaps importing Algerien Sloughis to the USA. As
it turned out, getting the logistics of this worked out was more than anybody
could have anticipated. Only the persistence of Joseph and his knowledge
of the local customs finally enabled him to succeed. One has to understand,
simply finding Sloughis in Algeria is more than going to a pet store in
Algiers. This land is huge and he had to go way out of Algiers to
the far West to finally find a small town with Sloughis, Bensekrane.
These Sloughis were kept, as is the tradition, for two purposes:
hunting and defending the herds against the jackal. Hunting is typically
done with the younger, faster Sloughis. This is not easy as the ground
is uneven, stony and harsh. Sloughis have to be soundly built to
sustain a high speed chase after a hare without being injured. Once
older and not fast enough for the hunt any more, Sloughis are used to defend
the herds. Both of these Sloughi activities are essential for the
people who keep them, a true working dog where the benefit for the family
from the Sloughi is what they are bred for. Selecting along these
lines generates Sloughis that have a perfect conformation (form follows
out of perfect function). For locals where the Sloughi plays
this important function, showing the Sloughi in a showring is beyond comprehension.
What could be the purpose of such events? They already have assessed
the function, know who is the fastest to catch the hare and who is the
bravest to attack a jackal. That is what matters, that is what they
have been selected for and that is their function in their original environment.
And that is why Dominique and Joseph agreed to go through all the trouble
to get those Sloughis to integrate their sound physic and mental stability
into the Western breeding to breed Sloughis that are closer to the North-African
original in every respect.
As pointed out some 3 years ago, the Western Sloughi breeding suffers from
cross-breeding with dogs of uncertain origin as well as deliberate cross-breeding
with unrelated hound breeds such as the Middle-Eastern Saluki and even
such distant breeds as rare smooth Afghan hounds. In part, this was
driven by the concept of lumping all smooth hounds remotely resembling
Sloughis together. In part, this problem stems from the ignorance
of people to understand the vast geographic distance separating the Sloughis
from West- Africa from those in Iran (Persian sighthound or Saluki) and
Afghanistan. Be this as it may, many of the Western bred ‘Sloughis’
contain the genes of those other breeds and it was proposed in the discussion
driven by Dominique’s original posting to dilute those genes out through
breeding with original North-African Sloughis. Of course, this is
a problem in its own right as some North-African Sloughis are already mixed
with Western-bred Sloughis, reflecting the old Western colonization of
North-Africa and dominating the African heritage, ultimately aiming at
destroying a legacy from thousands of years to generate such a hound
by replacing the Sloughis with a non-functional Western bred hound.
Luckily, the move that is now sweeping through the Western breeding to
outcross to true bred North-African Sloughis is following the initial publication
of this insight in Sloughi World. Of course, one has to keep in mind
that simply getting a Sloughi from North-Africa with the largely unknown
possibility of cross-fertilization of pure African lines with Western bred
Sloughis might not do the trick as they could be carrying some Western-bred
non-Sloughi genes. Unfortunately, the easier the Sloughis can be
accessed by the Westerners, the more likely that possibility will be.
So, to be sure, given the inaccuracy of book-keeping in these countries,
one would need to go to a remote area likely to never have had Western
contacts. And that would be a place like Bensekrane where traditional
Algerian Sloughis were bred as before the European colonizations.
Integrating those lines into the already outcrossed lines kept at Shi’Rayan,
containing Moroccan and Tunisian lines might get closer to the true African
Sloughi than any breeding in the West in the last 50 years. The hope
that kept all parties involved going is that such an addition should help
restore the Western bred Sloughi to fit genetically speaking more closely
to the North-African original while at the same time providing a broad
genetic basis covering lines raised across the vast expanse of the North-African
continent for added genetic diversity on a similar phenotype, a functional
genetically diverse Sloughi that is sound in its instincts and body.
The next ten years will be crucial for Western Sloughi breeding and will
determine whether the Sloughi as a North-African breed will survive. The
alternative will be to turn the Western bred Sloughis into a ‘SINO’ (Sloughi
in name only). Such ‘Sloughis’ typically reflect the limited insight
of self-declared ‘breeders’ who may have had one or more litters of randomly
associated dogs with limited to no understanding of the pedigrees and perhaps
even breed multiple times the same dog to further limit the gene pool.
It will be crucial to sort out the people that do more than lip-service
and are actively engaged in the conservation of the North-African Sloughi,
from those who are only interested in propagating their variety of Western-bred
Sloughis, to move forward. Luckily enough, with the internet it is
only a matter of time and even the least informed Sloughi owner will begin
to understand what is at stake: the conservation of one of the few
ancient dog breeds that is still today bred in certain areas of North-Africa
much like the hound that was developed in these areas hundreds and thousands
of years ago to protect the herds and hunt.
I am confident that the propaganda used by some to sell their puppies from
lines that have not been performance tested for multiple generations will
not succeed with those people educated enough to grasp the graveness of
the situation for the Sloughi. If the restoration of the true African
Sloughi as attempted now will fail, the Sloughi will become a SINO, an
empty shell that superficially resembles that dog but is neither in temperament
nor function even close to that ancient breed. Let alone in its genetics.
I trust that the truth will prevail and the Sloughi will be bred in the
West to resemble in all aspects the traditionally bred Sloughi of North-Africa.
My hope it that Saff and Rsassa mark the beginning of a new era of enriched
breeding along thsee traditional lines in the West.
Algeria meets Morocco in the USA.
Rsassa, and Saff playing with Moroccan
Dominique de Caprona