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Pharaoh hound

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Where does the Name ‘Pharaoh Hound’ come from?


Every dog lover abroad who asks for the Kelb tal-Fenek at dog shows, lure coursing or racing events will be surprised to learn that the breed is not called by its original name, but by a totally different term: 'Pharaoh Hound'. On the other hand, people who get to know this breed from the beginning as ‘The Pharaoh Hound’ might not even recognize it as a Maltese dog. But how could a Maltese dog get a name that seems to point to an ancient Egyptian origin?

The Previous History

The story of the term ‘Pharaoh Hound’ begins long before breeding activities, with the Kelb tal-Fenek, started to take place outside Malta. Even in the early years of the 20th century, hunters and canine experts from Switzerland and Germany showed an interest in the prick eared, sighthound-like hunting dogs from the Spanish Balearic and Canary Islands (Podenco Ibicenco and Podenco Canario). Due to the resemblance of their sighthound-like appearance, their long, elegant head and their prick ears similar to the depictions of 'Anubis' (ancient Egyptian God of the Death) and the 'Tesem' (sighthound-like type of dogs from ancient Egypt), German speaking Cynologists soon created the term 'Pharaonenhund', to be translated as Pharaoh Dog or - Pharaoh Hound.

Egypt This depiction from the tomb of Antefa II. (2300 B.C. approx.) is often stressed as a proof that the Kelb tal-Fenek is related with the dogs of ancient Egypt. But why should just this screw-tailed "Tesem" be the exclu- sive ancestor of our modern breed?

It is not totally certain who invented this name. But one of the earliest information on this subject can be found in an article about the Balearic Podencos, written by Dr. Carl von Muralt (Zurich) in 1906:

‘also the ancient Egyptian sighthound had large prick ears; body and tail are similar at both dogs. The ancient Egyptian sighthound often curled their tail; the Balearic dog does the same if it is in relaxed mood. But how did this Pharaonenhund come to the Balearic islands? He might have come through Greek influence; we see him also on ancient Sicilian coins. But more likely, the Carthagians have imported him to Ibiza, which came under their rule very early.’ (v. Muralt, ‘Jagdkynologisches von den Balearen’. article in ‘Hundesport und Jagd’, Nr. 33, Zurich 1906)

Single dogs from the Balearic and Canary islands were imported into Germany and Switzerland even in the 1920'ties and 30'ties, and occasionally they were registered as 'Pharaonenhunde’ in the local stud books. E.g. In 1977, when the FCI recognised the Kelb tal-Fenek as Pharaoh Hound, the German Sighthound Stud Book (DWZB) had already registered 17 'Pharaonenhunde' with the abbreviation 'Ph'. The first Kelb tal-Fenek in Germany, the bitch Fallohide Queen Tuyanna (imported from Denmark) was entered to the DWZB as ‘Ph 18’ in 1980.

The first Pharaoh Standard of the FCI

In the 1950'ties, the 'Union Internationale des Clubs des Levriers' (UICL; a federation of European sighthound clubs that worked from 1923 to 1991) took the initiative to work out a breed standard for the prick eared sighthound types from the Mediterranean area and the Canary Islands.

By decision of the UICL General Meeting in Zurich on June 13th, 1958, Prof. Dr. Eugen Seiferle was asked to do this work. Seiferle, at that time Professor at the Institute for Veterinarian Anatomy at Zurich University, had previously informed the meeting about his studies on the breeds concerned and suggested to combine the whole group of breeds under the term 'Pharaonenhunde’ (Arthur Egle, ‘Windhundfeste einst und jetzt’, Band I, Zollikerberg/CH 1973). Consequently, Seiferle's draft could easily apply for the various types of breeds of the Mediterranean: Size should be 63 - 70 cm (dogs) and 57 - 66 cm (bitches), and the colour was described as white with red or yellow-red patches or spots, whilst the existence of pure red and pure white specimens was also mentioned. Seiferle named the Balearic Islands as the region of origin, but used a formulation that also allowed to register dogs of different origin as 'Pharaonenhunde’: ‘The purest form of the Pharaonenhunde is found on the Balearic Islands’.

The standard draft was handed in to the FCI in 1962 and became valid as FCI-Standard Nr. 248 (Pharaonenhund/Chien Pharaon) on August 9, 1963. Seiferle later wrote about this:

‘We gave them the name 'Pharaonenhund’, without having the intention to assert - as it has later been done - that those animals are really descendants of the ancient Egyptian sighthounds.’ (quoted from Dr. Hans Räber, ‘Enzyklopädie der Rassehunde’, Band 2, Stuttgart 1995)

Tesem It is a remarkable fact that there was not only knowledge about the existence of different types of Mediterranean hounds in the times when the standard by Seiferle became effective - there were also valid breed standards for some Mediterranean breeds: The Spanish canine governing organization Real Sociedad Central de Fomento de las Razas Caninas had recognized the Podenco Ibicenco as a breed in 1931, the FCI followed this decision in 1945 by recognizing the breed under standard Nr. 89. In Italy, Professor Solaro had worked on a breed standard for the Cirneco dell' Etna since 1939. The Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiana and the FCI later recognized the breed under standard Nr. 199. There were no specimens of Kelb Tal-Fenek in the continent at that time, but the breed was known to the canine community through some travel reports: The Austrian canine expert Emil Hauck wrote in 1962:

‘The Kelp Tal Fenech (is) perhaps related to the Sicilian Cernecco. Also kept as a guard dog on the flat roofs’ (Emil Hauck, ‘Die Windhunde’. Vienna 1962).

The fact that the Podenco Ibicenco and the Cirneco dell' Etna were already recognised as scent hounds (FCI group 6) by their respective countries of origin, and, whilst the breed standard 248 was set into the sighthound group (FCI group 10), together with the wide spread ignorance of the canine organisations in Europe about the real situation in the Mediterranean region, caused a long phase of uncertainty. Dr. Hans Räber wrote about this:

‘Since Spain insisted in regarding the Podenco Ibicenco as a scenthound, the Podencos bred in Switzerland could not get the title of a Champion, because it was not possible to pass the obligatory scent hound trial. The breeders found a way out: Now they showed their Podencos as Pharaonenhunde, since they needed not to pass any trail due to their belonging to the sighthound group’ (Dr. Hans Räber, ‘Enzyklopädie der Rassehunde’, Band 2, Stuttgart 1995)

In 1977 the FCI finally decided to stop this bustle and annulled the fourteen years old ‘Pharaonenhunde’-standard. This decision finally made it possible to clearly differentiate between the various indigenous Mediterranenan breeds.

Great Britain and the Kelb tal-Fenek

In the early 1960'ties, shortly before the British colonial rule over Malta came to an end, some families of the British military residing in Malta 'discovered' the Kelb tal-Fenek as a pet and later started to import single hounds to the United Kingdom.

One of the leading persons who did this was Mrs. Pauline Block, who purchased her first dog from framers in Zurrieq (Malta) in 1960, and also Anne and David Liddel-Grainger, who bred the first litter in Great Britain from the imported hounds 'Luki’ and ‘Chu-Cha’. Parallel with the first breeding activities, the British fanciers started activities to get the official recognition of the breed by the British Kennel Club. Mrs. Monica Still, a British breeder (Kennel ‘Merymut’) and member of the committee of the British ‘Pharaoh Hound Club’ for many years, described this process in the club's newsletter as follows:

‘Pauline Block applied initially to register the name Maltese Kelb Tal Fenek but this was refused on the grounds that a foreign name translating to 'rabbit dog' was unacceptable. So Pauline and her friend Anne Dewey wrote to the F.C.I. (Federation Cynologique Internationale) the canine governing body for Europe and a number of other countries (e.g. Mexico) asking them what name they gave to the Maltese Kelb Tal Fenek. They received a reply on November the 30th, 1965 which stated 'the race bred in Malta is recognised by the F.C.I. as Pharaoh Hound' (according to a letter by Monica Still of August 03, 1999 this letter came not from the FCI, but from Arthur Egle, at that time president of the UICL - remark of the author). Pauline and Anne returned to the K.C. with an application to register the dogs as Pharaoh Hounds in the Any Variety Rare Breeds section. This was accepted.’ (Monica Still, ‘How the Pharaoh Hound got its Name’. article in: ‘Pharaoh’ 1995, Wootton/GB)

The British Kennel Club had refused to register the Kelb tal-Fenek by its original name on the grounds that a foreign name translating to 'Rabbit Dog' was unacceptable. This is most strange. The term 'Rabbit Dog' is the literal translation, but it really means 'Rabbit Hunting Dog' or 'Rabbit Hound'. One wonders therefore why the Kennel Club accepts the term 'Otter Hound' or 'Fox Hound' or even 'Dachshund' (which translated from the German language means 'Dog of the Badger'). The Kennel Club does well to recognise these names, since they indicate the reason of the dog's origin, and the purpose of their breeding. Unfortunately the term 'Pharaoh Hound' does not indicate this, but the term 'Kelb tal-Fenek' does. Therefore it is by this name that the breed should have been recognised.

It is most important to note that the name 'Pharaoh Hound' which is now used world-wide for the Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek, was directly derived from an information which concerned the old FCI-standard Nr. 248 from 1963 (‘Pharaonenhund’) . But the model for this standard was obviously the Podenco Ibicenco!

The FCI recognizes the British breed standard

When the FCI finally annulled the old standard Nr. 248 in 1977, the Kelb tal-Fenek had already been firmly established in the United Kingdom under the name 'Pharaoh Hound': In 1968 the local fanciers had formed a club named the ‘Pharaoh Hound Club’, a breed standard had been worked out and the final recognition of the breed by the Kennel Club (including the possibility to get champion titles) had been gained in 1974.

Although Great Britain was (and still is) not a member of the FCI, the organisation now replaced the old standard written by Prof. Seiferle by the standard that had been worked out by the British 'Pharaoh Hound Club’ for the Kelb tal-Fenek. Here, finally, a clear distinction between the Mediterranean breeds was reached. However, the questionable term 'Pharaonenhund' was kept by the FCI, since now the Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek appeared in the standard list of the FCI as 'Pharaoh Hound' under breed standard Nr. 248a. The standard describes Great Britain as the country responsible and Malta as the country of origin. But there is no remark about the original name of the breed.

One reason for the quick recognition of the British patronage over the breed might have been the fact that the breeders in the UK had started early to export the Kelb tal-Fenek in various European countries. In that way the got a lobby within the FCI, among them such prominent Kelb tal-Fenek owners like HSH Princess Antoinette of Monaco and HRH Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Unfortunately Malta failed to enforce her claims as the country of origin within the FCI at that time: After independence, Malta kept a strict quarantine law against pet importation from mainland Europe for many years. So there was no chance for Maltese canine enthusiasts to participate in canine activities in the continent - consequently, the Malta Kennel Club kept its reciprocal agreement with the British KC even after independence. This status gave Malta neither voice nor vote within the bodies of the FCI in that time.

The Egyptian origin - an unproved hypothesis

Prof. Dr. Seiferle, in his time, insisted that they gave the name 'Pharaonenhund' without having the intention to assert that those animals are really descendants of the ancient Egyptian sighthounds. However, unfortunately this is exactly what was later continuously being tried by several non-Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek breeders abroad. This can be evidenced on most literature related to the breed. The Egyptian connection is simply a myth which has never been scientifically proved.

The following quotations from breed specific publications might prove this:

‘Taking into consideration the research by professional archaeologists and historians who have made intensive studies of the great amount of material available in the lineal drawings, carvings, and other works of art of Ancient Egypt as well as translations of hieroglyphics describing what we now call the Pharaoh Hound, we can safely continue to assume that Ancient Egypt was the cradle of the breed’ (Pauline Block and Rita Laventhall Sacks, ‘The Pharaoh Hound’, Denlinger, Fairfax, USA 1977)

‘There are more than five millennia behind them: Glorious millennia at the side of Egyptian pharaohs. As 'Tesem' highly appreciated as a companion during their luxury hunting expeditions; affectionate playmate of their children. As 'Anubis' unerring companion and guardian of their journey to another world. Those, who had immortalized their respect of them in paintings and ancient inscriptions in their grave chambers’ (Dorothee Schultz-Janson: ‘Pharaoh Hounds: Vorwärtsschauen’. Foreword in the catalogue of the jubilee show '100 Years German Sighthound Club DWZRV’ on October 10th, 1992 in Berlin-Karlshorst/D)

‘Even the appearance of a Pharaoh has something magical. The omnipresent memory of 5000 years of history , the great culture of the Egyptians with its several deities (one of them, Anubis, had a prick eared jackal- or dog head) leaves a lot of space for fantasy. Reliefs and findings of skeletons corroborate the thesis that the Pharaoh Hound is the direct descendant of the ancient Egyptian Tesem’ (Bruno Ollik in ‘Der Windhundfreund’, edition 190/December 1992, Adliswil/CH)

Egypt Venku je to náruživý lovec kterému neunikne ani myš. Neváhá okamžitě vyrazit za potenciální kořistí a proto je lepší ho držet pro jeho bezpečnost ve městě na vodítku. Na závodní dráze je náruživý a zcela popustí uzdu svému temperamentu. Protože loví nejen zrakem, ale i sluchem a čichem, žádné jiné plemeno chrtů se mu ve spolehlivosti na dráze a hlavně chuti a radosti z běhu nevyrovná. Stavbou těla není sice předurčen k závratným rychlostem, ale to je pro něho i jejich majitele nepodstatné. Ovšem více než dostihy na ovále faraona baví coursing který více připomíná přirozený hon za zvěří a při němž může faraon využít svou vysokou inteligenci. Faraona lze také naučit poslušnosti, ale výhradně s velkou trpělivostí a porozuměním. Nesnáší nátlak, tudíž můžeme zapomenout na klasický způsob výcviku. Ale že to jde, dokazují zkoušky základního výcviku, které mají u nás složené již dvě fenky (paní Klementové), několik jedinců z Německa a mnoho z USA kde se majitelé s faraony rádi účastní závodů agility. Spolehlivé vodítko tu ale je - faraon udělá všechno sám, rád a bez přinucení svému pánu pro radost. Bezmezně ho miluje a lecjaký nešvar mu hned odpustí. Při větším počtu psů se předhánějí v roztomilostech a prokazování náklonnosti. Bez potíží lze faraona použít jako spolehlivého hlídače. Předurčuje ho k tomu další z jeho povahových rysů, ostražitost a pozornost. Při stálém sledování svého okolí - zejména v domácím prostředí - zcela bezpečně zaznamená a ohlásí každou změnu, neobvyklý a podezřelý zvuk, cizí osobu. Při bezprostředním narušení svého teritoria dokáže výt výhružný, zpravidla však neútočí.

‘Those scenthounds, who had been developed from southern pariah dogs have partially been brought to the Mediterranean Islands already by the Phoenicians. It is said that, when Malta had been colonised by them in 1000 B.C., a shipload of this hounds has come into isolation. The dogs bred, and a relatively uniform type developed, because - according to the legend - no strange genetic influence was possible’ (Holger Bunyan: ‘In das Land der Pyramiden und Pharaonen versetzt’. Artikel in ‘Hunde-Revue’ Nr. 4/93, Stuttgart/D)

‘De Pharaohond komt van oorsprong uit Egypte en is zo’n tweeduizend jaar geleden op Malta terechtgekomen’ (Ali de Vos-Horstman: ‘De Pharaohond - een van de oudste Rashonden ter Wereld’. Artikel in ‘Honden manieren’ Nr. 6/November 1997, Lelystad/NL)

From a synopsis of these quotations, and others, one can deduce that a certain uniformity of arguments are brought about: According to these arguments, the Egyptian origin of the Kelb tal-Fenek is tried to be proven by the existence of drawings and sculptures from the times of the pharaonic empire. Arguments mainly refer to the prick eared, sighthound-like 'Tesem'-hound (whose existence as a domesticated animal in ancient Egypt is undoubted). But they even do not leave out mentioning the sculptures of 'Anubis' (god of the death), whose belonging to a certain species (dog or jackal) is still controversial among Egyptologists. The export to Malta is usually ascribed to the Phoenicians, but no scientific proof for this hypothesis has ever been delivered.

The following are valid arguments against the Egyptian origin of the Kelb tal-Fenek. They are also valid arguments against the use of the name 'Pharaoh Hound':

Egypt There is no proven connection between the 'Tesem'-hound of ancient Egypt and today's Kelb tal-Fenek, apart from the fact that both show a sighthound like appearance and have prick ears. It is ridiculous to take a simple similarity in appearance as a reason to justify the theory of the Egyptian origin.

The term 'breed' is a relatively new phenomena: Regional types of dogs have first developed according to local cultural and topographical demands. So it is incorrect to equate a modern breed with a type of dogs that existed thousands of years ago.

The first written mentioning of the Kelb tal-Fenek's existence in Malta has been issued by Commendatore Fra. G. Fran. Abela (Maltese historian and Vice Chancellor of the Order of St. John) in 1647: ‘There are dogs called 'Cernechi' esteemed for the hunting of rabbits , and as far as France are in demand primarily for stony, mountainous and steep locations' (Fra. Abela, ‘Della Descrittione di Malta isola nel Mare Siciliano con le sue antichita ed altre notitie’, Malta, 1647. Translated from Cecil S. Camilleri, ' A Study of the Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek, Valletta/Malta 1995). There is a gap of about 2500 years between the decline of the pharaonic empire in Egypt and this (in some regards still vague) first mentioning of a Mediterranean hound in Malta. To prove a true and doubtless link between the Kelb tal-Fenek and the ancient Egyptian 'Tesem'-type hound, one would have to cover this period without any blanks.

Different from some author's presumption, the Maltese Islands were never isolated. Just the opposite: Malta was ever exposed to various cultural influences - Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards, Knights of the Order of St. John, French and British have left their legacy in Malta and could have been possible importers of dogs. And there has always been a busy traffic of persons and goods between Malta and Sicily. The latter, being situated only 90 kilometres north of Malta, is the home of another breed of Mediterranean type: The Cirneco dell' Etna. All this makes an exclusive connection between the local Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek population and Egypt more than improbable.

A study about the genetic origins of purebred dogs, which has been carried out by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle (USA) with support of the American Kennel Club and which has been published in May 2004, indicates that the Kelb tal-Fenek has been developed in more recent times out of dogs of different origins.

What's in a name?

For these past decades, the Kelb tal-Fenek is known to dog lovers world-wide as the 'Pharaoh Hound'. Now one could argue, as it has been done in the past:

‘What's in a name. It is not important how a breed is called’

But in fact, the name of a breed means quite a lot: It is something like a label, which describes the origin and the attributes of a breed. This created the breed's image, as it is currently recognised by the public.

A statistical example: The Canine Governing Body of Germany, the 'Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen' (VDH - Federation for German Canine Affairs, one of the largest national Kennel Clubs within the FCI) administered 267 breeds in the time between 1993 - 96. The large majority of those breeds, 226 (84,6 %) is recognised by it's genuine name from the country of origin. Among this are 55 breeds of German, Swiss or Austrian origin with German breed name. In 16 cases (6 %) the original name has been translated into German (e.g. Bordeaux-Dogge = Dogue de Bordeaux), in two cases, the translation is added by the original name in brackets, i.e. 'Finnischer Lapphund' (Suomenlapinkoira) and 'Italienische Bracke' (Bracco Italiano). For 24 breeds (9 %) a term has been chosen that does not correspond with name in the country of origin, but the new name does clearly describe the origin (e.g. Azawakh, Afghanischer Windhund=Afghan Hound). Only in one case, the official name used by the VDH does neither correspond with the genuine name from the country of origin nor does it describe the true origin and use: This is the ‘Pharaoh Hound’! (according to: ‘Unser Rassehund’ , official newsletter of the VDH, 8/97, Dortmund/D)

The image, the perception of a breed's attributes by owners, breeders, interested persons and judges cannot be without consequences of the further fate of a breed. But in the case of the Kelb tal-Fenek, a genuine rabbit hunter from the rural areas on the Maltese islands, this breed has been mis-attached with the image of an ancient luxury dog. In that way, a loss of the original attributes, functions and abilities of the Kelb tal-Fenek has become a permanent threat to the breed.

It is important to point out that the majority of the non-Maltese breeders still feel bound to preserve the breed true to type and they do inform potential puppy buyers about the origin and the character of the breed. But it is a sad fact that many breeds have lost their efficiency and even their genuine appearance by a way of breeding. Today's breeding is only orientated on the taste of the public and of the show judges. Some breeders are totally ignoring the original characteristics of the breeds and the performance-orientated criteria of breeding selection. This type of breeding can only be called irresponsible. In the case of the Kelb tal-Fenek, such degeneration is obviously provocated by the absurd and misleading creation of an artificial breed name.

With approximately 3 - 4000 specimens world-wide (including Malta), the Kelb tal-Fenek definitely is a rare and potentially endangered indigenous form of domesticated animals. As a Maltese cultural heritage, it deserves protection and preservation for future generations. The arbitrariness of changing the original name is a serious interference into Malta's national heritage, which becomes much more dangerous by the fact that the so-called 'Egyptian legend' has even found it's way to the Country of origin itself. Cecil S. Camilleri, a Maltese agricultural economist, writes in a study about the Kelb tal-Fenek:

‘The author was initially surprised to hear from younger countryfolk that the tal-Fenek originated in Egypt but was bred in Malta. The reference to Egypt was found to be misleading as closer inquiries indicated that this information was borrowed from secondary sources, that is, by word of mouth from other individuals who had read articles on the subject in the local paper, or by reading the article in the newspaper themselves. Invariably these articles were written by foreigners or by Maltese city folk regurgitating a foreign misconceived theory based on fanciful, unscientific suppositions. This trend of perpetuating the story of Egyptian ancestry is creating a new legend which will displace any unrecorded folklore into oblivion’ (Cecil S. Camilleri: ‘A Study of the Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek’. Progress-Press, Valletta/Malta 1995)

These observations of Cecil S. Camilleri can be confirmed by the author after several year's experience in Malta.

Necessary consequences

To assure the future of the Kelb tal-Fenek, it is necessary to preserve the hound's genuine character as a Maltese indigenous breed. A correction of the erroneously chosen term 'Pharaoh Hound' back to the genuine name 'Kelb tal-Fenek' would be a first, important step on this way. This has to be followed further by a thorough re-consideration of the actual breed standard with regards to the true facts in the country of origin, and a group placement within the FCI, which could allow one to check the efficiency of the breed by working tests, lure coursing etc.

And it is even more important that the competent authorities in Malta finally remember that they bear a responsibility to preserve the living heritage of our nation. Other countries have meanwhile put their ancient and rare breeds of domestic animals under protection. They organise their preservation by breeding programmes under scientific supervision. We make an appeal to all interested scientists and to the government authorities in Malta to join their efforts to preserve this wonderfull breed for the coming generations.

We should learn from the countless generations of Maltese farmers and hunters to avoid the ruin of this wonderful breed through selfishness, romancing and wishful thinking. We could otherwise risk to loose the Kelb tal-Fenek as we know it today, and as it has been bred in Malta the past centuries.

Jan Scotland


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