Believed to date back some 5,000 years, the Pharaoh Hound is one of the oldest breeds of domesticated dog known to man. He has come down to us, through the mists of time, virtually unchanged from the hound that was used for hunting by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.
In the 1950s Professor W B Emery, while excavating the great mastaba tomb of Queen Her-Neith at Saqqara, discovered the remains of a hunting dog buried at the threshold of the Queen’s tomb. Her-Neith, believed to be the wife of the Pharaoh Djer, had chosen to be buried with just her loyal hound to accompany her into the after-life. The remains are remarkably similar to the dog we know today ‘as the Pharaoh Hound.
In 1935, in the tomb of Antefaa II near the Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, Dr George Reisner found an inscription recording the burial of Abuwtiyuw, a hound given full burial honours by order of the Pharaoh “that he (the hound) may be honoured
before the great God, Anubis”. With the inscribed text was a drawing of the hound Abuwtiyuw, which has since been adopted as the badge of the Pharaoh Hound Club. These are just two examples, which demonstrate the high regard with which the people of ancient Egypt held the Egyptian Hound.
Examples of prick eared hunting dogs with long, lean heads; lithe bodies and whip-like tails can be found throughout the Mediterranean basin. The Ibizan Hound on the Balearic Islands, the Portuguese Podengo, the Cirneco Dell ‘Etna on Sicily and the Kelb tal Fenek or Pharaoh Hound on the Maltese islands. It is thought that the Phoenician traders sailing around the Mediterranean some 2,000 years ago left some of the hounds that they had acquired in Egypt on the various islands. Those left on Malta and Gozo developing into the Pharaoh Hound. There has been much discussion about the origins of the breed, and a small number of people consider that it is possible it was developed on Malta thousands of years ago and exported to Egypt in a reversal of what is commonly accepted as the probable route. There is however
compelling argument for ancient Egypt as the cradle of this beautiful and enchanting breed. Perhaps some day DNA testing will prove beyond doubt that ancient Egypt is the birthplace of the Pharaoh Hound.
Egypt may have been the birthplace, but it was Malta that developed and nurtured the breed in the 2,000 years since it first landed on those shores. The Maltese farmers are rightly proud of their Kelb tal Fenek or Rabbit Dog. For hundreds of years they have carefully bred their hounds, selecting only the best hunters to pass on their genes to the next generation, thus keeping the breed pure.
Life must have been very hard for the Maltese people during the dark days of World War II. They were dependent on allied ships getting much needed food and provisions through the enemy lines. Frequently the ships didn’t make it. Food became more and more scarce until they had barely enough to feed themselves, let alone their dogs. There may not have been a large enough rabbit population on the islands to sustain them, or it may be that the owners of these fine hunters were able to supplement their meagre rations with what their hounds caught. Whatever, it is a wonder that the breed
survived but survive it did, and today it thrives in many parts of the world.
The former British colony of Malta, owing to its strategically important location was a military base for British troops dating from Napoleonic times until well after WWII. In 1960 Pauline Block was living on Malta because of her husband’s military duties. It was here that she saw her first Pharaoh Hound and determined there and then that she must own one. A week later Bahri became hers and when the Blocks returned to the UK in 1963 Bahri came with them. Also in 1963 the Liddell-Graingers imported a dog, Luki and a young bitch called Chu-Cha. In time this union produced the first litter of Pharaoh Hounds to be born in the British Isles. It is known that some Pharaohs were imported in the 1930s, but none seems to have been bred from and they died out until making a re appearance in 1963.
In those early days the breed suffered some awful setbacks. Anne Dewey’s bitch Sabiha died shortly after release from quarantine and Pauline’s Bahri of Twinley went missing after a hunting foray, never to be seen again. Years later Pauline heard that a local farmer had shot him. Fortunately he had been mated to Mythra, a Chu-Cha/Luki daughter. This litter produced Fqira, who was sent to the USA; Twinley Haddieda, who became the dam of Fran Niven’s foundation bitches, Divels Hannini and the lovely Kilcroney Senjura.
In 1968 Pauline and Anne returned to Malta to acquire replacements for their lost hounds. Pauline bought Pupa and Anne obtained a handsome male named Ziffa. Sibuna Ziffa (Sibuna is Anubis spelt backwards) and Twinley Pupa produced two
litters. They included Twinley Neteren and the influential sire Twinley King Ka’a. A dog and two bitches from these two litters were exported to the USA.
In 1969 Lionel Hamilton-Renwick imported a dog, Tico and a bitch, Contessa together with two of Tico's daughters, Zahara and Pingo. Birling Tico when mated to Birling Contessa produced two bitch puppies, one of which was sent to the USA, while Pingo and a Ziffa/Pupa, Bahri/Mythra grandson went to Denmark. More imports followed, and by now the breed had an established nucleus in the UK, with connections to other countries growing as interest in the Pharaoh Hound took hold.
In 1970 Birling Zahara was the first Pharaoh Hound to appear in the group at Crufts (from the AV Not Separately Classified classes). That same year Twinley King Ka’a was mated to Kilcroney Senjura. This pairing produced Ch. Kilcroney Rekhmire Merymut, the first Pharaoh Hound champion in the UK. He gained his title in 1975. Since then there have been 79* champions made up in the UK. (now more since article was written)
In 1980, a great grandson of Kilcroney Senjura was whelped. He went on to become Ch. Furnwood Argus, the breed record holder with 35 CCs and the first Pharaoh Hound to win a group at a championship show. This he did by going BIS at the Border Counties Hound Show in 1983.
There have been some notable wins in the intervening years. Ch. Merymut Sesheta of Anharbn was the first and only Pharaoh to qualify for the POTY contest and the first Pharaoh to win a group at a general championship show.
Ch. Surannon Summer Solstice for Ankors is the only Pharaoh to win BIS at a general championship show and there have been some nice group placings for Pharaohs in recent years too.
In 1994, Ezhar Rag Trade produced a litter, by multi titled Ch. Imerat-Paroo of the Netherlands, through artificial insemination. The first and only time this has been used on a Pharaoh Hound. The resultant litter produced four UK champions. With the introduction of the Pet Passport making travelling abroad with our dogs easier, it is doubtful that the KC will grant permission for AI to be used again in this country.
The Pharaoh Hound has come a long way since those pioneering days of the early ’60s, when he was just a farmer’s dog on Malta hunting rabbits for the pot. So much interest was generated in the breed that in 1974 he was made the National Dog of Malta. Pauline Block and a small group of dedicated enthusiasts, working tirelessly, accomplished much.
The Pharaoh Hound Club was founded and a breed standard drawn up. At first the KC was not prepared to register the name Kelb tal Fenek, and the translated version Rabbit Dog was not considered suitable either. The FCI already recognised the breed as the Pharaoh Hound and eventually this was accepted by the KC. Pharaohs began being shown, albeit only in variety classes at first. Then breed classes were put on and in 1975 the Pharaoh Hound gained championship status with the awarding of its first sets of CCs.
Today there are Pharaoh Hounds in many countries throughout the world and interest in the breed is growing steadily. Yet it is little more than forty years since an English woman, living on Malta, saw in that first glimpse, the living embodiment of the Dog God Anubis. And set in motion a journey that would bring the Pharaoh Hound from the glories of its ancient past to the four corners of the modern world.