Since today is Columbus Day and some people are lucky to be off today, I thought it would be fun to share a little Greyhound history today. You might be asking yourself why I would be sharing Greyhound history today, and it’s because Greyhounds have ties to Christopher Columbus. Greyhounds were one of two breeds that originally came to the Americas with Columbus and his crew.
Greyhounds and Mastiffs were both brought over on ships during Columbus’ second voyage the Americas. Twenty dogs sailed on the ship, but Columbus was very reluctant to allow them on board. The Spaniards convinced him by telling him they could test food on the dogs if the need arose. They knew that having the dogs would help subdue the natives because they’d used them for that purpose before, even though Columbus didn’t know it. They did end up testing some fish on the dogs. It was something they were unaccustomed to in Europe. The dogs ate it with no ill effects, so the sailors ate it. Unfortunately, what works for dogs doesn’t always work for people, and many of the sailors did get sick and die.
Of course when they all got to the Americas, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The dogs were used for hunting and they had strong instincts. When the terrified Native Americans ran, the dogs saw them as prey. With the dogs and their weapons, the Spaniards quickly subdued the Native Americans and enslaved them. It’s not hard to believe that the dogs were terrifying. In the battle for Vega Real on the island of Hispaniola it’s said that in an hour each of the twenty dogs had killed 100 people each. It’s not surprising to learn that all of the Spaniards who ventured to the New World in the 1500′s came with dogs.
Of course, there anecdotes from that time that are slightly humorous. Ponce de Leon traveled with a favorite Greyhound named Becerillo who was covered with scars and known as a fierce fighter. There was a practice called “dogging” that was used to entertain the troops and one of his captains, an man named Salazar, gave a woman a piece of paper that he told her contained a Christian message that he wanted her to deliver to the governor. As the woman set off, Becerillo was unleashed and sent after her. The woman fell to her knees and pleaded for her life, telling the dog that she was carrying a Christian message. The story has it that the dog sniffed her, then peed on her, but left her unharmed. The soldiers were amazed by the dog’s compassion and intelligence. When Ponce de Leon heard of the story, he sent for the woman and freed her with the following words.
The compassion of a dog must not be allowed to outshine that of a true Christian.
Obviously, Greyhounds have evolved quite a bit since the sixteenth century. It’s not surprising, given the shift in values and needs that we have. At one point, people needed dogs to be able to hunt for them, and Greyhounds were very good at that. Not many people depend on having to catch and kill their own food any more, though. Greyhounds have gotten smaller and a lot more docile. That’s not to say that they don’t still have those hunting instincts buried in their DNA. Flattery is a good example of that. Actually, Bunny was in her younger days, too. Bunny was completely convinced that she could take down a horse. Every time we saw one, a crazed gleam would appear in her eye and she’d become fixated on it. Flattery views small animals as prey, and the truth is that they are. She just doesn’t have to depend on eating them. That doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t like to try, though.
I think it’s very true that our dogs are still often more compassionate than we are. Not at bedtime when my husband wants his side of the bed, of course, but during other times, most definitely. Bunny is often much more patient with other people than I am. When I see her take her time with people at the nursing home or on the street, however, I’m reminded that I probably shouldn’t be in such a hurry anyway. It’s good to have a guide with a moral compass to get you through life.