After moving into my own place with Argos and my cat, Fae, I started to look for another dog as a buddy to Argos, who was missing my old roommate's dog. It took about half a year before I found the right fit. I grew up a cat person (you'd never guess that now) and I wanted an independent, aloof personality. This drew me to Salukis and I wanted to go through a rescue if at all possible.
This led me to the Sighthound Underground (SHUG) which is a nationally run sighthound rescue. They have been bringing unwanted but thoroughly vetted sighthounds from their countries of origin (typically Podencos and Galgos from Spain and Salukis from the Middle East) since long before rescue retail and importing rescue dogs with faked records became a phenomenon. I liked that they'd adopt to a young twenty-something single woman. I love that the rescue is run by strong, talented women. I liked that they'd adopt to someone who lived in an apartment with no yard as long as they were committed to always leash walking their sighthound and finding fenced places for them to run. I loved the education they did and their rescue partners abroad. I still occasionally process applications for them and have helped with some short-term foster with them before.
I had been looking online and saw a young (6 months at the time) smooth Saluki posted. It gave me a brief description of Ash (then known as Smiley). It said that he had been rescued from a yard in Qatar as a young puppy and raised in a foster home until he was old enough to leave for Canada. When his adoptive family backed out, he came to the USA and SHUG instead. He was a happy boy who loved cats.
And he essentially was a perfect fit for me.
I later learned that some lovely ladies had seen Ash in his yard as a young puppy, completely covered in fleas and ticks. HIs owner had gotten him from racing lines to race and breed him. They'd passed him every single day and would sneak him food. Eventually, Ash's owner caught them trying to put flea and tick medication on him. The owner finally surrendered him to the ladies and Ash went to a truly wonderful foster home. To this day he still adores kids and big fluffy dogs because he'd had them in his foster home and I am periodically in touch with the people who fostered him Qatar (who I connected with much later).
I filled out an application and then went through an application processor and then talked to Michael Owens, who runs SHUG. I was approved and a week later Ash was sent on a plane to Seattle, where I picked him up at the cargo area of the airport. He was 8 months at that point and was growing rapidly. He'd been through two plane flights and several foster homes in the space of a month. It took him awhile to settle in.
He and Argos were best buddies immediately which is good because it took Ash a long time to bond to me. I discovered that when I took out treats to train, he would run and go hide. He spent a lot of time in his open crate where he felt safe. He loved coming to the theatre with me and going for walks but he was very reactive to dogs and some people on leash. He would bark and lunge.
Off leash he was always great with other dogs (he adored dog parks back when we still frequented them and has always had an affinity for giant bear dogs) and he adored people (in a very un-saluki-like kind of way) but on leash was a nightmare for me. Ash is very much the reason why I learned how to work with reactive dogs.
In addition to leash reactivity, Ash would submissively pee at the slightest change in routines or when I went to put his leash on. Despite being on a well-fit martingale, he managed to learn how to unhook his leash, so I resorted to a locking carabiner instead. He also became adept at slipping through open doors. He went through his teenage chewing phase shortly after I brought him home. In short, I'd worked with a double handful of dogs by that point and thought I was ready for an aloof breed but I very much was not.
Keep in mind though, Ash was likely never abused. He likely wasn't hit or punished, or at least not for an extended basis. He was just neglected and unsocialized during his puppy fear period. He didn't cower because he'd been hit. He cowered because he'd been through so many new things he had no sense of routine. He didn't run away because I abused him. He ran away because 1) he loves running more than all other things and 2) he lacked routine. His foster homes did a beautiful job with him. I'm still in contact with them and have some videos of how happy and carefree he was in them. However, he still missed out on critical puppy socialization and he was in his teenage secondary fear period when he flew to me, which was frankly just unfortunate timing.
So Ash and I took it easy. I didn't put pressure on him. We didn't try to train. I was going through a string of chronic sinus infections and some turmoil at the theatre that led to bad mental health. The dogs still got out to run but not as often as I would have liked and slowly, Ash started coming and curling up with me instead of his crate. He met my then boyfriend (now husband) and their relationship was much like mine. We settled into a routine and Ash started to relax. Despite his troubles adapting, Ash remained incredibly sweet natured and accepting of the foster and boarding dogs I had come through my home. He loved people, especially kids, and in some ways, Ash is very unlike a typical Saluki - he's so friendly. In others, like his tendency to run first and think later, he is quintessentially Saluki.
Right around his second birthday, Ash suddenly turned from this awkward, gangly, uncoordinated, accident prone, insecure teenager into a regular dog. He largely stopped submissively peeing. He still struggled with changes to routine but he adapted quicker and more readily to it. We stopped struggling with his digestive and urinary health (he had a ridiculous number of UTIs as a teenager and had an intestinal infection that just about killed him). His metabolism slowed and he was finally able to keep weight on. In short, he was suddenly a different dog, the dog I had seen in the videos and pictures from his foster homes. Out of thousands of dogs I've worked with he was one of the absolute worst teenagers.
Through daily work and classes, Ash's leash reactivity improved until it was easily manageable. Recall, however, continued to be an issue. Eventually we could only visit small enclosed areas because in the larger dog parks he'd take too long to catch. We worked extensively on his recall using just about every trick in the book. It was almost three years after getting Ash when I brought Anubi home, Ash was three, when he started to connect with me more and Anubi was the best thing that ever happened to Ash. Anubi has always been calm and confident. He takes to changes easily and Ash immediately started to follow his lead.
It was so funny to see a three year old dog look up to a puppy, but the two were (and largely still are) inseparable. They crated together (not actually something I recommend, but in this situation it worked well), they played together, and in general Ash copied Anubi. That was the biggest turning point with Ash where he started to be mildly interested in training and recall started to solidify.
Whitman and I took the three dogs (Argos, Ash, and Anubi) on our honeymoon. We stayed in a bunch of rustic state park cabins, spent a week in Sun Valley, ID, a few days on the Oregon coast and then headed home. During this time, Whitman and Ash bonded deeply. Even after Whitman and I had moved in together, Ash would pee when Whitman would put on his leash. That finally changed completely when we all traveled together. It was yet another drop in the bucket that is Ash's confidence.
Anubi started lure coursing at just over a year old. About two months later, I decided to enter Ash in a trial, he was a little bit over four years old. I wasn't sure if he would course. He showed zero interest in a flirt pole. I wasn't sure he would come back and I picked a secure trial location for his first trial. I ran him by himself because I had no idea if he would be able to run cleanly with other dogs. Well, he ran and he ran beautifully. He took the first corner so fast he tipped over and he got right back up and started running again. And the next day he ran much cleaner and with a lot more skill.
He finished his Junior Courser title that weekend. His recall wasn't perfect, but he also didn't run off and let me catch him. The next few trials I ran Ash in Singles because I still wasn't confident enough to run him with other dogs. And then came the day that he decided that he wasn't going to come back. It took fifteen minutes to catch him - he finally came back when I played rabbit calls on my phone. That was the last day of the last trial of the year, so I pulled him from his second run and spent six months going back to basics and working on his recall. When I brought him back out in Spring his recall was perfect. He was focus, running great, and even placing in Singles at times.
Ash qualified to run with competition by running cleanly with Ami at the same trial he'd failed to recall at the previous year. He ran that weekend cleanly with two other lovely Salukis and while they soundly beat him, he ran cleanly and came back at the end. Which brings us to the beginning of 2020. All of our spring trials were cancelled because of 2020. In June, I finally met up with a friend in Wyoming and Ash's running style blew me away. He'd just turned six, he'd had his side ripped open down to muscle two weeks previously, and he ran on hard ground, at high altitude, absolutely beautifully.
And from there the year just kept getting better for him. We tried Large Gazehound Racing Association (LGRA) meets this year and it took two full weekends for it to click for Ash, but now that it has he breaks from the boxes cleanly and runs with enthusiasm. He ran both AKC Lure Coursing and ASFA coursing enthusiastically and with increasing skill. He even got a chance to try his hand at Open Field Coursing this year.
We have some really lovely coursing Salukis in my region so the first time Ash took Best of Breed I was shocked. And the day where he ran in Best in Field and at awards I just stared in confusion at the whippet standing next to us, because that whippet's name wasn't Ash. It was my Ash who took Best in Field that day and I openly cried. Ash is two-thirds of the way to his ASFA Field Champion title. He earned points in both AKC. Ash is the dog that I run because he loves it more than anything. I never expected to be competitive especially since he turned six years old this year. Ash has absolutely blown me away with his talent and heart.
I have never seen this dog so happy. Running has always been where he's happiest and he's gotten to run so much all year long. He's been sound and healthy and even after running four weekends in a row he wanted to run more. He's gotten to cuddle with my husband more because of COVID. When I started focusing on training my dogs more actively during the pandemic he actually started demanding to participate, sneaking through the gate and waiting for me to open the door to the garage when I do most of my training. The second time he did it I shrugged and let him into the room, expecting him to clamp his tail between his legs and hide from me because of the new routine. Instead, he seized a tennis ball and started play bowing and spinning in circles. So I taught him Spin. And Touch. And then Bow and Over (a jump) and suddenly we had our Trick Dog Novice title. After three months focusing entirely on running and no training at all, I took him out to try doing the Virtual Home Manners title and he absolutely nailed it first try, having literally never attempted a minute long Down/Stay before. And again, I found myself crying to see him SO happy to be engaged and working with me.
2020 may not have been great for most of us, but it was Ash's year. He earned his Senior Courser, Junior Straight Racer, Trick Dog Novice, and Virtual Home Manners titles and finished the year as the #7 ASFA Saluki. And seeing him get to do his favorite thing in the world so often has made me unbelievably happy.