Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Kurgisian Sparrow Hound

The Kurgisian Sparrow Hound (Kurgisk spurvehund) was developed on the Kurgian plains in order to chase birds from the crop, a four-legged version of scare-crows. They were a lightweight breed, with long hind legs and a quick gait, fierce and well-tempered little beasts with a fun task. They were also good at alerting the farm when strangers approached, but they were not really good for protection, as they were too small and too trusting and good natured. Their temper made them very good pets though, and the Kurgisian Sparrow Hound survived into modern times as a pet among the farmers of the plains due to their gentle and happy nature.

This was however not enough to save the breed after the second world war. In 1950 there were 10 pure-bred Kurgisian Sparrow Hounds left, and by 1972 there was one surviving litter. The dam died giving birth, and the surviving puppies were scattered, all attempts to save the breed given up due to earlier disastrous effects of inbreeding.

The Kurgisian Sparrow Hound was about the size of a medium poodle, it had signature long hind legs, dainty paws and a small, delicate head. The ears were not standing but folded, and in the puppies they might stand up at moments of exitement. They could come in shades of grey and black, but most common was black with a white neck and chest, and occasionally white paws. The coat was soft, rugged but not rough. It would have a thick, downy winter coat under the smoother outer coat. These dogs were typically extremely intelligent, quick and had a healthy hunting instinct, which made them good mousers. This might have been another reason why they survived as far as into the 20th century.

The last litter of Kurgisian Sparrow Hounds was born in Germany, and one of the pups was smuggled into Norway in an attempt to save it. My sister smuggled it into the country and put it with the pups of my old mutt everything-used-on-norwegian-farms dog. The pup thrived, and soon charmed the entire family. When it was time to find new homes for the puppies, we couldn't part with the little special one. She was the smallest, but yet the one who always managed to break out of the puppy pen and sit outside the door waiting for us when we opened it, ready to play.

We named her Ruffi. Her real name was Radisha von Hocherholt, but nobody could see her mischievous dark eyes and the ears - for a long time as a pup one was standing, the other was folded - and think of anything that cumbersome. She had one white paw and a spot of white on her chest and jaw, the rest was a soft, fluffy black. My father, who did not like to have animals, as he bonded too easily with them and grieved too much when they died, took to the little lost orphan as if she was his private teddy bear. She would ride with him to work, or he would drop in in the middle of the day to pick her up, "since he was passing the house anyway."

Ruffi was extremely easy to train, although she also trained herself into quite a few bad habits. What dog, having figured out it is possible to get up on the table and steal the cold cuts, would also figure out that she should take just one or two slices from each plate, and then get down? For years we were always short when we cut meats for the big family breakfasts. It wasn't until she started to grow a little deaf in her old age that we realised that was because for years, when we went to fetch the rest of the family for breakfast, she stole meat from the plates. One day we caught her red-pawed, daintily positioned in the middle of the table, looking quite annoyed with herself for being caught in the act.

At the age of 18 she left us. She just walked - or waddled, she was old, had gained weight and had a hip problem - into the forest one day, and never returned. In my dreams, she still chases bird in some far-away green field.

Written in response to Mike's assignment for his students. Everything is true, including the fact that the veterinarian in Ålesund had her registered as Kurgisk Spurvehund for her entire life, and if you ask him, I am sure he still knows the breed. The only not-so-true thing is that there is no Kurgisian Sparrow Hound (probably not even any Kurgisian Plains) and Ruffi was never smuggled into Norway, she was just the cutest of the litter of five mutts of very questionable origins.

No comments: