Afghan breeders turn back the clock
to the Amps and their early imports
(Bill Hall, Barbille UK)
"I know an elderly Gentleman who used to keep Afghans." A chance remark by a French Bulldog breeder, but it resulted in a fascinating and very memorable Sunday afternoon for a select group of Afghan breeders recently.
All dog fanciers, if they are genuinely interested in their breed, must derive pleasure from tracing back its evolution, and if they aspire to judging heights, they must know the basic reasons for its particular form of combination etc.
Delving back into a breed's early history like this is all the more interesting when it has a colourful background, and there can be few breeds with a more fascinating backcloth than the one which consistently holds the center of the stage at the championship show nowadays.
But to get back to that "elderly gentleman", who turned out to be Pat Amps, owner with his late wife Mary way back in the mid twenties of the famous Ghazni kennel, first founded in the breed's native country and then, when the Amps returned to this country in 1925, established over here with seven imported hounds, two dogs and five bitches.
Style of high order
Up to that time, with the exception of Zardin, who regrettably left no descendants, all the Afghans imported had been of the sparsely coated, finder boned type with less hind angulation, that we refer to in the breed as the "Bell-Murray". They were called after the army officer and his family who brought in these so-called "Plains Type" hounds, of great elegance but without the glamour of later imports.
After the first meeting Pat Amps agreed to a taped interview, providing he had prior notice of the questions, so it was with a great deal of apprehension that I attempted the task of making up a questionnaire which would provide the answers to all we wanted to know about the early days.
I must admit I was tempted to ask for an exclusive for after all I am revising my own book on the breed at present, but background material should surely be common knowledge and available to everyone interested. So we settled for an interview with a strictly-limited audience for a forum afterwards.
Fell for his charms
The day finally dawned and after rising at an unearthly hour for Sunday and a 200 mile trip, past more well kept village greens than I have seen for many, many years, we arrived at the delightful home of Joan Wright, owner of Ch Horningsea Salome, the last champion to be bred by the late Mrs. Dods.
Joan had gone to tremendous trouble to organize this meeting and had, like all the ladies present, fallen hook line and sinker for the charms of the "elderly gentleman".
I must admit I expected a rather wizened example of senility for, after all, even in these days, the mid-80s is getting on a bit. Instead we found a commanding military type figure, an experienced public speaker, completely in command of the situation and, far from having to draw him out as I had expected. I found my greatest problem was in getting in the questions before they were answered.
The first stage was to establish identities, and in doing so we found that it wasn't "Major" Amps as we had called him all these years. Apparently he had gone through the Army from L Cpl to Lieut Col but somewhere along the way he had by passed the Major bit so, at his request it was to be either Pat or Mr., so we settled for Mr.
Another correction when we were told that Ghazni was pronounced GAZ-NI and not GHARZ-NI, and said in his case with a certain fierceness, or was it just me "one good ear" that made it sound like that.
Rise in popularity
The questioning was started by drawing attention to the rapid rise in the popularity of the Afghan during recent years until in 1974 it reached its peak of 5,000 registrations, and despite forebodings of gloom by almost everyone not familiar with the breed is continuing to provide championship show entries far in excess of any other breed.
Asked for his comment on this he said that he saw nothing inherent in the breed to make it unsuitable for this country, providing its owners went to the trouble to train it sufficiently to enable it to enjoy a certain amount of freedom, mentioning at the same time that their own stock, presumably in Afghanistan, was always allowed complete freedom, grew up with other livestock and would never have thought of attacking sheep etc.
He did add the proviso that he did not consider the Afghan suitable for a life in a built up area, and also added that he would not expect any Afghans to accept training to the same extent as a gundog.
Asked why he chose the breed in the first place, he related the story of the newly-weds being separate by an official ban on army wives in Kabul due to civil unrest, and Khan Of Ghazni being purchases, after being greatly admired earlier, to be sent with another as a peace offering and companion for Mary Amps stranded in Lahore.
The answer to the next question, an important one, to try to establish the truth or otherwise about the many tales of the breed's antiquity was inevitably disappointing because travel, we were told, in those turbulent days in Afghanistan was severely restricted. The Amps did however, have a close friend, a French Archeologist who was carrying out research for the Afghan Government and was therefore allowed to travel and who told them first-hand of the rock drawings, not he emphasized carvings, as generally stated, in the caves at Balkh and which depicted dogs very similar to the Afghan Hound, although even they had less coat than the actual dogs.
He dismissed completely the connection between Afghans and Salukis, saying they were totally different even in character, the Afghan being a far more rugged extrovert.
Asked about the attitude of the Afghan owners to their hounds, we were told that, although respected as a hound, compared to the Pariah dog his value was solely in his ability to hunt, the coat was left completely without attention and when it was matted to the extent, often reaching to the ground, of impeding movement, it was sheared off completely.
It was emphasized that these observations were based entirely on contact with the hunters. Where the hounds were bred up in the hills, inaccessible at that time to English people, conditions might possibly have been different.
Apparently the breed was kept pure and simply because the breed characteristics it had evolved fitted it best for its purpose in that region.
Bell Murray Type
My number of references to the Bell Murray hound were a constant amusement to the breeders at the meeting as each reference brought forth a bellow of protest from Mr. Amps who would not accept, like Mary Amps in her writings many years ago, that they were even worthy of the name Afghan Hound, As there are no "plains" in Afghanistan this type just could not exist as an Afghan, and could only result from a cross with other sight hounds from the lowland areas, bordering with other countries.
Turning to the treatment of the Afghan by its owners I asked about its diet, having in mind the story of dates being used on a large scale by a writer some time ago, The reply I received was a single word "starvation", the hunters apparently believing that a hungry hound works better but he did give us a rather romantic excuse for the Afghan being an inveterate thief when he said that they were left free to roam at night and invariably foraged from neighbouring encampments.
Asked about the breed's working capabilities I mentioned that some writers over the years have credited it with great versatility, in addition to hunting tales of herding, guarding etc, Guarding comes naturally to any dogs, but Mr. Amps knew nothing whatsoever of the breed being used with sheep, goats, cattle etc. The "well angulated tribesman" apparently does it without the use of any dog.
As for hunting, the main purpose of the breed. This is carried out with two dogs, sex immaterial, used in conjunction with a hawk which has been trained simply to see the prey and hover above it to slow down what would otherwise be too fast a prey for any dog. The hawks are trained to do this by being forced to take their food from the head of dead dear or other animal.
In view of the arguments constantly being fought out in the breed club magazines I was particularly anxious t gleam some information about the colours of the early hounds, particularly with regards to the brindles, as some of the claims are based on the fact that Mrs. Amps never mentioned this colour. Mr. Amps pointed out that the hounds were invariably dirty and therefore this colour would be hard to identify, but he was still confident that he had actually seen brindles in Ghazni type stock.
One very interesting point he did make was that, although a breed standard was not available for guidance in the days when the breed was still in the foreign dog class, invariably the famous all-rounders of those days, A Croxton Smith etc, picked out for awards the types which would undoubtedly have been valued for their working capabilities in their native country.
Questioned about the original Ghazni imports, Mr. Amps could remember very little apart from the fact that Ch Sirdar Of Ghazni, the dog on which the present-day breed standard was based, was exceptionally small, but made for it in superb conformation, character and showmanship. Khan of Ghazni, reputed by every writer since Clifford Hubbard as having killed two or even three leopards in his native country, according to his owner never even glimpsed one. Other hounds which stood out in his memory were Zardin, imported earlier than the Ghazni's but who impressed them with the superb type; and the lovely headed black and tan Ch Asri Havid of Ghazni, presented by the Amps to the at the time Editor Of Dog World, Phyllis Robson.
Obsession for coat
All in all a delightful afternoon for the Afghan lovers present. No great theories were proved or disapproved, and always at such meetings allowances must be made for bias, as in the case of the references to the Bell Murray, and of course the different circumstances and environment. Giving for example and Afghan complete freedom in this over-developed, over-populated little country of course would be vastly different to letting it run wild in the vast desolate mountain ranges of Afghanistan
Such a meeting must be of value in preventing breeders from losing sight of a breed's original purpose, and I am sure that all those present day breeders with their obsession with coat, have lost a great deal of the elegance and beauty of outline of this ancient breed
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