Known Origins and History of The Afghan Hound
Steve Tillotson, June 2011
1. READ ME FIRST
If you arrived at this page expecting a simple statement about the history and origins of The Afghan Hound, you will be disappointed. its not that simple. We do attempt to dispense with some of the more fancicul stories and work towards establishing the known origins, from a certain point forward.
You might also like to visit related content on this site the "Origins" section and the "Early" section
2. FANCIFUL STORIES/20TH CENTURY WRITINGS
As a person who has studied and researched The Afghan Hound for over 20 years, and continues to do so, I believe I can speak with some clarity on what the Afghan Hound is and what its origins are.
Tracking our breeds history down has challenged generations of expert breed writers. Some writers have recycled the unsupported statements, myths, legends, and fanciful stories that have arisen over the years
There is one exception to my observation above. "The Afghan Hound Handbook" authored in 1951 by the late Clifford ("Doggie") Hubbard. Doggie Hubbard earned his nickname "Doggie" for good reason. He is accredited, to this day, as being one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on the subject of dog books and their authors. It has been said that he had an "encyclopedic" knowledge of canine writings. Further, Doggie Hubbard was a man of great integrity. Unlike some, he never plagiarized the writings of others, and whenever he quoted previous writings he always quoted them "exactly" as written by the original author, including punctuation. He did not "re-interpret" the original and "re-present" it in his own words. Thus, for me, Doggie Hubbard is the "expert" author that I most respect .
So I have an agenda! - (inspirited by Hubbard, a man who I met many times and admire) - to document the facts about the known origins and history of the Afghan Hound
As well as having met Hubbard, I have been fortunate enough to have met and become friends with some of the modern authors on the breed. I have a huge advantage that they didn't have. So in making my observation of 20th century writers, and in fairness, I need to explain what that advantage is - I have had Internet access and a website presence going back over 25 years. During that period I have developed a network of friends in the breed all around the world. (1) I am able to communicate with these friends to discuss, query, investigate breed history and usually obtain a very prompt response. (2) Our source on information for breed origins exists in writings dating back to the 19th century. Some of these books are very rare, very difficult to obtain or access. But thanks again to the Internet where such public domain writings have been scanned into digital format, I can access such books from the comfort of my desktop that may have been unavailable to predecessor writers. Plus I have access to various databases of pedigree/breeding history, not available to predecessor writers.
In fairness to the writers that went before me, typically writing in the era 1960's - 1990's, they had to research the breed history the old fashioned "grunt" way. This may have involved them in making international telephone calls to contacts in different countries/time zones, sending letters of enquiry all over the world, waiting weeks/months for a response, if indeed any response was forthcoming, and studying the 19th century writings that were available to them. Many of these writers have extensive libraries of dog books, but this comes down to maybe less than a dozen "well known" books, and as I said, some of these books are almost inaccessible. By comparison I may have access to such books, or portions thereof via the Internet's digital library. Of great importance, and an advantage resulting from the Internet era is that I also have access to an infinite range of writings on "Afghanistan" dating back 200 years. Why are writings on Afghanistan important? Simply, if you seek to understand the origins and history of The Afghan Hound, then you need to have some understanding about the country, the culture, the people, the geography, the politics etc from whence the breed originates.
For example, a book written by a "traveler" or "explorer" 150 years ago in which they detail their journey through Afghanistan (or perhaps, just a region of) where they lived amongst the people can be very informative about all things Afghanistan. Such writings often provide "snippets" of information about dogs they encountered, which may, decades later, help us form a contextual understanding of the breeds origins and history. There are a very large number of such traveler/explorer writings in existence and available on the Internet. Some of these books are written by British Military officers on their experience in the Anglo-Afghan wars, some are written by Indian or Western government agents assigned to survey the country, some are written by independent adventurers visiting the country and documenting their observations, etc. Importantly, none of this category of writings had an agenda to "promote" The Afghan Hound. Any such writings were largely written as a "matter of fact" as they encountered the diversity of native hounds in their travels. This last point is important, because, hitherto, most referenced writings on the breed in Afghanistan were written by people with a vested interest in the breed. Perhaps, by way of an example, a British Military officer may have returned from India or Afghanistan and bought with him his "Afghan Dog". In his enthusiasm to generate interest in this exotic breed and gain its acceptance by a Kennel Club he may have presented himself as an "expert" on the breed. Whereas in fact, this officer may have been posted to one specific region of Afghanistan, where one "type" of "native" hound existed. Likely he was completely unaware of the existence of "other types" of "native hounds" in other regions of Afghanistan
Our modern breed writers usually mention in their sections on the breeds origins the "two types" of Afghan Hounds, imported in the early 20th century into England by Mary and Major Amps (Ghazni Afghan Hounds) and Major Bell Murray and Ms Jean Manson (Bell Murray/Cove Afghan Hounds). Modern breed writers call the first type "Mountain Type" and the second type "Plains Type". All the modern breed books have regurgitated the "fight" between these two pioneer importers, as conducted via the pages of the English Press in the 1920's. Both importers claiming that "their type" is the true/correct type. Clearly both Amps and Bell Murray had their own agenda for claiming their type was correct. They wanted the breed to be established in England, based on their imports and type, and of course, upon arrival back in England, each had a complete monopoly on bloodlines which offered them some financial advantage in selling stock to other breeders, and perhaps, controlling the short term direction of the breed.
It is a sad fact that there is very little written down by Amps and Bell Murray about the origins of the imports. For example, Major Amps was at one time stationed in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, whilst his wife Mary was living in India. In those days it was quite usual for the Officer to be posted to the North Western Frontier whilst his wife and family remained within the safety of India. On other occasions it was also quite usual for an officers wife and family to join him at his place of posting. Mary Amps has written about her "kennels" whilst she was with her husband in Kabul. Mary amps has also written about her other "kennel" in India. A study of the "Ghazni" breeding records show that a number of "Ghazni" Afghan Hounds imported by her to England, were in fact bred by natives, either in India or Afghanistan. . By comparison, the Bell Murray Afghan Hounds arrived in England several years earlier with several generations of Bell-Murray breeding behind them. It is clear that Bell Murray and Ms Manson did have a breeding program whilst in Afghanistan/India. Also, The Kennel Club formerly accepted The Afghan Hound as a distinct breed in 1926. Noting that the Amps didn't return to England until mid 1925 and didn't show their Afghans much whilst they re-established their home etc, then the Amps/Ghazni hounds likely had zero influence on The Kennel Club's decision to recognize the breed, more likely the KC decision was based on the earlier existence of the Bell Murray imports (and several other imports by different individuals), coupled with the fact that the Bell Murray enthusiasts had drawn up a "Breed Standard". Thus the KC could witness a reasonably consistent type (Bell Murray), supported by a goodly number of entries at KC sanctioned dog shows, and underpinned by the existence of a written Breed Standard. However, at the end of the day, both groups of imports Ghazni , Bell Murray (and several others). are the foundations/modern origins of the breed today
An important imported Afghan Hound in the history of the breed is "Zardin", upon whom all breed standards have been based. There is contradiction in the writings from whence this Afghan originated in Afghanistan. Some writers say Quetta in Afghanistan; others say Baluchistan, an entirely different region of Afghanistan. So even when writings by the original importers exist, they are often disputed by others. To this writer, it is a huge disappointment that there are no substantial writings about the origins of the founding importers stock and/or their kennel and breeding activities whilst in Afghanistan/India. These lack of writings have contributed to the proliferation of fanciful stories on the breed and the oversimplified reference to "two types" is a great distraction from the truth.
Lets look at these "two types" (Mountain/Plains). You only have to look at the photographs that exist of each type, and it is abundantly clear that there were "types within types". By that I mean, some of the Ghazni mountain types, look much more like the Bell Murray plains type, and vice versa. Both kennels acquired stock from Native sources with pedigree/breeder details unknown. Thus neither kennel can claim with certainty purity of "type". And in fact offspring bred in England from these two types could be highly variable, consistent with the unknown and likely interbred "native type" of their foundation stock.
One thing I have learnt during my long years of research is that Afghanistan was barely ever a "country" or "nation". It has really been "an area between countries" that these other countries have ravaged and pillaged for centuries. It's importance in the world rests on its geographical position. Afghanistan is on the historically important trading route between the east and west. The British recognized its strategic importance centuries ago and used it as a battleground with the purpose of Afghanistan serving as an impassable obstacle to the Russians, to prevent the Russian Empire moving west. In more modern times, big chunks of Afghanistan have been taken by other countries. For example, Pakistan annexed Baluchistan and made it part of Pakistan in 1948. There's never been a single ruler of Afghanistan. Yes there were rulers/leaders who claimed to rule the country, but the truth is they never ruled the entirity of it. There is no single people, no single language, no single culture. Afghanistan was at one time part of Persia. Afghanistan remains a "feudal and tribal" place. That is probably why it has survived because there is no "entitity" or "unison" thereof, so no one person/organization can competenely speak for Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a fascinating place, about which the modern world still seems to know very little. The complications of the history of Afghanistan only compound the challenges for researchers into Afghan Hound breed history.
4. THE STARTING POINT
In terms of the "modern" and "recognizable" Afghan Hound of today, our origins start in England in the 1920's. These origins are based upon the imported hounds of Mary and Major Amps, Major Bell Murray and Ms Manson, and several other individuals who imported native hounds from Afghanistan/India into England. This pool of bloodlines, perhaps amounts to around 30 animals in total. Prior to the 1920's we can only (currently) reliably trace origins/type back to the middle./late 1880's. So for practical and pragmatic purposes, let us consider the notion that "The Afghan Hound" as exists today, originated in England, based on around 30 imported native hounds
I have been working for several months on a project I locally call "Timeline", in which I am endeavouring to start with the earliest contributing Afghan Hounds (1920's), to document their history and stories and then move forward to the current time. In the process I hope via the Timeline project to document and explain how these foundation English Afghan Hounds were exported overseas, how breeders overseas developed and established the breed in their country and thus, how the breed eventually became distributed worldwide.
Please consider this page as an adjunct to the "Origins" section and the "Early" sections on this website. I thought it helpful to explain that we have to start somewhere in documenting the origins and timeline, so lets start with the known origins, whilst continuing also to pursue the more ancient history and origins by our ongoing research efforts.
Steve Tillotson, June 2011
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