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Her Majesty's Hounds

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Apr. 12th, 2007 | 12:00 am
mood: enthralled

The North Carolina Renaissance Faire, at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, has one more weekend left in its run this year: this coming Saturday and Sunday, April 14 and 15.  By all means, go!  It's good fun.

And stop by the pavilion of Her Majesty's Hounds, a group which promotes the adoption of retired racing Greyhounds.  I believe (based on my visit last weekend) that you'll find them located just to the left of the Royal Court.

What, you might be wondering, is a Greyhound adoption group doing at a renaissance faire?  Actually, it's very logical; in fact, the concept is downright brilliant.  In the times of England's Elizabeth I (which is what this faire, at least, means by "renaissance"), Greyhounds were greatly favored by the nobility; this included the Queen herself, who is said to have owned about two hundred of the hounds.  They were used in the sport of "coursing", in which a brace of hounds [that means two of them] would be loosed to chase after a hare, to see which one would catch it and, um, kill it.  (Though sometimes, neither did: the use of only two hounds at a time was prescribed by Her Majesty, and intended to give the hare a "sporting chance".)  Another sense of "sporting" that applied to the activity was that the ladies and gentlemen were accustomed to bet, sometimes large sums, on the outcome.

It is from this sixteenth-century practice that the modern, American form of Greyhound racing evolved.  And Greyhound racing, in turn, gives rise to the need for active Greyhound adoption groups.  Every year, thousands of racing Greyhounds are retired from racing.  Some have been injured, but most have simply become too old to be competitive.

And before the Greyhound adoption movement began, those thousands of dogs, each year, were simply euthanized.  Some of them still are: nowadays, the adoption groups find homes for a majority, but rarely, if ever, for all of them.  So, the volunteer dog lovers who make up the adoption movement are always desirous of finding ways to make more of the public aware of the advantages of adopting a retired racing Greyhound.

Which brings us back to this particular group, "Her Majesty's Hounds", and what a special contribution it is able to make to this public awareness.  Any Greyhound group can hold a "meet and greet" in front of the local branch of Mammoth Pets.  At such an event, they can talk to you about what great pets these dogs make; and they can let you interact with some of their hounds, which will be standing quietly, or lying on dog beds, on the concrete. 

(I certainly have no intention of disparaging such events.  The people who put them on are dedicated; and I'm sure that many folk, having their first encounter with Greyhounds this way, have formed the idea of adopting one; and, in good time, done so.)

But at Faire, HM Hounds can engage your imagination at a wholly different level.  Here, if you make your way to one of their coursing demonstrations, you can experience the beautiful sight of Greyhounds running at full tilt ... briefly, because they cover the length of the "jousting field" in a few seconds.  (In deference to the sensibilities of the present day, a scented lure is used, rather than a living hare.)

And here, between demonstrations, you meet the dogs, not on a 21st-century sidewalk, but in a tented royal pavilion, where they are pampered in the manner that such noble beasts deserve.  Thus, you are introduced, not merely to a great potential house pet, but to the romance that adopting a Greyhound can bring into your life.  With a Greyhound by your side, those in the know will always recognize you as one of life's nobility (though today, nobility is not conferred by betting money on your hound, but by saving its life, and showing it love).

To be sure, to some extent, this is a fantasy, induced in me by my first encounter with the HM Hounds group.  But I'm here to tell you that something like it is also literally true.  Early on, during the four years that I've now had my Greyhound companion, Toofus, I lost count of how many complete strangers had spoken to me about what a beautiful dog I had.  And quite a few of them also express admiration for my having adopted (or, as they commonly say, "rescued") a retired racer.

The advantages that one might derive from this ... especially if one were single ... will be evident.

Before I spoil the whole effect by talking about it this way, let me hasten to assure you that I'm not as calculating about all this as I'm making myself sound.  (Nor, I hope, as conceited.)  And, if you let the hounds work their magic on you, and adopt one, trust me ... there won't be anything calculating about it for you, either.

If you're nowhere near Raleigh, or for some other reason can't make it to the North Carolina Faire, be aware that HM Hounds grace a number of other faires, as well, with their presence.  For a list, you can visit the group's Web site at http://www.hmhounds.org.

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