Wolfhounds to show their stuff in Santa Fe

May 12, 2019

On its hind legs, a male Irish wolfhound can stand about 7 feet tall and weigh up to 175 pounds, making it one of the largest dog breeds.

This week, hundreds of these canine giants will be in Santa Fe, displaying their unique agility and unusual aesthetic at the Irish Wolfhound Club of America’s 90th Annual National Dog Show. Events will vary from lure course racing to obedience training and a Best in Show competition.

“I’m incredibly excited,” said the event’s assistant co-chairwoman, Eliza Wells Smith, who is known in the “dog world” as Eliza Gordon. “This has been a labor of love.”

Originally bred in Ireland, Irish wolfhounds’ history dates to around 400 B.C., when armies and kings across Europe would utilize the dogs to hunt game, participate in battle and protect owners and their families against predators, including wolves.

The breed has a history in Santa Fe as well: A pair of sisters, Amelia Elizabeth White and Martha Root White, founded Rathmullan Kennels, where they bred Irish wolfhounds to serve as guard dogs during World War II. Records show that by the end of the 1940s, the breed was something of an icon in New Mexico.

Today, the Rathmullan Kennels is the campus for the School for Advanced Research near Museum Hill, where 43 wooden crosses mark graves for the dogs that once lived there. Gregor Stark’s book El Delirio, The Santa Fe World of Elizabeth White depicts the White sisters, their love for the Irish wolfhound breed, and the dogs’ presence in Santa Fe during the 1920s and 30s.

Known for their high speed, graceful movements and sharp eyesight, the Irish wolfhound has a “commanding appearance, steadfast loyalty, soulfulness, strength and sinew,” unlike any other dog, said Smith.

From Monday through Friday, about 200 Irish wolfhounds from all over the U.S. and Canada will be in New Mexico for the first time in the show’s 90 years, racing at Hipico Santa Fe on Monday and Thursday and competing at Buffalo Thunder Resort’s conformation ring on the Mountain View Lawn throughout the week.

“It’s logistically heaven,” Smith said of the facilities, adding the polo field at Hipico is the size of six football fields combined. “Irish wolfhounds need a huge space. … They’re going at full speed and need the space to turn around.”

A few days before the event, Smith said prestigious judges from England, dog handlers from Maryland and renowned breeders from Tennessee began arriving in Santa Fe. Based on the public’s response thus far, Smith said the city likely will become a hub for other dog shows.

“It’s spreading like wildfire,” she said, adding clubs for various breeds, including whippets, huskies and Afghan hounds are “looking to Buffalo Thunder now for future events.”