OAKHURST – They’ve been the subject of at least one sonnet, and the gift to kings. Yet, common questions about the creature include, “where’s the saddle,” and “how much does it poop,” along with “do you use a shovel?”
Throughout her time loving and owning Irish Wolfhounds, Gail Hawksworth has heard it all, and has continued to help people separate fact from fiction when it comes to the tallest dog breed of all, when measured correctly from the top of the shoulder point to the ground.
Canine expert Gail Hawksworth is the owner of MySham for the Love of Dogs Training and Care, and has been handling the education of dogs and their people since the 1980s. She is also an advocate for the large, loving, always-leaning-on-you, big-hearted beasts that are the Irish Wolfhound.
“Great Danes give the illusion that they may be the tallest breed, because the head is held high and the cropped ears are held up, but when measured from the shoulder it is the Irish Wolfhound by far,” Gail explains, adding that the reason they’re big is simple. “Size is needed to pull the great elks down, along with the wolves. They are of great size and commanding appearance.”
A visit to Gail’s home reveals that it’s possible the dogs could be running this show, and if so, they’re doing a wonderful job. In addition to the few wolfhounds that Gail has, she opens her place up for pets who are lucky enough to go to MySham for boarding. The space is vast, safe and clean, with plenty of shade and includes a few rocks to play with. As we talk, Gail has to repeatedly remind one of her boys to “put down the rock,” and let it out of his mouth. This is a dog whose head is so large a tennis ball would get lost beyond its cavernous jaws. And yet, says Gail, there’s so much more to the creatures than size. They are love incarnate.
“The Irish Wolfhound is a gentle giant who protects his home and family, and is extremely fond of children,” says Gail. Despite its looming size, the breed is considered dignified and quiet a well-mannered house dog needing a great deal of human companionship.
“They are intelligent, and very sensitive, courageous but non-aggressive. Generally the Irish Wolfhound will not start a conflict, but will not back down once it’s started, and will finish it.”
Gail says the motto is, “gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked.”
Even as a little girl, Gail can remember bringing home dogs or cats with the aid of her belt as a leash, or holding them in her arms, telling her parents, “it followed me home.” Never fearful, she would approach any dog, regardless of its size.
Back in 1967 when Gail graduated from high school she started working in a pet grooming shop, learning how to groom small animals like poodles.
“The owners showed their poodles in AKC shows, and I went with them.” One day, Gail made an off-hand comment that she loved Great Danes because of their size.
“I will never forget this,” she says now. “He said, ‘if you like their size, then you will really like the Irish Wolfhound. Let me show you one.’ And he did and that was it: love at first sight.” Gail got her first Irish Wolfhound in 1968, and to this day says she will always have one by her side.
“They are a person-dog and companion and they need to be with their family as they bond very strongly. They are not an outside dog. As big as their size is, so is the commitment they give to you. People look more at the size and cannot understand the components of the heart of the dog: he just wants love, hugs and to be a major part of your life. The Irish Wolfhound would rather be with you than with other dogs.”
The Irish Wolfhound may suffer from a serious case of mirror-blindness, since they think they are lap dogs, according to Gail.
“They are truly devoted, quite calm and not all-over-the-place.” They grow extremely fast which is hard for some people to understand, says the experienced breeder. “Diet is a very important part of their growth and life.”
Gail has bred and raised Great Danes and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, but Irish Wolfhounds are still her number one favorite. Her dogs have captured records for Obedience and been among the top 25 in the nation. In 2009, her dog won won Best of Breed at the Eukanuba Dog Show; in 2010 she had the #1 Irish Wolfhound, the first of its kind to get the Grand Championship title in the U.S. In 2012, with limited showing of another Irish Wolfhound, Gail’s dog placed # 4 in the nation, and received an invitation to the Westminster Dog Show.
“I have been blessed with my dogs. Some are registered with Therapy Dog International, where I take them to schools and convalescent homes, and hospitals, and such. Showing is just an extra part of them, it is really the love and companionship that I need and get from them.”
Gail has bred her dogs in the past with long periods of time in between, and it’s a fairly rare occurence, at that.
“I breed only when I want a puppy. I never advertise my puppies. I keep them till 11 weeks of age and do not let people pick a puppy. Rather, I pick the pup to go with the person or family, for their personality.”
The puppies and their new people leave with food, two sets of shots already given, health certificate, micro-chip, AKC registering papers, a complete record of worming program they were on, plus a contact they they must agree to and sign.” Gail keeps in contact with the owners because the first year of life to so important. They start out at 16-24 ounces and within six months males of the species are approximately 100-lbs., and females weigh in at about 80-lbs.” Gail says her boys always seem to be over that 100-lbs.
From the first authentic record of these noble dogs, the breed was held in great esteem: valued as hunting dogs, even suitable as gifts of royalty. In 391 A. D., Gail says, Roman Consul Quintus Aurelius mentioned them in a letter after he received a gift of seven Irish Wolfhounds. “All of Rome viewed them with wonder,” he wrote, as did those in Greece, Ireland, and elsewhere around the globe.
The breed as noted in the Middle Ages is believed to be descended from the Cu, “a large rough-coated greyhound that has been known in Ireland from pre-Christian times.” The Irish Wolfhound is the National Dog of Ireland, despite having once been near extinction, and was used frequently by Irish kings to hunt large elk, wolves and coyotes.
Besides the crazy comments Gail gets from the occasional passer-by, she also hears, ‘oh, those dogs don’t live that long, how can you do it? I could not.’
She says her answer is simple.
“It hurts no matter how long or short you have your companion. I myself would rather have a shorter time with them than not at all. I believe they are angels sent to us and when their task is done they are then called home. I say to myself, ‘every time I lose a wolfhound it takes a piece of my heart with them. Every new wolfhound who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be a wolfhound and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”
Gail says she knows some day that all her wolfhounds will be at the Rainbow Bridge waiting and they will cross over together, forever.
“All dogs are special in their own ways. I love all of them and they have so much to gives us if we just take the time to listen, watch and interact with them. Dogs have been a huge factor in my life and in my training, it’s what my goals and wishes are — that I can help you to see and receive this with your dogs.”
“That’s not a dog, that’s a horse,” people will comment when the wolfhounds are around. “How much do they cost, how much does it eat?”
Gail has a little confession to make when it comes to answering these common questions.
“Some times when I get overwhelmed with people I will just say the breed is a ‘long hair Texas Chihuahua,’ and they believe me.”