x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gift of saluki brings belated joy at competition

A year after the death of an owner's beloved pet, its replacement reaches the finals in top competition.

Barq, seen with Thilo Waber, a handler, won the top prize in his category and is owned by Matar Al Rumaithi.
Barq, seen with Thilo Waber, a handler, won the top prize in his category and is owned by Matar Al Rumaithi.

A gesture of kindness from within the community of the emirate's saluki enthusiasts was repaid yesterday with a top prize at the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (Adihex). A year ago, Jaci Wickham tried exhibiting her saluki, Gia, but failed to win any honours in the annual beauty contest for the breed at Adihex. The next day she took Gia for a run in the desert near Shahama, outside the capital.

"She was bitten by a viper and died," she said. Word about the dog's death quickly passed around the saluki community, and one of the founders of the saluki club, Hamed al Ganem, decided to do something about it: he found a three-month-old saluki puppy. "Hamed got her for me as a gift," Ms Wickham said. One year on from Gia's death, the puppy had grown into a young and spirited dog called Dasma, which caught the eyes of the saluki judge and was placed first in her class.

Dasma - the Arabic word for date oil - was so named because of her sandy colour. She will now get the chance to battle for the title of best in show at the finals of the saluki beauty contest. Ms Wickham, originally from South Africa, said she had never had salukis before coming to the UAE but was now a firm fan of the iconic Arab breed. "Because they're a hunting dog and because they're even mentioned in the Quran, they're the only type of hound an Arab person would own," she said.

Dasma found all the attention a little off-putting, and when faced with a phalanx of photographers capturing her victory, she opted to hide behind Ms Wickham instead. In the corresponding category for young dogs, another 15-month-old, Barq, demonstrated the energetic and enthusiastic nature of the breed by escaping from the leash while being trotted around the stadium. But that did not mean disqualification in the eyes of the judge, the Australian saluki breeder Cathy Smith, who said on her website that she favoured the breed's playful personality as well as its physical traits.

Barq won the top prize in his category, which came as no surprise to the handler Thilo Weber, a sales manager and long-term UAE resident. "I expected him to be first," he said. The finals of the saluki contest, which is open to residents of all GCC nations, will be on Saturday. jhenzell@thenational.ae