Portrait of a Nation: Emirati hopes to secure future of Arabia’s desert dog, the saluki

Hamad Al Ghanem owns about 80 of the dogs, which run free at his desert home, and he hopes to instil his passion in the breed in young Emiratis, to keep a tradition alive.

It is a family tradition that stretches back seven decades, and Emirati saluki breeder Hamad Al Ghanem is determined to preserve the future of the desert dogs.

He is the founder and owner of the Salukis of Arabia Club, and owns about 80 salukis that he allows to run free in the desert near his home between Dubai and Al Ain.

Although no longer used for hunting, the breed can reach speeds of 70kph when out in the open landscapes of the UAE.

“These animals need sand and sky, to run in the open space,” Mr Al Ghanem said.

“Salukis are very adaptable, like the Bedouin. When I go to Germany or England it is the same. I will first struggle with the cold but I will get used to it quickly and adapt. These animals are very hardy and would thrive anywhere.

“To look to the future, you need to secure the present. You cannot say the new generation will want to preserve salukis, so they must learn about the breed now and what it takes to maintain the bloodline.”

In the beauty contests he hosts for pure-breed salukis at the annual Al Dhafra Festival celebrating Emirati culture, dogs must meet strict criteria to enter.

Only purebred Arabian salukis are eligible and they must be at least one year old. The dogs must be microchipped, physically fit and have a complete vaccination record.

Dogs are judged on their individual characteristics and win points for their general appearance, gait and movement, structure and overall impression.

Celebrated for their exceptional stamina, intelligence and loyalty, salukis are referred to by the Bedouins as the Wind Drinker, Daughter of the Tent, Son of the Desert or Desert Eye.

“These dogs need to run by themselves and to feel freedom - they are not slaves,” Mr Al Ghanem said.

“They do not feel comfortable trapped in a house or apartment. If you kept a bird in a cage, it gets weak and forgets how to fly. It is the same with salukis.

“My dogs run for half a kilometre, they are free. They don’t come back for food, they come back for love and companionship. They know I am the master and this is their home.”

Mr Al Ghanem is a member of the American World Kennel Club and board member of the Society for the Perpetuation of Desert Bred Salukis, based in Arizona, whom he supplies with essential information and data about this rare breed.

His family have become famous in the region for breeding salukis, with those skills passed on from father to son.

As times change and the UAE adapts rapidly to modern life, Mr Al Ghanem’s biggest fear is that the breed will be lost unless the next generation of Emiratis adopt his family’s passion for the animals.

“I breed with all the official papers so I know the bloodlines of the dogs,” he said.

“I encourage others to start also [breeding] salukis, they can start from zero.

“They should document the animals for the future, so owners in future know where the dog has come from and what its history is. It adds value, and is important.

“I want young people to show an interest, those who are 17 or 18 who have the power to make a difference to the future. They need to know about nutrition and how to care for these special animals.

“Salukis are originally from the Arabian peninsula and they are important to this region.