THEY'RE SO BEAUTIFUL it's like a living art, and I feel such pleasure just looking at them,'' says Donna Powers, waxing poetic about her Italian greyhounds.
For seven years she and her husband, Lawrence, have owned and bred this smallest of the hounds that hunt by sight.
The breed is a perfect miniature of the larger greyhound, just 13 inches tall instead of 30 and weighing about 6 pounds instead of 60.
The couple lives in Silver Run, past Westminster, and both work for the Social Security Administration. Their kennel is the Rohan Kennels, but all of their dogs are house pets.
''When we saw our first Italian greyhound, about seven years ago, it was love at first sight. We were at a dog show, and at the time we owned and showed Afghan hounds, although we didn't breed them. A friend of ours, Kristen Ashe, was showing an Italian greyhound, and the minute I saw it I knew right away it was our breed,'' says Powers. ''And then, getting just one was like eating one piece of popcorn. We had to have another.''
Recently at a dog show, Powers was holding Pilot, who is a soft slate color called blue. He is 14 months old and working on his championship. Pilot was bred at home. His parents, Tux and Delta Lady, were purchased from breeders Richard and Pat Sapp in Nashville, Tenn. The couple has had Tux, one of their first Italian greyhounds, for six years. Of the four puppies born in that litter, Pilot was kept and the others sold.
The Italian greyhound dates back 2,000 years or more. ''We don't know its exact beginnings,'' says Powers. ''Several small skeletons were found in Egyptian tombs with jeweled collars around their necks. Their name, however, came from their incredible popularity in Italy,'' she says. The breed was also a favorite of English and French royalty and is depicted in several Renaissance paintings.
The dogs require almost no grooming, are very sensitive and easy to control, are odorless and rarely shed. Exercise is important. They were once used to hunt rabbits.
One of their most outstanding characteristics, says Powers, is their affectionate disposition and playful ways. And although they thrive on affection from their families, they are often aloof with strangers.
''And they are not happy in kennels. That's why ours live in the house,'' she says, explaining that she sees to it that her dogs have close, affectionate ties. ''When I have finished a puppy as a champion, I put it on an adoption agreement in a home with someone who will give it special attention. I get the names for ownership arrangements by word of mouth and have dogs as far away as Juneau, Alaska.
''But, there is always an Italian greyhound in our home.''