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The Amazing Milenarian Etna's Cirneco

Interview for the magazine Cães & Cia, n. 452, February 2017 (Brasil)

Before Christ the Cirneco already hunted wild rabbits. Nevertheless this breed is a cheerful companion (I mean really cheerful). Let me introduce the Cirneco to you. The Сirneco dell' Etna or Sicilian Hound immediately stands out with its exotic attributes. Pointy nose, huge straight up ears, extremely slender yet vigorous body supported by elongated legs. Its elegant looks are sure to evoke images from a remote past. There is no shortage of evidence to prove the Cirneco is an ancient breed. Coins and prints state that these dogs already inhabited Sicilia several centuries before Christ. Sicilia, a rather large isle off the coast of southern Italy in the Mediterranean Sea, is also home to the largest volcano in Europe,the Etna. Who hasn’t noticed canine profiles that resemble those of the Cirneco, featured in Pharaoh Ages Egyptian mythology?

The Cirneco´s connection with Ancient Egypt has fascinated São Paulo born Rogério Ramos long time: “Since young age I have been in love with the Egyptian god of death alike shaped dogs. Death God Anubis is represented by a sharply sculpted Abyssinian Wolf´s head with erected ears and, quite often, a human body”. Rogério´s fascination led him to establish a Cirneco breeding program in 2016 alongside Marcio Aguiar in a partnership named RM Cirnechi.
It is believed the breed’s ancestors have reached Sicilia in Phoenician vessels navigating from the Nile valley, where the ancient Egypt civilization flourished. An alternative theory has recently emerged claiming the Cirneco has actually been created in Sicilia itself thousands of years ago.

Steep Terrain
This dog has adapted like no other breed to spotting wild rabbit and other small mammals on rough and steep terrain on the Etna (with a base that stretches 1.190km2). Even nowadays the Cirneco is still highly appreciated by Sicilian huntsmen whom appreciate their agility moving on tough terrain and their game finding efficiency.

“If there is any rabbit in the bush, the Cirneco brings it out in the open field, making it visible to a huntsman`s eyes”, says Diana Elisova. Diana settled in Sicily as a Cirneco breeder, although she is born in Russia. She has been breeding Cirnecos since 2007. Diana runs her own Cirneco kennel called 'Cyrenensis'. “The Cirneco alerts its huntsman when it spots game hidden in holes so that the huntsman is able to place a ferret through one end of the hole forcing the pray to escape his lair at the other end where the huntsman awaits it with a lethal gun shot.”

Around the World
The Cirneco has entered cynophilia in 1939, then it was acknowledge by the Ente Nazionale Cinofilia Italiana (Enci). They were then given the suffix “dell’ Etna”. The permanent international acknowledgement came in 1956, granted by the International Cynological Federation (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) that ranked the Cirneco at Group 5 within the primitive dogs section.

Today, fifty years after the Cirneco was officially accepted by all 72 countries represented at the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, a Cirneco of hunters is still found in Sicilia where a puppy can be purchased for some 250 Euros (R$900,00) without a pedigree certificate. Whereas a registered puppy, bred by organized breeders is sold for as much as 1,800.00 (R$6.300,00). “Cirnecos sold at these rates are descendants of important bloodlines. They have been microchipped, vaccinated and have an international passport. Cirneco's must also pass an important socialisation phase, and are kept until 15 weeks at its birthplace before being allowed to be exported”, informs Diana.

The annual number of new pedigree Cirnechi in the entire world is believed to be smaller than the amount of unregistered Cirnechi bred by Sicilian huntsman. “According to the Sicilian Veterinary Inspection Service 500 unregistered Cirnechi are born each year”, says Diana. Italy is the world’s leader in production of registered Cirnechi with 130 pedigree Cirnechi bred annually (2006-2015 average). Finland registers an average of 28 Cirnechi yearly. Numbers are even smaller when it comes to other countries. France for instance registered 14 Cirnechi in 2015, Sweden registered 8, the UK 7 and none were registered by Germany and Japan.

The United States of America is the world’s largest cynophilia and in 1997 was home to two Cirneco breeding dog kennels. Nevertheless the Cirneco was only acknowledged as a breed definitely by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in the beginning of 2015. The year of 2015 ended with the Cirneco occupying the 162th place in number of new registrations amongst 184 different dog breeds (The AKC does not inform the actual number of registrations issued).

The first Brazilian Cirneco litter was registered by the Brazilian Cynophilia Confederation in 2010 (7 puppies) by Pamer`s kennel in Gravataí, Rio Grande do Sul state. They were bred by Patricia Mendes Ribeiro.
Fifteen Cirnecos were registered by Patricia`s kennel until the end of 2015.

Italian Lethargy
The small numbers associated with Cirneco breeding programs might be related to the difficulties involved in purchasing Cirnecos from Italian breeders and the lack of literature on breeding these dogs.
“Very few books about the Cirneco are available, and they are all in Italian language. Technical articles are also rare”, says Diana. Diana tried importing a Cirneco female from Italy for three years while she still resided in Russia. “I had to resort to a Russian breeder who managed to import a female from Italy into Russia”, explained Diana. “I started my breeding program with a daughter of the female brought from Italy by this other Russian breeder. Her name is Ambra, she is 9 years old now.”

Patricia had a similar experience in Brazil: “I tried contacting many Italian breeders without any luck. I managed to bring my first couple from the United States in 2007”.
Apparently Rogerio and Marcio had better luck. They were able to launch their breeding program with a male Cirneco imported from Italy; Cyrenesis Anubis is one year and one month old. Their female was purchased from Patricia in Brazil; C-Neftis Von Br Pamer`s is eleven months old. The Italian kennel which Anubis was imported from does not belong to Italians though; it belongs to Russian citizen Diana.

Special Attributes
Cirnecos standout in the competitive world of dog breeds with a few characteristics. One of them is its ancientness. “It is pretty amazing to think that Pharaohs themselves used to love these dogs and their golden coats”, Diana points out. Another peculiarity would be their paw skills. Cirnecos are able to climb rocks and fences as well as holding objects while chewing on them. They dig holes and even punch each other like boxers. “These dogs use their paws way more than your average hound”, Diana highlights.

Another detail: Cirnecos do not have black noses and lips, black paw cushions and black eye contours as most dogs would. These parts of the Cirnecos body have the exact same color as their coats. That, in fact, is never black.
The Cirneco’s coat is very similar to a horse’s coat as per the official breed standard. This should also be included in the list of different attributes of this breed. The Cirneco’s coat is made up of very well settled, stiff and straight hair.
This breed has no undercoat. “Thanks to the absence of an undercoat the Cirneco’s coat change is nearly imperceptible”, comments Diana

The breed’s moving fashion and its intermittent trotting periods is yet another attractive. “They trot with their legs stretched up and their long necks arched forward, like a swan, resembling mini horses”, describes Rogério. Rogério also breeds Oriental cats and runs a cattery named RGOrientals. He notices resemblance between Oriental Cats and Cirnecos. “Both have large ears look slender and longelineous and both posses great flexibility”, says Rogério. “Cirnecos are able to lick themselves at parts of their bodies that most dogs are not. They also keep themselves clean and free from odors as the Oriental cats do”, adds Rogério.

The Cirneco’s ears stand up on their own. In some cases their ears stand up within four weeks of their birth. However, most commonly, their ears drop then stand back up a few times before they stay permanently straight. This normally occurs after seven months of their birth. Cirneco pups are born with grayish blue eyes that turn green within two months. After three to four months their eyes become amber definitely.

Planning a Cirneco mating can be quite a challenge when it comes to finding genetically unrelated dogs. Most good genetics registered Cirnecos are somehow related to each other. That is due to the reduced amount of registered Cirnecos available. This results in higher levels of consanguinity. “The Cirnecos bred by Sicilian huntsman have been essential to the renewing of the breed’s bloodline within the official cinophilia campus”, says Diana. “For this reason Sicily tries to have registered as many original huntsmen Cirneco as possible. We grant them empty pedigrees, in other words pedigrees without the dog’s ancestors.”

The huntsmen bred Cirneco are generally more brawny and compact than their official cynophilia counterpart. Their skin is tougher and more densely covered with hair. They look less elegant. “Such differences naturally occur since a hunting dog is supposed to have different attributes than those of a companion dog”, argues Diana.

Tawny Tones
The Cirneco’s characteristic color is tawny (also called fawn). Their entire body should be covered in tawny tones. These tones can vary in intensity. An ample array of tones is considered acceptable as per the official cynophilia. Tones vary from sandy and light beige to darker and more intense reddish tones. White markings on the Cirneco’s head, chest, belly, fit and tip of the tail are also accepted by the official cynophilia. Markings should preferably not be collar shaped. The official cynophilia welcomes full white coats with and without orange markings as well as tawny coats with a combination of lighter and darker hair.

Italian Style
Diana draws a parallel between the Cirnecos and the Italian people in terms of their temperament. They are both very cheerful to begging with. “If you want to laugh all the time the Cirneco is the dog for you”, suggests Diana.
The breed is generally friendly towards people, including children. The Cirneco gets on well with other animals provided it had been introduced to them from early age.

They are warm-hearted with people they know. The Cirneco is very affectionate with their owners. “He sits on my lap, kisses me, lies down next to my fit under my desk and also welcomes me home with cheerful tail wagging”, says Diana. “Our Cirnecos bark, jump around and wag their tails when they see us in the morning and when we return home every day. Just as if they hadn´t seen us in ages. They occasionally ask for petting”, say Rogério and Marcio. “They love lying around with me, especially under the blankets. They also take pleasure in resting their heads on my legs giving me attention seeking looks. They grunt and cry should I ignore their demands”, Patricia explains. “Cirneco shouldn’t be left alone in a yard, they need the company of people who love them”, highlights Diana.

Cheered up and curious, the Cirneco love to play and run. “I enjoy a feeling of freedom when I see my Cirnecos sprint and chase each other”, says Rogerio. Cirnecos and large areas go hand in hand.
When living in a home in urban environments a Cirneco needs a satisfactory schedule of physical activities and entertainment. Otherwise it will resort to its own alternatives of releasing trapped energy. Most often by digging holes and wrecking objects. “It is very important to secure at least one and a half hours of daily walks. Alternatively it should be released in a safe open area for spontaneous runs. These one and a half hours can be split into two daily sessions”, recommends Rogério. “Besides that, it is recommend to spend at least fifteen minutes every day playing with your Cirneco. You can try throw and fetch or other toy games. Toys must be sturdy as Cirnecos have a strong bite.”

“Ideally the Cirneco should be offered the opportunity to run free in a safe surrounded area at least twice a week”, reinforces Diana. “I recommend buying toys that would challenge the dog’s intelligence since they feel calmer and more satisfied when busy”, adds Diana. “As they get older they naturally demand less activities”, comments Patricia.

Among the most frequent questions made to Diana about this breed regards their strong hunting instincts. Would these instincts jeopardize their obedience? On the one hand it is easy to train this breed. “They respond well to positive reinforcement training. They are smart, they love working and learning new tricks”, comments Diana. “On the other hand, however, a significant dose of patience is needed when training Cirnecos, as they get aroused easily when they sniff something that could be a pray. This is due to their strong hunting instincts.”

The younger specimens are more active, which makes it harder to keep them focused on the training sessions. Diana recommends: “Training sessions should be short and tedious. Trainers must always bring new challenges, especially for puppies”.
A Cirneco that does not get aroused when hunting responds better to its tutor. However, tutors must be able to keep authority without being aggressive. “They are sensitive dogs, when they lose trust in their human companion they also lose their motivation to train and contact the owner”, adds Diana.

Rogério hired a dog trainer as soon as his Cirneco couple arrived. Mission: teach basic leash conducting commands. Those include stop, let’s go and no: “they did learn, but it was a longer than usual process. It took them forty minutes twice a week for six months to achieve their goals”.

Three Cirnecos at Home
Biologist Antonio Silva and agronomist engineer José Wilson Nascimento Sobrinho from Coruripe, Alagoas fell in love with Cirnecos reading an article on Cães & Cia (Brazilian Pet magazine). “We purchase Baboo in 2012. We felt for the breed once and for all with its looks and temperament”, reports Antonio.

Babbo’s independence lives up to the expectations. “She doesn’t demand petting all the time. She hates being confined and shows a lot of determination”, explains Antonio, who spends his weekends at his farmhouse where Baboo is kept. “When Baboo decides to go hunting she won’t listen to anyone and goes about on her own”, tells Antonio. “She often returns with a lizard or a bird. When she isn’t able to bring back a pray you can tell she gets very disappointed as she seeks cuddles”, laughs.

Baboo’s first hunting experience worried Antonio and José quite a bit. “She disappeared for an entire day. We could only rest when she showed up in the afternoon with a bird in her mouth”, reports Antonio.
Baboo lives in harmony with other farm animals. We have ten dogs of various breeds including stray dogs. We also have four cats along with sheep, bovine and equine.

“The Cirneco is a functional breed; it is easy to manage due to its short coat and its rusticity. Besides that it looks exotic or at least intriguing to the eye”, says José Wilson. “Baboo’s rusticity is perfect for life in the country. Baboo is fours years old already and has never felt ill”, explains Antonio. Antonio and José acquired another two Cirnecos as they felt in love with the breed. Pacco and Lara are both eleven months old.

Diana Elisova: kennel Cyrenensis
Patricia Mendes Ribeiro: kennel Pamer’s
Rogerio Ramos and Marcio Aguiar: kennel RM Cirnechi

Reportage and image coordination: Samia Malas.
Revision: Marcos Pennacchi.
Text: Marcos Pennacchi and Samia Malas.
Original text in Portughese. Translation by Fabio Cristo

cirneco dell etna in the magazine Cães & Cia, Brasil
(photo 1)
Cirneco puppies at their place of origin: The volcano Etna’s region.
(Cyrenensis Olly and Cyrenesis Ottoman)
cirneco dell etna in the magazine Cães & Cia, Brasil
(photo 2)
Elegant profile: Very present in Ancient Egypt´s Culture canine image.
(Cyrenensis Anubis)

(photo 3)
Expert hunter: master at finding wild rabbits in rough terrain.
(Cyrenensis Nastya)
cirneco dell etna in the magazine Cães & Cia, Brasil
(photo 4)
Active and agile: cirnecos use their paws like boxers when playing with each other.
(Neftis Von Pamer’s and Cyrenensis Anubis)

(photo 5)
Total absence of black: nose, lips, eye contours and paw cushions present the same color as their coats.
(Colisto’s Ambra).

(photo 6)
Cirneco Neftis and oriental Bastet: Rogerio is able to describe many similarities between the two.
(Vales do Zagro Bastet and Neftis Von Pamer’s)
cirneco dell etna in the magazine Cães & Cia, Brasil
(photo 7)
Litter: five to eight puppies in average.
(Ezzo and Era in it)

(photo 8)
With people: adults and children are seeing as friends.
(Cyrenensis Alvin Bruce)
cirneco dell etna in the magazine Cães & Cia, Brasil
(photo 9)
Jose Wilson with Baboo and Antonio with Pacco and Lara: the breed was duelly tested and approoved.
(Baboo Von Pamer’s, Lara Von Pamer’s and Pacco Von Pamer’s)


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