The Cirneco dell'Etna is a small hound-type dog used in Sicily for rabbit hunting also commonly misnomer ed as "Sicilian greyhound".
It is found all over the Italian island and particularly in the area surrounding the active volcano, Mount Etna, where the dogs hunt on terrain formed by volcanic lava. Its presence in Sicily is noteworthy as one of the few ancient breeds that have undergone very little manipulation by man. Instead, the breed has been rigorously selected by nature for its ability to work for hours. The dog we have today is an extremely hardy breed. Affectionate and friendly, it is considered easier to train than some of its sighthound cousins. The Cirneco dell'Etna is classified in the fifth group as a primitive hunting dog with the FCI.
The first impression when observing a Cirneco, with its stunning tan or chestnut colour, triangular shape prick ears and long pointed muzzle, is that we are looking at a miniature Pharaoh Hound. The similarity is striking, but the discerning eye will soon note the substantial difference in the conformation of the two breeds. In fact, careful examination and comparison of the KC Cirneco dell'Etna breed standard with the KC Pharaoh Hound standard reveal 21 points where breed characteristics differ most notably in size and shape. The Cirneco dell’Etna is smaller, with a maximum height of 46-50cm for males and 42-46cm for bitches.
ORIGINS OF THE CIRNECO DELL'ETNA
The Cirneco has been in Sicily for thousands of years. Most authors agree that the origins of the hound-type dog lie among ancient Egyptian prick-eared dogs. Bas-reliefs discovered along the Nile and dated around 4000 B.C. depict what could be the Cirneco today. Most probably, the Phoenicians spread these prick-eared, hound-type dogs as they sailed along their trade routes between Northern Africa and the Mediterranean coasts. Ancient records of hounds with upright ears and a pointed muzzle are found in many countries in that part of the world.
The Italian cynologist and author, Fiorenzo Fiorone, deduces from the absence of a true "hound" in Sicily, that the Cirneco dell’Etna is the result of a progressive adaptation of the dogs left by the Phoenicians along the coasts of Sicily. He suggests that the lack of wide-open spaces, the limited food available for the dogs and continuous inbreeding produced a sort of "miniaturizing effect" which is common to all the animals of the Italian islands.
The most vivid proof of the presence of the Cirneco dell’Etna in Sicily for at least the past 2500 years is the many coins minted between the 5th and 3rd centuries B.C. depicting exemplars of the breed. In particular, the Cirneco dell’Etna is used on coins minted at Segesta, with about 150 variations. In 400 B.C., Dionysus was said to have built a temple dedicated to the God Adranos on the south-western slope of the volcano, just outside the city of Adrano. Many dogs were bred there and legend claims that a thousand Cirnechi guarded the temple. These dogs had the divine ability to recognize thieves and disbelievers, whom they attacked. They also accompanied and guided pilgrims to the temple, being particularly benevolent to those visitors who showed signs of being intoxicated.
MODERN HISTORY OF THE CIRNECO DELL'ETNA
The Cirneco was rarely seen and little known outside Sicily until 1932. In that year, Dr. Maurizio Migneco, a veterinarian from Adrano, published an article in the journal il Cacciatore Italiano (The Italian Hunter) denouncing the state of oblivion into which this ancient Italian breed had fallen. The Cirneco dell’Etna cause was taken up by a group headed by the Baroness Agata Paternó Castello of the Dukes of Carcaci, a Sicilian aristocrat who was to dedicate the next 26 years to the development of the breed, until her untimely death in 1958. The Baroness thoroughly studied this ancient hunting dog and its origins. At that time, most Cirnechi were in the hands of peasants and there were no breeders capable of selecting and conserving the breed type. "Donna Agata" searched all over Sicily and began selecting dogs epitomizing the breed. She spent years breeding and selecting under the kennel name Aetnensis. When she was sure that she had recovered type and conformation, she consulted Professor Giuseppe Solaro, an eminent zoologist, who studied the dogs' shape, proportions, and work method. He wrote the first breed standard, which was approved by the Italian Kennel Club (ENCI) in 1939, only seven years after Dr. Migneco's cry for action. At last the Cirneco dell’Etna was recognized officially as a breed with the name "Cirneco dell'Etna". The first Italian Show Champion was declared in 1952: the bitch Aetnensis Pupa, bred by the Baroness. The Breed Club, recognized by ENCI in 1956, was founded in 1951 in Catania with Dr. Migneco as its first president. The Club secretary was "the lady of the Cirnechi" herself, Donna Agata. ENCI's Technical Committee updated the breed standard in 1989 to bring it in line with the FCI format.
In the 50 years since the proclamation of the first Show Champion, the Cirneco dell’Etna has been bred consistently in Sicily and on the Italian mainland. Cirnechi have also been exported to many European countries where their elegant conformation has helped make them a success in the show ring and many have become FCI International Show Champions. The dog's affectionate temperament and adaptability make it an excellent family companion. In France, Finland and the USA, Cirnechi participate in official Lure Coursing Events and many have become champions in this discipline. In Italy Cirnechi are run in Field trials and participate in Agility competitions.
The first Cirneco dell’Etna was imported into Britain in 2001. Registrations for the breed have grown steadily 2003 ~ 6, 2004 ~ 3, 2005 ~ 7, 2006 ~ 1, 2007 ~ 10, 2008 ~ 23, 2009 ~ 10 , 2010 ~ 8 , 2011 ~ 22
In December 2007 the interim Breed Standard was accepted by the UK Kennel Club. With this the Breed became registered at the Kennel Club on the Import Register within the Hound Group. The Cirneco dell’Etna can now be shown at KC registered shows which have Import Register Classes. Unfortunately they cannot compete for Best in Show until they have had the Breed Standard accepted in full by the Kennel Club. The Kennel Club have scheduled AV Import Register Classes for Crufts 2013 so the Cirnechi for the first time will be exhibited in the show ring at Crufts.
In order to establish the breed in the UK, sufficient support from both owners and active, progressive breeders to increase the genepool by selectively breeding for health, temperament and type must be the foundation of the Cirneco dell’Etna.
NOTIABLE DATES FOR THE BREED
4000BC reliefs of a prick eared dog
400BC Images of the breed on a temple at Adrano
380BC Found on art works in Sicily
1533 1st Text about Hunting with Cirnechi
1932 article by Dr. Maurizio Migneco
1939 1st Breed Standard Italian KC
1951 1st Breed Club Italy
1952 1st Breed Champion
1956 Breed Club Recognised by Italian KC
1989 Breed Standard adopted by FCI
2001 Imported into UK
2003 1st UK Registration for the breed
2007 Breed Standard interim accepted by UK KC
2008 Cirnechi exhibited at a KC show
2009 UK Breed Club Started
2013 Cirnechi to be exhibited at Crufts 2013