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10 Elegant Facts About the Borzoi

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Is there any dog more luxurious than the borzoi? From the lavish homes of the Russian aristocracy to a spot onstage alongside rock 'n' roll royalty, borzois have been revered and admired for hundreds of years. Learn more about this dignified breed. 

1. RUSSIA PERFECTED THE BREED. 

While the dog's exact origins are up for debate, we do know that the breed standard was first officially recorded in Russia in 1650. Some believe the dog was crafted by the Russian aristocracy. According to that account, a Russian duke was looking for a fast hunting dog and ordered a collection of Arabian greyhounds. Although they met his speed requirements, the dogs were not suited for the cold weather and perished. He ordered a new batch and crossed them with Russian sheepdogs, which had thick coats to keep them warm during the unforgiving Russian winters. These new dogs were both fast and well equipped to deal with the snow. 

Others believe that the borzoi actually has a more complex lineage. Some breeds thought to be ancestors of the borzoi include the southern coursing hounds of the Tatars, the Owtcher, or Russian Sheepdog, and the bearhound, as well as other sighthounds.

2. THE BREED'S MONIKER WAS CHANGED.

Prior to 1936, Americans knew the dog as the Russian wolfhound. Their name was later changed to borzoi to match the rest of the international kennels. Borzoi literally means “swift” in Russian.

3. HUNTERS USED THEM TO LOCATE WOLVES.

Borzois might look fancy, but they were bred to hunt. During said hunts, the dogs were kept in large packs of a hundred or more. These large parties would hunt wolves, foxes, and hares. Borzois were expected to find and pin wolves, then wait for the hunter to catch up. Sometimes the wolf would be released so the hunt could continue in the future. This sport was very popular until the emancipation of Russia's serfs in 1861. Without their free labor, nobles could no longer afford their lavish outings. The breed almost died out as a result, but a few devoted fanciers kept the lineage going. 

4. THEY’RE HUGE.

Standing at over 32 inches from feet to shoulder, the borzoi is one of the tallest sighthound breeds in existence, second only to the Irish wolfhound. They can weigh about 120 pounds. 

5. THEY'RE CALLED SIGHTHOUNDS FOR A REASON. 

As the name “sighthound,” suggests, these dogs have an amazingly wide field of vision. They have almond shaped eyes that are frontally placed on the head, giving them a 270-degree field of sight. Compared to the human’s measly 180 degrees, that’s pretty impressive. Borzois also have what's known as a visual streak (a line of vision cells) across their retina. This feature is unique to sighthounds, retrievers, and other hunting dogs. This quality helps the dogs spot their prey from far away, even on wide plains. 

6. PUPPY HEADS NEED TIME TO MATURE. 

It takes about three years for a borzoi head to mature and reach its final shape. The head starts short, with a bent nose. By five weeks, the nose begins to straighten. Over the next few years, the head grows another 10 inches. 

7. THEY'RE GLAMOROUS. 

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The borzoi is a fairly rare breed today (they are the 93rd most popular dog in the country, according to the America Kennel Club), but they enjoyed a brief stint as a status symbol in the U.S. in the early 1900s. The unusual look of the borzoi fit perfectly with the decade's art deco aesthetic. Silent movies stars like Jean Harlow and Sarah Bernhardt could be seen mingling with the graceful, long-legged dogs. (They even graced the pages of Vogue and other fashion magazines.) But it wasn't just starlets palling around with these pooches: The Titanic's Captain EJ Smith had a borzoi that was given to his daughter by Benjamin Guggenheim. Luckily the dog wasn’t on the ship when it met its end. 

8. YOU SHOULD ASK ONE TO JOIN YOUR BAND. 

In 1971, Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett took a break from vocals and let a borzoi sing a song. The tune was called “Mademoiselle Nobs” (previously known as “Seamus”). It was named after a dog named Nobs, who belonged to circus director Joseph Bouglione’s daughter, Madonna Bouglione. Nobs whined and yelped along to music with David Gilmour on the harmonica, Roger Waters on the guitar, and Richard Wright on the keys. 

9. THEY’RE PRONE TO BLOATING 

Borzois are slight dogs, and therefore can’t fit that much food in their stomachs at once. To avoid painful tummy aches or bloating, give your borzoi multiple small meals a day instead of one or two big meals. 

10. WATCH OUT FOR ESCAPE ATTEMPTS

Borzois are fast and independent dogs. They were bred to follow their nose, so it’s not unusual for one to run off when they catch a scent. To avoid losing your pup, keep them on a leash at all times, or confined to a fenced-in area. 

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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