Posts Tagged ‘beagle’


My dad is holding Huddles (dachshund), my uncle is holding Willy (beagle), and Fonzi (Norwegian elkhound) is barking at the gray fox they are holding on the table.




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Ken Ham is known for using the dog family to defend the biblical concept of kind. After all, domestic dogs vary so much but can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, which they can also do with wolves (their wild ancestor), coyotes, and golden jackals.

So all these different animals must represent the dog kind, right?

Well, very early in the debate from last night , Ham went for the dogs again, comparing the different species and breeds of the genus Canis to Darwin’s finches. Darwin’s finches are more less divergent in morphology than all these dogs are, so they both must represent the respective dog and finch “kind.”

The problem is that all the weird morphology that exists in dogs is really nothing more than the selection pressures that have occurred since domestication. Domestic dog skull vary more than all the other species in the order Carnivora. That means that domestic dogs have skulls that diverge more than the differences between those of house cats and walruses. It is now thought that tandem repeats may play a role why dog heads have been able to become so diverse so rapidly through selective breeding, which is really nothing more than a really weird aspect of the dog genome.  Domestic dogs actually don’t vary that much from each other, and they also don’t vary greatly from wolves either, which is why they still have to be classified as Canis lupus familiaris.

Ken Ham bathers on how all these Canis were interfertile and thus the same kind, but here’s a challenge I guess he didn’t think about.

These two animals look very similar, and I’m sure that Ken Ham would say they are the same “kind.”

canis latrans

black backed jackal

If you didn’t know any better, you’d say that these two animals were the same speces, and if you were a creationist, you’d definitely say they were the same “kind.”

But if all living things on the earth now are all derived from an ancestral and clearly interfertile ancestral pair on the ark, then why can’t these two animals interbreed?


The animal in the top photo is a North American coyote. It actually can interbreed with domestic dogs and wolves, and it has been bred to the golden jackal, which is actually far more closely related to the wolf and coyote lineage than the other jackals.

Indeed, there are two jackals that are found only in Africa that are not interfertile with the rest of the genus Canis. These two are the black-backed and side-striped jackals, which are even more divergent from the rest of the genus Canis than African wild dogs and dholes are.

The animal below is a black-backed jackal, and in Southern and East Africa it is ecologically quite similar to the Western and Latin American populations of coyote.

Because black-backed and side-striped jackals are genetically that distinct from the rest of the “dog kind,” then Noah surely would have had to have brought along a separate jackal kind.

But wouldn’t an all-knowing creator just ask Noah to bring the dog kind and populate Africa with an animal deriving from that ancestral dog kind? Having to put another pair of dog-like creatures on that already crowded boat seems like an awful waste. Kennel space was pretty limited.

Why go at it with such a divergent animal?

Most people don’t realize that these two endemic African jackals are so different from the rest of the genus Canis. Most have heard that golden jackals cross with dogs, and there is an assumption that all of these animals are very closely related.

They aren’t.

But if you were to play on this kind game a bit more, you’d think that these two animals would interbreed, and that there would be no way to breed a cute little dog like a beagle to a coyote. A black-backed jackal would be a much more logical mate, right?



But there have been several studies that have crossed laboratory strain beagles with coyotes (like this one: coyote beagle).

coyote beagle mated pair


The photo above is the male coyote protecting his beagle mate.

Here are their descendants:

beagle coydogs

Beagles and coyotes would clearly be part of the same kind, but coyotes and black-backed jackals would not.

But you’d never be able to guess that solely by looking at the animals.

And this is where the entire concept of “kinds” falls apart.

We have many different and often nasty debates about the taxonomy and classification of species, but we have these debates because we have some idea of what a species is.

The same cannot be used for the term “kind.”

A kind is really whatever one thinks it should be. It’s an ad hoc definition, one that is squishy and malleable, which means that it is perfect for people who like to misrepresent facts to twist around however they would like.

It’s precisely the sort of thing creationists like to use to bamboozle the science-illiterate public.




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One of the beagles killed by wolves. Source for image.

One of the beagles killed by wolves. Source for image.

From the Charleston (WV) Gazette:

Hunters who use hounds know full well that sometimes dogs get lost or, worse yet, killed.

It’s a nightmare scenario, one that can cause even the most pragmatic dog owner to wake up shaking and drenched in sweat.

Few nightmares, however, could be as harrowing as the real-life ordeal Larry Harrison and Scottie Derrick went through during an August dog-training trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The two Charleston-area men sent 10 beagles into a jack pine forest to run snowshoe hares. Eight of the dogs ended up dead, torn apart by wolves.

“It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in 30 years of running dogs,” said Harrison. “I wouldn’t want anyone to see what we saw.”

Harrison, Derrick and friend Jim McGuire of Jackson, Ohio, had taken their dogs to the Upper Peninsula to get them in shape for West Virginia’s upcoming rabbit season.

“Snowshoe hares are bigger than our cottontails, and you can more easily train dogs to their scent,” Derrick said. “The first three days we were there, we had a great time. But that last morning it all went bad.”

Just 15 minutes after the men released their dogs, the pack went strangely quiet.

“We could see from the GPS that one of Larry’s dogs was out of the pack, so we went looking for it,” Derrick recalled. “We got within 40 feet of it, but we still couldn’t see it. The GPS kept varying. We thought she was just shy and staying away from us.”

After a few minutes’ more searching, the men found the dog’s body.

“I couldn’t believe what I was looking at,” Harrison said. “There wasn’t much left but the rib cage. We thought from the GPS that she was alive, but as it turned out the wolf must have been carrying her around while we were searching.”

With one dog known to be dead, the men looked for the rest of the beagles.

“We found the one, and then another, and then another, and then another, all dead,” Harrison said.

Shortly after finding the fourth dog’s body, the men caught a fleeting glimpse of one of the wolves.

“I looked up and saw a wolf pop out of the brush, about 40 yards away from us,” Derrick said. “McGuire yelled at it, and it was gone in a blink.”

Derrick estimated the wolf’s size at 120 to 150 pounds. “It was bigger than the biggest German shepherd you’ll ever see,” he said.

The wolves – Derrick and Harrison believe there were four to seven of them – killed eight beagles and injured another in what Derrick calls “the blink of an eye.”

“In 15 to 30 minutes, there was nothing left,” he added.

None of the men were aware that wolves might pose a threat.

“We knew there were coyotes in the area, but I hadn’t heard anything about wolves,” Harrison said. “I’d been going up there for 16 years, and the worst thing that had ever happened was the time a couple of our dogs got messed up by a porcupine.”

After the attack, the men started asking around about Upper Peninsula wolves. What they found left them determined never to return to the area.

“Michigan’s wolf management plan calls for a population of about 200 to 300,” Derrick said. “The population right now is estimated at 670 or so.”

Pressure from animal-rights groups has hindered Michigan wildlife officials’ efforts to reduce the population through hunting. A hunt will be held this fall, but will be halted after 43 wolves are killed.

“I don’t think any of us are going back,” Derrick said. “There’s too much risk to the dogs. If there’s a chance for something like that to happen again, we probably should just stay away.”

This story is certainly a tragedy, but I thought it was fairly common knowledge that there were a lot of wolves in the UP of Michigan. If you’re going to run hounds in wolf country, this is a risk that is always there– especially if they are little rabbit beagles.

I seriously doubt the wolf weighed as much as the hunter claims. The average weight of a Great Lakes wolf in the neighboring state of Wisconsin is 60-75 pounds, but a wolf is built differently from a dog. They have much longer legs than a dog of equivalent weight, which would be a golden retriever. One of these wolves might be 30 inches at the shoulder, but a 75-pound golden retriever would be only 24 inches at the shoulder. Add the thick wolf coat, and you can get the impression that a wolf is a lot larger than it actually is.

I also find it a bit strange that these beaglers didn’t know that there were snowshoe hares in the high Alleghenies of West Virginia. There aren’t as many as there used to be, but the state does have a snowshoe hare season.

So they can run their beagles after hares without ever having to worry about wolves.

I don’t think anything can be done to stop wolves from killing hounds. Hounds are run at a distance from their owners, and if you’re in wolf country, there is a chance they will run into a wolf pack. Wolves usually fear people, so if the dogs are ranged close in, there is less of a risk.  But if you’re using hounds the way Americans like to, wolf and dog conflict may be impossible to mitigate.

It may mean that the only way to avoid a wolf attack on beagles is to run them in the Alleghenies and forget the Great White North of the UP.


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My first dog

This is me with my first dog, a beagle named Willy.

He was really Willy II, a successor to another beagle with the same name who used to babysit me.

I think I’m about four years old in that photo. I still had blond hair.

Poor Willy II didn’t last long.

He was purchased from a beagle breeder who didn’t vaccinate his puppies.

Another puppy from the same litter had contracted parvovirus and was dead by the time I met Willy II.

In those days, parvovirus was not as easily treated, and poor Willy II was euthanized about ten days after he came to live with me.

Vaccinate your puppies.


The risks are too high.


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A swamp rabbit is a big cottontail rabbit that lives in the swampy areas of the subtropical South.

They are quite a bit larger than Eastern cottontails.

At least one of these beagles is a retriever, which is pretty handy in such brushy terrain.

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Not exactly like a retriever or gun dog, but it’s close.

My grandpa had a beagle that was a squirrel dog, and he would retrieve the squirrels.


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Rabbit beagles

Rabbit beagles-- Giant and Ringlet.

I grew up in rural West Virginia, where archaic English phrasessometimes persist in the vernacular.

When I was a kid, I never heard anyone ever say the word “beagle” by itself. It was always “rabbit beagle.”

As I got older, I decided the name was redundant.  Beagles were used to hunt only rabbits and, at higher elevations, snowshoe hares.

I saw no purpose behind calling them “rabbit beagle,” so I just dropped it.

Well, it turns out the this phrase does have a particular meaning, but the context in which it was used in late twentieth century West Virginia was not the same as it was in the nineteenth century.

In Stonhenge’s The Dogs of Great Britain, America, and Other Countries (circa 1880):

The dwarf or rabbit beagle is a very small and delicate little hound, but with an excellent nose, and much faster than he looks. Some sportsmen have carried their predilection for small dogs to such an extent, as to use a pack of these beagles which might be carried about in the shooting pockets of the men; and in this way have confined their duties to the hunting alone, so that they were not tired in trailing along the road from the kennel to the huntingfield and back again. The average hight of these may be taken at 10 mches, but their bodies are disproportionately lengthened Patience and perseverance are stil” more necessary in these hounds than in their larger brethren, and without them they soon lose their hare, as they must be content to hunt her at a pace with which a man can readily keep up on foot, horses being quite out of place with such a diminutive pack.

A pack of rabbit-beagles, the property of Mr. Crane, of Southover House, England, we believe to contain the best “patterns” we have ever known. We have seen them on a cold bad scenting day work up a rabbit and run him in the most extraordinary manner, and although the nature of the ground compelbd the pack to run almost in Indian file, and thus to carry a very narrow line of scent, if they threw it up, it was but for a moment (pg 65-66).

In nineteenth century Britain, “rabbit beagle” referred to the smallest beagles imaginable. These dogs were around 9 inches tall at the whithers.

Now, the dogs called “rabbit beagles” in West Virginia were not that small. They were the “medium-sized” beagles that Stonehenge mentions. These would be within the 13-inch and 15-inch beagle varieties that the AKC recognizes. Stonehenge also mentions a rough-coated beagle, which would be something like a griffon, and the Kerry beagle, which is much larger dog. I have known unregistered working-type beagles from West Virginia that were more or less harriers. I don’t know their exact ancestry, but these dogs were all used for hunting rabbits.  I don’t know if they had foxhound in them or if they represented a distinct harrier-type hound that is endemic to West Virginia.

The tiny beagles were something of legend. I remember hearing stories about “pocket beagles” that would fit in a man’s coat, which Stonehenge mentions in his account of the “rabbit beagle.”

But “rabbit beagle” always referred to the normal beagle in West Virginia, and the pocket beagle was a creature of legend.

Not only are we two people divided by a common language, we are two people divided by a common language that evolves with the times.

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