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I grew up in rural West Virginia. One of the most common types of dog during my childhood was the scenthound. People had beagles for running rabbits.  The hardcore houndsmen kept coonhounds and foxhounds, and the really die-hard ones kept what were always called “bear dogs,” usually Plott hounds or really sharp strains of coonhound, that were used to tree bears.

A beagle was put in the playpen with me when I was of formative years. The first dog that was ever designated as mine was a beagle. Unfortunately, he came home with a bad case of parvo, and in those days, that disease was a death sentence.

5-to-10-year-old me was a fan of the hound. But I noticed something early on. Most of the coonhounds and foxhounds that I knew never were kept as pets. They were usually kept tied up to oil drums or dog houses or they were penned up in the back.

The reason for this husbandry was simple. These dogs were never kept to be obedient pets. Their job was to run the trails of the quarry, give tongue, and maybe tree it or run it aground.

The dogs themselves were usually quite docile.  But they were bred to make lots of noise on the trail, and many of them made lots of noise when tied up or penned up at home. Some houndsmen broke their dogs of this behavior. Others didn’t care.

But it was deeply instilled within me that large scenthounds usually don’t make the best pets. Beagles could make decent enough pets, but one had to make allowances for their baying cries and the simple fact that they were not biddable dogs.

As I have moved on from that world, I have seen a big problem that is not being widely discussed in the dog world. Currently, adoption groups and shelters in the Northeast and West Coast are in agreements with Southern and Midwestern shelters.

In some rural parts of the country,  scenthounds make up a large percentage of the dogs available, and they then get shifted to the more urban environments, where they are usually offered for adoption pretty quickly.

Most of these dogs are quite docile and social, which makes them quite attractive to potential adopters.  However, the staff at urban shelters often have no idea about these dogs. For example, I know of a dog that was offered for adoption as a greyhound mix when he is actually a Tennessee Treeing Brindle, which is a sort of standardizing Plott cur.

Greyhounds don’t make much noise at all. They don’t have much activity level either. But this dog loves to bay and bark, and he needs a lot of exercise.

If adoption groups and shelters are not familiar with traditional American scenthounds and the potential problems in owning one, they will be doing the dogs and the adopters a disservice.

I ran into a older woman on Facebook. We were in agreement in politics, and she liked a lot of what I had to say about various issues.  She friended me, and it was all fine.

Until I saw that she had taken in two Trigg foxhounds from Mississippi as foster dogs. They had been found wandering the edge of a swamp during hunting season, and they were taken to a pound, where they wound up going to New Jersey as potential pets. The woman was excited because the dogs would “never be forced to hunt again,” and they would love living with her small dogs and cats.

I left a comment on her page that I didn’t think this would be a good match.  I told her that those dogs were never forced to hunt. They were probably going to miss not being run around the pine forests and swamps down there, and they might not be the best friends with her cats. And they might not be friends with her little dogs either.

But, of course, she didn’t want to hear it. And our short little “friendship” ended.

We see lots on social media about the problems with pit bulls and poverty and pit bulls and neophyte owners.

However, the same sorts of issues apply to hounds. I remember hearing stories of  someVirginia deer hunters who would go into the West Virginia “dog trades” and buy up all the incorrigible deer running beagles.  In West Virginia, dogs are not allowed to chase deer during the season, and many hardcore deer hunters will shoot a dog if they catch it running deer. In Southeast Virginia, running scenthounds on deer is a time-honored tradition, but not everyone does right by the dogs.

Beagles are a dime a dozen in much of West Virginia, and selling them to Virginia deer hunters is a good way to get rid of a dog that is no longer wanted.

But at least, Virginia deer beagles get to live lives doing something very much like what they were bred for.

Foxhounds and coonhounds in apartments and suburbia could be quite disastrous.  It is one thing to have an AKC-registered black-and-tan coonhound, which you got as an eight-week-old puppy. It is another to get a Treeing Walker that has been started on raccoons or even bobcats or bear and expect that dog to fit in nicely in civilization.

The amount of exercise such a dog requires is not trivial. The sound it will make will annoy the neighbors, and if it is really been trained on the raccoon or bobcat, it will probably not be safe around cats or possibly small dogs.

These dogs not make good pets for the average dog owner. They simply don’t.

You make think I hate these dogs, but I have seen enough people trying to make adopted scenthounds into tractable pets.  And no, they don’t have the potential issues that one might get into with pit bulls and BBMs.

But there are issues.

Now, a lot could be done on the supply-side of this problems. In some parts of the country, there are too many hounds being bred and offered to people who will not do right by them. If a foxhound or coonhound fails as a hunter, it is going to be a hard dog to pet out. No two ways about it, and it is incumbent upon people breeding and training these dogs to find these homes.

And no, the racing greyhounds are not equivalent. Most racing greyhounds transition better as pets than large scenthounds do.  Most of them will lie around the house all day, and if you ever hear one bark, you will be lucky.

These scenthound problems go even deeper than this adoption problem. Once a large scenthound breed loses its quarry, it isn’t long before it becomes defunct. Otterhounds are one of the rarest breeds in existence.  Virtually no place with otters allows them to be hunted with dogs anymore.

The dogs do have their devotees.  But they have the problems of all large scenthounds.  They make the noise. They aren’t particularly biddable. They have a lot of need for exercise.

How you adapt such a breed into modern existence is a good question. Either new quarry is found for the dog, and for a time, they were used on invasive American mink in the UK. But then the UK banned most forms of hound hunting, and the dogs became truly obsolete.

North American houndsmen have generally avoided all griffon hounds, such as the otterhound. All of the traditional American hounds are smooth-coated. Maybe if the dogs were found to be good at hunting coypu (“nutria rat”), they might have a future as a North American hound.

But that is an uphill battle.

The truth of the matter the otterhound’s problem is the problem of all these scenthounds. They are hard to fit into modern society.

And yes, there are people who love their dogs of these breeds, but just because you love your dogs and have no problems doesn’t meant that most people will have no problems with these dogs.

They just aren’t easy, and we need to be honest about them. Nice, docile dogs, yes. But they have real challenges.

 

 

 

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Beagling in the Briers



November loomed over into December.  The great blood-letting known as deer season reached its peak. The big guns now fell silent, and the beaglers strolled out with for a bit of sport before Christmas.

Davy Mitchell ran two beagles, an old lemon-and-white bitch named Yeller and young tricolor named Clint. Clint was a three quarters beagle, one quarter running Walker foxhound, and he was big and rangy for a beagle. And by West Virginia standards, he was a beagle and not a mutt, though he had no papers of any kind. Clint’s eyes were light and wild-looking, almost like a coyote’s, but his nose was pure and true. When he gave tongue on the quest of the rabbit trail, it sang out like a bell ringing from some medieval cathedral, dark and melodious to the point that one would expect to hear a Gregorian chant to come wafting in the breeze as the hound let loose his spoor call. 

By contrast, Yeller had some AKC papers, and for 11 winters, she’d winded her way through the brier patches. The cottontails bolted before her screaming cries, and the shotguns did their job. The reward was simple:  Rabbit in the crock pot, or rabbit fried in ginger ale batter for the master, and rabbit hearts and offal for the hounds.

The ancient rite of man hunting with dog, exercised out on these little Anglo-Norman hounds on thorny ridge-tops on what was once the hinterlands of the British Empire.  The quarry was not the nobleman’s warren rabbits but the true wild Eastern cottontail, which scorns the digging of dens and drops its kits in fur-lined form in the tall grass every spring. 

By the time late autumn finally loomed into winter, the trees and briers were all denuded of leaves, and the red-tailed hawks and foxes had already picked off all the stupid young rabbits of the year. All that remained were the wiry ones that knew how to hide and draw themselves in close while the predators searched hard for a bit of rabbit meat.

Davy went abroad with his brace of hill-beagles.  A long day had been spent at the feed store, selling out what straw and chicken feed the patrons, but by early afternoon, he closed shop, drove home to his manse, and wandered back to his dog yard to gather the brace and head for brierlands. 

In the true South and in Kentucky, beagles are run in packs on rabbits. The dogs usually don’t live together, but every hunt, a bunch of friends get together and run their dogs in a big cluster of screaming cries. And they shoot with caution and comradeship, as if they were hunting bobwhites behind setters, for this is a social event par excellence and not the mere pursuit of the coney by gun and hound.

In West Virginia, though, the beagler is almost monastic at his level of solitude. He often goes alone with a brace or two of his not particularly thoroughbred rabbit dogs, and he goes seeking meat in the last few honey holes of rabbitdom that can still be found in the overgrowing farmlands.

And that was the quest that Davy Mitchell was doing. It was a short December afternoon’s hunting with the good dogs, and all the company he would have were their wagging tails and baying cries and his own solitary thoughts about the world and life and how it should be.

The hounds did their job well that evening. Yeller jumped the first rabbit, a svelte young buck that gave the dogs a good run before the shotgun wad ended his wild chase. The next two were Clint’s to rise, and the strapping young hound bayed with his melodies as the rabbits ran their escape circle through the brush.

Three rabbits were now in Davy’s game bag. Two more would limit him out for the day. Three were a fine meal, but he wanted to give the dogs their sport before he put them away for the night.

The two hounds worked the brier patches. The scent of rabbit wafted through their noses, but no hot scent caught their attention.

The final rays of evening light began to cast upon the gray woods. A barred owl, out early for a bit of mousing or rabbiting as the situation occasioned, sailed over the brier fields. The long December night was in the offing.

The hounds still worked the coverts. They jumped on old fox squirrel, which scurried an dead and decaying red oak to squack out its warnings and its curses. The dogs ignored this distraction, though Clint did feel sorely tempted.

Baying hounds tend to scare off all game. Not a deer stirred from its bedding site, while the hounds worked the land.

But lying still as a stone in in the rocky cleft of a boulder was a big tom bobcat.  He had heard the baying hounds, but he had just eaten a big fill of venison from a gut shot fawn. He bet that the dogs would move on as the evening drew in, but as he rested, the sound of dog feet on briers grew louder and louder.

Clint caught the cat’s scent as he quartered downwind of the rocks. The hound let loose a growl and backed up from his startle. He barked and hackled up. Yeller rushed to her colleague’s side, and she, too, caught scent of the great cat.

The two dogs barked and then began baying like diminutive coonhounds, ad the bobcat tom rose from the cleft and stood on the high boulder, growling and glowering at the dogs that dared rouse him from his slumber. 

It was at that point that Davy approached the din. He glanced toward the boulder, and when his eyes came into focus at the big bobcat, man and cat found each other staring other’s eyes. They were thirty feet apart, and a mutual sense of terror combined with fascination crossed their minds.

Davy had never seen a bobcat up close, and the tom had never seen a man so close to him before. The two beings sized each other up. The sound of hound cries became totally mute. They stared at each other as if they were the only two entities upon the planet

For nearly 90 seconds they were paralyzed in that odd ecstasy of curiosity, but then the cat realized the potential peril of his situation. He gathered up his courage and leaped from the boulder, and then before the hounds could realize what was happening, he leaped again, hitting a favorite game trail that took him away from the brier lands and back into the big woods.

The two beagles raced wildly down the trail, but then they got too nervous in their advance into the big woods and turned to run back towards their master.

They came upon Davy just as the darkness fell upon the land. The rubbery soft hooting of a great horned owl rose from the big woods. A red fox barked out on a distant ridge, and both hounds danced around their beloved master. 

They had had their sport of their day, running the rabbits hard and then rousing this monster cat.  They were had done their running and singing for the day, and they were alive after their adventure. 

Yeller was particularly alive and bouncing. She was no longer the old lemon beagle that had jumped the first rabbit of the day. She was a true hound of Anglo-Norman splendor, standing tall on her beagle legs, a beast of the hunt, a beast of prey, now fully actualized and alive in this December twilight.

Davy smiled and stroked her ears. This was why he was a beagler. He felt that primal connection to the hunting dog that brings the man, the domestic beast, and the quarry into a communion. Thousands of years ago, the quarry was reindeer and wild horses, and the bobcat resting in the cleft of a boulder was a cave lion or a homotherium.

This rabbit chase in the briers was only slightly ersatz, for although lacking that wild glory of yore, it was still a greater experience than most men and dogs experience in their lifetimes.

The lives of dogs and humans is much removed from what we once were but in truth always are. We are still predatory, but our lives demand us to live so differently.

But the wild cries of hounds on the hunt still drive a few of us to wander behind them, letting them work their noses and tongues, and waiting to see what they might jump.

And the quest goes on, even as the world moves away from that organic and primal sort of existence and towards our own digitized epoch. 

From the woods and mud our kind sprang, and some of us go back to it, hounds scenting for a piece of the Eden in our minds that we know is there but can never find.

But it never stops the hunt. 

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031

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?

Yes.

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?

beagle

 

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.

Please.

The risks are too high.

 

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Source.

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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