Some sights for sore eyes

THERE’S a bright golden orb in the sky, and it feels oddly like spring outside. Anyone know what curious phenomenon this might be? It can’t possibly be sunshine, can it? I thought good weather had abandoned us!

Even with today’s sunshine, last night’s long, soaking rain and the melted snow mean the ground is what I’m sure geologists would refer to as ultra-sloppy. We despair of seeing hounds on the hunt field again for a while, but of course our fingers are always crossed. In the meantime, we have some nice hound pictures to look at. To start with, some video from the Royal Artillery Hunt’s recent Boxing Day meet in England:

This next video–well, we don’t really know what to make of it. But it was something we really felt we had to pass along. What do you get when you combine foxes and trampolines? Something wonderful. Enjoy:

Finally, are you suffering from cute withdrawal? We have a cure, courtesy of Iroquois Hunt member Gene Baker. Gene sent in a few of the pictures he took of Baffle’s newest litter at the recent puppy open house:

Boxing Day with the Royal Artillery hounds

The Royal Artillery pack, like Iroquois, has some woolly members

BOXING Day came 24 hours late in England this year, because the actual Boxing Day–the day after Christmas–fell on a Sunday, a day when English hunts traditionally do not hunt.

So it was a pleasure deferred, but still very much a pleasure, to attend the Royal Artillery Hunt’s Dec. 27 Boxing Day meet. And, as always, it was a particular pleasure to see woollies in the pack!

It feels as if the entire hunting world has been snowed under in recent weeks, and the RA Hunt has had the same problems that the Iroquois has had on the other side of the Atlantic: snow and freezing weather have kept horses and hounds in on days when everyone would rather have been hunting.

The RA joint-Masters, huntsman Robert Moffatt (above), and the hunt staff were able to get out a little bit today–but on foot rather than on horseback, something that would be impossible for a coyote-hunting pack like Iroquois. But, since the hunting ban in England, the RA Hunt has been a drag pack.

Alas, we were not able to stay for the drag hunt on foot across Salisbury Plain, though it was extremely tempting when we saw the hound trailer turn up K Crossing in the military training area, followed by a line of the hardy and faithful hunt supporters, equipped with walking sticks and warm clothes for an afternoon of what they jokingly termed “beagling.”

A former Master and huntsman made the traditional Boxing Day collection of funds for the hunt servants with a hunt boot serving as the “box.”

But, in fact, the RA pack really does harken back to the footpacks. Many years ago, the hunt’s hounds were not foxhounds but harriers, which is why the RA Hunt staff today wear the green hare-hunting coats rather than the scarlet people generally expect to see at a foxhunting meet.

I think they've figured out where he keeps those biscuits ...

The RA pack eventually became a foxhunting pack until the aforementioned ban caused them to change again, this time to hunting a drag line.

Hunting hare might be somewhat easier because the quarry is less claw-y and fang-y than the coyotes many American packs now chase. But rest assured these long-eared athletes are plenty capable of providing a good puzzle for hounds to figure out. Some of their tactics, as described in Jill Mason’s book The Hare, even will sound familiar to coyote-chasers. Like this one: “One account records how a second hare ran alongside the pack, then veered in between them and the hunted one, so that the hounds tooko up the fresh line, allowing the tired one to escape.”

Mason also writes that “hares do not like running directly into a strong wind, and a hunted hare normally prefers to run down-wind because not only does it rely on its eyes to locate its predator, but it also has acute hearing and listens to any noises coming from behind it .

“… Hares also find it advantageous to run uphill whenever possible because of their long back legs. When there is a covering of light snow or in icy conditions the hare has an advantage over a chasing dogs because its feet are covered in fur and it can get a better grip on the lsippery ground than a dog with its bare pads.”

Hounds weren't the only canids in attendance at the Boxing Day meet!

Of course, the RA Hunt’s more recent pre-drag quarry was probably even more famous for cunning. The red fox’s reputation for cleverness is certainly deserved. Even if the following example–written in 1767 and quoted in Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald’s Town Fox, Country Fox–is apocryphal, it’s the kind of thing no huntsman would put past a fox:

“The fox is remarkable for his craft and subtlety. When he is troubled with fleas he is said to take a piece of wool in his mouth and, going by small steps into a river, the fleas, leaping by degrees to avoid the water, assemble in the wool; after staying for a moment with only his nose above stream, he lets it go and is immediately quit of his troublesome companions.”

The weather we found in England ...

... and the weather we've been coping with at home in Kentucky. Will anyone's hounds ever go out again? Anywhere?

Reading what Vesey-Fitzgerald’s book had to say about the fox and his fleas, I guess we’ve found at least one thing to be happy about in the current icy conditions: at least it isn’t flea season!

The houndbloggers hope you’re all having a happy holiday season!

The Puppies’ Open House

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BAFFLE and her newest litter of puppies hosted their own holiday open house on Sunday, and what an occasion it was! More than 40 people came to visit, some even bearing Christmas chew-toys, understandably a big hit with the pups. It was hard to tell who had more fun, the puppies or the visitors, particularly the children!

The open house took place from 6 to 6:30 p.m. in the puppies’ nursery at the lower kennel. Of course, the puppies had some help in putting the event on. Special thanks are due to Hound Welfare Fund committee member and longtime hound supporter Uschi Graham for all the decorations, to Cice Bowers (also a HWF stalwart and kennel volunteer) for her work to make the puppies so confident, and to Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for making time in their already full schedules to share the puppies with the visiting Iroquois members.

The puppies clearly were delighted with the turnout, as you can see on the attached Smilebox.

The guests also contributed their suggestions for the puppies’ names. Because we already have a large “Ba” litter in the working pack–Baffle’s first litter for Iroquois, born last year–her latest puppies will be named based on the first two letters of their sire’s name, Hawkeye. Here were some of the suggestions the open house attendees have made for names: Harry, Hayden, Happy, Harriet, Harley, Havoc, Hammock, Haywire, Hawthorne, Hanover, Joe B. Hall, Halport, Hart, Haddon, Hash, Handsome Hal, Halo, Hayward, Harper, Halston, Hank, Hapalong Handy, Happy, Hallie, Harper, Hawk Hannibel, Handy Manny, Hawler, Handler, Hackboy, Handel, Hannah, Hacker, Harriet, Habit, Harress, Hanky, Hallow, and Hamper.

Looks like we might need some more puppies!

A memorial, things to ponder, and a puppy Smilebox

Brownell and Bear, as captured by their close friend Debbie Jackson, on Thanksgiving Day 2007. We love you, Brownell, and we will miss your gallant partner, too.

WE begin on a sad note. The houndbloggers wish to send condolences to Iroquois Field Master Brownell Alexander Clark on the recent loss of her close friend, that most gallant field hunter Bear. We hope to write a fuller tribute to this brilliant and kind gentleman in the coming weeks, but, for now, we think there can be no better tribute than this beautiful photograph taken by Iroquois member Debbie Jackson. It’s the perfect image and says everything there is to say about Brownell and her Bear: impeccable, elegant, sporting, joyous, entirely at ease in the natural world, and in absolute harmony with each other, the ideal partnership.

Of hunters and habitat

The Associated Press printed this worrying statement this week in an article: “Hunting’s popularity has waned across much of the country as housing tracts replace forests, aging hunters hang up their guns, and kids plop down in front of Facebook rather than venture outside.”

Hunting with hounds depends on countryside and wildlife preservation--and on the generosity of landowners to keep their country open and undeveloped

Whatever your views on deer and dove hunting, or indeed other forms of hunting not involving horses and hounds, the loss of land is a major concern for foxhunters, too. And as the hunting population dwindles, more land could be under threat for development, which means loss of wildlife habitat and, in turn, loss of wildlife. So all those kids who are tuned in to Facebook might never get a chance to see a fox, unless it is scavenging among their families’ trash cans. And loss of habitat affects not just game animals like foxes and coyotes; it also takes out everything from field mice to herons to bears. From the AP article:

“‘As paradoxical as it may seem, if hunting were to disappear, a large amount of the funding that goes to restore all sorts of wildlife habitat, game and nongame species alike, would disappear,’ said Steve Sanetti, National Shooting Sports Foundation President.

“Hunting generates billions in retail sales and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into government conservation efforts annual through license sales and federal taxes on firearms an ammunition sales.”

On horseback and in the country, not in front of a TV or computer screen! Some of the young riders pose with huntsman Lilla Mason at a children's meet this year at Iroquois.

As the story points out, hunting is still a pastime–or, in times of deep recession, a necessity to put food on the table–for millions of Americans. But as suburbs encroach, hunters age, and outdoor life slips lower on citizens’ list of activities, the implications for all outdoor sports are alarming. In Pennsylvania, hunting license sales have dropped 20 percent in the last 20 years. One of the effects? The state game commission has had to trim its pheasant repopulation program.

Nature lovers, hunters, conservationists, and family farmers should be natural allies in the effort to preserve natural habitat and the wildlife that live there. Because, as Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Gerald Feaser told the AP, “Whole farms turned into housing developments or shopping malls. Once that land is lost, you can’t get it back.”

Yoicks, indeed

Did you know that Manhattan was a foxhunting center for 70 years? It’s true, according to a great old story the houndbloggers found in a 1941 edition of The New Yorker magazine. The short piece featured an interview with J. Blan van Urk, author of the two-volume set “The Story of American Foxhunting.” Volume I was published in 1941, prompting The New Yorker‘s visit to van Urk’s apartment in the Dryden Hotel on 39th Street. Van Urk explained that foxhunting was a craze in the Big Apple between 1750 and 1820.

From the resulting story:

“The town was absolutely foxhunting mad in those days,” he said enthusiastically. …

In those days, the greater part of Manhattan, with the exception of a few rustic villages uptown, consisted of marshes, grassy valleys, and wooded uplands, with a few orchards and cleared fields here and there–ideal coursing country.  Foxes were indigenous to the island, and you could pretty well count on starting one on the upper West Side. The big, highly organized hunts–the three biggest were the St. George, the Colonial, and the Belvidere–often set out from Cato’s Inn, which stood in what is now East 54th Street, two hundred feet east of Third Avenue. It was famous for its food, brandy, and Havana cigars.”

A local fox. Can anyone remind me who sent this wonderful photograph in? UPDATE: Thank you, Nancy Clinkinbeard! Nancy reminds us that she sent in this photograph, which was taken by Doug Watkins.

It is here that we must mournfully report that bagged foxes were commonly turned out at Cato’s Inn, a deplorable practice that rightly is considered unsporting and, well, shameful. Tsk, tsk, tsk on Manhattan’s early foxhunters!

The magazine reporter asked van Urk how he thought an old-fashioned Manhattan run might have gone, assuming it started in the East 50s, and here was van Urk’s answer:

“Naturally,” he said, “the fox wouldn’t head for the river. He’d head over toward the Waldorf-Astoria and Rockefeller Center. If he turned north, he’d have a choice of three or four courses in the rocks and hollows of what is now Central Park. If he turned south, he might find temporary sanctuary in the Inclenburg Woods, which covered Murray Hill then. Routed from there, he might skirt the edge of Sunfish Pond, now occupied by the Vanderbilt Hotel, and head for the woods of West 42nd Street, going through the fur-and-garment district.”

That’s pretty ironic. Or daring. Van Urk continued:

“A stouthearted fox might go south along Fifth Avenue, through Greenwich Village, and all the way down to Canal Street before he was caught.”

Or not caught, if he found a nice place to go to ground. Today, of course, finding any place to go to ground would be more difficult, owing to the vast amount of urban concrete in today’s Manhattan. What was it we were just reading about land preservation?

Puppies, puppies, puppies!

Meanwhile, back at the kennel … Baffle and Hawkeye’s puppies are growing! They’re also exploring everything in their nursery, as you can tell from the collection of photos here by the intrepid amateur photographer Dave Traxler. These photos were taken on Dec. 5. Is there anything better for the holiday season than warm, wiggly puppies? No, I didn’t think so!

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We’ll continue to keep you up to date as the puppies grow and as their training progresses. In the meantime, Happy Holidays, everyone!

Scenes from the Nursery

Some of Baffle's second litter of puppies, with Iroquois member and kennel volunteer Cice Bowers. Photograph by Dave Traxler.

THEY’RE growing! Baffle’s second litter of pups are starting to explore their nursery. When Dave Traxler visited to take some photographs, he proved a real curiosity for them. We’ll try to put up a slide show later in the week of some of the great results, but, for now, here are some of Baffle’s most recent brood, the very newest entry!

Snow is general all over the hunting world

… to paraphrase James Joyce’s last line in one of my favorite short stories. It might not be strictly true that it’s snowing everywhere in the hunting world; I suspect, for example, that Cheryl and Ivan Bunting’s hounds in Australia aren’t beset by snow at this time of year! But snow certainly was general all over Iroquois Hunt country today, where, alas, we have been unable to hunt due to current conditions, as generously depicted by the Beagle House hounds (one-and-a-half couple) and their joint-Master ( as far as our mastery goes, which isn’t very), Mr. Houndblogger:

Hounds also had snow underfoot in James Joyce’s native country, Ireland, where David Ryan plies his trade as a photographer. We’re always interested to see what he’s been working on, and he recently compiled some good photographs of hounds and their people in winter. You can see them here. Personally, our favorite one is this one.

Finally, it’s not specifically hound-related, but I wanted to suggest some good reading about dogs. Heather Houlahan has search-and-rescue dogs and writes a blog we like called Raised By Wolves. This week, as part of the The Shelter Pet Project’s “Celebrate Shelter Pets Day” on Nov. 30, she wrote a post about her dog Cole, a shelter pet–actually one rescued from an abuser and kept in a shelter, where he was tagged as Evidence #X-10 in the legal case that followed. Heather adopted and trained him, and he’s now a search and rescue dog. We thought it was important and interesting stuff that was worth passing along to all dog lovers (and specifically working-dog lovers), which certainly includes hound followers.

An excerpt:

When he was seized from his abuser, Cole was about four or five weeks old. (I estimate, based on his presumed litter seeming to be about seven or eight weeks old when I first met them a few weeks later.) Yellowstone County gave a letter designator to each location on the property where animals were found, progressing alphabetically, and a number to each animal prefixed by the location designator. One day I’ll write about the legendary “J” pen.

The trailer where Cole and a dozen other pups were found was designated X. The last place from which living or dead dogs were removed. Cole was the tenth pup removed from the X trailer. To Yellowstone County, the law, the judge, the keepers of proof, he became Evidence #X-10 in Case #DC09-018.‡

I’ve never found out who named him Cole. I’m just grateful there was someone who cared enough to do so.

The shelter where Cole lived for the next nine months was unique. On the one hand, the consistent nature of the sheltered population and the dedication of the employees and many of the volunteers simplified the work of raising and rehabbing. On the other hand, Evidence #X-10 could not go for a damned walk. The law in Montana would not permit his caretakers to take him out from behind the walls that formed the sheriff’s perimeter. He couldn’t be fostered in a home. A good-faith legal effort to have him declared fungible property, post a bond for his “value,” and release him for adoption failed. He and his relatives continued in limbo.

I’m told that initially normal dogs who spend a long time in shelters develop “cage rage,” become depressed, are rendered unadoptable.

Maybe. Maybe in your “shelter.” Maybe if no one cares enough to exercise, play with, and train the dogs. Maybe if there is no volunteer program, because volunteers are troublesome. Maybe if the staff and volunteers are presided over by decision-makers who assume they are stupid and untrustworthy. Maybe if there’s no commitment to ensuring that every dog who comes in “normal” gets out alive, and — dare we expect? — no worse for the experience, and perhaps improved significantly.

I’ve watched ordinary people with little or no dog-training experience do extraordinary things in the past two years. Enough so that I now question the idea that anyone, properly motivated, is “ordinary.” Certainly there are stupid and untrustworthy people. They need to be fired to make room for the others, the ones who will rise to meet extraordinary expectations.

Bingo: a former shelter dog branded "unadoptable" before we adopted him. He's been trouble-free. Photo by Dave "Biscuitman" Traxler.

Read the rest of Heather’s great post, “Agent X-10 Reports for Duty,” here. And the Beagle House hounds urge you to consider adopting a shelter animal if and when you’re looking for your next companion. There are many, many animals in need, just looking for a home and someone to love.

Bedtime Stories: John and Dorothy Kirk

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

TONIGHT’S Bedtime Story is an unusual one. Chances are, you haven’t heard of John and Dorothy Kirk. We hadn’t either, until the afternoon we walked into d’Arcy Books in Devizes, England. Slipped between the hardback hunting books, we spotted a sunny yellow spine, about the color of a nice autumn squash. It was only about a quarter of an inch wide and made of heavy construction paper. When I pulled the book out of its slot on the shelf, I found it was a lovely, brief series of reminiscences that evidently meant so much to their authors that they had them privately printed by Hyssett & Son, Limited, of Weston-super-Mare, in 1975.

I gather from the preface that the Kirks are a married couple who grew up walking puppies for Mr. Tiarks’s Foxhounds (Dorothy) and the Holderness (John) but then were away from hunting while serving in the Royal Air Force. In retirement, John took on the role of Acting Master at the Weston and Banwell Harriers, and their shared experience with these hounds prompted them to start writing things down. I’m so glad they did! In the preface, Dorothy Kirk wrote, “The kindly comments of friends have encouraged me to believe that there is tremendous interest but astonishing lack of knowledge displayed about the professional skill and arduous work required to put a Pack of Hounds into the hunting field; all sorts of erroneous beliefs being held even by country folk, for of such stock was the Mother who recently was heard explaining the distant hunting scene to her daughter–‘No, dear, there has not been an accident. I think the funny little man in green blowing a trumpet has lost all his dogs’!!”

As someone who abhors the trend of Random capitalization that You sometimes See these Days (excepting, of course, the Pooh-style usage that can be fun), I nonetheless was really delighted to see that Dorothy Kirk capitalized Pack of Hounds and in doing so put them on a par with Mother!

And now, without further ado, the Kirks:

“Towards the end of November the Meet was at Cullum Green, Kewstoke, and we moved off in the general direction of Ebdon. Most of the Field experienced difficulty in crossing the wide ditches that hereabouts in Spring and Summer are attractively edged with a thick embroidery of purple flowering reeds and willow herb but which are now ‘blind,’ full of stiff stark stems and rotting leaves which effectively obscure the opposite bank.

“We were drawing the hedgerows for Foxes, but numerous hares were getting up in front of the hounds in every field, frustrating every effort of the Whips to keep them under control, and eventually leading us astray on to the land of a farmer who not only had a rooted objection to Hunting but also unfortunately was there in person, ready and willing to give his pent-up feelings full expression.

“Hounds were collected and hacked the long lonely road past Woodspring Priory of faraway History on to the top of Middle Hope ridge, the gorse-covered back of which reaches down to that bleak shore where the mouth of the Severn pours its muddy waters into the Bristol Channel.

“Half a gale was blowing across the Severn, bringing a strong smell of seaweed and the tingling lash of salty spray and rain on our faces. Thank goodness hounds spoke almost at once to a Fox in the gorse. As luck would have it, there were three of them afoot, but one was pushed down on to the lonely fore-shore and the hounds went with him.

“Now those watchers on the cliff who had the courage and stamina to face the elements were rewarded by a quite spectacular piece of hound-hunting. The Pack, full of music and undaunted by the frightful weather, stuck to their line among the seaweed and the rocks, slipping and sliding right to the water’s edge and so, for half a mile through silt and shingle, till their quarry swung up on to Middle Hope once more.

“Here, on the short, springy turf, the scent burning and with a wild crash of tongue, the hounds tore away, leaving a near frantic Field held in check by an iron gate which had been ‘locked’ against summer visitors by a pile of large boulders. Once through this obstacle, a glorious heart-warming mile-long gallop set the blood flowing through our frozen features; then another check whilst a second locked, spiked iron gate was removed from its hinges–then at last up with the hounds again on the very tip of Sand Point where our horses had great difficulty in keeping a foot-hold on the steep, narrow ridge.

“Here, in almost unrestricted possession, rabbits caused an additional hazard. We had not seem so many humble coneys for many a year; their little cotton tails bobbing in the bitter wind as they scurried away and dived into thick cover, distracting the attention of the younger hounds.

“It was all too evident that the hounds had lost this wily old Fox, and no wonder: for the wind was now so strong that it seemed to blow the notes from the huntsman’s horn straight back into his face. There was nothing to do but collect hounds and call it a day.

“As we slowly returned towards our trailers and boxes, taking an occasional warming companionable pull at each other’s pocket flask, we were greeted with fresh proof that the ‘looker on sees more of the game,’ for Mr. Leonard Parsons and Gordon, who had remained on the vantage point of Middle Hope ridge, were happy to inform us that they had watched an unhurried ‘Charley,’ quite satisfied that he had outwitted the hunt, make a leisurely return journey along the sheltered side of the ridge, into the self-same patch of gorse from which we had so rudely chased him an hour or so before.”