Rose’s last hunt

YOU’VE probably been around us long enough to know that the Houndbloggers are partial to old hounds (even when they are as bad as our Harry) and hounds that won’t give up (even when, as in the case of our Eider–late of the Clear Creek Beagles–their desire to hunt anything and everything, all night if necessary, results in their being expelled from a respectable pack with a disgraceful report card). We can’t help ourselves: we love them.

We also have a real soft spot for The River Bottom, a quietly wonderful blog about life in the country with beagles. The posts over there are a highlight for me, and when a new one goes up, I stop whatever I’m doing and pay attention, right then, in order to savor whatever news there is from River Bottom country in Litchfield, Minnesota. They came up with a beautiful one today that spoke to us, partly because it was about an old beagle who is a tried-and-true hare-tracker. Didn’t hurt that it reminded us a little of Mr. Box who, in his youth, failed to return from a hunt with the sun going down and the snow blowing in (to read about his great adventure, click this link and scroll down the page to “Mr. Box’s Epic Journey”).

Here is how The River Bottom began this afternoon:

I’m listening but I can’t hear anything. The spruce trees are all covered in snow, big snowflakes are drifting down. It’s getting dark, And cold. I don’t think Rose is coming back.

Pete is down on the south road waiting and listening. We covered all the roads looking for tracks, two or three times. No dogs crossed the road.

I’ve been in and out of this trail it seems like ten times. Under that dang jack pine that hangs over the trail. Its branches slide up over the windshield. I swear it’s going to pull off my wiper blades next time through.

The woods are deep to the west, she could have gone a few miles that way. Even if she is right here and something happened, I could never find her in this stuff. Me and Pete have walked all over this spot looking for her.

When I was loading dogs this morning Rose was there waiting. I was going to put her in the house. She would have cried all day. She’s about 14 now. I loaded her in the dog box too.

I guess I would rather see her disappear into the spruce trees running a hare in the snow than live a long and unhappy old age.

This spot is loaded with hare. Thick heavy spruce trees, aspen and brush when they go out the west side with thick alder and willow swamps. The dogs ran steady all day long.

Rose hasn’t hunted much the last couple years, she mostly just follows me around. I didn’t think she needed a tracking collar.

She started a hare on her own. Her voice is just as loud and pretty as ever. I heard her a couple times after that. With all these dogs running it was tough to pick her out.

When we started catching them up we hadn’t heard or seen Rose for a couple hours. Now we are trying to guess what happened to her.

Read on, please do, at The River Bottom. It’s fine writing telling a good story. With pictures that will make you smile. Enjoy.

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Bedtime Stories: Gary Paulsen

An occasional series in which we wish our readers a happy good night, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

IT never hurts to look for wisdom in other disciplines, and it’s in that spirit that I picked up a copy of a book about sled-dogs. I’ve never had any particular interest in sled-dog racing, but I guess the reason I reached for this book was because of our recent post that featured a great video of their summer training as well as a nice description by New York Times writer Verlyn Klinkenborg.

Whatever the reason, I picked up a copy of Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. Whether or not you care about the Iditarod, this book is a real find. It’s the story of how the author tried to build an Iditarod-caliber dog team out of a pretty random selection of dogs he scrounged from pretty much everywhere–and with shockingly little knowledge or experience of his own.

Along the way, he learns a hell of a lot about dogs and gets some magical glimpses of wildlife. On one long-distance run, his team “adopts” a coyote. Later, a chickadee rode along on the edge of his parka and would take food from his hand as they zipped along on the sled.

Winterdance is funny, painful, and insightful about dogs and how they work, both as a team and with people. It dishes out some food for thought that seems to apply pretty handily to working hounds, too. In short, it ‘s one of the best dog books I’ve read. And now I’ll hand the page over to author Gary Paulsen for one of the more misguided and hilarious episodes:

“Napoleon once said good morale among troops is as four is to one, and something similar happens to sled dogs. As they gain strength from training, and knowledge and confidence, as they understand that you will give them beef when they run and fat when they run and love when they run and your soul when they run, as they learn to feel that, understand that, know that, they become something completely different. They are no longer just sled dogs or pets–they become distance dogs, dogs that cannot, will not be stopped.

“When it first happens it is frightening–like watching Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde. Their shoulders grow, they gain weight in both fat and, more important, muscle, and their coats sleek up with the added meat and fat (as much as they can eat when the training is going full bore). And they get strong–god, how strong. …

“On a light rig, ten or twelve sprint dogs could be run easily. So I was told and so I did. But with distance dogs in good shape on the same rig you should never use four or five–not if you expect to live. And the magic number–seven–should never be exceeded on anything less than a full car body (which I later used) with the engine gone. Something happens between the seventh and eighth dog that is truly phenomenal. A power curve is passed and with eight and up you’re in a zone that defies control without special gear.

“I knew none of this. Once I had the light rig I started getting dogs, adding them to the overall team as I found them. … I ran them the way I thought I was supposed to run them, putting new sections of gangline on as each new dog or set of dogs arrived and just adding them to the team.

“But a kind of infection of will had occurred that I hadn’t understood. I had the trapline team, the original seven. They had been nice dogs, happy dogs, peaceful dogs. I had worked them all winter and never had a problem with them, especially Cookie. I frequently brought her in the house and let her run loose. That original team was easy to control, though already very strong, and I thought it would help me to gain and maintain a control over the new dogs.

“It went the other way. The trapline team became a distance team and the problem came about because they were already in shape from running all year. The other dogs, the new dogs, the wild dogs, the Canadian dogs, the native dogs swept the old trapline team up in their wonderful madness and I … I was just part of the rig.

“It was insane.

“When I started to run eight dogs, then nine and ten–with the first three Canadian dogs–I realized something was different. something was hard to control. But when I added three more, running eleven on a light rig, and then two more after that, I entered a world that felt positively surreal. …

“My first run with a large team was the classic one, and should have warned me about the rest of them. I had decided to run them a little long. … So I thought I would try thirty miles. It isn’t much–not even a third of the hundred or more miles first runs should be–but it seemed like a long way and I thought I should carry some gear with me. I loaded the rig down with a backpack tied in place and a box of dog food, a tent, a rolled-up tarp, a winter coat–just in case it cooled off–pots and pans for cooking, a small ax, a bow saw, a lantern, a gallon of fuel for the lantern, and a full-size, two-burner Coleman stove.

“I looked, and sounded, like a hardware store leaving the yard. But leaving the yard was as far as most of the stuff got. …

“The dogs were fired up and I hooked Cookie in first, let her hold the gangline out, then went for each dog and hooked them into position. Each new dog affected the other dogs until, by the time I had eleven and twelve in place and only one left–Devil–I was going back and forth from the kennel to the rig in a dead run, trying to hurry and let them run. …

“I don’t think the rig hit the ground more than twice all the way across the yard. My god, I thought, they’ve learned to fly. With me hanging out the back like a tattered flag we came to the end of the driveway, where we would have to turn, must turn onto the road.

“The dogs made the turn fine.

“The rig started to as well, but I had forgotten to lean into the turn and it rolled and once it rolled it kept rolling–it felt like two or three hundred times. I had time for one quick look back–it seemed like a dry goods store had blown up across the road and in the ditch–and grabbed at something to hold.

“In some fashion I don’t understand I hug on–I think because I’d lost them [before] and was determined not to lose them again–and we set off down the road with the rig upside down, all the gear gone, and me dragging on the gravel on my face.

“It took me four miles to get the rig up on its wheels, by which time the pipe-handlebar I had welded into position had broken off and I had nothing to hang on to but the steering ropes. I was also nearly completely denuded, my clothes having been torn to shreds during the dragging.

“We did thirty miles in just under tow and a half hours, and never once was I in anything like even partial control of the situation. …

“In subsequent runs I left the yard on my face, my ass, my belly. I dragged for a mile, two miles, three miles. I lost the team eight, ten times; walked twelve, seventeen, once forty-some miles looking for them. The rig broke every time we ran, torn to pieces, and I finally borrowed a welder and rebuilt the thing every night. Every farmer within forty miles of us knew about me, knew me as ‘that crazy bastard who can’t hold his team.’ I once left the yard with wooden matches in my pocket and had them ignite as I was being dragged past the door of the house, giving me the semblance of a meteorite, screaming something about my balls being on fire at Ruth, who was laughing so hard she couldn’t stand.'”

Are you watching March Madness?

OKAY, I have no idea whether this is a hound, so technically this could be off-topic, but it was too fun not to share. If your team is still in the NCAA tournament, good luck! Since the University of Kentucky is now out, the houndbloggers are rooting for Butler.

“There’s nowt so queer as scent”

The nose knows ... but we don't, entirely.

The nose knows ... but we don't, entirely.

As Mr. Jorrocks said in Handley Cross. Jorrocks ended this pronouncement by adding,” ‘cept a woman.” But I think I’d end it differently: “There’s nowt so queer as scent, ‘cept what we’ll do to try to understand it.” More of that in a moment.

“Oh, that weary scent!” exclaimed Mr. Jorrocks, “that weary, incomprehensible, incontrollable phenomenon! ‘Constant only in its inconstancy!’ as the hable hauthor of the noble science well said.”

Indeed. Everyone knows what scent is, by definition: it’s an odor, or “an odor left in passing, by means of which an animal or person may be traced,” according to www.dictionary.com. But it’s almost impossible to get a precise understanding of how scent behaves, though many have tried. How, exactly, does something generate a smell, what carries the scent, and how does a hound’s nose capture the odor? The jury is out on that, apparently. There are two basic theories of how smells work that are competing for subscribers. One says that molecules’ shapes and how those shapes fit with sensors are what give something a distinctive scent; the other says that the particular vibrations of molecules are what does it. We do know that hounds, like dogs generally, have large olfactory lobes in their brains, meaning that scent and the ability to detect it is important to them and they are highly attuned to it. No one understands that better than the people who handle working hound packs, whether beagle, basset, or foxhound, as well as the people who work with bloodhounds.

And yet we still know so little about the thing that is at the very center of our sport: scent and the ability to track it. There have been many attempts to understand and measure scent, to unravel the effects of temperature, geography, moisture, and wind on its behavior, and these efforts have driven scientists, huntsmen, and curious amateurs to some peculiar (and highly entertaining) experiments. One book by Milo Pearsall and Hugo Verbruggen noted that “experiments have shown that a person traveling above the ground when suspended from a cable trolley could not be tracked by dogs.” (More importantly, what did the neighbors think?)

If that were not alarming enough, consider the next phase, in which Pearsall and Verbruggen tested the importance of human skin flakes to a hound’s ability to track a person: “A person dressed in full surgical gear, wearing total body isolation garments, laid track for a dog who had successfully tracked that person several times. The result: the dog showed no interest at the starting flag, nor anywhere else even when led on lead. When the person removed hood and mask, the dogs easily could follow a fresh track … When the person’s boots were cut off but while he wore the hood and mask, the dog easily followed both a fresh and aged track.”

On the other hand, responding to that experiment’s conclusion, one Lieutenant Weldon Wood wrote an essay for the National Police Bloodhound Association Book and asked, “If this is true, then how is it explained that a dog has followed the trail of a person on a bicycle or in an open car?”

Good question, Lt. Wood, and we still have no idea, despite decades upon decades of study.

Happily for trackers of hare, cottontail, fox, coyote, and the like, game doesn’t wear “total body isolation garments,” although there are times when scenting conditions are so poor it seems as if the quarry is. Scent and its operation on the canine nose are mysteries, but the more pressing mystery, from a huntsman’s point of view, is why scent is so changeable and how conditions of land and weather can change its behavior. Here again, ceaseless study has not led us very far. It is generally understood that hot weather and sunlight are bad for scenting, but there are myriad theories as to why this might be true.

The English Master of Fox Hounds H. M. Budgett wrote a classic text, Hunting by Scent, in 1933 that amply illustrates the lengths hunters were driven to in their fervor to get a grip on scent. Budgett employed a pair of magnificent bloodhounds, Ledburn Baal and Hopeful of Hambrook, to help him test his theory that what hounds actually track are particles and oils left behind by the quarry (human or animal) touching the ground ahead of the hound and laying a scent trail directly on the grass or soil, not by the mere whiff of air over the body as it moved past. He was ferociously thorough. He used runners on glass-capped stilts, runners in tall wooden sandals, runners clad in riding boots and rain gear secured with rubber bands to prevent any particle from flying loose to make even the fragment of a trail, convinced that if the man did not contact the ground, the hound would not track him (more or less what Pearsall and Verbruggen had found). But it didn’t always work out that way.

“Even when these precautions were taken the bloodhound picked out the trail with perfect ease, and appeared to have learnt by experience how to follow the scent left by the stilts and foot-boards,” Budgett reported in some frustration. “I must confess that at this point my faith was badly shaken. I had hitherto felt convinced that  the ‘body scent’ theory would prove to be fallacious, and that scent tracks would be found solely to consist of particles of matter left by the contact of the quarry. It now appeared, however, that I had been mistaken, as it seemed impossible for any odorous particles to be deposited on the ground from the carefully washed glass bottles on which the stilts were mounted. My family marvelled at the obstinacy with which I stuck to my convictions; they suggested that I should give up the unequal struggle and accept the opinion of others having a wider experience of bloodhound tracking than myself.”

I don’t think I blame them.

Budgett, however, didn’t stop his inquiries, and the subheadings of a couple of chapters in Hunting by Scent will sound very familiar to hunters who have asked the same questions, and devloped their own theories based on their own experiences, about what variables affect scenting on a hunt day–and why. The subheads outline every hunter’s quest for understanding: “Conditions under which scent is good or bad. Direction of air currents on which scent is carried. Relative temperatures of air and ground. Examples. Effect of sun. High wind. Woodlands. Ploughland. Snow and frost. Hound’s knowledge of scent conditions. Meterological considerations. Forecasts of scenting conditions. Effects of moisture in the ground and in the air. The use of smoke to determine movements of air currents. Experiments with anemometer fan and spider’s web. Valuable results obtained with this delicate apparatus. Reasons for its abandonment. Electrical scent instruments. Walking-stick scent indicators.”

If that reads like a cross between Merlin’s lab book and the diary of a man slowly going insane, well, probably there are many huntsmen who feel a little like both as they try to parse the scenting and the weather and then determine where to cast their hounds.

The Retired Hounds’ Personal Physician

"People know these animals have given so much to us, we've got an obligation to give something back to them," Dr. Snyder says

"People know these animals have given so much to us, we've got an obligation to give something back to them," Dr. Snyder says

Visit the Hound Welfare Fund website at www.houndwelfarefund.org.

Dr. Kirk Snyder, DVM, of the Richmond Road Veterinary Clinic in Lexington, Ky., has been providing health care to the Iroquois Hunt Club’s hounds–active and retired–for many years. Caring for high-performance athletes at the peak of their hunting careers is one thing, but providing veterinary care to retired hounds is quite another. So we put the question to him: once their hunting days are over, what veterinary care do retired hounds need?

All of the Iroquois Hunt Club’s retired hounds are cared for under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund, a non-profit foundation that is the first of its kind in the world.  The retired hounds receive veterinary treatment under the HWF’s guiding philosophy: to give every hound the health care it needs, within reason, given the hound’s age, physical condition, and prospects for good quality of life with the treatment. When it becomes necessary, infirm hounds are put to sleep humanely, giving them a painless and peaceful end to an active, happy life and retirement.

Full Cry: What sort of maintenance care do the retired hounds receive? Do you handle that?

Dr. Snyder: Actually, for the routine health care we have the kennel staff set up where they do annual required vaccinations, worming, flea and tick control, heartworm preventatives, and things like that, using vaccines and drugs that we recommend.  The kennel staff are perfectly qualified, and it is legal for them to perform these procedures, which reduces costs while ensuring excellent care.

We monitor things. Basically, our role at the clinic is diagnostic medicine and surgery. That’s where we come in. Much of the expense of the hounds’ care is in diagnostics. Just as we would with your house pet or a person, we sometimes need laboratory evaluations, X-rays, or ultrasounds. Those are necessary in helping determine what a hound’s problem is and then how to proceed.

Why spay or neuter a retired hound?

Unless they are going to be bred, hounds should be neutered or spayed for health reasons. In a female, at a certain age, she’ll reach a point where they really shouldn’t be having puppies or there is an increased risk of uterine complications. Uterine wall degeneration, for example, can be very serious.

Neutering males reduces problems like prostatitis, some prostate tumors, and aggression. Neutered males tend to stay closer to home, not wanting to roam as much. They settle down. So spaying and neutering are good for health and maintenance reasons.

People sometimes wonder if health care for retired hounds goes overboard, but are there times when you decide not to treat a hound?

Once we diagnose a problem in a hound, we work with the HWF to determine what the approximate cost of treating the problem will be and what the odds of a successful outcome are. A lot of the conditions we run across in these hounds are just things that would occur in anybody’s pet, and they are very, very treatable.

The Iroquois hounds are very fortunate. This is along the lines of what we’re seeing in the horse industry, with retirement facilities for thoroughbreds, standardbreds, and others, where people know these animals have given so much to us, we’ve got an obligation to give something back to them.

A colleague of mine who is a specialist at a veterinary college in another state, for example, has particularly commented on the shining example Iroquois is setting with its retired hounds. He’s just absolutely amazed by it. Of course, in society today, this seems to be becoming the norm. These hounds serve the hunt club eagerly as far as they can. We feel this care is our obligation to them for what they’ve done, as long as their quality of life is good.

To learn more about the Hound Welfare Fund and its innovative retirement program for the Iroquois hunt club’s hounds, visit www.houndwelfarefund.org.