IT’S hard to believe how far Grindstone has come in her long career with Iroquois. That came to mind at the meet on October 18 at Boone Valley.
The weather was warm, and there was a large field of riders out that morning, and the hounds arrived looking forward to their day. Grindstone was as eager as ever, lining up first as she always does so that she can be the first out of the hound truck and down the ramp into the grass. You can see her unloading in her customary manner in the video below; she’s the small white hound, the first to leap out, from the lower level of the hound truck.
“She’s one of those hounds that, on hound walk, has her tail kind of drooping down and makes the least amount of effort possible,” said Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “But this was a hunt day, and she was doing that thing your house dogs will do when they want you to take them out for a walk. You know how they run to the door, look at you, run back to you, then dash to the door again? Grindstone was running ahead, then come back and looking up at me, then running ahead again. It was like she was saying, ‘Come on, Lilla! Trot, trot!’ It just reminded me of how different she used to be when we first got her.”
Grindstone is a little crossbred hound, and, if we are very honest, she’s not going to win America’s Top Model anytime soon. She arrived at Iroquois under unusual circumstances. Iroquois had loaned her mother, Iroquois Grizzle, to another hunt for a year, on the understanding that the hunt would keep her for a season, breed her to get a litter of puppies from her, and then send her home again to Iroquois.
“Grizzle was a really good hound,” Lilla said. “They got a litter of puppies out of her, but they didn’t send her back for a couple of seasons. When they finally did send her back, in the crate with her was this little ugly duckling of a puppy. That was Grindstone. She was terribly, terribly shy, and, to be honest, there was nothing about her we wanted. She was so shy you couldn’t touch her, she was ugly, she was really little, it wasn’t the kind of breeding that suits our pack, she wasn’t built to cover the kind of ground we cover. She didn’t look much like a coyote-chasing hound at all, but what could you do? You had to keep her. So we kept her.”
And she turned out to be Cinderella?
“No, it just got worse and worse.”
The biggest problem was the shyness. When Grindstone first arrived, kennelman Michael Edwards said, “I’ll really work with her.” Michael, it should be noted here, is a hound magnet, the kindest guy you’ll ever meet, and an expert at turning wallflower puppies into confident, outgoing stars.
“But Grindstone was so shy, he couldn’t even touch her,” recalled Lilla. “She would just go back in a corner. You could put her in with a group, and she’d go in and out of the kennel in a group, but to catch her you pretty much had to corner her, and she’d cower on the ground. This went on for her first year with us. So how could you hunt her? She was so wild.
“Finally, after a year, Michael was able to touch her, but only he could touch her. She was pretty much useless to us as a working hound.”
Finally, when Grindstone was in her second year at the Iroquois kennel, joint-Master Jerry Miller decided they had to do something. And that something was take her out on hound walk. In a group of hounds. No leash. Just like all Grindstone’s well-adjusted peers in the pack. The hunt staff didn’t like this idea at all.
“He said, ‘We can’t just keep her in the kennel. She’s got to go hunting. She’s got to do something.’ Michael was afraid of that, and we all thought she would just go feral. We thought, ‘The minute she gets out of the hound truck and doesn’t know where she is, she’ll just go off. And we can’t touch her, so when she does go off, she’ll just become a stray dog.’ But Jerry said, ‘We have to do this. We can’t keep treating her differently.'”
It was with great trepidation that the staff pulled into Boone Valley for hound walk that summer day back in 2003.
“We parked by the barn, and Michael was a nervous wreck, because he’d finally won her confidence, and he was kind of upset about having to do this,” Lilla said. “We opened the trailer doors, and everybody came out except Grindstone. She stayed in for a minute, and then she kind of came slinking out.”
There she was, out in the wide, wide world. She stood looking around while the hunt staff went on about their business, trying hard not to let their nerves about Grindstone show.
“The only thing we could do was treat everybody normally,” Lilla remembered. “So we started off on hound walk just like it was any old day, like there was nothing different at all. And it was the strangest thing. Grindstone came along. She started off shyly, with her head kind of low and her tail kind of low, and she walked on a little way, looking from side to side at the hounds around her. She was in the middle of the hounds, and they were all doing the same thing, just walking happily along, and it was like all of a sudden she got a sense of belonging. It was as if she started thinking, ‘I may be an ugly duckling, and I don’t look like them or act like them, but I’m a group.’ We just kept walking along, and Grindstone’s head got a little higher and her stride got a little bouncier, and her tail came up. She had realized that she was part of a pack.”
It was a moment that changed Grindstone’s life. The hunt staff breathed a sigh of relief.
“That’s what’s so neat about a pack of hounds,” Lilla said. “It is a pack. They are individuals, but they love their pack. It’s wonderful to see, like with Grindstone, that sense of belonging. Now she has hunted for years, and she’s been great. Those kinds of epiphanies that hounds have–whether it’s accepting being part of the pack or figuring out what their nose is–that’s what really makes hunting hounds special.”
Today you would never guess at Grindstone’s past shyness. The fact that she isn’t now is a tribute to a lot of things, mainly careful, patient handling in the kennel and the bold decision to let her try hunting. In the end, Grindstone vindicated Iroquois’s unusual training policy of “no hound left behind”–to work to find the key to every hound so that it can try hunting, even if that means letting it make a late debut on the hunt field.
“She’s so valuable to us now,” explained Lilla. “We use her when we have difficult fixtures where we can only take very steady hounds. She can go with the young hounds, she can do it all.”
This is Grindstone’s sixth season of hunting. When she retires from the hunt field, she will join a new pack with a lot of familiar faces: the Iroquois hounds’ retired hounds, which also are kenneled at the Iroquois kennels on Miller Trust Farm. Once retired, Grindstone will be cared for under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund. Please donate!