Stammer’s retirement party draws a crowd

The guest of honor, Stammer, with joint-Master Jerry Miller, Keeneland's Ted Bassett, IHC member John Milward, joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell, 2010 HWF honorary chair Dr. Michael Karpf, and kennel manager Michael Edwards. Photo by Dave Traxler.

STAMMER knew he had arrived at a Special Event as soon as he walked through the front door and smelled prime rib. What else would you have for a hound on the occasion of his official retirement party? And what a night it was! Hound Welfare Fund committee member Uschi Graham generously provided both her beautiful home and the catering for Stammer’s big night, which drew a big crowd.

Accompanied by Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards, Stammer did get some nibbles of prime rib, as well as a nice testimonial from Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. To read Stammer’s great story, click here.

Stammer: the Hound Welfare Fund's Retiree of the Year for 2011, as captured by photographer Peggy Maness.

Stammer retired from hunting several years ago but featured prominently (partly on account of his color!) in our 2011 Blessing of the Hounds ceremony this year (in that video, you can see him going up to get his own blessing with Lilla at about the 50-second mark). He’s also a star on the hound blog banner at the top of this page.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla S. Mason, guest Ted Bassett, and the night's hostess, Uschi Graham. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Stammer was the perfect guest, listening quietly to the tales of his exploits and modestly accepting the compliments and tidbits and kisses heaped upon him. To see some of Dave Traxler’s photos from the night’s events, please click the Smilebox below:

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Stammer with admirers Leslie Penn, Eloise Penn, and Hannah Emig. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Stammer has been enjoying his retirement alongside all his friends at the Iroquois kennel, thanks to the Hound Welfare Fund. The fund, a 501(c)(3) charity, covers the costs for all the Iroquois Hunt’s hounds once they retire, at which point the hunt’s budget no longer provides for them.

Three Hound Welfare Fund auction chairs: Dr. Michael Karpf (2010), Kasia Pater (2011), and Alex Boone (2012). Photo by Dave Traxler.

It’s thanks to the HWF’s many supporters and volunteers that we’re able to give every one of the Iroquois Hunt’s hounds a happy and dignified retirement. If you’d like to help us help them, please consider making a donation. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation will go directly to the retired hounds’ care. And that’s something for everyone–especially the hounds–to celebrate!

To get you in the mood for Blessing Day …

… we thought we’d take a look back at some highlights from the cubbing season that ended Wednesday. Some of it you’ve seen already in the recent preview, but a lot of it is footage we haven’t shown before. Most was taken with Zoom, the older of the houndbloggers’ two cameras, so most of it is not in high-definition. But we’ll be taking the HD camera to the Blessing of the Hounds tomorrow morning! (If you’re new to the traditional Blessing of the Hounds ceremony and would like a little background, click here)

We hope the new video will help you reminisce about what we’ve seen of the season so far–and about how far the BA litter and Driver have come, not to mention Paper! Paper has blossomed so far this year and we hope to hear more from him during the formal season.

Thanks to the Hound Welfare Fund, all the canine stars of this highlights video can expect a peaceful, dignified retirement. They give us great enjoyment while they’re members of the working pack, and we value every one. As we prepare to celebrate these magnificent animal athletes at the Blessing of the Hounds, please consider helping the Hound Welfare Fund provide for the hounds in their golden years!

MFHA hunt staff seminar, day 1: Iroquois kennel visit

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason shows the BA litter to Live Oak MFH Marty Wood (left) and Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller. Photos by Gene Baker--thanks, Gene!

THE Master of Fox Hounds Association’s hunt staff seminar only comes around once every two years, so imagine our delight when the governing body of North American foxhunting selected Lexington as the venue for 2010. The seminar weekend drew foxhunters from around the nation to the Iroquois kennel, and the gathering of so many hound people in our town provided a priceless opportunities to listen and learn.

On Saturday, April 10, the Iroquois Hunt hosted a kennel tour for attendees, and about 70 Masters, huntsmen, hunt staff, and members of many hunts showed up despite chilly temperatures. Two highlights really stand out for the houndbloggers: the warm reaction so many hunt members had to seeing the Hound Welfare Fund‘s retirees happily snoozing in their warm room, and watching Live Oak Master Marty Wood reunite with Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, and Gaelic, young hounds that he bred that began their hunting careers this year with the Iroquois pack. Wood looked just like a proud papa when he saw how these puppies have developed, and he even joked that letting them go might just have been a mistake! And here’s another interesting note: asked to choose their favorites from our current crop of puppies, the BA litter and Driver, all scheduled to begin their training with the pack this summer for the first time, Wood and several other huntsmen present picked out Driver the pupposaurus for special praise, citing, among other things, his powerful, muscular hind end.

Driver (center): Not quite a year old, and already a muscle man.

It’s true: Driver has lost a lot of his baby fat and is showing distinct signs of turning into a hunk. But he’s lost none of his charm–or his energy. It was especially rewarding, by the way, to see how confident all the puppies were –not that Driver’s confidence has ever been much of a question!–around  a crowd of 70 strangers. Their lack of shyness under these unusual circumstances drew favorable comments from many and is a testimony not just to the puppies’ personalities, but also to their early handling and training.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason tosses biscuits for some of the new entry as MFHA hunts staff seminar attendees look on.

In addition to seeing the new entry and viewing many of the other hounds in the Iroquois active hunting pack, seminar attendees also toured the inside of the kennel. Many were especially interested in the tracking collars demonstrated by Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards.

Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards demonstrates the tracking collar and antenna that we use to help protect hounds when they are out in the country.

Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller (left) and Dr. Jack van Nagell at Saturday's kennel tour.

Iroquois board member and former president Dr. Herman Playforth also explained how the hunt club itself is structured to allow both hunting and social, non-hunting memberships. Seminar attendees asked good, detailed questions that covered every imaginable topic: kennel management, hound feeding, the use of radios and tracking collars on the hunt field, and much more.

Thanks are due to everyone from Iroquois who volunteered to help with the morning. These included Cice Bowers, Christine and Gene Baker, Nancy Clinkinbeard, and Eloise Penn, and I sure hope we haven’t forgotten to mention anyone else! Thanks also to Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for their work with the hounds, and to guest Robin Cerridwen for her help, too.

One of the first-season hounds, Gaelic, gets some lovin'.

We’ll leave you with some images from the day that particularly caught our eyes, and tomorrow we’ll summarize the meat of the weekend: the seminar programs from Sunday, including  a presentation by coyote researcher Dr. Stanley Gehrt and a panel discussion that included Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason.

The visitors expressed interest in many of the kennel's features, including the retired hounds' warm room and the hounds' 15-acre grass-and-woodland turnout paddock

The kennel tour also drew new entry of the human kind!

Paper and his breeder, Live Oak MFH Marty Wood, do the cha-cha.

The hounds and their visitors enjoyed perfect weather once the spring chill wore off by mid-morning.

Backstage with the Hound Guys – Part I

TO RIDERS  in the hunt field, Michael Edwards and Alan Foy appear as two white trucks in the distance, if you even spot them at all. The two men serve as the hunt’s road whips: their function during a hunt is to protect the hounds if they run toward one of the country roads that cross the hunt country. They also collect hounds at the end of the day.

But that’s just the time they’re out and about with the hunt. Much of the rest of their working lives is spent in the kennel, well behind the scenes, doing the daily work to keep the pack (and the retirees) healthy, happy, and fit.

Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards keeps a watchful eye on all the hounds

They’re like the backstage crew at a big Broadway show, and their work is critical to the hunt. In the kennel, they handle the daily feeding, medicating, and general care of about 85 hounds who range in age from newborn pup to 11-year-old retiree. Most–about 65–are working pack hounds, athletes in the prime of life. Fit and full of themselves, they have their own tribal rules and office politics, which Michael and Alan have to keep abreast of and manage, when necessary.

If you think working in a foxhound kennel is only about pouring Purina and cleaning drains, welcome to Michael and Alan’s office:

The office has a computer system that allows Michael Edwards and Alan Foy to track hounds' exercise schedules and veterinary updates, among other things.

The kennel computer and database track almost everything about each hound: when it hunts or goes on hound walk, when it goes to the vet and what procedures were done there, who needs what medicine when. It also allows the kennel guys to inventory supplies.

The daily medicine rounds are obviously important, but they aren’t easy when your intended target is walking around among a jostling crowd of 80-pound hounds, all of whom think you probably have a dog biscuit somewhere on your person. But on the day I visited, Michael waded through the hounds with surprising ease, even managing to get an eyedropper full of ear medicine into the proper ear, without a) fumbling the dropper so it gets trampled under everyone’s paws,  b) getting bitten by the hound whose ears have to be medicated, or c) accidentally squirting the dropper full of liquid onto, say, his own shirt. I have tried this at home with Harry, without four or five other curious hounds in my face, and it never went that well.

Michael keeps careful track of who gets which medicine and why. Dealing with veterinary medical issues is a key part of the job, both for maintaining herd health and for treating incidental cuts, scrapes, and other ailments

Michael keeps the medications for each group of hounds in one hand as he slips into each run. He learned long ago that digging them out of a pocket among the hounds was an invitation to chaos. Hounds are wildly curious about pockets, because everyone knows that’s where treats live, and a person reaching into a pocket is a person to mob before every other hound in the run can get there first. “They all think someone else is getting something special,” Michael explained.

Result: crushed pills or, worse, dropped pills that get snatched off the floor by the wrong hound. Hound rule number one: if a person’s got it, it’s probably a treat. Hound rule number two: if it drops on the ground, eat first and ask questions later. Fickle, Michael says, is particularly adept at that, and will even eat her own medicine right out of his hand.

Not everyone is so easy. Landsman, one of the retired hounds, is shifty about medication. He ate his breakfast with the other retired hounds but kept a wary eye on Michael. Landsman needs ear medication, which has to be dripped into his ear canal. Understandably, it’s not something he’s fond of. He licked the last of his breakfast off his lips, then made a stiff turn to the right to evade Michael, who was approaching due west with the offensive eyedropper of medicine. Landsman tottered quickly between me and the concrete-block wall, apparently intending to make a break for it down the kennel’s center aisle.

The double-decker hound trailer. Much like a school bus, really: everybody has his favorite seat.

“Landsman always thinks he can outrun Michael, but he hasn’t done it yet, has he?” Michael said as he intercepted Landsman. The old hound stopped, shoulders between Michael and the wall, and actually tilted his left ear slightly toward Michael. This was just part of the game, and, once caught, Landsman didn’t seem to mind the drops at all.

As they make medication rounds, Michael and Alan also check hounds over for unusual bumps, scrapes, heat, and swelling or other symptoms that something could be wrong. That’s important for many reasons–not least because an illness left unchecked could spread through the entire kennel.

Alan Foy, an Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne, and some of the Iroquois hounds earlier this year

To the hounds, the guys in the kennel are both alpha dogs and sources of comfort. “If they get out hunting and they get somewhere where they don’t know where they are, when they see us, I think they feel like, ‘There’s Michael and Alan to come save us,'” said Michael. “I remember in Stomper’s first year hunting, he didn’t come in with the rest of the hounds. When I got down to Nan Price’s driveway, I saw this lump laying by the road. It was Stomper. I guess he just decided, ‘Well, it’s dark and I don’t know my way home, so I’ll just sit here and hope somebody finds me.’ I picked him up and got him in the truck, and he was just like, ‘Oh, thank you, thank you!’ You have to build that type of relationship where they’re like that, where they’re loyal to you.”

When Michael and Alan arrive at the kennel each morning, the hounds start up in greeting. First one, then another, then a couple more, until finally the whole kennel is singing.

“They know when we get here they’re going to be fed, they’re going to get to go do something,” Michael explained. “It’s just part of their day to be with us.”

A hunt day starts like any other for Michael and Alan, except that the hounds Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason has selected to hunt don’t get breakfast–an immediate tip-off to them that they’re going hunting. Do they know? Michael thinks so.

“The fun part is separating out who goes from who doesn’t go, because they all want to go,” he said. “Finish will bite on your boot if you don’t take him out to go hunting, just to let you know he’s mad as hell he’s not going hunting.”

There are several reasons the hunting hounds skip breakfast. As with any athlete, you wouldn’t want their bowels to be full before they have  to run long distances. But Michael and Alan do scatter biscuits in the grass before they let hounds out of the hound truck at a meet, which helps prevent the hounds’ stomach acid from building up. They toss them biscuits again at the end of the hunt. That’s to help keep the hounds’ blood sugar reasonably high, says Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, and it helps give them a good appetite for the full meal they’ll get back at the kennel after hunting.

A woolly welcome: Sassoon says hello before heading out to hunt

Before loading The Chosen Hounds in the hound truck and driving them to the day’s meet, Michael and Alan put blaze-orange tracking collars on them, then turn them out into the grass paddock alongside the kennel for about 20 minutes. The idea is to let them empty themselves and gallop around a bit, but it was pretty clear on the day I was there that the hounds mostly just wanted on that truck. After a few minutes of perfunctory piddling and pooing, they filtered back over to the paddock fence and sat shifting their intense gazes between us and the hound trailer parked tantalizingly behind us by the kennel’s main gate.

Soon a few hounds started whining, and then more joined in, and eventually they were all sitting and whining, plainly trying to hypnotize us into loading them up now. Noooooooooooow. NOW.

Alan puts a tracking collar on one of the hounds before hunting

Even loading the double-decker hound truck requires a surprising amount of thought. For example, if one hound is intimidating to another, it might be best to keep them in separate compartments. Michael and Alan must always be aware of these developments that are part of the pack’s complex and changeable dynamics. For the most part, though, they allow the hounds to choose where they’re most comfortable.

“It’s kind of like the school bus when you were a kid,” Alan said. “You’d have the little area of seats you liked.”

Alan drove the hound trailer to the meet, while Michael took care of another important duty: setting the warning signs out on the road closest to the meet, a hint to drivers to keep their eyes open and their speed moderate.

This particular meet at Foxtrot was a special one, because it was Lilla’s first day back after breaking her ankle back in November. The hounds didn’t seem to notice the change at first, but as soon as she spoke to them from the back of her horse, it was clear they recognized her and were glad to see her.

But we’ll save that story, and the tale of the day’s hunt, until tomorrow!

Goodbye, Stalker

Stalker was a lion-hearted leader of the Iroquois pack until he retired in the care of the Hound Welfare Fund. He remained noble, friendly, and much-loved until his death on Monday, Jan. 25.

THERE is no sadder task than parting with a good friend, but there are times when it is right to do so. That was the case Monday, when kennel manager Michael Edwards realized that it was Stalker’s time.

Stalker’s time was something that we were all dreading, but come it did, and Michael shouldered the heavy burden of making the last drive to the Richmond Road Vet Clinic so that Stalker, his favorite hound, could be put to sleep. And so one of the Hound Welfare Fund‘s great favorites, and one of the Iroquois Hunt’s bravest hearts, died peacefully in Michael’s arms.

Stalker was 11. He was entered in 2001 and hunted right up until 2008. The circumstances of his retirement tell you a lot about Stalker, and also help explain why Michael, in particular, was so close to him. The following description of Stalker’s last hunt day is from the Hound Welfare Fund website’s “Meet the Hounds” page:

It was a windy day in 2008, making scenting conditions challenging. A cold front was blowing through. Hunt staff knew coyotes would be tucked in coverts out of the wind; on a still day, they’re more likely to be found out in the open.

The hounds moved off and explored one covert after another: the Railroad Track, Norton’s Clover, then Betsy and Knox’s Coverts, moving east to west, but found nothing. They moved on to the Swamp Covert but moved past it quickly, as if they knew it was empty and were anxious to try somewhere else. It began to seem hopeless that the hunt would find any game. But then they reached Possum Hollow and swarmed in. After a few minutes, Stalker’s unmistakable voice rose out of the underbrush. The other hounds harked to him and began speaking, too. They went around and around, speaking, then going quiet. Whatever game was in there didn’t seem to want to come out. The hounds knew they had found something, but where exactly was it?

Most of the pack finally came out of the covert but looked back into it, frustrated but listening. Stalker, one of our English hounds, stayed behind, thrashing around in the brush. Soon he spoke again, and out popped a coyote. Tally ho! The chase was on. It was a thrilling but brief run, as the coyote soon ran across a road too dangerous for hounds to cross.

The hounds stopped, and the hunt staff gathered them together, but one hound was missing. It was Stalker, who had stayed at Possum Hollow, happy to have found the coyote, but clearly out of breath and unable to keep up with the pack. We later discovered that he had developed a heart ailment and would never hunt again. But Stalker found that “invisible” coyote and mustered the energy and desire to get him up and running for the rest of the pack. …

When he came back from the vet hospital where they discovered his ailing heart, Stalker slept at the foot of kennelman Michael Edwards’s bed—on the mattress, of course!

“That’s the only hound that’s ever slept on my bed,” Michael said.

Stalker’s last public appearance was at the kennel open house earlier this month, when he waggily greeted visitors and enjoyed pats and scratches from children and adults alike. You can spot him in the video below, the giant woolly with the big smile that made him look absolutely delighted to see you:

Stalker was the son of two Iroquois greats: Grundy, probably the most famous hunting and stallion hound Iroquois has had to date, and Stamina, the grand dame who served as Miller Trust Farm’s unofficial mascot after her own retirement to the HWF.

Stalker, immediately to the left of huntsman Lilla Mason, was among the retired hounds she chose to attend the 2010 Blessing of the Hounds.

“I remember when he was a puppy, we’d turn him out with the other puppies in the back paddock and play with them,” Michael recalled. “He would just run and run and get so fired up he’d be going about 90 miles an hour, making these grunts and growls as he went around. He was always very boisterous, and he had an opinion about everything.”

Another favorite game of Stalker’s in his puppy days was to find Michael when he hid in the thickets of the turnout paddock. “We’d see how long it would take them to find us,” Michael said of the ST litter that included Stalker. “It didn’t usually take them very long. They could smell pretty well.”

In addition to his good nose, Stalker also had good sense. He once got his hind toes caught in a wire at the top of a fence he’d tried to jump out hunting. Rather than thrash and do more damage to himself, he waited patiently, certain that he’d be found and rescued. Which he was.

“He was just so smart,” Michael said, “and he had such heart. I can always remember him and his brother Standout, who was big like him. They both had a lot of heart, and if we ever had to stop them from chasing a coyote across the road, they’d both get so mad at us.

“Stalker was big and tough. He probably was one of the most powerful hounds I’ve worked with here. But the thing I like about him was that he wouldn’t take anything off of anybody, but if he got mad at another hound he’d never carry it too far. He’d let them know that he was mad, but once they’d get the message he’d stop: lesson learned.”

In November, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason selected Stalker as one of the retirees to join in the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony at the Iroquois Hunt Club, an invitation Stalker appears to have taken with great seriousness. You can see him in this video, alongside his larger and younger packmate Sassoon (who is still an active hunting hound). Incidentally, you can also spot Michael at the start of the video in his white kennel coat and orange Hound Welfare Fund cap. Toward the end of the video, Stalker is still standing at full attention:

“He couldn’t have been happier to be there,” Lilla recalled. “I chose him to join us because he was retired and we knew he wouldn’t be with us that much longer. I thought he needed a blessing, and he deserved one. He was magnificent.”

“I liked his boldness,” said Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller. “He had the courage of his convictions and was very bold out front when he was running. He was sure of himself, he was all business, and he was always right.”

Stalker was the boss in a lot of ways, but he also was a model team player, said Lilla. “Stalker was everything we want in a hound, for our country and for our quarry,” she said. “He was perfectly conformed and biddable and intelligent and tenacious. He just had everything, and he was always a contributor to the day. He really epitomized what that ST Carlow outcross brought to our pack when our quarry became coyotes.”

Stalker’s tenacity served him as well in retirement as it did on the hunt field. “He certainly was tough, and he lived longer than we expected,” Lilla agreed. “There were many times when we thought it might be over, but he was happy and wanted to continue on. He clearly enjoyed his life to the end.”

You might think that a hound that tough on the hunt field, and who loved his work that much, would be difficult to retire, but Stalker adjusted to his new life of ease without any trouble.

“He just settled right into it,” Lilla said. “You know, I think he knew something was wrong. He couldn’t keep up with the pack anymore, and he was happy in his retirement. His retirement was seamless.”

Fortunately, Stalker has left us more than just fond memories. He’s got sons and daughters currently in the hunting pack, including Sage and Sayso. Son Salt, sadly, died late last year, and another son from that litter, Sackett, recently retired and is now, like his father was, in the care of the Hound Welfare Fund.

“You’d think it’d get easier, but it doesn’t,” Michael said sadly. “He was one of my all-time favorites. But he was ready. You could tell. He had a look in his eye, and he was tired.”

When Stalker skipped a meal, that was the sign to Michael that the brave old hound was telling us something.

“He just had that look in his eye like, ‘I’m ready,'” Michael said. “He was one of a kind.”