Autumn’s in the air

The hounds with huntsman Lilla Mason on their Aug. 26 walk.

DID you catch a whiff of it this morning, too? The faint scent of autumn? The houndbloggers did. I love the smell of autumn. It reminds me that, no matter how miserably hot the summer, cooler weather–and hunt season–are right around the corner.

Cool temperatures also sharpen the hounds’ senses. They’re also fitter, and the puppies (Driver and the BA litter, all just over one year old), who have yet to join the pack out hunting, are getting clued in to the fact that there’s a point to all this training they’ve had on summer walk. By the way, they seem to be asking now that the air is cooler and morning scents are stronger, what’s that delicious smell?

“The challenge today is that it’s cool and the ground’s really moist,” Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason said. “The whips need to be on their toes to see if any of the hounds put their noses down. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if a puppy puts his nose down, but if you get some of the older hounds putting their noses down, you better watch out.”

A keen, fit pack of hounds plus cool air plus scent lines could equal chaos. The Iroquois hounds are keen, all right, but they were remarkably relaxed when the houndbloggers joined them on summer walk this morning. Their lessons about cattle also seem to be sticking. On Wednesday, Lilla brought 17 couple out for hound walk only to discover an entire herd of cattle had crowded up to the front of the field where she walks the  hounds.

“Cattle were stretched everywhere,” kennel manager Michael Edwards said. “Calves, mamas, bulls. Calves were running all over the pace, and these hounds were unbelievably good.”

Everything, at this point, can provide a good lesson for hounds that are almost ready to hunt–especially for the puppies, who are nearing their debuts with the working pack this fall. When two young women accompanying the hound walk on horseback began chatting, Lilla pointed out that the extra voices–while not ideal in the hunt field–could be useful today.

“They’ll have to get used to that in the hunt field,” Lilla said of the hounds. “They have to learn to distinguish my voice from other chatter.”

The hounds rushed into the pond, eager to play in the own waves and catch the biscuits Lilla threw to them. Paper, now an old hand at summer training, simply stood and waited for a biscuit to come his way.

"Toss a biscuit over here, please," says Paper.

“They’re ready to hunt,” Lilla said. “There’s not much else I can teach them on hound walk. They’ve learned to stay behind when I need them to, they’ve learned to stay with me. We’ve hit lines on certain days and gotten them off those and settled back down again. You can see that they’ll trot off and then turn around and check on where I am. I’m still carrying biscuits, but I’m not using them very much.

“They’re really on schedule,” she added. “Kind of ahead a schedule, really. We’re still working on a few little things. For example, when I say ‘Come behind,’ Bangle and Bandstand still shoot ahead. It isn’t a big deal, but I do need to fix those kinds of things. Out hunting, if I’m trotting toward a coop and say, ‘Come behind,’ if they get ahead I can’t jump the coop. They might get hurt. So I need to keep working with them on that.”

Lilla believes one reason the hounds stay so relaxed out walking even at this energizing time of year, is because the Iroquois kennel provides a lot of turnout. The hounds give themselves plenty of exercise in the 15-acre fenced paddock adjacent to their kennel, and even that has offered some unexpected training.

Three deer, Lilla explains, have taken to jumping into the hounds’ turnout pen. That gives the hounds more opportunity to get used to –and ignore–deer and their scent, and it seems to be working, because the deer keep jumping in. That’s a sign they don’t feel threatened by the hounds, which means the hounds aren’t pursuing them.

Pats all around from huntsman Lilla Mason and kennel manager Michael Edwards as the group pauses at Cormac's Elbow.

This seems a good time to get an update on Driver, whose first hound walk we remember so vividly! How has he progressed since June? There have been some surprises about this pupposaurus, Lilla tells us.

“He’s doing well, but he’s gotten shy a couple of times,” she explained. “One time we had to walk by some work trucks, and he was shy about that. I hope that was just because he was exposed to a new thing where he normally walks and that the shyness is something he’ll get over. But it’s something for the whips to keep in the back of their minds when we start hunting, to make sure nothing happens to make him scared or that, if he gets scared, he doesn’t get left behind, or something like that.

“That’s what the summer is for, to file away little personality traits or issues that might surface later and cause a problem,” she added.

Samson and Barman

This hound walk also marked the return of two much-loved English characters, Samson and Barman. Both haven been off in recent months due to health issues. Samson, whom you probably will remember very well as the opinionated traveler, had a tumor removed from his right hind leg back in February and looks to be back in good form. No doubt he’ll be glad to get back to hunting! Last season, despite his imperious style at the airport, Samson turned out to be a surprisingly laid-back hound who also helped another import, Strawberry, figure out the new surroundings shortly after their arrival from England.

Red-and-white Samson

Barman was taken out of the hunting pack after having a seizure and is now doing very well on the anti-seizure medication phenobarbital. Fortunately, both phenobarbital and potassium bromide–the two treatments of choice for seizures in dogs–are both highly effective and relatively inexpensive.

Barman, one of the kennel's Big Men on Campus.

Phenobarbital is something the houndbloggers know a little bit about, thanks to our late king of the household and his successor, Felix and Harry. Felix had epilepsy, and Harry, too, has had seizures regularly; in both dogs, the seizures were controllable by one or the other medication at a very doable price.

We’re very glad to see two of our most personable hounds, Samson and Barman, back at work!

Like driving someone else’s racecar

Substituting for an injured huntsman means taking over a pack that has been trained by (and that has bonded with) someone else, and it takes more than just knowing how to blow the horn.

WHEN Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason broke her ankle out hunting in November, she was lucky in one respect: she had an experienced huntsman to whom she could pass the horn. And that person, Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, was someone who works with the hounds daily alongside her.

That mattered, because as we’ve seen, Lilla has put a lot of time and training into the hounds (Jerry has had an important role in that training too). Having someone who knows the hounds and the huntsman’s style is vital to ensure the hounds’ steadiness until Lilla returns.

“Unfortunately, I got hurt right after the opening day of the hunt season,” Lilla said. “I’ve spent months since the last hunt season–from April to October–training the hounds and getting the pack exactly where I want them: responsive, together, controlled by voice. I’ve done that in the training style that Jerry has devised over the years, which is a kind, humane, quiet style. The reason it’s such a relief to have Jerry hunting the hounds for me now is that I know he knows he is a substitute. He hunts the hounds in that quiet way, but he’s also going to be very careful not to take the hounds over as his own, because I’ll be back.

“The worst thing would be if someone were to come in and hunt them in a different way from the way I do and try to take the pack over. That would usurp all the work we’ve done, and when I came back, it would be much more difficult for me to finish the season in the manner which it began.”

His years as Iroquois huntsman and his role as architect of the pack's training program has stood Jerry in good stead during the times he has subbed for Lilla out hunting and on hound walk. (Photo kindly given by Peggy Maness)

For Jerry, the prospect of taking over the Iroquois pack was more complicated than just accepting the horn and blowing it. A pack of hounds doesn’t automatically respect a horn; they respect the person who has worked to forge a bond with them through training. In order to maintain the continuity of what is effectively Lilla’s team, Jerry is careful to leave as little of his own imprint on them as he can.

“As much as I like them and would like to have these hounds be mine, that’s like taking somebody’s racecar and driving it as a substitute in the next three or four races,” Jerry explained.  “The first thing you need to do is not to wreck it. That’s the worst thing you could do. You don’t want to tear the transmission up and don’t tear the motor up, either. Just take it around carefully, because you’re not really the driver of that car. You’ll take it out because people want to come out and see the race, but the idea is to race it fairly and competitively, but don’t do any damage to it.

“The thing about a pack of hounds, and the reason you like your huntsman and Masters to have longevity, is because you breed the hounds not only for your country, but also for the way the huntsman hunts hounds,” he continued. “You can read about this in all the literature, but you can ruin a pack of hounds in a week or two weeks. If someone else other than Lilla came in and tried to impose their own personality on those hounds through the way they discipline them or reinforce them, and especially if they try to push them around or bully them, these hounds react to that. Some hounds won’t come back because they’ve gotten upset, and they’ll just be unruly. And the longer they stay away, the more they learn bad habits.”

Having temporarily turned her horn over to her back-up huntsman, jt-MFH Jerry Miller, regular Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason wore a regular member's black coat when she returned to the hunt field for the first time since her injury.

This hunt season, we’ve seen two strong examples of how important a hound considers the bond with its huntsman to be. When Strawberry first arrived this fall from England, her confusion at finding a completely new huntsman was clear. Since her birth, Strawberry had only ever known one huntsman–the Cottesmore’s Neil Coleman–and she was perplexed to find herself without her usual leader when she debuted under Lilla in November. Her first response was to head straight back to the hound trailer.

Similarly, when Jerry hunted the hounds for the first time after Lilla’s injury, he had to endure the pack’s initial skepticism about him, even though he knew them from training.

When he first blew the horn, the pack remained at the trailer, waiting for Lilla. Sure, that guy who walked with them in the summer had the horn now, but he wasn’t their huntsman. Their huntsman was Lilla. And they would just wait for her to show up, thanks. It took Jerry some minutes to get the pack away from the trailer.

Hunting history is riddled with similar accounts of hounds who, once “joined up” with their regular huntsman, will only have eyes for him (or her). Consider the case of whipper-in Jean MacLean in her first attempt to walk out the Clear Creek Beagles when huntsman Buck Wiseman was out of town:

When Buck was away and needed her to walk the hounds out, she discovered that the young hounds she’d helped raise from puppyhood merrily packed up with her when she opened the kennel gate for morning exercise. But the older hounds that had been there before she arrived were so skeptical that they would sit just outside the kennel and refuse to come along with her. They were, she realized, waiting for Buck. To them, she wasn’t the real deal, and no amount of biscuit-tossing could convince them to follow her.

Once the hounds finally moved off, Jerry still had his work cut out for him. One crucial element he had in his favor is his knowledge of the individual hounds and the philosophy under which they are trained.

Jerry Miller's role as back-up huntsman, he said, is to maintain the pack's steadiness and "not to do any damage" until Lilla can return

“A hound doesn’t just react to a couple of toots on a horn,” he said. “You have to know every individual hound. If you were going to play the piano and I took every third key away, that’s going to make it harder for you to play. You have to know which hound is acting up, which hound you have to pick up, which one you have to set down.”

Hunting hounds without imposing his own hunting style on them has required restraint from Jerry.

“He’s hunted them slowly and very deliberately, waited for any hounds that are missing so that the pack doesn’t get too spread out,” said Lilla, who has been following the hunt in a car regularly while she’s recovering. “It might be more fun for riders if he went out and hunted them the way  he would if he were always the huntsman, but he’s doing it this way so that the hounds will be better off when I come back.

“This helps me. If he had done things differently, it would have completely confused the hounds, because they’d have gotten used to a totally different style than mine, and I’d have to start over with them,” she added. “The ultimate honor you can do another human being is to do something for them that you know is not going to make you look your best. He knew he wasn’t going to look like a hotshot huntsman. He did it for the hound program.”

Part of "Lilla's team," as portrayed by Peggy Maness

Mind you, it’s taken some restraint from Lilla, too. While Jerry is hunting the hounds, she minimizes her contact with the hounds and rarely even speaks, in case the familiar sound of their regular huntsman’s voice distracts them.

“The worst thing I could do while he’s hunting is come out and be too loud, because pretty soon they’re going to get around me and stop doing what he’s asking them to do,” she explained. “They have to be obedient to the person who has the horn.”

“She has the golden thread with  her hounds,” Jerry acknowledges. “They know her personality, they know what she’s doing and when she’s upset. You can see it in them. When Lilla gets upset with a few of them, the others react to it, too. They just tighten up together and go on.  But if someone new comes in and gets uptight with them, those hounds will just disappear. They’ll decide they want to stay away from that person.

“And if a new person comes in and tries to be their best friend and keep them right next to his horse, that can be just as bad, because instead of working, the hounds will just trot along next to his horse like they were on a trail ride. So there’s a fine line between discipline and reinforcement. I try to put them in, let them work the covert, then be on the other end to pick them up and go on to the next covert, without imposing on them.

“I have to maintain things. I have to make sure that everyone responds and that I don’t get three or four hounds that decide they’ll refuse to listen and go hunting on their own, that decide since Lilla’s not out they don’t have to listen to anybody.”

It’s a slower style of hunting, but it preserves the pack and their training in the near term while Lilla recovers.

For a glimpse of Lilla’s relationship with the hounds, see how they gaze at her in this video taken from the huntsman’s point of view on hound walk this summer:

There’s a code of honor among huntsmen that holds the relationship between huntsman and hounds, that golden thread, as sacred. Jerry ‘s restraint in hunting “her” hounds is honoring that tradition, Lilla said. She has reciprocated, too, by wearing a black hunt coat–rather than her red huntsman’s coat–when she returned to the hunt field for an hour (with her leg in a cast!) at her first hunt since the injury.

“What Jerry has done for me is the most honorable thing a retired huntsman can do for one who is active,” Lilla said. “He’s not out there for the sake of his own ego. He’s not trying to look like the best huntsman in the world, and he knows he’s not going to look like the best huntsman in the world doing it this way. But he knows they’re not his hounds now; I trained them. And that’s the way he looks at it: ‘I’m just the substitute.’

“One huntsman would never insert himself or do anything to possibly damage or interfere with another huntsman’s relationship with his own hounds,” she concluded. “Your relationship with your hounds is like a marriage, and you wouldn’t step in between a huntsman and his hounds any more than you would step between husband and wife.”

So how is Lilla’s recovery coming? Very well, she says. She’s started riding again, and she had that happy hour out with hounds just before Christmas.

“Since I got off crutches, it seems like every day there’s been immense improvement,” she said. “I’ve been riding, but I still have this inconvenient boot on my leg. I need to go see a welder and get a big stirrup made. I’m riding in a dressage saddle and in a controlled environment, and, with the weather we’ve had, nobody’s riding outside anyway. So I’m very encouraged.”

Copyright 2010 Glenye Cain Oakford,

A Pupdate: pack manners, playmates, and the kennel staff’s view of hound politics

Paper & Co.

Paper & Co. in a playful mood on Saturday afternoon

FOXHUNTING is on hiatus for now while the deer hunters are abroad in the countryside, and that gave us a chance to check in at the Iroquois kennels to see how the puppies are doing.

Paper, of course, has been out hunting now and is gradually maturing into an adult pack member. He’s had important lessons all summer and fall, and now the real education starts on the hunt field. There, he has to confront new situations and work professionally with the hunting pack. I guess to put it in human terms, he’s getting his university degree, and by next year he should be a full-time contributing member of the working world.

But what about our youngest puppies, Baffle’s litter and Dragonfly’s huge son Driver? They’re still in elementary school, but the lessons they’re learning now are critical to their future development.

These puppies were born in the spring, and for the last couple of months they’ve been getting their first exposure to working in a group, to pack manners, and to coming when called, Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards explained to us on Saturday.

Baffle's puppies in exercise field

Room to roam: all the hounds--puppies, current working pack members, and retirees--get plenty of free exercise in the two-acre field adjacent to the kennel

After breakfast each day, the 10 young puppies spend about three hours out in the kennel’s two-acre exercise field, one of the best tools the Iroquois staff has for the young hounds’ education.

“They stay out here while we’re getting stuff done in the kennel, and they play and play,” Michael said. “I try to get them out twice a day, once at the end of the day, too, so that they get four to five hours outside.

“Right now, the girls in this litter seem a little more rebellious than the boys,” Michael said of Baffle’s puppies. “The two bigger girls, Bangle and Bandstand, they’ll be the ones that won’t want to go in their kennel. But they’re all very lovable and want attention all the time.”

Assistant kennel manager Alan Foy (seen in the photo above with Baffle’s puppies) has also been working with the youngsters to start developing their sense of pack identity and cooperation.

“Alan’s been taking them out back here, just trying to teach them to stick together and respond when he calls them, and they’ve done really well at that,” Michael said, adding that it’s too early for most of the puppies to have learned their individual names yet. The kennel staff is trying to learn the puppies’ names, too! Many of them look so similar it can be hard to distinguish them, with a few exceptions. Bagshot is the woolly male of the litter; Bashful and Banknote are easy to pick out because they are the two smallest; and Driver, well, he’ll always stand out in a crowd due to his size and dark coloring.

Driver puppy picture 07-2009

Driver back in July.

Driver 11-14-09

Driver today with kennel manager Michael Edwards. A VERY big difference!

“Driver is the biggest baby out here,” Michael said, meaning both the biggest baby and the biggest baby. Recently, Michael set a five-gallon bucket out in the kennel yard, spooking Driver.

“He would not come out here on this concrete while that bucket was sitting there,” Michael said. “I had to get it and move it all the way out by the far gate before he would even come in here, and even then he came in looking at it real carefully. So we’re going to do something we did that worked well with the ST litter (Stam, Stax, Star, Stanza, etc., born in 2007). We’re going to put a windsock in their kennel, something that’s moving all the time so they get used to it. It made a big difference with them.”

In addition to their mini-houndwalks around the property, the puppies also have ventured farther afield with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller and huntsman Lilla Mason. On those, they rode in the hound truck to the old point-to-point course, the same place the older hounds have their early summer walks and pond exercise. Like the older hounds, the puppies got to practice sticking together in a wide open space–their first formal exposure to that critical lesson in the company of the people who will actually hunt them someday.

“All that is important,” Michael said, “because they’re learning how to be a pack.”

The hunt and kennel staff have found it’s useful to start building the pack sense early with puppies.

“With the PA litter (including Panda, Parish, Parody, etc., born in 2005), Lilla and I would take them all through the area together,” Michael said. “By the time we incorporated them into the pack, they already had an idea what was going on, so they just blended right in.”

The puppies don’t yet have the attention span of the older hounds, but already they are focusing on people when they are out on walk, said Alan.

Baffle's pups Nov. 14, 2009

Baffle's litter, shown here with Michael, seem all grown up at seven months of age, but their lessons are just beginning. "I'd say they're like teenagers now," kennel manager Michael Edwards says. "They're just kind of lanky, but they're getting well-balanced."

In the case of Baffle’s puppies, it helps that they are part of a nine-hound litter–a ready-made pack, in a way. For Driver, a singleton, it was especially important that he learn group dynamics as early as possible.

“He lets the little girls chew on his ears,” Alan said. “He’s just a big, goofy puppy. But he’s fit in really well. I agree with Michael that he’s a little passive in the group, but I think it’s because when we first mixed him in with the other puppies he was so much bigger than they were. Now, he’s not quite as much bigger. Barwick and Backfire are getting pretty close to him in size. I think he knew he was bigger and couldn’t play as rough.”

“That all started when they were all at the lower kennel,” Michael said. “He was so much bigger at first that I monitored him closely. If he would be rough, I’d kind of get on him about it and growl at him.”

That lesson seems to have stuck. As Driver romped around with Baffle’s puppies, he was a perfect gentleman with his smaller playmates.

“One of the reasons we wanted to get him in with a group early was because an only child can sometimes have some trouble integrating,” Michael said. “When they’re on their own too long, I think they don’t get socialized with the pack. They don’t learn pack manners and how to respect other hounds. That’s why it was important to get Driver in with the other puppies as soon as we could, especially as big as he is. The longer we waited, the harder it would have been for him to understand that he is part of a pack.”

Baffle's wee pups April 2009

Baffle's litter in April.

“They learn how to be hounds from each other,” Alan said.

The next step, Michael said, is to start occasionally introducing older hounds to the puppies. Paper was one candidate, but evidently he felt pretty strongly that, having moved up with the big dogs in the pack, he was now too important to deal with the little kids anymore.

“He didn’t want any part of those puppies,” Michael said. “He jumped up on top of a bench and growled about it. I thought, being as young as he was, he’d adjust to it pretty quickly, but no, thank you. On the other hand, Panda went out there with them and loved it.”

“She educated them,” Alan said. “She didn’t get aggressive with them, but she let them know when they went too far and she let them know she didn’t want all of them piling on her at once. If they did that, she’d run away and hop up on the bench, and they couldn’t get up there with her. Then she’d wait until they scattered. Then she’d jump down again and play with one or two of them until all of them would pile on her again. She trained them in her way, which was very gentle.”

“Introducing older hounds to them out in that paddock is where I think they really start to learn about having manners toward other hounds,” said Michael. “I think they learn a lot out here in this field with each other, just about how to be a pack. Look at these guys out here right now. They’ve been running and playing for almost an hour. They’ll play to the point that somebody gets a little grumpy and growls, and then they’ll stop. These guys will say, ‘That’s enough,’ and it doesn’t escalate. Then they’ll play again.”

“Nobody knows more about being a hound dog than a hound dog,” Alan said. “We can let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. But those hounds know even better how to tell each other what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and they know how to tell each other how far it can go before something becomes unacceptable. You’ll see them do it on houndwalk. A puppy will go off from the group and do something goofy, and when they come back, and older hound will growl at them to chastise them. Glog is really good at chastising the younger hounds on houndwalk when they do something wrong. He gives them a little scolding, like he’s saying, ‘That’s not how we act around here.'”

Paper at play 11-14-09

Paper (right) at play. Playing is an important part of learning.

While we were at the kennel, we checked in on the new English hounds, too. Cottesmore’s Samson, Strawberry, Structure, and Hawkeye arrived about three weeks ago and are adjusting well, Michael and Alan report. Like the puppies, they are having to learn their place in a new pack, and Michael and Alan are working to figure out which clique within the pack works best for them.

“I think a lot of their ability to adjust easily has to do with Neil,” Michael said, referring to the Cottesmore huntsman, Neil Coleman, who raised and hunted the four in England.

“Look at Samson over here,” Michael said, pointing to the group just turned out in the two-acre field. “He’s in there with all those males. They’re all at the age where they’re trying to show who’s top dog: Paper, Gaelic, Hailstone. But Samson’s the type you could probably stick him in any group and he’d adjust. Because he’s not aggressive. That has a lot to do with the way Neil has raised them. And the others are the same way.”

Samson and friends

Cottesmore Samson, the red-and-white hound closest to Michael here, has settled in well. Michael and Alan report that he is easygoing and adaptable.

Structure, Hawkeye, and Strawberry are kenneled in a run with the SA litter that includes Sassoon, Savvy, and Saracen. “They’re pretty easygoing, too,” Michael said.

One of the most important jobs Michael and Alan do is figure out which group of hounds should be kenneled together. Getting the mix right requires some experimentation, but it’s key to the hounds’ physical and mental wellbeing; getting it wrong could result in dangerous friction in the kennel.

“When I brought the English hounds up from the lower kennel (near Michael’s house, where they were quarantined before joining the rest of the pack at the upper kennel), I just started sticking them out in the field with different groups to see how they responded to each other. When they’re outside together with a lot of room, they’re more interested in what’s going on around them than they are in each other, and you can keep an eye on them. I stuck them in with the SAs and never had any issues with them, so that looks like a good fit.”

The process–the two-acre turnout paddock and essentially letting the hounds choose the clique they’re most comfortable with–is unusual, as the English imports let Michael and Alan know.

“When we first turned them out, they all just stood at the gate looking at us like, ‘What’s going on?'” Michael recalled. “But after a few minutes, they sort of went, ‘Hey, look at all this room! Let’s run!'”

Once the hounds have chosen their own group of friends, how do you get each set to merge comfortably with the pack? “We turn different groups out together,” Michael explained. “There are only a few groups that have a little trouble mixing closely, and you have to know all that, especially when you are loading them up in the trailer to take them to a meet. For instance, we can keep some hounds in the back of the hound truck instead of in the trailer if we need to.”

It’s also critical to know who the dominant dog is at any given time, Michael said. At the moment, it’s Alvin.

“Stalker was the big dog before we retired him,” Michael said. Stalker, one of our most beloved hounds, is now retired under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund. You can read his story here. But now that he’s retired, he spends more time in the kennel office, where he can relax and keep warm, and suddenly he’s a mellow retiree.

“Showing his dominance doesn’t seem to concern him so much now,” Michael said. “I guess he’s old enough to realize he’s got it made in there!”

Hound of the Day, Nov. 4: Strawberry

Strawberry 11-05-09

English import Strawberry made her debut at Iroquois on Nov. 4.

CALL it culture shock. Strawberry only arrived from England on Oct. 21, and the Nov. 4 meet from Boone Valley was her first day out with her new pack, the Iroquois hounds.

Strawberry and the three other Cottesmore hounds who came with her from England last month are now adjusting to a new kennel and staff, a new pack, new countryside to navigate, and new game to chase (coyote). Most importantly, they must learn to build a relationship with a new huntsman.

It’s hard to overstate how close hounds feel to their huntsman. Working pack hounds are trained to focus entirely on the person who carries the horn, and, as we’ve seen during hound walk and training this summer, the huntsman’s attention and approval is something hounds strive (and even compete) for. So to move from one pack to another isn’t just a change of environment; it’s like changing your whole family. Fortunately, hounds are highly adaptable animals. After a period of adjustment, they do figure their new lives out.

For Strawberry, that process got serious on Wednesday. Ever since she was born, she has known one huntsman: Cottesmore’s Neil Coleman. And when she stepped out of the hound trailer at Boone Valley on Wednesday, it was only natural, as she scanned the unfamiliar countryside and sniffed the new smells, that Strawberry would be looking for one person: Neil.

Neil Coleman with hounds

Strawberry's former huntsman, the Cottesmore's Neil Coleman

“Until now, he’s all she’s known,” said Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “When she left the trailer, she looked around with a quizzical look on her face. She ran back to the trailer to Alan (Foy, kennel staff member). The rest of the hounds were going on.”

But Samson, another Cottesmore import who was on his second trip out with the Iroquois pack this time, stayed back with her, too, as if trying to tell Strawberry, ‘Hey, it’s okay, it’s still hunting, we have a new huntsman!’

Strawberry still looked skeptical, so Lilla turned and tossed her a biscuit. That helped, but Strawberry still wasn’t fully convinced. Where, after all, was Neil?

Samson 11-05-09

Samson, imported from Cottesmore at the same time as Strawberry, provided encouragement

Iroquois has imported hounds before, and so everyone knows well how to make their transition as smooth as possible. As she rode with the hounds to the first covert, Lilla was keeping Strawberry and the other new English hounds out that day–Samson, Hawkeye, and Structure–very much in mind.

“I picked some pretty open places to go, because I had a feeling that they would be nervous, and I didn’t want to go into a real dense covert to start with,” she explained. “I didn’t want them to get in there and not know where they were, not know the sound of my voice, not know the sound of my horn. So we went north where there’s low grass.”

Pack of hounds, sounds of horn, trotting to a covert–yes, it looks like hunting, Strawberry must have been thinking, but where is my huntsman? Where is his horse?

“She got back with the field, walked all through the horses, looking up at everyone,” Lilla said. “And then she just sat down and started howling. She just didn’t know what to do.”

Lilla and Alice

Hounds and huntsman develop a close bond. A change in huntsman can confuse a hound, but they also can adjust quickly to having a new leader.

“You can tell by looking at her that Strawberry is a wise old girl,” Lilla added. “She just has that face. When you go visit her in the kennel, she’ll come to you wagging her tail to say hello, and then she’ll go gently sit down and watch everything. She’s kind of above it all. She’s very regal.

“But that day she had the most confused look on her face!”

Strawberry hung back from the pack at first, still, it seems, trying to figure out where her leader was.

“I tried to use my voice, but that didn’t work as well as the horn,” Lilla said. “I would blow the horn, and she’d come a little way. She’d get up with the horses in the field, then start looking around, then sit down and howl again. It was like she was thinking, ‘I know I’m supposed to go to the horn, but it’s not the right horn, and I don’t see Neil, and something’s not right about this.’ But after the first hour or so, she started to get it. She wasn’t going to be with Neil, there was a horn, and the horn meant the same thing as it did before. But it was gut-wrenching at the start. I could see she was so upset not to be with Neil, and she didn’t understand my voice.”

Hawkeye 11-05-09

Hawkeye got into the swing of things quickly on his first day out with Iroquois on Wednesday

The other new Cottesmore hound debuting Wednesday, Hawkeye, had a similar moment of confusion but rapidly got on with the job. Structure and Samson debuted last week and also did well, but, again, they had to figure things out at first.

Structure 11-05-09

Structure also hunted Wednesday, her second time out with the Iroquois pack

“Structure wasn’t as expressive about it as Strawberry was,” Lilla said. “But she was confused and a little bit concerned. She was going to come, but she wasn’t sure she was supposed to, that kind of thing.”

Structure did get “thrown out” on her first day–not thrown out the way a baseball manager gets thrown out for yelling at the ump, but thrown out as in accidentally getting separated from the pack. “Then she spent the rest of the day looking for me,” Lilla said. “It’s just that she doesn’t know yet where she is. The other hounds know the score, they know where the holes under fences are.”

You might be interested to know that Samson, he of the mighty airport bark, has been quiet and professional so far! He, too, had an early moment of doubt. But as we saw Wednesday, he felt confident enough about the American style of hunting to encourage Strawberry to join up.

One thing everyone’s noticed about these English hounds: boy, can they ever jump.

“A wire fence is no boundary to them,” said Lilla. “They just sail right over it.”

Those are between three and four feet tall, ladies and gentlemen.

Strawberry performed one of these stag-leaps on Wednesday. Having found herself well away from the pack, separated from them by a fence, and having decided that the horn was indeed a cousin of the one she knew in England, she took a bold decision.

“She knew she wasn’t supposed to be off by herself,” Lilla said, “and she knew she had to catch up with that horn somehow. So she just leaped right over the fence.

“When we got back to the trailers at the end of the day, I hopped off my horse before the hounds were all in the trailer, because I wanted to give Strawberry a big pat. She looked at me like, ‘Okay, I get it now.'”

Which reminded Lilla of Neil again. On the trips she used to make herself to pick up hounds from the Cottesmore in England, the most difficult and wonderful part was the last moment at Cottesmore, when Neil would say his goodbyes to the hounds before helping Lilla load them up for the drive to the airport and flight to America.

Neil is a big, burly man, not necessarily the kind of guy you expect to crouch down and speak lovingly to a hound, stroke it under the chin and tell it goodbye, personally, one-on-one. But this is exactly what he did.

“That’s why they love him,” Lilla said. “Watching that, it makes you feel the great reponsibility to make these hounds happy, to do well by these gifts.”

Strawberry dances with kennelman Michael Edwards. She really can jump!

Strawberry and kennelman Michael Edwards share a dance: she really can jump!

It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s hounds!

On their way! Strawberry gets wheeled off to be weighed before the flight from Heathrow to Chicago O'Hare

On their way! A houndblogger and a porter wheel Strawberry away to be weighed before the hounds' flight from Heathrow to Chicago O'Hare

YOU wouldn’t normally expect to find foxhounds at the world’s second-busiest airport, but on Oct. 21 four of our canine friends arrived at Heathrow in London to board a flight to the United States.
The two dogs and two bitches started their journey at about 5 a.m. that morning at England’s prestigious Cottesmore hunt, where whipper-in Jack Bevan loaded them into the hound truck for the drive to the city. It was a long day for hounds and houndbloggers alike (not to mention Jack, who had to face London traffic going to Heathrow and heading home again!), but the hounds arrived in good order and now are at Iroquois. They’ll resume their careers as working pack hounds with the Iroquois Hunt, then retire for the rest of their natural lives in the care of the Hound Welfare Fund.
Here’s how the day went. Cottesmore bitches Strawberry and Structure and dogs Samson and Hawkeye got to the airport at about 8 a.m., where the houndbloggers were busily assembling the extra-large traveling crates for them. Whipper-in Jack Bevan pulled in as close to the airport entrance as he could, then unloaded them two at a time and, with Iroquois member Christopher Oakford, led them through the surprised crowd of travelers, right into the airport lobby, where the crates were waiting.
The hounds' arrival: country life comes to the world's second-busiest airport

The hounds' arrival: country life comes to the world's second-busiest airport

The hounds all fit comfortably in their crates, which were equipped with water bowls and diaper pads (which a couple mistook for chew-toys, much as Paper did on his long drive from Florida to Kentucky last year!).
Two things surprise you when you travel with hounds. First, how well they adapt to the completely new experience, and, second, the reaction of passers-by, who are fascinated and charmed by the sight of these canine travelers. The hounds are excellent ambassadors for their breed and sport. Well behaved and beautiful, they thumped their tails cheerfully at everyone who stopped by to see them, from airport staff to pinstriped businessmen to parents with young children.
The hounds loaded into their travel crates at Heathrow without any fuss.

The hounds loaded into their travel crates at Heathrow without any fuss.

Anyone in the airport lobby who didn’t see the four hounds in their travel crates soon heard them, thanks to Samson. While Hawkeye, Strawberry, and Structure all curled up immediately, watched the passing people for a while, and eventually just fell asleep, Samson decided early on that this was a day worth talking about. And he did.
Samson started barking at about 8:45 a.m., and he hardly missed a beat until we and the porters wheeled him off for a security check before loading him and his packmates on the plane at 11:15 a.m. He barked standing, he barked sitting, he barked lying down and between drinks of water. Only two things made him stop: interesting activity outside his crate (especially children stopping by to visit him) and a ride through the terminal on the wheeled trolley, so we suspect Samson, like most modern business travelers, was simply fed up with the wait! At least he didn’t have to eat airline food. 
The hounds drew curious crowds and made new friends at Heathrow. Okay, yes, one of them was a little loud!

The hounds drew curious crowds and made new friends at Heathrow. Okay, yes, Samson (just out of the picture to the right) was a little loud!

Coincidentally, one of the American Airlines representatives we met at Heathrow was a foxhunter herself. She was the daughter of a former whipper-in at Ireland’s famous Scarteen Hunt, and she was delighted with this unexpected chance to say hello to some foxhounds again.

"Wow! They're beautiful--and big!" Many of the people who stopped by to ask about the foxhounds were surprised by their size and by their gentle dispositions.

"Wow! They're beautiful--and big!" Many of the people who stopped by to ask about the foxhounds were surprised by their size and by their gentle dispositions.

The hounds have to be weighed before flying, and their crates have to be inspected both for humane and security reasons. They don’t get sent through the same baggage scan that your carry-on does, but they get a special inspection and the same chemical testing that checked baggage goes through, which took place in a cargo- and baggage-handling area. Samson thought the security procedure was especially fascinating and watched that with such great interest he entirely forgot to bark.

Once the hounds and their travel crates passed inspection, they were on their way to the hold of the plane. When we took our seats on the plane about an hour later, we knew the hounds had been loaded, because, you guessed it, we could hear the faint sound of Samson’s barking coming from somewhere under our seats! Fortunately, he quieted down very quickly, and probably slept most of the way back to the U.S.

Zzzzzzzzzzz ... Hawkeye (seen here), Strawberry, and Structure curled right up and went to sleep soon after arriving at Heathrow.

Zzzzzzzzzzz ... Hawkeye (seen here), Strawberry, and Structure curled right up and went to sleep soon after arriving at Heathrow.

The unloading process at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was straightforward. The baggage handlers brought all four crates to the oversized baggage pick-up point in the customs area, where we met them after we passed through immigration. Needless to say, we had declared the four hounds on our landing cards! U.S. customs sent a public health official out to inspect the hounds and their veterinary paperwork, and then we were ushered through customs in fairly short order.

The hounds looked bright when we picked them up, and even Samson was pretty quiet. He barked a few times while we waited to get our own suitcases, but as soon as he got another fun ride on the trolley through customs, he quieted down, perfectly happy to watch the world rolling by again.

Outside, we met Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, Hagan Miller, and kennel staff member Alan Foy. They had brought the hound truck, deeply bedded with clean straw and with buckets full of water, and they also had a second truck to drive us home and serve as a back-up in case the hound truck had any problems. Fortunately, the drive home to Lexington from Chicago was uneventful. The hounds had plenty of water, had a nice feed themselves when we stopped for dinner, and slept all the way to their new home at Iroquois.

MFH Jerry Miller, kennelman Alan Foy, and Hagan Miller met the hounds in Chicago with the specially equipped hound truck.

MFH Jerry Miller, kennelman Alan Foy, and Hagan Miller met the hounds in Chicago with the specially equipped hound truck.

MFH Jerry Miller and kennelman Alan Foy load hounds into the hound truck for the ride home to Lexington.

MFH Jerry Miller and kennelman Alan Foy load hounds into the hound truck for the ride home to Lexington.

The four new arrivals from Cottesmore will spend some time in quarantine at the Iroquois lower kennel before eventually joining the pack at the main kennel. It will be fun to follow their progress as they learn all about their new surroundings and new huntsman in the Bluegrass. Considering how talkative he was at the airport, we expect Samson will be happy to tell us his opinion of life in the States!