7/28/08

The Beetle Hounds

Two years before moving to the farm (it's amazing how my life is in segments and "moving to the farm" is a major segment), my brothers got beagles for Christmas. My oldest brother got Fella. He was a beautiful specimen! His ears were perky, his markings were even and his body was square and balanced. He was also the wimpiest hunting dog on the planet but the most loveable dog in the house.

Rick got Daisy. She was the exact opposite of Fella. She lived to hunt. She had long floppy ears, an elongated body and big massive feet. Her bark was one of the most loud and annoying sounds a person could ever hear. And...Daisy was basically "untrainable". Daisy did what Daisy wanted to and in a pen in the suburbs, that meant she barked...all the time!

Ronnie and Rick both enrolled into "Obedience School" with their new pups. Fella did wonderfully. He lived to please and perform and he was soon winning trophies at shows and trials. Daisy however ended up being "expelled". Yes, she was expelled from obedience school. It was decided by the Board of Directors of the Huntsville Obedience Training Club that not only was Daisy untrainable but she was such a disturbance in class with her incessant barking and dragging of Rick all over the place it was decided that she was not allowed back into class. As I understand it there were few dogs ever expelled and they were normally the aggressive Spitz or chihauhaus. Daisy was the exception to the rule. She was loveable enough, but she was simply hard headed and laughingly disobeyed even the most disciplined trainers. They even instructed my brother regarding stringing empty tin cans on a stringer and throwing it into the pen when telling Daisy to shut up. That worked well with Fella - he was terrified of those cans which inspired Daisy to pick them up and chase him around the pen with them.

When we moved to the country, our purebred beagles soon became knows as the "champeen beetle hounds" by the locals. We tried correcting them a few times which was met with aggressive references to yankees, so we soon just answered "yes" when they would ask "are you the ones with them purtee beetle hounds?". It didn't take my Dad and Ronnie and Rick long to decide to test out the hunting skills of these dogs. Seeing as how Daisy managed to always dig out of her pen either way, they decided to try to make something productive out of it and it worked. Those long ears and that annoying bark served Daisy and the guys well on hunting trips. She would snuff out a rabbit and quickly run around it and bring it right back to the guys. Fella on the other hand spent most of his time leaping in the air to see over the tall grass and figure out which way was home. He would quietly paw at the back door in hopes one of the ladies would let him in before he was expected to hunt any longer.

The only problem with hunting rabbits was that our property wasn't large enough and Daisy would soon disappear into the distance still barking and attempting to round up all the rabbits. She would usually show up sometime the next day with her eyes swollen shut and pass out on the steps until the next hunt. My brother would pen her back up and that lasted until she got anxious again. He learned to take her hunting more frequently to keep her energy somewhat contained.

It was during my Dad's ambition to become a world champion rabbit hunter that he ordered Dan. Dan was a guaranteed professionally trained, professionally raised rabbit dog- beetle hound. He was from Arkansas and had to be shipped to Huntsville where Daddy picked him up and discovered the flight home had given him pneumonia. Daddy quickly got him medicated and well and proceeded to hunt with him. There was one problem with this. Dan was used to hunting in controlled situations and "free hunting" left him confused. Adding to that problem was the fact that Daisy would tend to beat the daylights out of him for slowing her down or getting after her prey. Daddy was still thrilled at the combination of bloodlines he was building into his pack of beetle hounds and began setting up our breeding/kennel operation. This too became calamity as Fella and Dan would begin fighting feverishly over whatever female was around and ever which one you picked up, Daisy latched on to. She was forever waiting to see who ended up on bottom and then jumping them as well - she knew no loyalty. Separating the losing male only lead to hours on end of horrific crying and barking.

Many people would come with their females and see Fella in all his glory and insist on him being the father of their puppies, despite his terrible hunting record. His show record was as easily marketable combined with his looks as Dan's hunting record considering that Dan was not a very pretty dog. Daisy decided she really didn't like Dan- even when she was "in" and beat him up relentlessly. Dan sort of liked to hunt, but he wasn't overly ambitious in that arena either. This was the beginning of the end for the great McLeroy Beetle Hound Kennel dream.

As time passed, Daddy decided that Dan was indeed a very expensive useless mess. So, he decided to sell him. It was pretty easy as Beagles were popular in suburban areas and beetle hounds were popular in the country. He advertised the beagle and quickly had a buyer from New Market - some 40 miles away. He sold Dan, signed over the papers and helped them get him loaded. Dan didn't seem to care - off they went.

Two days later, he got a call from the new owner. Dan had dug out from under his fence and was missing - surprise! Daddy instructed him not to worry that it was routine for beagles to dig, hunt and come back half dead and they decided they would wait. Three days later Dan did show up - at our house! We called the new owners and advised them he was there. They came once again and got him - two days later - he was back. He managed to beat his previous record.

Daddy gave them back their money and set about selling Dan to someone further away or at least in another part of the county. He quickly found a buyer as Dan was at bargain basement price by now and they were proud to get him. This owner outlined the quality of fencing with concrete footing and their necessity for a good hunting dog. It was a perfect combination. We did not hear from this owner for nearly three weeks. Daddy was relieved and thrilled that Dan had accepted his surroundings. Then, Dan showed up again. He patiently waited until the first hunting trip this time and proceeded to somehow find his way home. The man's money was refunded and Dan was never sold again. This was also the end of the huge kennel operation - at least for beagles - as Fella managed to "throw his back out" entertaining one of the ladies who visited, Daisy proceeded to beat them both up, and Dan became just another dog.

From this point forward, Daisy and Dan learned to hunt together without fighting too much and Fella became a popular show dog in the Obedience Trial circuit. There was the occasional litter of puppies from the two but news had spread about Daisy's "untrainability" or someone had met her while she was on one of her hunting sprees so they were simply another litter of beetle hounds/hunting dogs. In her latter years, Daisy found her way to the wrong end of a chain as she developed a taste for chickens and encroached on my beloved responsibilities a little too often. My evil game rooster ended her chicken fettish quickly for her one day when Fred the duck got too close to her and she decided to try to munch. Who knew a game rooster could do what no man could do before. When he finished she was one bloody mess and no longer interested in the taste of fresh chicken. Perhaps it was age, but after meeting up with that rooster, Daisy gave up hunting and just became a family pet.

I still remember these dogs fondly. In the height of it's rule, the McLeroy Beagle Farm had probably 30 or 40 hunting dogs. It was rather successful, but like most ventures begun by Daddy, it eventually lost to some other passion. Is it any wonder however, that I stop at night and sit on the porch to hear the distant coon hounds as they hunt and bellow out their whereabouts? Once you've been around hounds, you always love their sound. City slickers hate a dog to bark. An old country gal like me lives for the sound!

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