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Woods and Wilds

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Posted: Friday, July 28, 2006 12:00 am

That dog won't hunt

Imagine a committee meeting convened to solve a problem. Suggestions are floated around the table. With the proposal of one idea that everyone agrees will not work, someone adds, "That dog just won't hunt.” The saying is an old, worn out joke that has its roots in hunting.

Most folks who pursue game have hunted with a dog from time to time. I've hunted with dogs my whole life. I'd rather hunt with a dog than with some human companions. If a dog makes a mistake its owner can chalk it up to a misunderstanding and improve training to correct the flaw. But humans. How do you say to your good buddy, "You know that guy you brought hunting with us last week? Well, he's a jerk. He's dangerous and I won't hunt with him again.” Dogs don't shoot and most of them try to please.

I can remember dogs as far back as when I was a toddler. We were a beagle family. Dad hunted rabbits, grouse and ringnecks during the fall season and we always had a supply of eager beagles to chase them. The first beagle I remember was Sport. Now Ol' Sport must have been a great rabbit hunter because Dad always came home with a game pouch full of bunnies. We learned to savor roast rabbit. Dad shot rabbits to EAT.

Ol' Sport died before I was old enough to hunt. The first beagle I hunted with was a petite female named Lady. She was, as hunters would say, a crackerjack on rabbits and ringnecks. She had a pedigree that was an arm long. Lady had several litters of pups and when she whelped her young she was allowed in the house. All other times our beagles resided in the coops near the garage.

After Lady, there was succession of beagles from Gerry to Scout to Hunter. All coop dogs. Then I married and got a female beagle from a friend. I also took one of her sisters to give to my dad to replace the latest of his rabbit dogs. I lived near a farm and let my pup just run. I was young and foolish. A truck hit her and she had to be put to sleep. Her sister became a fabulous dog. She ran her legs to stubs and barked until she had laryngitis. She wouldn't quit. In fact, in her old age she died of a heart attack while chasing a bunny track.

After a few years, I got another beagle that my daughters promptly named Pokey Puppy. She was a hunter and she was kenneled in a coop near my garage. That was fine until Johnny Davies dog sniffed that she was in the heat from a mile away. After the two canines became locked in the labor of love, I called Johnny and he came to get his dog. I secured my beagle in the house. Within minutes, his dog escaped and whined outside our door for hours. I hunted with Pokey for years.

I had always wanted a bird dog and, though I could never afford a pedigreed spaniel, I was given a Brittany Spaniel who was the son of field trial champions. He was great on grouse, woodcock and ringnecks. There's nothing quite like flushing a game bird with a spaniel on point. I enjoyed the Brit for many years and then he just up and disappeared. He was replaced with a beagle.

Dad and I spent an entire day constructing the best beagle coop in town. I purchased a chain and hooked the dog to the coop. She was named Meg, after one of Arnie Hayden's dogs. My girls were at the age where their hearts were as big as the house. Meg refused to get into the coop and, during a rainstorm, she was brought inside by the distaff side of my family. She stayed a housedog. Meg quickly wormed her way into my daughters' beds. The experts always said, "Don't ever take a hunting dog into the house. It'll ruin it for hunting.” I worried only slightly. Meg was the huntingest, barkingest dog I ever owned. She was a member of the family for sixteen years. When she got too old to really hunt, my wife and I would take her to a favorite rabbit patch and let her bark away and think she was doing some good against the rabbits. She died of old age and the family mourned her passing.

It took a few years for my wife to even consider another dog. Then one day, on a whim, I drove her past the kennels at the SPCA. Big mistake. There was a female beagle there. Of course she had a new home. She was 2 years old - too old to teach new tricks. She had been treated horribly by her previous owner and was in sad shape. So, after $350 in veterinary bills, we had a "free” dog. The Missus named her Baby. How apropos! The dog spends all day napping on "Mom's” bed, cuddles with Mom while she reads or watches TV and then snuggles all night next to Mom. Baby is in a constant state of hibernation. Had she been euthanized by the SPCA, she wouldn't be any closer to heaven.

I thought hunting was in beagles' genes, so one day I took Baby out hunting. I let the dog out, loaded my shotgun and walked to the brush, thinking the dog would follow. I stomped around trying to scare a rabbit into a run. I figured that Baby would take the scent and a baying beagle would be born. I glanced back to my truck and there was Baby, her paw caressing the door, silently saying, "I thought we were just going for a ride. I didn't want to get out and walk around in those bushes!”

I didn't raise my voice but called in my softest, most encouraging tone. I stomped back to the truck, determined to carry the dog into the bunny patch. No dog. I called and called. I panicked and raced around all the roads that bordered the patch looking for Baby. No dog. I raced home and phoned my bride. She suggested I pick her up from her office. I did. We raced back to where I had last seen the doggone dog. She said, "You stay in the truck.” She got out and called once. Baby came racing to Mom, tail wagging, glad to get a ride home so she could catch up on her nap. I never took her out again. That dog just won't hunt.

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