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When They Get Old

by Dave Fisher


I knew what the “buzzzzing” coming from the grass meant. I had hunted rattlers with the local snake guys who usually after having more than a couple beers would climb into a small-wired enclosure to bag up four rattlers and a nice fat copperhead. I always wondered about the mentality of this. Didn’t mind catching a few, but never wanted to climb in a pit with them! 

            The dogs where running nearby, but “Boomer” kept slipping out of the brush to check me out, so I started the four-wheeler and pulled down the trail a quarter of a mile or so away from the snake. It was a little cool for an August morning so the rattler wasn’t in any big hurry to do anything; he just wanted me to know where he was. It was going to be hot soon, real soon, and I wanted to get the dogs loaded back onto the bike in the next half-hour or so. 

            It was another new crew this year, as seems to be the case most of the time. I can’t seem to keep a decent pack together anymore, and we’re always training new pups. “Bruce” and “Boomer” are two Run-Em-Over Tank pups from last year, and I had two younger ones back at home. “Sammy” and “Storm” now five years old, are still the core of my pack. They are not exceptional dogs but they hunt, hunt, hunt, and never give you any problems while in the field. 

     Sam was showing Bruce the ropes and they had taken this rabbit down and out toward the dirt road, then looped around to cross the rocky trail below me. Sam came out of the brush first, gave me a little look, and I pointed and walked to the opposite side of the trial. Sam knew instantly I had seen the rabbit and calmly walked across to pick up the scent on the other side. Bruce was just a step or two behind and Storm (his mother) was bringing up the rear. Boomer was with them, but it didn’t look like she was doing much or making any game, Disappointed… I was. 

            Even the excitement of seeing the timber rattler couldn’t keep me interested in the run. I was thinking back to “Bowser” in the pen back home, and “Lightning” and “Ralph” now buried on the hill below. Bowser was sitting home more and more now because I refused to run him with Tank pups. Bowser is a rough, crazy dog, and more and more I knew I had to do something with him. No matter what; it would be a hard decision. 

            I bought Bowser from Holly Wolfe just after our first trip to Beaver Island in 1993. Bowser was 10 months old then, and I had killed the first rabbit (hare) ever taken over him. It is still a very memorable run. Bowser is Gay Demon bred; his sire is River Road Challenger. Bowser is a fast dog, and at first fit into my pack perfectly. But his very aggressive running style brought faults to the surface quickly. He began to over run the end of the line, and was so crazy sometimes, he would create checks when there shouldn’t have been any. Holly always said that all this was from running him with “rough” dogs. I never believed it. Bowser was, and has always been the aggressor… always leading the pack. It was he that would not give up the lead for anything, and it was he that continued to get worse and worse as time went on. He wanted to stay out front and he didn’t care what he did to do it. 

            For all his faults, however, Bowser has a lot of hear and you could kill a ton of rabbits over him. If he got split from the pack… he’d run the rabbit back by himself, and it would be dead before the rest got half-way round. Then he’d jump in with them and steal the front, bringing the second rabbit in too. I’ve seen him do it many times. On any given hunt, he might jump 75% of the bunnies. A rabbit machine. 

            I figure now that I have had about 250 Beagles. Over the years I have culled many out, sold a lot, and gave many more away… very few have died of old age here. And I can honestly say that if Bowser hadn’t been such a marvelous rabbit dog once he would have been dead many years ago. You see he’s a “kennel barker”. He barks at people walking down the road, noisy trucks, the UPS man, company, distant shots, fire works… well you get the idea. Now, as he sits home more and more, I can hardly take his barking and the fact that he can work the whole kennel into a tizzy with that barking. And yet, I’ve put up with him for eight years. 

            “What should I do with him?” I asked myself, as the dogs jumped the trail below me again. Bruce was doing well, never wants to quit and Sam and Storm would certainly go another couple years. “Chase” was a lousy hunter, but loved to run the front, and “Amber” was an all-round fair dog. I know we could do without Bowser. Eight years… I would hate to see him go, but I had offers from a few friends to take him. They had few dogs and Bowser would certainly let them kill a few more rabbits. 

            The dogs lost the rabbit and finally came out on the trail to wallow in a big, shallow puddle. I swung my leg over the seat and slipped the bike into neutral. I didn’t say anything, but the dogs gleefully followed as the bike silently drifted down hill for another half mile. They entered another swampy bottom, but you could tell their hearts ere no longer in it, the sun now blazing like a furnace. They ran a couple small bunnies that shot across the grassy, tractor patch I was now on, but there was nothing you could call a run. 

            “I guess you’re ready to call it a morning, huh dogs?” I said to the group. Boomer, always under my feet, was scooped up and put into the box on the left side of the rear rack. Sam came over then Storm. Finally Bruce decided that he didn’t want to stay out there by himself grudgingly circled the bike and came in. Bruce is a real horse… bigger and heavier than any of my other dogs. I have high hopes for him and he has shown real promise of maybe taking over as the pack leader. He is strong, unafraid of the brush, and very independent. Only time will tell… he could be a dud, too! 

            I swung the bike up the trail and when I rounded the corner there was the rattler stretched out across the trail. I could have simply run the four-wheeler over him, but I hate to indiscriminately kill anything and rattlesnakes are actually protected in Pennsylvania anyway. He wasn’t hurting me, so I slowly made a wide loop and dropped into a high weed field and came out on the dirt road several hundred yards below. 

            It was about two miles back to the house and I thought about not having “Lightning” (Sam and Storm’s mother”) anymore. Lightning was 13 last year and was so stiff and sore she could no longer walk on the ground. Lightning… as close to the perfect dog as I’ll ever have. I couldn’t do it. I dug the grave in the training pen and my buddy Bob and Linda took her to Doctor Wood’s that evening. When they came back hardly a word was spoken. They already had her wrapped in blankets and had placed her in the grave. We all helped in covering her, then walked quickly back to the kennel, passing the graves of Annie Oakley, Ralphie, and Buster. 250 Beagles and only a handful ever lived their entire lives here. 

            It’s a hard fact of life that some dogs must be destroyed, sold or other wise disposed of or the whole yard would be full of them. I know myself that about 10 is all I can handle at any one time if I ever hope to run all of them. And it’s another hard fact that not even one percent ever turn out to be the rabbit hounds that I am looking for. And for all the time and effort I spend with them, I still try to keep in my mind that any of them could be gone next week. 

            I know lots of guys who think nothing of destroying dogs and it doesn’t seem to bother them. When I was younger it didn’t seem to bother me either, now I go out of my way to find a home for the dog or sell him to someone who isn’t quite as picky as I am. Some, however, will never be rabbit dogs and unless someone wants a pet, it is difficult to find a place for them, it is a shame but some must be destroyed. Holly Wolfe once told me, “It’s not a pleasant thing, but if you don’t have the stomach for it, you probably shouldn’t be raising dogs.” He’s probably right… but it is downright unpleasant. 

            At the very end of last season, I went to hunt with my buddy Denny Malone. Denny has a couple of my dogs, and both are getting up in age. “Gabe” and “Jennie” both did pretty well on our hunt, but it was obvious that they could no longer keep up with my younger pack of dogs 2, 3, and 4 years old. It’s just not going to happen. 

            By the end of the day, Jennie and Gabe were both left behind and Gabe was so burnt out, Denny finally had to leash him. It was a sad thing to see, since both were pretty fair dogs once. Still are, but they can’t keep up with those younger hounds. 

            So what do we do with them when they old? Destroy them? Yes, some I guess you have to. I wish I had a wise answer… I would appreciate other comments on this. 

            While I was writing this, a young friend down the road called and said he would take Bowser in a couple of weeks when he got a pen fixed. I am considering it… and I will miss him; I have had him since he was 10 months old

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