by Philip O'Neil
Every serious rabbit hunter it seems is in a constant, seemingly life-long search for the “perfect rabbit dog.” Most are lucky to enjoy the companionship of one or maybe two exceptional dogs in a lifetime. They are, as the saying goes “few and far between.” Some dogs although not perfect, are special in their own way, and that is enough to make us happy for the most part. The others, those that do not make the cut can provide us with experience, wisdom, frustration and even humor. We learn important lessons from these poor creatures about what to avoid in a dog. Most importantly, we learn a lot about ourselves i.e. what we are willing to tolerate, how strong our marriage is, and how stubborn or maybe, stupid we are in maintaining a "glimmer of hope" for a transformation from dud to super-dog. Let me share with you several stories of dogs that for various reasons did not make the grade.
I will start with “Rio,” a beautiful young Beagle from exceptional bloodlines touted as a sure bet…. Right! This dog was unfortunately misnamed, as a pup for her legacy was to be that of an escape artist. “Houdini” would have been a more fitting name for this 13” torment on legs. She was safe and secure in the confines of the kennel however forays into the garden consistently resulted in escapes to neighbor’s homes, the local grocery store (“Beagle in aisle 7”) and of course, the dog pound. I have to give credit where credit is due. She was a master of escape and always found a way. Strangely enough the other dogs never escaped by following her out of the garden. My endless efforts to secure the garden resulted in “Alcapup,” a doggy fortress mocked by friends and neighbors alike. Fortunately, my wife merely raised her eyebrows and shook her head in wonderment…at least I think that is what it was. Ironically Rio escaped when I inadvertently left the gate open while doing work in the garden. My efforts to find her were in vain. Perhaps she had another calling but more than likely she is out there running rabbits and making another hunter’s life miserable.
Next came “Dusty,” affectionately named for the dusty color of his coat. After having him at home for a couple of weeks my hunting buddies suggested I rename him “Musty” because, well, he stank! It didn’t matter how many times I washed that dog. He really smelled bad. The vet had no helpful suggestions so I put up with the abuse from my buddies and promised my wife to never, “never” let him in the house. To his credit he was an aggressive hunter but unfortunately he did not produce many rabbits. My hunting partners theorized that the rabbits smelled him long before he got anywhere near them and were long gone. Another popular theory was that his putrid smell had burned all of the smell receptors out of his nose rendering him “olfactorilly” challenged. Regardless, Dusty just didn’t have it and is now living on a farm where malodorous airs are the norm.
I will end my tale with “Bandit,” a dog that tested my mettle and pushed me to the brink rabbit hunting retirement. A bundle of joy as a pup, a gangly frolicking juvenile, a freak of nature as an adult, he grew to twice his intended size leaving me to believe that his mother had mated with a quarter horse. Poor Bandit, he was “the missing link”. His brain never seemed to fully develop as he was incapable of anything beyond the basic activities of daily living…eating, sleeping, s…. I think you get the picture. He did manage to “start” a few rabbits but would let out a blood curdling “bawl” unfamiliar to any rabbit hunter. After chasing the rabbit for a minute or two he would return, tail wagging and as proud as a peacock for his accomplishments. He never fully circled a rabbit in his tenure with me and after two years of misery and, following the removal of his genetic transferring capabilities, was given to a good home for a pet. Good riddance!
All serious rabbit hunters are delusional at times, and our passion often blinds us with the promise of perfection in the next litter. It is what makes us a special breed and keeps us in the game. I hope I have not painted a negative picture in my attempt at humor as all of my dogs have taught me something and added to my life. Ten years of therapy has helped me to understand that.