December 1949. Christmas break began the moment I got off the school bus. We lived on a farm, but we did not farm. In partial exchange for rent we took care of the owner’s game chickens that ran free around the old clapboard farmhouse and rickety barn.
I was almost to the front door when I heard a racket in the back yard. It did not sound like chickens, so I changed direction and ran to see what was making all the fuss.
There they were in a big grocery store pasteboard box – two beagle puppies about 8 or 10 weeks old, whining and squirming to get out of that box. And so it began, a 70-plus-year beagle journey with only a few interruptions along the way.
By the time school started the next fall my pups – Jack and Joe – were exploring the woods and fields around the house. I headed them in the right direction by building, with the help of my Dad, several rabbit gums (traps), placing them in strategic spots along the wood line adjacent to the fields.
Every morning before the school bus came, I’d take Jack and Joe for a walk along the treeline. If a rabbit box was tripped, I’d kick it over, let the cottontail run past my pups and urge them to get after it. They learned very quickly what their role in life was and they became very good at it.
Jack was the better trailer and could push a rabbit. Joe followed Jack’s lead, but he had another talent. He was expert at trailing a wounded rabbit and would lay down and hold the rabbit in his mouth until I came and got it.
They were a great team, but unfortunately their time ended way too soon, and tragically.
We were rabbit hunting one Saturday when Joe trailed a rabbit across a big ditch up to the edge of a peach orchard. I was trying to cross the ditch when a car drove up by the orchard and a man jumped out and grabbed Joe.
It was a hard pill for a 13-year-old to take, but the worst was yet to come. Missing his partner, Jack became more sad every day and took to roaming in search of Joe.
I got off the school bus one afternoon and found his body lying in the road where he had been hit by a vehicle. My beagling days were over for a long period of time.
Fast forward for almost 15 years – through high school, college and launching a career. By the time my newspaper career was established and I had met my future wife, I had a small pack of mixed-beagle rabbit dogs in a chicken wire enclosure in my backyard.
Luckily, my wife Jan had the same love of dogs, especially beagles, that I had. In our 55-plus years of marriage, we have experienced just about every aspect of having beagles.
I kept a rabbit hunting pack for years and eventually drifted over into beagle field trials, competing in sanctioned or “fun” trials with the same dogs I hunted with.
Along the way, we ventured into showing beagles and Dobermans. Our show beagles were exceptional and we earned championships on dogs we produced through our own breeding program.
But all good things come to an end. I was rabbit hunting and going to field trials every weekend. Jan was grooming show dogs and preparing them for the next show in the Carolinas and Georgia.
All of this was fine, until children came along. Raising children took preference over playing with dogs.
We stopped competing in dog shows. Then I bumped into a former co-worker who was looking for some rabbit dogs. I gave him my hunting pack. He later told me they were the best he’d ever hunted with.
That left field trials, which also were undergoing a major change. Participation lagged and clubs began dropping their fun trials. The only playing field left was the American Kennel Club licensed field trials. Which meant we had to have better dogs. So, we upgraded and began finishing field champions.
It has been a fun ride from those first two beagle pups – high quality rabbit dogs, show champions and now field champions.
Beagles are ranked third in best breeds for children, behind only Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. If you are thinking about getting a puppy for your children this Christmas, consider what it might mean for the future.
It might create a bond and a love of a particular breed that will last a lifetime.