Springtime 1950. As soon as I stepped off the old yellow school bus I heard whimpering sounds from behind the big clapboard farmhouse. I ran to the backyard to find two beagle pups sitting in an old chicken coop, crying for attention.
And attention is what they got, all a 12-year-old could give them. Thus began my lifetime love affair with beagles.
One pup had a solid black blanket with tan and white markings on the legs and face. The other had more of a brown blanket with tan freckles on his white chest and legs. I named the darker one Jack and the lighter-colored one Joe.
They became my constant companions. We explored the woodlands and farm fields surrounding the old farmhouse. Both beagles displayed a keen interest in all the smells they encountered and soon they began tracking scent trails, primarily rabbits and squirrels.
By that fall Dad and I had made several rabbit gums, wooden traps with a door that fell into place once a rabbit entered and touched the stick that served as a trigger. Every morning before school, I took Jack and Joe to check the rabbit traps. If I found one triggered, I’d let the rabbit out and work Jack and Joe on that trail. When I came home in the afternoon, I’d usually find the pair curled up and sleeping after spending most of the day hunting and chasing rabbits.
They developed into excellent rabbit dogs. Jack was the stronger tracker and usually was the one that would push a cottontail out of his hiding spot. He was true to the line and relentless in pursuit. Very few rabbits escaped when Jack was on the chase.
Joe complimented him perfectly and he had one other attribute I’ve seen only rarely in rabbit dogs over the years. If a rabbit was wounded by a shot or just too tired to run fast anymore after a solid chase, Joe would catch the rabbit, lay down and hold it until I came to retrieve it. He had a soft mouth and would not chew on his prey, just hold it.
When Jack and Joe were about two years old, we moved to another house near a busy highway. The house was set back in the woods, well off the road. Jack and Joe instinctively kept to the woods, never venturing into the roadway. When I came home after school, I’d often hear them trailing rabbits or squirrels down in the woods behind the house.
Then tragedy struck.
One Saturday we were hunting a wooded area adjacent to a peach orchard. Joe had already retrieved and held a rabbit for me and Jack was hammering on another cottontail in the woods. Joe found another line that took him toward the peach field.
Between our hunt area and the peach trees there was a deep and wide ravine. The bottom was littered with limbs that had been trimmed from the trees. Joe trailed the rabbit down to the bottom of the ravine and started up the other side toward the orchard.
I was trying to determine if I could safely get through that big gully to retrieve Joe when a car drove up on the other side. Just as Joe came up out of the ravine a man jumped out of the car, grabbed Joe and drove off with him as I screamed, “Don’t take my dog!”
I had just witnessed the dark side of mankind. I have no use for a dog thief, especially one that would steal a boy’s beagle in broad daylight. I hope there is a special place in eternity for people like that.
I never got over that crime and neither did Jack.
Jack became listless, even morose. When I came home from school, I often could not find him. He was somewhere down in the woods, probably looking for Joe.
Then one day I came home from school and found Jack laying in the highway. I guess he decided to search the woods on the other side for Joe and did not make it across. I buried Jack in the woods behind the house and did not own another beagle until many years later.
When my wife and I got married I acquired four beagle/black and tan pups and started back rabbit hunting with reborn enthusiasm. That led to participation in beagle field trials. We have finished champions in the field and for a period we were active in dog shows and finished champions in the ring.
We have not been without beagles since that mixed breed hunting pack I started back rabbit hunting with many years ago. But while we have had some great field trial champions and show champions, those first two rabbit chasing beagles, Jack and Joe, hold a special place in my heart.