Warhoop's Mad Dashes
Now and then, a good dog will go awry
That different people have different ideas about what makes a good dog comes as no surprise. Ask any gundog owner, foxhunter, or breeder, and each will take plenty of time to tell you what it is all about, supposedly. It is usually the stuff you can look up in dog books — how the Irish water spaniel invariably does this or that; how the good nose on a foxhound will never fail you when you need it; how you can be sure that a particular breed lives up to expectation. It all sounds so good, you know, particularly when the ole feller jumps up to you with that ready-to-serve-you look in his hazel eyes.
So, one late winter afternoon, after a small group of us had returned from a beagle hunt on Ridge Lee Farm, in Virginia, to warm ourselves by the fire, I overheard Amy, one of my whips, discuss Eagle Eye, one of our young bitches in the pack.
“She has all the makings of a good beagle. She’ll be a star, mark my words!”
On Saturdays between September and March we chase cottontail rabbits with the Waldingfield Beagles on various estates in Albemarle County, by invitation of landowners. But on weekdays, daylight permitting, we hunt them from the kennels at Ridge Lee, and foxhunters and beaglers will often tell you that you get the best sport and opportunity to observe hounds at work on these informal hunts. They may be right.
“Oh, Eagle Eye is a good beagle alright,” I said, “lots of promise. But there are and were others, too. Remember Eager and Grindstone? That was before your time, I think. Long dead now.”
And so, over drinks and hot soup, my thoughts drifted back to Warhoop. Now, he was a good dog! Never mind that he gave us a hard time as he grew up. He was out of Whynot by Dandy, another rascal. (In common breeding parlance among horse, dog, and cattle breeders that means Whynot is the mother, Dandy the father. It is customary to give hound puppies names beginning with the same letter as their mother’s name. So Warhoop, being out of Whynot, was a suitable name. Of course, hunting dogs are never named Fluffy or Sweetie Pie!) So, when Warhoop not only looked like his dad in his black, white, and tan coat, but also showed he had a mind of his own, I should not have been surprised.
Then, when still a youngster, he developed a peculiar habit. At the end of each hunt, he would pack in with the others being rewarded by huntsmen and whips with pats on their backs and words of praise, and walk in a tight pack on our way back to the trailer. But then suddenly he would dash off as if he had spotted a careless cottontail nibbling goodies near the tree line. Of course, he took the whole pack with him, doubtless thinking he had seen something they had not. For a while we, too, thought he had spotted a bunny. But after many times of nothing happening and rounding up stray beagles, we got tired of his escapades. So what to do?
John, one of my whippers-in, came up with an idea: He would position himself on the side of the pack from which he expected Warhoop to make his run, and stop him. That was easier said than done, but then, one time, we were in luck: When Warhoop made his mad dash, John raced forward to cut him off, stumbled, somersaulted through the air, and landed on top of Warhoop. A tangle of arms and legs, both human and animal, was followed by a loud squeal. Nobody was hurt, thank God, but the really good news showed only later: Warhoop never tried his mad dashes again!
So, we finally had him where we wanted him, and in time he would become one of our best beagles — steady, with a sharp nose, and keen as mustard. We took him on our far-flung hunts out West, where we hunted the big jackrabbits from the saddle across Colorado prairie and Nevada sagebrush. He even took part in National Beagle Club field trials. He was, in short, a very good dog. What we did not know was that Warhoop was not finished with us humans just yet.
His revenge came on a cold winter day. We met that afternoon at Rocky Creek Farm near Free Union. Clouds hung low, and there was frost in the air. I cast thirteen couple of hounds drawing westward toward Braeburn, where we found our quarry. A big cottontail got up and, after a few moments of confusion, hounds settled in on the line. Speaking loudly, they trailed it well, first through brush and along the bushy creek, then eastward across Ballard’s Mill Road. Almost two hours later and just before dark, they had run their quarry to ground, furiously digging at the abandoned groundhog hole where bunny had found a safe haven. We were all out of breath from the long run. I blew “gone to ground” on the hunting horn and praised the beagles for their good work. Then, Amy counted the beagles. They were all in except … Warhoop. I blew the “come away” on the horn, but to no avail. “Oh, well,” I figured, “he’ll be back. Let’s go to the manor and enjoy the landowner’s hospitality!”
Before going home, I walked back to the groundhog hole and blew the horn again, but no Warhoop. Where can he be? I wondered. He is a good homer alright, and we had not got on deer or fox that could have distracted him. So, after driving the pack back to the kennel and feeding them, I decided to go out once more to Rocky Creek to look for him. By then it was pitch dark and bitter cold. I blew the horn from a hilltop every five minutes and waited. Nothing happened. After more than an hour, I gave up. The only thing I could do was to go home and wait for a good neighbor to call. All beagles have the pack’s name and phone number on their collar and, I thought, who knows, someone may find him.
The call came the next day, late in the afternoon, from a lady. “Are you the person who lost a beagle?” she asked. “Yes! Oh, I’m so glad you found him. I’ve been worried about him! Can I come over to pick him up?” A long exchange followed about where she lived, but she was not quite clear about it. Finally, it dawned on me: “But that is Holly Hoffman’s house!”
“Yes, I am Holly’s mother-in-law,” said the lady. “Holly and her husband are on vacation in Florida and I am house-sitting for them, you see.”
Three quarters of an hour later, I was warmly received in the country home. A fire was going in the fireplace and the television was on. Warhoop was on the sofa watching a sports program. He turned his head when I walked in, but did not jump up to greet me.
Mrs. M. poured tea and chatted:
“Oh, he is a good dog with such good manners, a real gentleman. I must compliment you. You have brought him up very well!”
“I am glad to hear that. What…eh…what did he do?”
“Well, I gave him smoked turkey and he ate it. And when I gave him a bowl of milk, he drank it.”
“I see.” I patted Warhoop on his back, but he ignored me. “How did you happen to find him?” I asked.
“Well, I thought I heard dogs barking and I went out. And then he came running up to me. He must have been real hungry. So I gave him some turkey.”
“That was awfully kind of you. And ...eh...when was that?”
“Yesterday, late in the afternoon. I was getting worried because it was getting
There were a few moments of silence. When she spoke again, she had guessed my thoughts correctly. “I know,” she said, “I should have called you yesterday, but, well, I am from New York City, you see, and I am not used to the quiet countryside. And he made such a good companion! I hope you don’t mind?”
“No, I don’t. I am just glad you found him for me,” I replied a bit disingenuously.
Soon afterwards, I was ready to depart. I put Warhoop on my leash and thanked Mrs. M. again for her help. She showed me out and had a last-minute piece of advice for me:
“Be careful now, young man, don’t let him run loose again. He may chase a rabbit!” For a few moments, I could not think of what to say, so I just waved.
Back in the car, I put Warhoop in the passenger seat, then drove off slowly. I turned to face him. “This was one of your mad dashes again, wasn’t it? So, are we even now?”
He looked at me, then licked his chops.