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The Beagle

Click here to read the complete article

102 – May, 2015

by Amy Fernandez

True to form, Westminster 2015 was a stunner. Am/Can. GCh. Tashtins Lookin For Trouble entered the fray with solid credentials. Campaigned for two years she finished 2014 as the #2 Hound and #9 amongst all breeds. Even so, Westminster doesn’t dole out many wins to Hounds. Moreover, Beagles had no track record at all until 2008 when Miss P’s great uncle Ch. K-Run’s Park Me in First became the first Beagle winner in the show’s 132 year history. Which brings up the real question, what took so long?

That Westminster record belies the Beagle’s overall triumph in America. Charlie Brown’s comic strip sidekick is frequently mentioned as a primary reason for Beagle popularity. In reality, the breed was firmly ensconced in America’s cultural index long before Snoopy added his bullet to the charts. Recognized in 1885, Beagles entered AKC’s top ten immediately and remained there until ascending to number one in 1953. They held the position until 1959, hovered in the top ten since then, and currently rank fifth. Singularly friendly towards both humans and dogs, the Beagle’s famously merry disposition is only part of its wide appeal. Rugged, hardy and adaptable, its moderate size, visual appeal, and manageable care earned the breed unanimous approval from every sector of the dog world.

Considering all that, it’s hard to understand how or why Beagles faded into obscurity in their home country. Among others, Beagle breeder/historian H.W. Prentice addressed this puzzling phenomenon in his 1920 book The Beagle in England and America. “The end of the eighteenth century found the popularity of the Beagle on the wane and the establishment of foxhound packs in every county supplied the poorer gentry with all the hunting they wanted. Although a few packs were kept up, there was great danger at that time of the little hound disappearing altogether and becoming extinct.”

Purebred commentators discussed the breed’s downward spiral well before that. The Sportsman’s Cabinet dropped the ax on Beagles in its blunt 1804 assessment, labeling the breed hopelessly old fashioned, “Previous to the present improved state of hunting and polish of field sports, packs of beagles were frequently seen in the possession of gentlemen whose age or infirmities prevented their enjoyment of sport of a different description”. Along with creaky old guys, this dismal review portrayed beaglers as, “very timid ladies and neighborhood rustics not being possessed of horses”.

Writing exactly a century later, Watson offered no encouraging update on the situation. “Foxhunting became the supreme hound sport and Beagles were neglected as time went on.” Beagling morphed into the beagling tea, typically a brandy-infused ramble through the woods. These sedate social events were the antithesis of foxhunting’s edgy glamour, which became faster paced to compensate for Britain’s shrinking hunting lands. Coursing, the sport that had put Beagles on the map, nearly disappeared in Britain by the time of Watson’s 1905 Dog Book.

The advent of formal dog shows jolted some life into Britain’s stagnating Beagle world. Prentice described it slowly picking up steam. “In the middle of the nineteenth century Parson Honeywood got together a very good pack…I date his pack as the beginning of the Beagle revival.” However, the show ring was the focus of this renewed interest. He made it clear that conformation proponents were a minority, but they persevered, founding The Beagle Club of England in 1890, publishing a standard in 1895, and holding their first specialty in 1896. Essentially, their efforts hit that familiar brick wall of skepticism, the unshakable perception of bench shows as the downfall of working breeds. … “The Beagle in England, or I suppose some of the members, did take it on themselves to lay down a hard and fast scale of points, but I think very few judges took any notice of them.” It was hard going but Britain’s Beagle star seemed to be rising until the outbreak of World War I. Registrations bottomed out. Croxton Smith detailed this crash landing in Dogs Since 1900, “Then came the recession, so that in 1927 only two Beagle entries were listed in the studbook.”

The Beagle is a purebred anomaly in many ways, a point aptly illustrated by the breed’s diametrically different situation in America. In almost every respect, the American dog fancy took its cues from Britain, but not when it came to Beagles. Social perceptions and class judgments might have hindered its success at home, but none of that mattered here, especially those narrow parameters defining the breed’s use in the hunting field. Prentice noted, “One of the essential differences between the aims of breeders in the two countries. Many more qualities are required for breeding a perfect pack of Beagles to hunt the hare in England than would be necessary to the work of single hounds in America.”

American ingenuity and Beagle versatility, it was a match made in heaven, and unlike most imported hunting dogs, Beagles didn’t require any tweaking when they got here. Developed primarily for hare and rabbit, the Beagle was ideal for America’s varied hunting conditions and especially its cornucopia of game species. Like Prentice, British Hound authority Buchanan-Jardine acknowledged that hounds faced very different challenges over here. “Few people in Great Britain realize what a large number of hounds are bred and what a tremendous amount of hunting goes on in America.” He added that Hounds were expected to stick to the line for hours working cold trails in bad scenting country. This was the Beagle’s forte. They could be worked in packs, couples, singly as trail hounds or gundogs, in heavy, rough cover, and any weather for small or large game.

In the generic sense, American hunters had utilized Beagles since the 1600s. The first Kennel Club registered Beagle stock began arriving shortly after the Civil War. “Little is known of the Beagle in America before 1876, which was about the time General Rowett of Illinois got some from England. This gentleman had on his Carlinsville farm a collection of the highest bred horses and cattle and he took the same course in getting dogs of the best stamp obtainable, so that a Rowett Beagle meant a dog of the very best type”. Watson goes on to outline the resultant bloodlines developed by Civil War veteran General Richard Rowett and his contemporaries over the next two decades. Lines like Rowett and Blue Cap established the Beagle’s purebred credentials and fueled its soaring popularity as an American hunting dog. But there was still some work to be done. Namely, the type of Beagle was in the eye of the beholder. Its drastic variations reflected its colorful, eclectic heritage.

Speculation abounds regarding the Beagle’s origin. Documented references dating from the fifth century have been cited to establish its antiquity. Numerous authorities disagree. In his classic 1937 work Hounds of the World, Buchanan-Jardine cites several historical references saying, “the foregoing shows clearly the use of Beagles as hare finders for coursing; moreover it demonstrates that there were several different sorts of Beagles to be found.” He adds, “It appears that Beagles have always been found as species of miniature representatives of some larger types of hound. For instance, rough haired Beagles were once quite common, reproducing fairly accurately the type of larger Welsh hound on a reduced scale. Beagles were also found at one time exact miniatures of the old Southern Hound …I think that one can take it that the Beagle is, in origin, merely a kind of canine bantam bred down from larger hounds.”

In some sense, the Beagle emerged as a breed during the Elizabethan era, the first important phase of purebred development in Britain. Among other things, the stability and economic optimism of the Tudor reign engendered a royal passion for purebreds that has remained an unshakable feature of the British monarchy. Several important breeds originated then, including possibly the most famous Beagle offshoot, the Pocket Beagle.

Saying that writers have attempted to establish the Beagle as the oldest of our modern hunting hounds, Compton flatly refuted claims to its Plantagenet antiquity but, “we may accept a Tudor one, for it is certain the little hound was well known in the days of Queen Elizabeth who kept a pack of ‘singing’ Beagles as they were called.” Compton disputed oft-quoted references to Chihuahua-sized Beagles, but confirms that yes, 8-10 inch specimens existed, adding that royal Beagle patronage continued uninterrupted. Admitting that this represented the earliest purposeful breed development, he qualifies that by noting it was conducted with the same blending and tinkering that characterized the creation and development of most hound packs. His concurrent review of Beagle stud records revealed entries for “purebred Beagle packs, as well as beagle–harriers, foot harriers, pure harriers, a couple of basset hound packs and in one case, pure Kerry beagles.”

Somewhat ironically, the breed’s inherent versatility nearly became its undoing. Beagles were cultivated for every conceivable purpose from hunting to housepets. Prentice summed up the situation saying, “I think we may accept it as a proved fact that by the middle of the 18th century there were Beagles spread over the whole of England and Wales bred with such different ends in view that there were hounds of various shapes, sizes and colors.”

By the time that American breeders took a turn at the wheel, Watson said, “In the early nineties Beagles were bred in great numbers, but they were not the kind we are now accustomed to seeing; lacking the miniature hound type of head and body with the good legs and feet we associate with this hound.” Watson credited James L. Kernochan for initiating this Beagle transformation. “Mr. Kernochan rode with the hounds and wanted Beagles that looked like hounds. To get what he wanted he imported several very good dogs and their success set the fashion in his direction.” Watson called his Hempstead Beagles invincible and said, “from that time we have only improvement in the type of American Beagle.”

Prentice sent some of the first imports over during this period. “The first lot of hounds I sent to America went to Mr. William Iselin of New York, the next were some I sold to Mr. James Kernochan and amongst them was Florist, which proved very successful as a sire.” Jimmy Kernochan was one of many A-List celebrities that kept Beagles in the news. His exploits with the Meadowbrook Hunt merited TMZ-type media coverage. When he ran his Hempstead Beagle Pack the New York Times covered the event.

In contrast to negative social perceptions that haunted the sport in Britain, Beagling became an unequivocal status symbol in America, prompting Watson to remark on the inevitable dominance of affluent fanciers. Noting the dangers, he conceded that it was the lesser of two evils. “The breed is noticeable in another respect and that is the number of fanciers who breed good dogs, so that we have advanced to the position where importations are scarce…there is an element of equality which does not exist in breeds where the winners are purchased abroad at prices beyond the means of all but the wealthiest fanciers.” Moreover, these names kept Beagles in the headlines. For instance, on March 7, 1909 the Pittsburgh Press proclaimed, “William Rockefeller, of Standard Oil fame, is to be one of the foremost exhibitors at the Duquesne Kennel Club. He has entered eight Beagles from his famous Rock Ridge string…the management feel highly elated that these have been secured as one of the chief attractions.”

Kernochan soon had plenty of rivals as the Belmonts, Rutherfords, Vanderbilts, Huntingtons, and Roosevelts acquired major land parcels to establish private hunt clubs, dotting the land with megamansion country homes and fabulous kennels to house legendary Beagle packs like Round Hill, Thornfield, Dungannon, and Somerset. “It is rather curious to note that the sporting merits of this staunch little hound have particularly endeared the breed to our American cousins, and a writer over the water chronicles the existence of over 150 packs, kept by private individuals and mentions that there are nearly a thousand fanciers in the breed.” Compton had a hard time getting his head around these stats but had to concede that, under these circumstances, type and conformity developed at an almost miraculous pace.

Watson wrote, “The Windholmes and Rock Ridge have raised the standard very much over even what was accomplished by Mr. Kernochan.” He went on to say that in less than a decade they had usurped Philadelphia’s Beagle predominance, “which now rests upon the shoulders of Mr. Barnard of Bryn Mawr … The most successful dogs are now shown and bred by Mr. H.T. Peters and Mr. Rockefeller.”

That year, America’s reigning hound authority, Freeman Lloyd, profiled one of these packs for Field and Stream. “Away back in 1904 soon after arriving from Australia where we had been successfully hunting the brush tailed kangaroo with beagles in western part of the island continent, we were invited for a few days with the Rock Ridge Beagles then kenneled at Mr. W.G. Rockefeller’s place near Greenwich.” Prompted by his doctor’s dire warnings, Rockefeller chose Beagling as his recreational activity. After retiring as treasurer of Standard Oil, he spent much of his time at his vast Greenwich estate, which among other things, featured a private deer park. “Mr. Rockefeller told me they gave him more recreation and pleasures of outdoor life than anything else. Besides hunting the pack, it chased thoughts of excessively big business away.”

The Rockefeller brothers had founded Standard Oil back in 1870, gradually branching out into railroads, banking and a host of other cash cow ventures that kept the family in perpetual mindboggling wealth. Needless to say, when Rockefeller wanted a dog, only the best would do. Lloyd added that he was familiar with the pack’s breeding, having previously seen many of them winning at Peterboro Hound Show. “England was drawn upon in no halfhearted or penurious way when John Arthur Tatham was asked to fill the Rockefeller hound commission…To say that the Rock Ridge pack was an even lot as anybody could look over is to state the fact; happy, eager, splendidly tongued they were as we hunted the cottontail out of the swamps.”

“Some time ago Mr. Rockefeller gave up his beagles but luckily the mantle fell on the shoulders of his brother Percy.” Percy wasn’t the only Rockefeller who remained devoted to Beagling. Most notable was Percy’s youngest sister, Ethel Geraldine, who married Remington heir Marcellus Dodge and founded the legendary Giralda Farms. In 1948 Rock Ridge Kennels made history with Ch. Rock Ridge Night Rocket, the only Bedlington to win Westminster. Meanwhile, it was only one major player in the Beagle game. Equally renowned was Rockefeller’s contemporary, Foxcatcher, based in Bellevue, Delaware.

The New Years Day wedding of Jean Austin and William duPont Jr. was 1919’s social event, ostensibly because it united two of the era’s biggest fortunes, the duPont gunpowder/industrial chemical piggybank and the Baldwin Locomotive treasure chest amassed by Jean’s father, William Liseter Austin. That wasn’t the only interesting aspect of the alliance. It also produced one of the most powerful entities in the history of American horse breeding. Jean is best remembered for her world famous Liseter Welsh ponies, but the marriage derived from their mutual passion for horses. And for the next 20 years their shared drive, expertise, and wealth yielded many milestone achievements.

Jean’s father had already established a world-class Guernsey dairy herd at the 600 acre Newtown Square estate that became the site of the couple’s new home, Liseter Hall Farm. Not to be outdone, Willie’s father provided the newlyweds with an exact replica of President James Madison’s Montpelier, Virginia plantation. (du Pont had no trouble getting the details right since he also owned the original).

During the 1920s and ‘30s the couple traveled constantly to horse shows, racking up wins at the speed of light. Their spare time was devoted to foxhunting and steeplechase. Willie also served as master of Foxcatcher Hounds. Like the rest of their set, Foxcatcher’s private foxhound pack was an obligatory part of the operation. But Foxcatcher Beagles became Jean’s special focus. As the American public avidly followed the couple’s sporty escapades and jet set lifestyle, it reinforced perceptions of Beagles as status symbols and definitely kept the breed in the public eye.

Beagles consistently held their own at AKC shows. For instance, Meadowlark Fearnot made history as the only Hound to win the Westminster Sporting Group in 1928, also earning placements in 1926, ‘27, and ‘29. Then, in 1930, along with the Afghan, Basset, Bloodhound, American Foxhound, English Foxhound, Greyhound, Harrier, Irish Wolfhound, Norwegian Elkhound, Otterhound, Russian Wolfhound, Saluki, Scottish Deerhound, Whippet, and Dachshund, they were moved to AKC’s new Hound Group.

Ch. Meadowlark Watchman won it that year. But that wasn’t the only development boosting the breed’s celebrity status during this era. Beagle fans like Harry Peters, Jr., Willie duPont, and future Westminster president (1954-69) William Rockefeller used their leverage to create one of Westminster’s most unique events. Until then, Hound shows offered the only formal venue to see working packs. For a short time, Westminster hosted Hound pack demonstrations and judging to giving the dog show public an unprecedented look of this fascinating sport. Designed to educate fanciers, this description from the Gazette’s 1937 Westminster report portrays its scope and pageantry. “The program of the final day at Westminster was exceptionally interesting, and the committee, chaired by Harry T. Peters, is to be congratulated heartily.” Jones didn’t conceal his ambivalence about that sort of thing adding, “the special events appealed greatly to those not so steeped in canine lore.” In other words, this halftime display was purely for public entertainment. “One of the most colorful events was the judging of the best packs of hounds … brought to the Garden to give the crowd an idea of the variety of interesting sport on the hunting field. “The huntsmen, livery, and whippers were perfectly costumed in bright livery. The special horn used for each type of pack was blown, providing an added flavor to the exhibition.” Packs of five couples led by a master huntsman com-peted for two trophies. The top award went to the Foxcatcher Beag-les. Nice, but not the main point of show.”

Judged by Greyhound authority Joseph Z. Batten, Westminster’s 1937 Hound Group was hairsplitting, nail-biting, excruciating, and truly shocking. “Ch. White Rose of Boveway, owned by the Windholme Kennels had been favored to win again, but after careful examination of all the contenders the judge narrowed the battle to the Beagle, Ch. Meadow Lark Draftsman and the smooth red Dachshund Ch. Fax von Teckelhof. It was extremely close until the very end with the Beagle appearing to have the better of the tussle.” When the hammer came down it was

1. Dachshund

2. Beagle

3. Greyhound

4. Saluki, the famed Marjan II

Draftsman had accumulated a respectable record in the previous two years, but that Westminster drama put him on the map. Jones called him a superdog in his 1938 Westminster roundup. “From his debut, this dog has been a sensation, and at this year’s Westmister he looked his absolute best.” Recapping his triumphant 1937 BOB “over some of the greatest specimens assembled from all parts of the country” and close grab for Group First, Jones added “Following that show, Draftsman was added to the splendid Foxcatcher Beagles and he justified all high hopes for him.”

Foxcatcher brought Beagles to new prominence in the show ring. A major aspect of that effort was emphasizing the breed’s functionality. Foxcatcher Beagles were hunters, which entailed the usual risks that generally deterred dual purpose promotion of big winners. For instance, Ch. Foxcatcher Merryman became AKC’s 1937 Best American-Bred Hound. “The most famous 1937 winner of the famous Foxcatcher pack set a truly remarkable record as a ribboncatcher.” Noting his record of the year – 40 BOB from 40 different judges, leading to 20 Groups and 20 placements, the Gazette called, “the Foxcatchers a pack honored and cheered by every beagler. The mistress of the winning pack enjoys hunting and hound work. Ch. Delco Minor, the greatest winning sire of winners now nine, heads the pack famed for its quality, substance, and hunting ability.” Unfortunately, Merryman was conspicuously absent from the AKC awards ceremony due to his untimely demise.

Handled by Nate Levine, Draftsman became 1938’s runner-up for that honor. The following year, the New York Sun reported on January 27, 1940, “With due ceremonies the curtain was rung down yesterday at the AKC on the annual awards made to American-breds scor-ing the greatest number of variety group victories during the year. Thus Ch. Meadowlark Drafts-man, the merry little Beagle from the Foxcatcher Pack of Mrs. William duPont became the fourth and last winner of the grand prize, a check for $250… Draftsman was far out in front in the 1939 contest in a new system devised after the heated, close race the previous year. …The race this year was not close. Ch. Blakeen Eiger, which finished in the runnerup spot had a score of 257 compared to Draftsman’s 407.”

Meadowlark Draftsman seemed like the Beagle’s breakthrough Westminster winner. But it didn’t happen that time. He was followed by plenty of contenders like Ch. Kahootz Chase Manhattan, top Hound for three consecutive years with 29 all breed BIS and 130 Groups, Ch. Lanbur Miss Fleetwood, winner of 40 All Breed BIS and 120 Groups, GCh. Torquay Midnight Confession with 44 All Breed BIS and 138 Groups, and of course, Ch. K-Runs Park Me In First, who got the job done in 2008.

Considering all this, the breed’s Westminster success seems long overdue. But that’s a rather narrow view of things. The Beagle has been pretty busy, piling up records in field trials, tracking, agility, and obedience, in addition to its ongoing fame as a search dog, therapy dog, and service animal. Irrepressible versatility has made the Beagle something of a renegade in the purebred world. But it’s certainly assured enduring popularity.

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Posted by on May 14 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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