Retired foxhounds can make it as house hounds with the right training
By Polly Wilson
I have a habit of bringing home strays. Therefore, it should not have come as a surprise that I brought Benny home. Benny was clearly becoming fond of hanging about with the second field rather than hunting, and, although we all loved to have him with us, it was time for Benny to retire. He was one of the original pack members from when the Few Hounds Hunt became the Green Mountain Hounds. Aptly named, there had been only three couple regularly hunted by Elaine Ittleman, MFH and huntsman, at the inception of Few Hounds Hunt. Three years before his retirement, Benny was nose to the ground and in the game. As the last few seasons progressed, he slowed down. By the time Benny was actually retired, he was beyond ready. I called his name and he hopped into the truck. I told friends that he came with his golf shoes and a condo in Florida.
Last year, a hunt member who was considering retiring a hound from her hunt had asked Terry Hook, MFH, what he knew about re-homing a hound. Terry then referred her to me. It has occurred to me that fellow hunt members might (in secret) be calling me “the crazy hound lady.” After a couple of emails about what to expect from a hound in the house, she thanked me and sent a picture of her new family member. I began to wonder how often people take retired hounds home. Is it common practice with hunts in general? How successful is the practice of letting members take on hounds? So, I put out the question to followers of Foxhunters on Facebook and to the huntsmen I knew, and this is what I found.
WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT
Kate Selby, huntsman for Green Mountain Hounds, says that she believes that it becomes clear when to retire a hound. “An older hound who is slowing down is one thing, but when they can’t physically keep up they can become a danger to themselves. Exhaustion, increasing lameness issues, and inability to recover quickly from a day out are all clear signs that hunting days are coming to an end.”
Ittleman has two retirees from her days as huntsman. She would rather see a hound in work for as long as it enjoys the hunt. When it is time to retire a hound, however, she prefers to see hounds go to a hunt member who understands what kennel life has been like and will understand the personality of a foxhound. Lorraine Groneau of Limestone Creek Hunt has retired out many hounds. “Some just do better to stay at the kennels and some have great second careers as house hounds,” Groneau says. When Limestone Creek hounds are adopted, a formal agreement is signed by the huntsman, MFH and the new owner. Terms are clear that the new owner is responsible for the hound and will incur all expenses henceforth. For hounds who prefer the consistent life of a kennel, Lori lets them stay on and employs them to teach the puppies their manners. Some hunts have designated retirement kennels. The Iroquois Hunt has The Hound Welfare Fund, a non-profit run separately from the hunt, which allows their venerable retirees to continue their lives in the kennels. The Hound Welfare Fund works hard to raise money to support the retired hounds.
Riley says, “First, you must know that foxhounds are the most grateful of all the dogs I have ever had the honor of taking care of ... or loving. They go day-to-day having the love and affection of one person — the huntsman. They return his love by hunting and working hard to find chase for him and the field of followers. They look at him with love and affection and then tiredly return to the kennel awaiting his next arrival. In the end, they transfer that love and affection — if only for a brief time — to the people that show them love until they leave us to go hunting with the ultimate huntsman above.”
THE HOUND IN THE SINK
Retiring a hound from its pack can be stressful. It’s a bit like what Eliza Doolittle went through in “My Fair Lady.” Until you witness it, you have no idea how refined a life house pets have in comparison to kenneled pack life. The good news is that, generally speaking, foxhounds are smart. They learn fast and they want to please. The bad news is that foxhounds like to run. They have a curiosity that makes great hunters, but can cause havoc when they decide to check out the new neighborhood. Hounds have a hard time figuring out what is okay and what is forbidden when it comes to countertops, tables, and other high places. Finding a hound in the sink is always a surprise. If you have other dogs, they may be stunned at how fast a hound can devour its own food and then grab its companions’ dinners as well. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that house-training an older hound is tricky and should be the number one priority to maintain peace in the house. Once again, the good news is that they do learn fast with firm instruction.
It takes a bit of time and patience to retrain a hound. One key element to making the transition easier for everyone is making — and keeping — boundaries. If you love your white couch, then make that room off-limits. If you can’t get out for a walk for exercise, then fence in an area for your hound to move about. Expect holes. Digging is what dogs do; hounds do it really well. I find a large dog crate creates harmony for all the occupants of my house, including the hound himself. It is a cozy place to den up.
It might be six months before you see the changes, but your hound will adapt. Or, as my friend and fellow hunter from Old North Bridge Hounds, Suzanne Adams, says, “I’ll never have another kind of dog but foxhounds. They are so devoted.”
As this season end approaches, you may notice a hound in your pack who has slowed down, and prefers to stay by the huntsman’s stirrup. Maybe the hound missed a few meets. This will be the hound that needs a retirement home. Step up and ask the huntsman or staff if there is a need for adoption. You will not be disappointed and neither will the hound.
Polly Wilson hunts with Green Mountain Hounds, where members call her “The Hound Lady.”