Today marks 51 years since the passing of Willet Randall. In 1970, I was playing in snow forts, riding sleds and pushing matchbox cars and my biggest worry was my mother forcing me to brush my teeth. Sometime later that spring or summer, I’m sure Uncle Joe mentioned something about Willet dying, as they were friends. Death to a young boy was something mysterious, unimaginable and incomprehensible. I had never, at that point, experienced death of a friend or family member. Just a few short years later, I had been bitten by the beagle puppy bug and was eager to learn all I could. I really didn’t understand the whole “rabbit dog” concept but there was something eating at me that I had to have a beagle. The soft eyes, long ears and pleasant voice all were calling me.
In those early learning sessions, Uncle Joe would talk about Willet and his hounds. How the remote Adirondack wilderness was some exotic destination and Willet Randall was THE MAN of that mountain. Uncle Joe would tell of Willet turning hounds loose in this paradise and he would evaluate, train and breed this strain we all know as THE PATCH HOUNDS.
I would imagine anyone reading this has read Wilderness Patchwork or has heard the stories of Willet’s humble beginnings as the Preacher’s son. Myself, I did not read Wilderness Patchwork until much later in life, after I had seen and had run some Patch hounds that were direct pups of Willet’s personal stock. I heard first hand, stories of the hard life and rugged winters that this Old man had to deal with on a daily basis.
For many of us, in our comfortable life, this existence is hard to fathom. Modern roads and winter road maintenance, four wheel drive vehicles and going to the thermostat on the wall to crank the heat up were unknown to these old timers. Dog food in packaged bags, vaccinations delivered to our door and 24 hour veterinary service were not in their wildest dreams. Add to that the rigors of an Adirondack winter and the general isolation that comes with being a bachelor in Beaver Meadows, and one gains a new respect for those the likes of Willet Randall.
I remember my first trip to the Adirondacks some 15-20 years after Willet passed and wondered how these people survived up there. Now I am no city slicker, much more of a country boy, but this massive forest was amazing to me. I had spent countless hours in the woods and still am more comfortable in a forest than in a concrete jungle but I do like civilization. I wondered, “How could these people live like this?” Once I got past Warrensburg, and people found out I was into the hounds, I would hear stories of Willet Randall; Stories of his cigar, stories of church, of cantankerous curmudgeons, the Ark Zoo and animals and of course, the hounds, stories of the hermit bachelor who preferred the wilds to civilization. At Mike’s burial service, several people came up to me with stories of Willet and actually the minister of Mike’s service was the great nephew of Willet. But it was Mike that gave me the most in depth look at the man, Willet.
Mike and my Uncle Joe made the trip from southern New York to Willets kennel in 1964. From that day forward, Mike and Willet became best of friends with Mike eventually giving up the life he knew and diving head first into life in the Adirondacks. For some time, Mike lived with Willet, taking care of and running the hounds and Willet eventually found Mike the 40 acres he would call his and his family’s home. Mike’s place was just a short trek from Beaver Meadows. Mike would get this wry smile when he relayed a story of Willet. There was closeness, a bond, a friendship that came through on Mike’s face when he thought and spoke of Willet. Mike told me of Willet being a great story teller and some of the fiction that he came up with. Also some of his peculiar ways, one in particular was when they were going through the mail. Willet would look at the return address and on occasion the letter was immediately put into the fire. (Yes, just as today, the Patch hounds AND the Patch Kennel have their haters). Willet was very good at reading people and their intentions. Some had their own, shady interests and some wanted to ride the coattails of the kennel. Willet didn’t concern himself with what was in those letters and just moved on and did his thing. Willet told Mike that some people had fooled him and got a hound from him but they would never get another.
Willet referred to Mike as “Wild Mike” and valued him as his hound trainer. Age was catching up with Willet and Mike, as a young man, was able to get in there and see exactly what the hounds were doing. Evenings were spent discussing houndwork and pondering the future crosses. Willet was still at the helm until almost the very end.
The last couple of years of Willet’s life were spent in and out of the hospital with Mike taking care of the hounds and making trips to visit Willet and making sure Willet was comfortable after being discharged. Mike had begun work on his kennel when Willet fell and broke his hip but Willet never got to see Mike’s completed kennel.
As Willet knew his time was coming, he and Mike spoke about the future of the kennel and the hounds. Willet’s desire was to not let his life’s work with the hounds just disappear. He gave Mike specific guidelines and standards that must always be kept. The standards of the longest continuing AKC Registered Kennel must go on. Mike and I also had these conversations about the continuity of the kennel from me, as this was Willet’s wish.
Would I have liked to have met him? Absolutely! Would we have got along? Who knows? My appreciation for those that came before us is unwavering. I have great respect and admiration for those that paved the way for us. Willet had many advantages over all of us as it was a different time. We also have many advantages of modern life that were unimaginable to our forefathers. The hounds were Willet’s livelihood, although supplemented by his writings, and I know some decisions were made that he would not have made if money wasn’t a factor.
I could go on and on about Willet Randall’s fascinating life, from Whooping Cranes to Foxlair. His death 51 years ago marked the end of an era. His legacy is as large as ever. I doubt there is a beagler alive today that doesn’t know of Willet Randall. My goal is to keep his hound legacy alive, to build upon what he had done, and keep the greatest family of hunting beagles alive and thriving.
*- I have several obituaries that appeared in various publications as well as the text of the Eulogy that was read at his burial service. Every trip I make to the Adirondacks include a visit to the Baptist Cemetary as well as the grave on Cleveland Rd.
Summer is moving right along and we will all admit, 2020 has been something else!
I added a few pictures to the website, it's obvious that I'm not a very good photographer but I'm going to blame some of it on the hounds, they are hard to get to sit still.
Below are 2 beautiful pups, I was calling them Speckle & Freckle but they have real names coming. Very plump, fiery little buggers! Hopefully they will be started before winter sets in.
Snapped a few pictures of some of the younger hounds that have grown up since I posted pictures of them. I'll put them below.
Pius & Tiana. Both out of Taya. Pius' father is a hound by Tiana's father (I know sometimes it becomes a little hard to follow)
I ran across this quote on the internet from Lloyd Brackett, famous for creating the Long-Worth German Shepherds in the 1950s. (Thanks Tim Hackworth)
"In the dog game those who criticize the system of line breeding far outnumber its proponents. This is true for several reasons. There is a continual influx of beginners in breeding dogs, people who have never before mated one animal to another, or made any study of the subject. In their ignorance they believe that mating two dogs with "pedigrees", especially if both are winners, or better yet, "Champions", is all there is to it.
Then, there are a multitude of breeders who refuse to take the time to make any study of genetics, who want only to breed dogs to sell and make money, and these have no interest in breed improvement through years of planned effort. Again, we have the many hit-or-miss breeders who hope for the good luck which sometimes strikes novices who by sheer accident come up with a real "topper" or two. In listing the opponents of closed-up (line) breeding, one should not fail to mention owners of stud dogs, hungry for stud fees.
Fortunately there are in almost all breeds of dogs a very few fanciers intent upon consistently producing dogs superior to the average of the breed. Many of these know that the quickest and most certain way to do this is by line breeding."
As 2019 is coming to a close, we have much to be thankful for in life and with the hounds. Spring and summer found us out with the hounds quite a bit. As we moved into autumn, work and life got hectic and not as much running was done as we would like. Always seems like there just isn’t enough hours in a day to accomplish what we would like to accomplish. We were able to get Katie started and running well, put a lot of hours on Tiana, Maury & Bindi and enjoyed the rest of the pack for many trips throughout the year.
We were only able to get one female bred this year, Taya, and that was disappointing. Also disappointing was the fact that Taya only whelped 2 pups (both males). Paco, at 11 has reached the end of his fertile years and that seems like it came way too fast. We are grateful for the pups we have from these older males and must concentrate on what we have, not what we don’t have. We have had some bad luck with some other hounds both in our kennel and those that have gone to other homes. My uncle used to say that every time you unhook the lead, might be the last time you see them. Now we haven’t lost any hounds but there are definitely choices that we would make differently if we had a crystal ball. It seems you blink your eyes and the hounds are old like the Kenny Chesney song “Don’t Blink”.
Pria went to another good friend’s home and birthed a litter this summer. Our pup should be here around January 12 and we are excited to see how that goes. Pria is a very nice hound that was bred to a nephew of Paco on the West Coast. Pria is the only female pup from Twila, who was one of our all-time favorites. We have high hopes that Twila’s granddaughter will possess some of those qualities that made Twila such a special hound.
Katie and Tiana (pictured at top) are quite the duo. They are both sired by Gadget and their mothers are half sisters, both by Paco. Further, their grandmothers are littermate sisters (Elsie & Annaka). (I know that sounds confusing!) For young hounds, they have the stamina and desire that we like to see, and both have a level head when out with the pack. I have seen each do some things that are rarely seen in a young hound. Tiana was a very easy starter, Katie not so much but when the switch went on for Katie, it went on full blast. They are both very nice hounds in the kennel and fairly well behaved. They both love to have an evening wrestling match that sometimes gets pretty heated. They both also love to give the squirrels in the yard a “chewing out” every time they see one. They are buddies and they always seem to be together.
These are Taya’s boys. I call them Pius and Peus. Sometimes puppies can really get on the nerves, but I think I got on my parent’s nerves quite a bit also. All part of growing up I guess. They were using the doggy door at 5 weeks and are as round & plump as any pup I’ve bred. They are full of fire and spring will bring on some good times as we just love starting pups. Our rabbit population seems to be down (too many predators) but I always have a few to get the hounds some work. I am really hoping to do some predator control and rabbitat enhancement this winter.
Once again, time has a way of slipping by and I haven’t realized how long it has been since I did an entry. Lots of thoughts running around my brain but I just haven’t had a chance to get them down on paper. With the change to standard time, I find myself in darkness after work way too soon. As I stated before, standard time is not for running dogs if you’re a working person. I wish the powers that be would keep Daylight Savings Time year-round.
When the females were going through their seasons, I spent a good bit of time thinking about pack dynamics, not only in the field but also in the kennel. Back when I was in college, I took a summer class in biology. Dr. Baker, my Biology professor, spent almost the entire semester discussing wolf pack behavior. Dr. Baker was an outdoorsman, had a small gentleman’s farm, and loved to hunt and fish. We got along great! Another advantage of summer classes was their class size. We had maybe 12 students in the class which enabled a lot of one-on-one time. Since that summer, I have thought a great deal about pack dynamics and pack behavior of our domesticated wolves, our beagles.
It is amazing to me how fast the hounds will figure out their packmates. They know hound body language as well as voice of the other members of the pack. I have said in the past, the longer the dogs are down, the more they will tell you. Some hounds work better together with certain hounds and some can be down with anything at all and they can take control of that pack. I always find it interesting to see where the young hounds fall in once they get some running time in with the pack. No matter what, I enjoy studying the hounds in the field and how they fall into their place. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a squabble in the field.
Squabbles in the kennel are much more frequent. It is sometimes tough to watch an Alpha hound (I am the real Alpha of the pack) be contested and replaced or that dominant hound in the kennel be challenged by an up and coming young hound. Maybe it’s just my hounds, but I have many more issues with females. Occasionally I will see a tail up & quivering and I just know all hell is about to break out. Posturing, ear set, tail and voice all give away a lot of what is about to happen. I tell people I don’t usually have issues at feeding time but that doesn’t mean I don’t have issues. Sometimes just a sniff the wrong way can set a hound off. I think placement in their sleeping quarters plays a role in the donnybrooks that break out on occasion. Hormones also play a key role and I often go back to the wolf pack behavior that I studied some 30 years ago. Beagles have a fearless streak in them, a stubborn streak, and a competitive spirit that I definitely don’t want to be without but there are times when I would really like to contain some of that high-spiritedness! As I was telling my friend Bob, some hounds are full of jet fuel (Izzy & Tiana) and are always on the brink of combustion. Then there are others that are never in any friction whatsoever. But on occasion I am surprised by the hounds that appear meek, will be the first to be on top of the pile. Sometimes a stern voice will stop and squelch the tension. Sometimes it takes a bit more. Sometimes a hound needs to be put in “solitary confinement” for a bit to cool her engines.
I’m not going to say that I have a kennel full of fighters because I don’t, but it is an evolving, constantly changing dynamic that leads to pack harmony.
Well here it is August, and it's hard to believe how fast time is flying by. I am not a fan of summer and people think I'm nuts when I tell them I would rather have snow than this heat, but it is definitely true. The temperature hasn't been as bad the last couple days but the humidity makes the air thick. It has not been going below 70 at night so there is not much hope for the day ahead. Also the rain, we are topping our rain totals from last year's record breaking precip. Later in the week, the forecast is for nighttime temps in the 50s, which is always a good sign.
The females have been coming in heat and just as last year, it is a consecutive process rather than a concurrent process. One is coming out and another is coming in. At present we have 4 in season and the males are letting us know it. Duffy has been doing choir practice all night and Maury heads straight to the female run after eating to see if anything has made itself available. A couple more weeks and we will be done for a couple months (Uggh again!).
I'll post a couple pics of hounds that came from our kennel. I love it when folks send us pics of hounds they have gotten from us or of their offspring. The progress reports and photos of them doing what they do, keep us going through the dog days when we can't run like we like. I will have more to write about these hounds in posts to come.
Bring on foggy nights and cooler temps!
According to Merriam-Webster, gusto is defined as: a) enthusiastic and vigorous enjoyment or appreciation b) vitality marked by an abundance of vigor and enthusiasm.
When I was a kid, my grandmother loved using this word. Sometimes it was in a positive way, other times not so much. As I've been getting quite a bit of running in lately, the word has come out of my mouth many times. Katie (above) hunts for a rabbit with gusto. She also plays with her kennel mates with gusto occasionally a little too much gusto. Her drive and search is incredible for a young hound, she hunts with such fervor and desire that is rarely seen in such a young hound. Even when she is out with some older hounds, she is all business... and I love it.
Taya jumps on her box for some lovin' with gusto. All the hounds like attention, but none with the gusto of Taya. She pushes herself up against me and nuzzles her nose into my chest. Taya also chews her rawhide with gusto. Some of the older hounds lose interest in rawhide as they age but not her. As I watch her gnaw and toss around her "bone" I just have to laugh. She is one unique hound for sure.
Maury jumps on my legs with gusto. One of these days he is going to take my knee out but I let it go because he is such a nut for affection. His voice on the line expresses his gusto for running a rabbit.
At the end of the day, many times I ask myself what I would do if I didn't have these hounds? 43 years of chasing bunnies around and I still enjoy it more & more.
Katie out in the snow before the big storm hits. Can't wait to get her running soon. She is one energetic pup, I have rarely seen her still. If her puppy voice holds, it's very deep for a female and seems quite loud. She has a sibling in Massachusetts that has started before 6 months. I see a lot of her grandparents in her.