112 PRESERVING THE HOUNDS OF THE PACK
PRESERVING THE HOUNDS OF THE PACK
Those involved in the world of hounds used for hunting need support if these precious packs are to be conserved. We have already lost the distinctive and highly efficient Dumfriesshire pack of black and tan foxhounds. This alone represents a considerable loss of unique irreplaceable genes from the packhound pool. We need to give thought to the long-term future of our harriers, staghounds, English Bassets and that valuable breeding source: the Welsh Hound. No doubt the ever active Welsh Assembly has the latter firmly in its sights but not with conservation in mind. With the new emphasis on 'Britishness' perhaps the hunting dogs of Britain will receive some much-needed interest from the public. The public try to care about conservation but have long been badly informed by the popular press about hunting with hounds. The Otterhound alone has reached the Kennel Club rings, one form of conservation. It is worth a look at how this former packhound is faring there.
Rightly, in these times, the otter is no longer hunted. But it is easy to overlook the enormous damage inflicted on fish stocks by otters in past times, when fish was a far more important source of human food. The ancient fish ponds represented the freezers of today and were often 'holding' pools for fish caught elsewhere but not needed immediately for the table. Wild creatures raiding these stocks like the cormorant, the heron and the otter were regarded as vermin - a threat to the well-being of humans. The otter was subsequently hunted for sport but the kill ratio, relative to that of other country sports, was low. Parson Jack Russell, of eponymous terrier fame, stated that he had hunted over two thousand miles before encountering his first otter, even though the ground was being hunted for them throughout this distance. The otter's lifestyle did not make hunting easy. Nowadays the mink, even with a different modus vivendi from the otter, is similarly difficult to catch.
In his 'Rural Sports' of 1870, Delabere Blaine records, on the subject of otter-hunting: "Dogs of every variety were also employed, and the whole rather resembled a conspiracy than a hunt...it is but seldom that we meet with an organised and in-and-in bred pack...Dwarf foxhounds, crossed either with the water spaniel, or with the rough wire-haired terrier, are used; but the best otter-dog, in our opinion, is that bred between the old southern harrier and the rough crisp-coated water spaniel, with a slight cross of the bull breed to give ferocity and hardihood." That informative account reveals at once the mixed blood behind today's Otterhound, as well as a disregard for pedigree, the sacred cow of the last century.
It is not the job of the Masters of Minkhounds to conserve the purebred Otterhound; it is their job to control the menace of mink wherever that considerable threat to wildlife exists. If they happen to use some purebred Otterhounds for this purpose so much the better. The fate of the breed of Otterhound now rests with show ring breeders. It is a challenge and a considerable responsibility. Otters no longer pose a threat to our larders and are rightly conserved. So too must be the hounds which once hunted them, they are an important part of our sporting heritage. If we do not respect their sporting past and only breed them for their coats, the 'uniqueness' of their ears, a 'very loose and shambling' gait and 'exceptional' stride, as their breed standard demands, then we will be betraying the work of past breeders like Captain Bell-Irving with his renowned Dumfriesshire pack. May Otterhounds whether in minkhound packs or in the show ring go from strength to strength, a distinctive hound well worth saving. But so too are the other packhounds.
Perhaps the best way of ensuring that there is a future for our distinguished varieties of packhound is sustained moral support for the packs, financial support for the Countryside Alliance, allied with indefatigable campaigning for the dreaded Act to be removed from the statute book. Hitler, being a Socialist, banned foxhunting in Germany as a way of punishing the landed classes. His work is continued by today's socialists, but who is punished the most? The dogs of course. Those who breed dogs need an incentive. Those who breed superlative dogs need motivation. Let's keep the bloodlines going - and the campaigning.