|Al and Molly before a hunt|
By Al Gray
Rabbits probably laughed at Molly. A gray-headed, bow-legged old girl of a beagle just would not have filled their hearts with fear. Her voice at full cry was a moderate bawl. She didn't have a fantastic cold trail nose that would detect where they had exited the sorghum field and tipped to their warrens hours before at dawn. Her legs were bowed, so speed wasn't a threat. Molly purely looked and sounded like what she was - a mostly worn out beagle bitch of about 7 years of age. She certainly wasn't the ideal image of a dog around whom one would build a rabbit hunting pack.
Molly would have to do, as it turned out. We managed to aggregate a pack of dissimilar beagles into a rag-tag gang of hare-harassing noise makers. Molly became the constant. Jack and Dolly had superior noses, but tended to get caught up in trying to slowly extract the last scent rising from the trail. Queenie was a briar-busting runt of a jump dog, who had no nose at all. Back-track sometimes ran the trail backwards. Mabel was an even more aged relic, albeit a wise dog with experience. Of necessity, we rarely hunted pine thickets or open terrain. When we did, there was Molly to keep the clan functional.
Over time, Jack and Dolly discovered that their master was full of praise when they lifted their noses from back down the trail and went to Molly in the lead. Queenie found it was fun to stay with the gang and lend her squeaky voice in pursuit of those cottontails. Mabel kept pace and often straightened the pack out where Molly sometimes hesitated. Back Track got left home and became a shot-deer tracking hound, as he confused the heck out of all the others, Molly included. By the second season, the group was a functional pack, just one devoid of speed.
Cottontails and swampers who survived a Molly chase were the ones who didn't sit on their haunches laughing. Molly had grim determination. Molly purely LOVED to hunt rabbits. Had Br-er Rabbit gotten close enough to see, he would have trembled with fear. The old gal had ears tattered and bleeding from dogged pursuit through blackberry briers. Sometimes one of those steel-tough green briers would have torn an ear. Her tail ended in a hairless tip, with only the peripheral hair left to offer when her tail was held high. The pads of her feet were like iron. Those bow legs might have lacked speed but made up with power to bulldoze through thickets.
In a hunt Molly was bold, audacious, relentless, and cunning. Without being encouraged or trained to do so, she took the initiative to find, defend, and retrieve a downed quarry. That the rabbit was a relatively huge burden for a 29 pound beagle carry never deterred our Molly. She had a heart seemingly as large as a whole rabbit.
Before the fourth season with Molly and company, life changes and the wear of time struck. Mabel passed away around Independence Day. Queenie had a severe back injury and had to be put to sleep by Dr. Garner. It was time to find replacements and to expand the pack with young blood. Over in Grovetown, Mr. Stephenson found himself with his own health issues in the form of congestive heart failure which ended his beagling days just as his 8 month old litter of AKC-registered gun dog pups was ready to begin training. His five pups found a buyer eager to accommodate his wishes that the entire litter be kept intact to form a hunting pack.
Those pups were significantly faster than Jack, Dolly, Molly and Mr. Calvin Clem’s contributions to the pack, Lucy and Mack. Each sibling had a different temperament and style. Molly would bend them all to meet hers. She became their mentor. Sapphire, the only female, was the first to begin running rabbits and quickly became the leader of the pack, always adroitly and quickly handing the outs that the rabbits would throw at the pack. When she didn't, Jack and Dolly had learned to release the scent trail and go to where the leaders were, so they were there to work out the challenges Sapphire found more difficult. Brothers Louie, Andy, and Pete were quick learners and became excellent rabbit beagles. Molly was there with them all.
The last hold-out amongst the Stephenson pups was Amos. The poor boy seemed befuddled and perhaps even afraid at all of the racket that the others made in pursuit. Amos stayed at Master’s feet. I could not shoot for fear of causing gun-shyness in Amos. This finally ended in a planted pine grove down below Girard, when a fleet cottontail that had far outdistanced the noisy pack darted across the fire break in front of us. Amos took off after him, barking in a high chop voice on the hot trail. From then on, Amos was a key member of the team that we released in open terrain and pine plantations. Alas, even a hot scent could not entice Amos into a brier patch. He would pace outside, hoping that the rabbit would play HIS game, not the rabbit’s.
The constant in the pups’ education in the field was old Molly. It was about the time that the naughty pups came into her hunts that she ‘learned’ to retrieve rabbits. Jack already had picked up on that as a way to gain his master’s praise. Jack was a burly enforcer, broad chested and 17 inches at the shoulder, which is large for a beagle. Molly had a lot of trouble because of her short legs. One can see the difficulty she had in this picture of Molly retrieving a rabbit.
I don’t know about you, but our pets at times have taught such powerful human lessons that it becomes humbling, poignant, and powerful all at the same time. Molly rarely led the pack any more. Sapphire and Pete seemed to have jumped to the fore. From the outset, they had more speed. It might have hurt the old girl’s feelings, but Molly was all heart, with a smidgeon of cunning.
Most of the pups early training was in open terrain and planted pine plantations, but by late in the season, the hunting party had to resort to unconventional habitat. One of the toughest venues for rabbit hunts were the brier choked drainage ditches for fields with center pivot irrigation. Down by Highway 301, near Rubin Oliver’s place, there was such a place. At the rear was a water filled canal that was too wide for us to leap. The water was too deep to wade.
A rabbit jumped up along one of the center ditches, exploited a gap in our containment to the sound of three desperate shots from Cousin Hugh, and dashed to the rear of the field and into the dense blackberry patch there. Pete and Sapphire led the pack in pursuit. When the beagles reached the ditch, all noise stopped. The rabbit had swum the ditch. Five young beagle gun dogs were left clueless and whining at the edge of that canal. Suddenly, there was a graying blur as this bow legged doyenne of a wizened huntress barged through the youngsters and leapt into the water with no hesitation. The five whiners quickly followed her example and swam to the other side, where a furious pursuit of Mr. Rabbit resumed that lasted until dark.
The sight of Molly’s charge into the canal became more than a fixed memory; It became an inspiration for her masters. Molly took charge and plunged into what looked to her companions like a well of doom. Despite her age, aching bow legs, and the coldness of the water, Molly knew her duty and did not shrink from it. She inspired the youngsters around her and taught them with leadership in action.
We should all do the same in these times of encountering vast moats of troubles.
Molly in Action