I wake up and look at my alarm clock-4:41 am.
I’m getting up in four minutes. I’m going to the kennels today! Ahhh I’m so excited! Stop. Four minutes. Sleep a little bit. Ok. I wonder where we’ll go for hound walking today? I wonder if Tarnish will still be coupled to Greatness? No, stop thinking, I have to go back to bed. Ok. I’m going back to sleep. For real this time. Reeeelax. Stop thinking.
The alarm clock clicks and plays a few seconds of a song before I spring out of bed to switch it off. Time to go!
I throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, wash my face, grab my old baseball hat, and make sure Arden is up and moving. Arden, my friend from school and a fellow equestrian, has always been interested in my fox hunting adventures, so I invited her to spend a day at the kennels with me. Once we’ve rolled out of bed and are ready for the day, we quietly sneak downstairs, grab a few granola bars for breakfast, slip on our rain boots and hit the road at 5:10 am. It’s 5:45 am and we’re cruising down the highway, rocking out to obnoxiously upbeat music, eating our granola bars (the new breakfast of champions!), and if it weren’t for the dim hints of a sunrise trying to break the darkness, you would think it were midday.
But with all exhaustion gone, we cannot wait to get to the kennels. 6:15 am we pull into the hunt club driveway. The whole way up I’ve told Arden what to expect today, why some hounds will be coupled to puppies, etc. while throwing in a few stories from my recent adventures at work as a small animal vet technician. Here are the notes:
-Cats are made out of pure evil, move like snakes, and have more pointy ends than any other animal to ever live. They also make the most demonic noises I’ve ever heard when they’re mad; sounds that would send Lucifer himself into hiding. A cat will only be loving and affectionate if it’s highly diseased, living in isolation, and you’re not allowed to touch it.
-I don’t speak owl, but I don’t think this one likes me.
-WHY do people have pet rats???
-Never trust a Shih Tzu. Especially if it’s named Poopsie.
-3-legged animals are the bomb.com. Yes, even if it is a cat.
And that was just from one week of work. I could write forever on the things I’ve seen since my job started there in May, but that would take much too long.
We sit patiently by the kennels while waiting for Shakerag’s huntsman, John, and his wife and first whipper-in, Kelly, to come down the hill from the house. A few moments later, and John greets us with, “Good morning! What time was it this morning?” as he continues to wonder why/how I continue waking up so early to visit the kennels. When we tell him what time the alarm clock went off, he jokes, “So did you even go to bed at all, or did you just stay up all night?”
It’s the usual ritual; laying out the troughs for feeding, helping spread the food, and watching as the hounds gobble up their breakfast before bounding out to the hound yard where they anxiously await their walk. We spread the Clorox and all-purpose cleaner to wash down the kennels, hang up the hose, and briefly visit the hounds before going out for hound exercise. A jog down a hill, a splash across a creek, and several handfuls of dog biscuits later, it’s 9:00 am, and I’m filling up the water troughs in the hound yard. I tell Arden to come in with me, and while I’m rubbing Georgia’s ear, I look up and see Arden running across the hound yard, with ten or so of the more playful hounds running with her. She’s running about as fast as her rubber boots will let her, excitedly talking to the hounds racing her. And I can’t help but chuckle because I can’t count the number of times I have done that exact same thing.
After meeting Major and Mallard, two puppies returning from puppy walk, a lunch at Gina Belle’s Café, and taking Major and Mallard for a walk on leashes down Kennel Road, it’s 3:00 pm and Arden and I sit on the floor of the kennel with the puppies. Major is pressed up against my leg as I rub his “sweet spot” behind his ear, and Mallard is completely passed out in Arden’s lap. We sit there, quietly talking about everything and anything hound/hunting related as the puppies snooze after their grand adventure. And it’s there that I realize why, even with hunt season months away, I love the “off season” so much.
It’s rising hours before the sun, knowing most of my friends won’t be up for at least another six hours, jumping into the car, and dashing up to the kennels under the moonlight. There is electricity in the air as the hounds inhale their food and wait anxiously for hound exercise as the sun tries to peek over the horizon. Standing in the cool shade, watching playful hounds tear around Fox Field, slipping and sliding on the wet grass as the first of the sun’s rays cut through the trees and scatter yellow and pink light across the clearing.
It’s being blinded by the sunrise, feeling the nighttime coolness sizzle away under the burning sun. The swish of dewy grass against my boots, hounds disappearing under the tall grass and watching them bound through the hay and wheat fields until all I can see is the tips of their tails and heads. Or the silvery mist that hangs in the air as the sun burns away the dew from the night before, making everything seem like an image from a dream.
It’s the smell of a freshly cut hay field, the thuds of happy hounds leaping across the damp earth, the playful barks from younger hounds, and the firm reprimanding voices from those more experienced. I t’s laughing as puppies get tangled in an attempt to figure out why they’ve been coupled to an older hound, and wondering why on Earth their partner won’t play with them? Watching them grow up and join the rest of the pack, seeing puppies from the previous year learn their place, figure out their role, struggle, but then learn.
It’s sitting in the kennel with lazy hounds surrounding me and insects buzzing outside in the thick heat of the afternoon as I quietly move from one lodge to the next, making sure to visit each hound, trying to get to know them better than before. It’s spending hours watching, interacting with, and learning more about each individual hound, and revising my hound list the moment I get home.
It’s carefully watching huntsman and hounds practice showing, trying to catch on to any special tricks to get a better stand, run, focus. Watching the huntsman and whips interact with the hounds, seeing them reprimand the troublemakers, and reward good behavior, while I try to grasp this thin, golden thread that connects the pack to their huntsman and staff. It’s watching hounds interact with each other, attempting to better understand the order of the pack, and how they are able to work as a unit. And realizing it seems the more I learn about this sport, the more questions I have, and the more I want to learn about it. It’s excitedly helping with whatever task needs to be done, from testing tracking collars and building coops to washing down kennels and scrubbing buckets, because a day at the kennels is better than a day anywhere else.
And it’s the dull exhaustion and heavy eyes that never cease to plague me after a day spent at the kennels, and noticing halfway home that I haven’t stopped smiling the entire way. It’s what gets me through the final weeks of school, and during our summer break, it’s what gets me through the workweek. With my studies put on hold, my mind only has room for hounds and hunting. Whoever decided to call this the “off season” didn’t spend much time with hound feet and rain boots, because it seems summer is the time I learn more about this incredible sport than ever.