OUR BEST FRIENDS

whs-logo

The Sergei Foundation

shelterpet_logo

The Animal Rescue Site

B-more Dog

aldflogo

Pinups for Pitbulls

philadoptables

TFPF_Logo

Mid Atlantic Pug Rescue

Our Pack, Inc.

Maine Coonhound Rescue

Saving Shelter Pets, Inc.

mabb

LD Logo Color

Tag: coonhounds

Paying respects at the Coon Dog Cemetery

 
Ace stepped lightly between the tombstones, paused to sniff a clump of artificial flowers, then moved on – past Flop, Train, Daisy, Black Ranger and Bear. He paused at the final resting places of Patches and Preacher and Bean Blossom Bomma, then sauntered by Smoky, Squeek and Easy Going Sam, whose rusting collar is looped over the cross marking his grave.

We were alone at the Coon Dog Cemetery in Cherokee, Alabama – except for the 215 dogs buried beneath us — on a hot and drizzly Friday, silent except for the chirps of birds and the whining hum of mosquitos sizing up my ears.

I’d long wanted to visit the Coon Dog Cemetery. We’ve featured it on this website before. But those were long distance, second hand dispatches. Being there, especially when no one else is, is another story.

Between the bursts of color provided by the fake flowers on almost every grave; the eclectic mix of memorials, ranging from engraved stone, to etched metal to carved wooden crosses, and the homey epitaphs and monikers, the cemetery is at once haunting and inspiring – a Southern icon, and a reminder of the powerful, difficult to relinquish, connection between dog and owner.

Especially when that dog and owner were hunting buddies.

Located in a grassy meadow in the wilderness of Freedom Hills, the cemetery permits only coon dogs – 215 of which are buried there, according to Susann Hamlin, executive director of the Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau, which now maintains the property.

The cemetery got its start when Key Underwood chose the spot – not far from where coon hunters gathered to share stories – to bury his faithful coon dog Troop. On a dreary Labor Day in 1937, Troop was wrapped in a cotton sack and buried three feet down. Underwood marked the grave with a rock from an old chimney. He used a hammer and screwdriver to chisel Troop’s name and date.

After that, other hunters started doing the same – first those from Alabama and Mississippi, later from all around the country.

 
We found it after driving 15 miles down a winding road through the gently rolling hills of northwest Alabama, and for an hour had it all to ourselves. Then another car pulled up, driven by Hamlin, who was escorting a photographer working on a project about Alabama for the National Archives.

Hamlin said about three dogs a year are buried at the cemetery nowadays – a reflection of the declining popularity of the sport, in which the dogs track raccoons and chase them up trees before the hunters … well, you know the rest.

How much pride those hunters took in their dogs still lingers though, in tall tales, folklore and, most of all, at the cemetery, where heartfelt tributes are hammered, carved and burned into grave markers:

“He wasn’t the best, but he was the best I ever had.”

“He was good as the best and better than the rest.”

“He was a joy to hunt with.”

Every year on Labor Day, a festival is held at the cemetery, hosted by the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association. The cemetery is spruced up and decorated, and the event features bluegrass music, food and a liar’s contest.

For more information, visit Coondogcemetery.com and Colbertcountytourism.org. Caps and T-shirts can be purchased online, and proceeds help support the cemetery.

Better yet, check it out in person. Admission is free, but the mosquitos do take up donations. I added about a dozen more bites to my ongoing collection – a small price to pay for such a big, colorful and moving sampling of southern culture.


To read all of Dog’s Country, click here.

Speaking of coonhounds: Lovebug’s dilemma

 

Lovebug needs some love.

The 13-week old pup was struck by a car on a Missouri Interstate highway.

She suffered in the tall grass for a day, before working up the energy to lift her head. A firefighter and his wife,  passing by, saw her and  stopped, wrapping her in his firefighter’s jacket and taking her to a local veterinarian.

There she was found to have two fractured legs and a broken pelvis — injuries that will require the installation of pins and plates, and cost about $2,000.

“She has charmed everyone with her zest for life and determined attitude. We are a non-profit organization and any help you can give would be greatly appreciated,” writes Cheri Zaiger, of American Black and Tan Coonhound Rescue. “I just know if other people could see her face and hear her story some donations would come in to help her out of this devastating situation,” Zaiger added. The website has a box that can be clicked on to make donations.

American Black and Tan Coonhound Rescue helps all types of coonhounds – Black and Tans, Redbones, Blue Ticks, Red Ticks, Tennessee Tree Walkers. It rescues most of them from kill shelters, keeps them in foster care and seeks to find permanent homes for them.

Where bird dogs spend eternity

dilaneMinty of Downalong. Black Bean. Esquire Mulatto. Georgia Judy. Tipsy. Petey’s Repeat. You can find them all — or their graves, at least — at Di-Lane Plantation in Waynesboro, Georgia.

Hidden under moss-draped oaks on the former quail hunting preserve of a New York millionaire is a cemetery for bird dogs — much like the Alabama coonhound cemetery we featured a few weeks ago,.

Rob Pavey, outdoors editor of the Augusta Chronicle, recently dropped by the bird dog cemetery at Di-Lane Plantation, which he originally wrote about in 1998.

More than 70 bird dogs are laid to rest at the cemetery, which is in the center of 8,100 acres that once belonged to Henry Berol, heir to Eagle Pencil Co. Berol died in 1976 and the plantation was purchased in 1992 by the Army Corps of Engineers as a public wildlife area.
 
“It’s gotten to be a real point of interest since the state took it over,’’ said wildlife biologist Haven Barnhill of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which manages the property.

“Today, velvety moss creeps between the bricks along the front wall and the wrought iron cemetery gates are rarely opened,” Pavey wrote. “But the marble monuments are a testament to a glorious bird-hunting past.”
 
There’s Sierra June, buried in 1968, whose epitaph reads, “needless departure.” Lucky Lady’s tombstone points out that she was unlucky. Wrangler Sam’s refers to him as “almost great.” Tarheel Jack, according to his grave marker “met an early death due to neglect.”
 
Today, in addition to public hunting, hiking and recreation opportunities, Di-Lane Plantation is used for research programs designed to foster the return of Georgia wildlife, including quail, Barnhill said. Plans call for the cemetery to remain as it is, preserved for future generations.

(Photo: Augusta Chronicle)

Where coonhounds spend eternity

On a dreary Labor Day in 1937, Key Underwood wrapped his faithful hunting companion of 15 years in a cotton sack, buried him in a three-foot deep grave in a meadow in northwest Alabama and used a hammer and a screwdriver to chisel his dog’s name into a rock: Troop.

Since then, 184 more hunting dogs from across the U.S. have been laid to rest in the remote wilderness of Freedom Hills — all of them coonhounds.

The Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard is, according to its website, the only cemetery in the U.S. that allows only coonhounds.

coondogcemetery

The burial spot was a popular hunting camp “where coon hunters from miles around gathered to plot their hunting strategies, tell tall tales, chew tobacco and compare coon hounds. Those comparisons usually began and ended with Troop … He was the best around.”

Troop, who was half redbone coonhound and half birdsong, was known throughout the region as the best, according to the website, and after his burial, other hunters started burying their favorite coon dogs at the same site.

The coonhound cemetery’s headstones are crafted of wood, rock and sometimes sheet metal, and they pay homage to dogs with names like Patches, Preacher, Smoky, Bean Blossom Bomma and Night Ranger. Often, etched along with the names, are brief tributes such as one that reads: “He wasn’t the best, but he was the best I ever had.”

In a 1985 interview, Underwood said he once received a letter from a woman in California, asking why other breeds couldn’t be buried there.  “You must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs,” he responded, “if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs.”

To qualify for burial in the cemetery, the dog’s owner must claim their pet is an authentic coon dog, a witness must testify to the same, and a member of the local coonhunters’ organization must be allowed to view the coonhound to confirm its breed.

“We have stipulations on this thing,” says the cemetery’s caretaker, William O. Bolton, secretary/treasurer of the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association. “A dog can’t run no deer, possum — nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog.”

Bluetick, Redbone gain AKC recognition

lg_bluetick6The bluetick and redbone coonhounds — along with the Boykin spaniel — have been officially recognized as breeds by the American Kennel Club.

The acceptance of the three new breeds brings to 164 the number of breeds fully recognized as such by the AKC.

The Boykin spaniel will join the sporting group while both the bluetick coonhound and redbone coonhound will join the hound group.

The new breeds will be eligible for full AKC registration and competition in their respective groups at conformation shows held on and after December 30, 2009.

The bluetick coonhound gets its name from its coat pattern, which is dark blue in color and covered in a ticking or mottled pattern. The bluetick is noted for its skill in trailing and treeing raccoons and other small animals. The breed has origins in the English coonhound. In 1945, bluetick breeders broke away to form their own slower-working dog that could pick up older scent trails.

RedboneThe redbone coonhound is noted for its speed and agility and its ability to hunt and swim over a variety of terrain. The redbone dates back to red foxhounds brought to the U.S. by Scottish immigrants in the late 1700s and red foxhounds imported from Ireland before the Civil War.

Boykin_Simmons3The Boykin Spaniel, in addition to being the official state dog of South Carolina, is a medium-sized hunting dog with a cheerful, energetic personality. The breed was developed in South Carolina in the early 1900s by L. Whitaker Boykin, originally to hunt wild turkeys.

The road to full AKC recognition requires non-recognized breeds to first gain acceptance into the AKC Foundation Stock Service. After a breed has been in FSS the recognition process begins with a written request to compete in the miscellaneous class from the National Breed Club.  While there is no established timetable for adding new breeds, dogs typically compete in the miscellaneous class for one to three years.  More information on the process can be found at the AKC’s website.

The next breeds in line for full recognition by AKC are the Icelandic Sheepdog, Cane Corso and Leonberger.

(Photos courtesy of American Kennel Club: Bluetick/by Diane Lewis ©AKC; Boykin Spaniel/by Bill Simmons; Redbone/by Christine Smith)