By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Special Correspondent
The first time I heard of a coonhound was when I got a call that my mother had randomly adopted a dog while I was away at college. Our elderly beagle had passed away, and she was itching to find a new companion for our lonely beagle. Without telling anyone what she was doing, my mom went to a rescue, found Lewis, an elderly coonhound initially from Tennessee, and took him home. She was told that he was found in the woods by himself, probably left there by his owner because he was too old or because he became separated from his pack. He was seven years old, arthritic, had no teeth, and would bark during the entire duration of his walks, sometimes 36 times in one breath. My mother, dedicated to finding and adopting the most misfit of hounds, found Lewis to be the perfect southern gentlemen to bring home and join our family. He walked through the front door, decided that a chair in the living room was his, and decided that this was his home.
Whether you've known it or not, you have probably seen a coonhound. Goofy, one of Mickey Mouse's good pals, is believed to be a black and tan coonhound. Those who have read the beloved children’s novel, “Where the Red Fern Grows,” have read about redbone coonhounds. If you have ever gone for a hike or walk in the woods or near a field and heard howling, there’s a good chance you have heard a coonhound.
That's exactly what people walking at Borderlands State Park heard on Saturday during a meet-up of coonhounds and beagles. The walk was organized by the Northeast Coonhound Rescue, a dog rescue dedicated to the saving and re-homing of these gentle giants and their smaller hound cousins.
Readers of Hometown Weekly, no doubt, are familiar with some of these striking hounds; they are often featured in the paper’s Pet of the Week page.
Coonhounds are a bit of an anomalous enigma in the Northeast. “Someone once asked to take a picture of my dog,” noted one walker. To many, coonhounds resemble overgrown beagles, but there are some key differences, including size and purpose. Some coonhounds weigh up to 80 pounds, whereas beagles, on average, only get up to 30 at their heaviest. There are six breed variations of coonhound: the black and tan coonhound, the redbone coonhound, the English coonhound, the bluetick coonhound, the treewalker coonhound, and the plot hound.
Like their beagle brethren, coonhounds were bred to hunt. However, Beagles were meant to hunt rabbits and smaller game. Coonhounds stalk bigger prey that retreats to the trees when threatened. This method of hunting is known as treeing. During the hunt, the dog will drive the animal to the safety of a tree and bark ceaselessly until the hunter arrives. Coonhound are known for hunting raccoons, opossums, and even creatures bigger than themselves, like bears and bobcats. In some places, they are even known to hunt wild pigs. Treeing is still used as a hunting method today, but it is also used for conservation and scientific efforts. Because treeing dogs are taught not to kill their prey, scientists use them as a way to safely track and tag animals.
Northeast Coonhound Rescue has hosted at least one walk every year for the last five years. Ann Lambertus has been helped run Northeast Coonhound Rescue for the past ten years. A proud owner of a coonhound herself, Lambertus has aided in the transport and adoption of over 750 dogs. Most of these hounds have been picked out of southern kill shelters and driven to New England for a better chance of being adopted. She says that the walks the rescue organizes each year, "Promote the breed and let the public meet them. And encourage adoption and encourage networking."
During the trek, visitors could see the agile and goofy behaviors of the coonhounds in attendance. One dog continued to bark throughout the entire two-and-a-half mile trek. Marsha and Roy Vespa watched as their dog, MC, took a dip in one of the ponds. Once in a while, a beagle or a coonhound took a break to roll around in the dirt, finding a scent more pleasant than their owners would once they got back to their car. Some of these dogs seemed to be dragging their owners along, rather than enjoying a leisurely stroll.
Coonhounds are notorious for being energetic. They are the perfect dog for the person who wants a jogging or walking buddy (even in their senior years), but also want a dedicated couch potato in the house during downtime. They can be persistently stubborn, and tend to get their own way, whether you let them or not (they have great noses and will hunt down that treat bag left on the counter, for example). They love people and can be great with kids. They are goofy love-bugs who work hard and adore their owners and treats.
If you’re considering picking up a new canine companion, consider one of these lovely goofballs - perhaps there is a vacant chair in your own living room that could use a friendly occupant.
More information about Northeast Coonhound Rescue can be found at necoonhoundrescue.org.