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The Otterhound

The Otterhound is a descendant of the old Southern Hound, and there
is reason to believe that all hounds hunting their quarry by nose
had a similar source. Why the breed was first called the Southern
Hound, or when his use became practical in Great Britain, must be
subjects of conjecture; but that there was a hound good enough to
hold a line for many hours is accredited in history that goes very
far back into past centuries. The hound required three centuries ago
even was all the better esteemed for being slow and unswerving on
a line of scent, and in many parts of the Kingdom, up to within half
that period, the so-called Southern Hound had been especially
employed. In Devonshire and Wales the last sign of him in his purity
was perhaps when Captain Hopwood hunted a small pack of hounds very
similar in character on the fitch or pole-cat; the modus operandi
being to find the foraging grounds of the animal, and then on a line
that might be two days old hunt him to his lair, often enough ten
or twelve miles off.

When this sort of hunting disappeared, and improved ideas of
fox-hunting came into vogue, there was nothing left for the Southern
Hound to do but to hunt the otter. He may have done this before at
various periods, but history rather tends to show that otter-hunting
was originally associated with a mixed pack, and some of Sir Walter
Scott's pages seem to indicate that the Dandie Dinmont and kindred
Scottish terriers had a good deal to do with the sport. It is more
than probable that the rough-coated terrier is identical with the
now recognised Otterhound as an offshoot of the Southern Hound; but
be that as it may, there has been a special breed of Otterhound for
the last eighty years, very carefully bred and gradually much improved
in point of appearance. They are beautiful hounds to-day, with heads
as typical as those of Bloodhounds, legs and feet that would do for
Foxhounds, a unique coat of their own, and they are exactly suitable
for hunting the otter, as everyone knows who has had the enjoyment
of a day's sport on river or brook.

The greatest otter hunter of the last century may have been the Hon.
Geoffrey Hill, a younger brother of the late Lord Hill. A powerful
athlete of over six feet, Major Hill was an ideal sportsman in
appearance, and he was noted for the long distances he would travel
on foot with his hounds. They were mostly of the pure rough sort,
not very big; the dogs he reckoned at about 23-1/2 inches, bitches
22: beautiful Bloodhound type of heads, coats of thick, hard hair,
big in ribs and bones, and good legs and feet.

Major Hill seldom exhibited his hounds. They were seen now and then
at Birmingham; but, hunting as hard as they did through Shropshire,
Staffordshire, Cheshire, and into Wales, where they got their best
water, there was not much time for showing. Their famous Master has
been dead now many years, but his pack is still going, and shows great
sport as the Hawkstone under the Mastership of Mr. H. P. Wardell,
the kennels being at Ludlow race-course, Bromfield.

The leading pack in the Kingdom for the last sixty years, at any rate,
has been the Carlisle when in the hands of Mr. J. C. Carrick, who
was famous both for the sport he showed and for his breed of
Otterhound, so well represented at all the important shows. Such
hounds as Lottery and Lucifer were very typical specimens; but of
late years the entries of Otterhounds have not been very numerous
at the great exhibitions, and this can well be explained by the fact
that they are wanted in greater numbers for active service, there
being many more packs than formerly--in all, twenty-one for the
United Kingdom.

The sport of otter-hunting is decidedly increasing, as there have
been several hunts started within the last six years. There can well
be many more, as, according to the opinion of that excellent
authority, the late Rev. Otter Davies, as he was always called,
there are otters on every river; but, owing to the nocturnal and
mysterious habits of the animals, their whereabouts or existence is
seldom known, or even suspected. Hunting them is a very beautiful
sport, and the question arises as to whether the pure Otterhounds
should not be more generally used than they are at present. It is
often asserted that their continued exposure to water has caused a
good deal of rheumatism in the breed, that they show age sooner than
others, and that the puppies are difficult to rear. There are,
however, many advantages in having a pure breed, and there is much
to say for the perfect work of the Otterhound. The scent of the otter
is possibly the sweetest of all trails left by animals. One cannot
understand how it is that an animal swimming two or three feet from
the bottom of a river-bed and the same from the surface should leave
a clean line of burning scent that may remain for twelve or eighteen
hours. The supposition must be that the scent from the animal at first
descends and is then always rising. At any rate, the oldest Foxhound
or Harrier that has never touched otter is at once in ravishing
excitement on it, and all dogs will hunt it. The terrier is never
keener than when he hits on such a line.

The Foxhound, so wonderful in his forward dash, may have too much
of it for otter hunting. The otter is so wary. His holt can very well
be passed, his delicious scent may be overrun; but the pure-bred
Otterhound is equal to all occasions. He is terribly certain on the
trail when he finds it. Nothing can throw him off it, and when his
deep note swells into a sort of savage howl, as he lifts his head
towards the roots of some old pollard, there is a meaning in it--no
mistake has been made. In every part of a run it is the same; the
otter dodges up stream and down, lands for a moment, returns to his
holt; but his adversaries are always with him, and as one sees their
steady work the impression becomes stronger and stronger that for
the real sport of otter-hunting there is nothing as good as the
pure-bred Otterhound. There is something so dignified and noble about
the hound of unsullied strain that if you once see a good one you
will not soon forget him. He is a large hound, as he well needs to
be, for the varmint who is his customary quarry is the wildest,
most vicious, and, for its size, the most powerful of all British
wild animals, the inveterate poacher of our salmon streams, and
consequently to be mercilessly slaughtered, although always in
sporting fashion. To be equal to such prey, the hound must have a
Bulldog's courage, a Newfoundland's strength in water, a Pointer's
nose, a Retriever's sagacity, the stamina of the Foxhound, the
patience of a Beagle, the intelligence of a Collie.

* * * * *

THE PERFECT OTTERHOUND: HEAD--The head, which has been described as
something between that of a Bloodhound and that of a Foxhound, is
more hard and rugged than either. With a narrow forehead, ascending
to a moderate peak. EARS--The ears are long and sweeping, but not
feathered down to the tips, set low and lying flat to the cheeks.
EYES--The eyes are large, dark and deeply set, having a peculiarly
thoughtful expression. They show a considerable amount of the haw.
NOSE--The nose is large and well developed, the nostrils expanding.
MUZZLE--The muzzle well protected from wiry hair. The jaw very
powerful with deep flews. NECK--The neck is strong and muscular, but
rather long. The dewlap is loose and folded. CHEST--The chest, deep
and capacious, but not too wide. BACK--The back is strong, wide and
arched. SHOULDERS--The shoulders ought to be sloping, the arms and
thighs substantial and muscular. FEET--The feet, fairly large and
spreading, with firm pads and strong nails to resist sharp rocks.
STERN--The stern when the hound is at work is carried gaily, like
that of a rough Welsh Harrier. It is thick and well covered, to serve
as a rudder. COAT--The coat is wiry, hard, long and close at the
roots, impervious to water. COLOUR--Grey, or buff, or yellowish, or
black, or rufus red, mixed with black or grey. HEIGHT--22 to 24

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