May Sneek Peak
by John Gibble
A long time ago I wandered onto a farm in Indiana where I’d heard that a fellow had some good beagles for sale. The place was about as run-down as the fellow who lived there. His bibs were about three sizes too big and the holes in the seat revealed his preference for boxer shorts with candy cane stripes. He gave me a snaggle-toothed grin when I announced the reason for my visit, and with a wave of his greasy blue cap directed me to a converted hog pen where he kept his hounds. He pointed to a rather fat red dog that looked something like a beagle and proclaimed, “That there is a direct great, great, great grandson of Warfield Red”. Then, he showed me a skinny young bitch that retreated to the furthest reaches of her pen at our approach. “This young gal is entirely Blue Cap bred.” As we progressed along the pens, it seemed he had, according to his own calculations, representatives of the best of the breed based on his own line and in-breeding. Pearson Creek, Yellow Creek, Blue Cap, rolled off his tongue like brand names at a Procter & Gamble sales meeting.
When he saw I wasn’t convinced, the old boy turned to another line of persuasion. He noticed I had a bad case of poison ivy on my arm and suggested that if I’d take a nice potent bud from the vines along his hog fence and eat it, I would no longer suffer any reaction whatsoever from that noxious weed. I didn’t eat any poison ivy and I didn’t buy any dogs there. I’ve heard a lot of folks over the years, spitting out pedigrees, judging hounds by their papers rather than their performance. Some of them were pretty accurate in their predictions, but most of them I put in the same category as that old fellow with the holes in his bib overalls.
Looking over a pedigree is a lot like looking into a crime scene. Your first order of business is in deciding if your information is correct and valid. For instance, a few years back a fellow told me he had a bitch that had just whelped a litter. Thinking back 63 days, he remembered that she was riding in the same box with Pistol, but she was exposed to another male while in the field, Shotgun. Pistol acted kind of aggressive that day so that was another point. Looking over the litter, they reminded him more of Pistol in their coloring than they did Shotgun. So he registered them as Pistol puppies. It makes me wonder how many times guess work is used in filling out papers, and it makes me wonder more, how many times guess work isn’t right. Then too, I’ve heard about several big stud dogs that couldn’t get the job done anymore or they were overbooked for a few days, so a sibling or related pup stood in for the job. I’ve even heard about field champion bitches that raised 12 pups in every litter, two and sometimes three times a year. The point is: using a pedigree as a tool, is only as accurate as the information that was used to build the pedigree.
I kind of consider a pedigree to be something like the periodic chart of elements we were given in 8th grade physical science. At that point, we had to remember that “O” stood for oxygen and “K” was potassium (though many of us put down P for Potassium and forgot that P represented Phosphorus). In high school chemistry, we learned that the chart was organized by atomic weight; based on where they were on the chart, some elements were metals and other were gases. In college chemistry, we were supposed to be able to theoretically mix up a bunch of these elements and using complex calculations determine what we would get for compounds. Then, they made us take organic chemistry and that just proved that everything you learned was wrong and that you were pretty much a dummy. When it comes to reading pedigrees and predicting the outcomes of breedings, there are a few good organic chemists out there, a few college-level chemists, a few more high school students, and a whole bunch of 8th graders.
To finish this article, check out page 18 of our May issue!