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Dog coastin’

January 21st, 2014 by jomo

Leo Tolstoi’s War and Peace is my favorite book, and I
am reading it again with even more enjoyment than before.

There is a description of hunting hares with dogs which
reminded me of going with a friend to run his dogs many
years ago.

Gail Borden Tenant was in law school at the time. He wore
a white suit with a string tie and a panama hat. He had two
greyhounds. We went some distance out Webberville Road,
then turned off to the south.

We came to a long fenced arena perhaps 80 or 100 yards
long, maybe 35 wide. Cars were parked around the outside
of the fence. We were the only white folks there, but everyone
seemed to know Gail, and called him “The Judge,” as in “Hyah
come da Judge.” Many people had greyhounds (maybe some
borzois) on leashes and their attention was directed toward
the arena.

The far end of the arena was a corrugated tin wall separating
the arena from a brushy pen behind. In the tin wall were some
openings at ground level, about one foot square. At the near
end of the arena was a wood and hardware cloth box about
1 foot square and 12 feet long, divided into 10 or 12 sections
by sliding wooden dividers. In each section there was a live
jack rabbit. About 30 or 40 feet in front of that chute was a
line across the arena and at one end of the line was stationed
a man with a flag.

Three dog handlers would station themselves and their dogs
in line with the front of the holding chute, where another official
prepared to raise the door, which would release the rabbit in the
front section. The flagman raised his flag, the doorman raised the
door, and the rabbit bolted for the far end of the arena. When it
crossed the line, the flagman snapped his flag down and the dog
handlers let their dogs go.

Greyhounds running are magnificent – but so are jack rabbits.
Sometimes a rabbit made it through one of the holes in the fence
at the far end, but more often one of the dogs would catch up
with it, causing the rabbit to swerve away, into the path of the
trailing dogs. Then there would be a cloud of dust and tumble of
bodies.

The dog that turned the rabbit was the winner of the race. The
owner of the dog got whatever winnings came from his bets on the
race, and he got the rabbit.

As we were leaving, someone called out to Gail “Whatchoo gonna do
wi’dat rabbit, Judge?” Gail answered “Why, I’m gonna give it to you,
you pretty thing.”

The folks there called it “dog coastin’.” Historically, it’s known as
“coursing” and was a sport of royalty. And it was hare coursing that
Tolstoi described, but it was dog coastin’ that I saw.

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