When I was young, I had a rabbit dog named Rufus. Now, Rufus was a good dog and a good friend but as a rabbit dog, well he had issues. I want to be clear here; Rufus was fully aware of his responsibilities. He’d been taught by Charlie, my brother-in-law’s beagle, just exactly how to find a rabbit and how to run a rabbit. Charlie was a rabbit dog without equal, he’d passed that skill on to many a beagle over the years and he did his best to do the same with Rufus..
Rufus learned the basic skill set. He could pick up a scent, follow it, flush out the animal that left the scent and run it around to me. The problem was that, when he finally got to me, the animal he was chasing usually wasn’t a rabbit. “How did that happen?” you ask. Actually there were a couple of different scenarios and both of them were equally likely.
When Rufus hit the ground, he was nose in the dirt right away looking for a scent. Being human, I can’t tell you exactly what a rabbit smells like and I can’t tell you how much its scent differs from, oh I don’t know, let’s say a groundhog. But I can tell you that, when Rufus finally got around to running something in front of me, there was a fifty-fifty chance it was going to be a groundhog instead of a rabbit.
For those of you who haven’t spent much time in the woods, please believe me when I say that there are major differences between a rabbit and a groundhog, not the least of which is that groundhogs aren’t all that good at running. They have a tendency to waddle from point A to point B and while they can actually move fairly fast over a short distance, they don’t have much stamina. I can’t tell you how many times the only way Rufus was able to finally get a groundhog back to me was by nipping at its rear end and coaxing it along. Wouldn’t you think that would have been a clue to him that groundhogs just aren’t designed to be chased by beagles? Sometimes he’d get a look and I could almost hear him thinking, “Should I chase a rabbit or a groundhog?” I guess some of the time Rufus just had trouble getting his priorities straight.
Occasionally, Rufus would decide on the rabbit scent and it was easy to tell when that happened. Beagles bark when they’re running game and when they’re running a rabbit they move fast. If Rufus had a rabbit on, he covered a lot of distance quickly and you could hear it when he barked. Everything would be quiet, then suddenly in the distance you’d hear him let out two or three close spaced barks. That would change into a series of barks spaced at ten to fifteen seconds apart. You could tell by the direction where he was, how fast he was moving and that he was chasing the rabbit in a circle back to wherever you were waiting. If everything went as planned, the rabbit would eventually run by and you had a shot. Everything didn’t go to plan very often with Rufus.
You see, most of the time when Rufus was chasing the rabbit he didn’t get back to me. I’d hear him barking and making the circle, then abruptly the movement would stop and the barks would all come from the same spot. After a few minutes I’d head off to locate him and invariably I’d find him standing at the base of a tree looking up. Looking down at him from the safety of a high vine would be a chattering squirrel. I don’t know what the squirrels were actually saying, but I could tell from the cadence and timbre that they weren’t exchanging friendly pleasantries.
It took me a while, but I finally saw how he shifted from chasing a rabbit to chasing a squirrel. One day I was standing on a high knoll listening to him run. I saw the rabbit coming and I saw Rufus fifty feet behind. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a grey flash and watched as a squirrel cut in between Rufus and the rabbit. When Rufus hit the intersection point he stopped cold. He looked back and forth between the direction that the rabbit had gone and the direction the squirrel had gone. After a few seconds of indecision, he switched directions and went after the squirrel. It seems that Rufus had an attention span problem and he was just plain bored following the rabbit.
I worked with him for a couple of years but, when it became obvious that Rufus was never going to improve, I got another rabbit dog and named him Scooter. After Charlie trained Scooter, Rufus stayed home when I went hunting. It was a little sad. I think Rufus actually did like to hunt.
Our Congress reminds me a lot of Rufus. They don’t seem to have a good sense of priorities and they have an extremely short attention span. No matter what your thoughts are about the looming “fiscal cliff”, it doesn’t seem like either party is interested in getting something accomplished. Maybe that’s because they’re in a lame duck session but, for me, that dog don’t hunt. They’re still getting paid to do a job; they should do it. If they don’t then our only hope is that the new congress is a little more interested in running rabbits instead of groundhogs or squirrels. If not, in a couple of years we’ll get a new dog and they’ll be sitting at home watching someone else go hunting.