The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was on television yesterday when my cousin texted urgently:
“Check out that bloodhound!”
I tuned in. I was immediately introduced to Trumpet the bloodhound, who paraded across the purple carpet, his handler trotting beside him, frantically trying to keep up.
The Westminster Dog Show is America’s second oldest sporting event after the Kentucky Derby. And Trumpet is—drumroll please—the first bloodhound to win Westminster’s best in show prize.
Trumpet is your quintessential blood. His loose skin looks like he is wearing a bear-skin robe nine sizes too big. He has enormous lion-paw feet attached to four telephone-pole legs. His prodigious nose can smell what you had for dinner on Saturday night, June 23, 1979.
I have had a longtime love affair with bloodhounds. I’ve had the pleasure of being owned by four hounds in my life, and they have been my greatest friends. There is something special about the breed.
Maybe it’s the gallons of drool they produce. Or maybe it’s the way they shake their coats, causing stringy, snot-like globules of saliva to fling onto walls and furniture, leaving long tendrils of mucous dangling freely from the ceiling fan.
Or maybe it’s the bloodhound’s voice. A bloodhound does not bark. They bay. Each bloodhound I have owned has had a unique voice that sounds like a lifelong smoker singing Whitney Houston in the shower.
Bloodhounds are obstinate creatures. They do what they want. When they want. How they want.
There is an old saying among bloodhound owners: You do not “train” a bloodhound; you drink.
Also, most bloodhounds have a genetic condition called dysmetropsia, which is a size-preception handicap. This brain disorder causes 100-pound creatures to mistakenly view themselves as six-pound animals. Which is why bloodhounds believe it is their constitutional right to sleep in people’s laps, even if this causes severe groinal injury to lap owners.
My first experience with bloodhounds was with my uncle’s bloods, I was a boy. He had two hounds for hunting. Their names were Pete and Repeat.
Pete and Repeat slept on my uncle’s bed, they ate from his plate, they rode shotgun in his Ford. He bathed them once per presidential administration.
My uncle’s dogs were black-and-tan bloodhounds with black bodies and red jowls that came down past their ankles. Their long ears were velvet, their skin was so floppy that a boy could get lost within the folds of their necks.
When I was a kid, Pete and Repeat were exactly my height. They slept all day, lying beneath my uncle’s 40-foot Fleetwood trailer home, pressing their vitals against the cool dirt. They snored so loudly that you could hear them in the adjoining county. They cost more than my uncle’s truck.
Whenever Pete and Repeat got hungry, they climbed through the giant hole in my uncle’s kitchen floor and started scratching his refrigerator door. Which was why my uncle’s Frigidare was covered in claw marks.
Sometimes, for entertainment value my uncle would feed Pete and Repeat beer. The dogs preferred Miller High Life, but would drink Pabst in a pinch. My uncle never gave them too much to drink, however, because he said Repeat was a mean drunk.
Repeat was female. She was fastidious and motherly, and liked things just so.
Pete, on the other hand, was big, lumbering and—how do I put this?—not Stephen Hawking. Pete lived by the moral code of all male dogs, which is: “If you can’t play with it, eat it, or mate with it, just pee on it and walk away.”
They were good dogs. And my favorite thing in the world was watching my uncle hunt with them. The experience enchanted me. It was like entering another era.
Watching those hounds work was perhaps the greatest part of my boyhood summers, ruining me forever, leaving me with a misplaced romanticism for hounds.
After sunset, my uncle would turn the dogs loose and say, “Go get’em.” The animals would fly toward the horizon like thoroughbreds, noses to the wind.
Whereupon we would march through the woods, wearing miner’s lamps, listening for their yowling voices in the far off, tracking raccoons.
My uncle knew his dog’s mouths from six miles away. He could hear them when nobody else could.
It was a spiritual thing, seeing those dogs run.
But my most vivid memory is walking with my uncle in the dark woods one night, and in a moment of quiet reflection, he said, “You know something? When I die, I hope I go to a dog’s heaven instead of man’s.”
I’ve never forgotten that, and probably never will.
So congratulations, Trumpet, on winning the 146th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show’s best in show. In a competitive world of blow-dried, Aqua Net-sprayed, fluffy, pedigreed, cotton-ball dogs, you make drool cool.