22 July….on this day in 1793 Alexander Mackenzie reached the Pacific Ocean after crossing Canada over land
Day 1, Year 1…Scent has bedeviled huntsmen since. For a human to understand scent is difficult given our minimal olfactory equipment. As is the case with humans, what we don’t understand, we create fanciful theories often declaimed at high volume or written with amusing self regard. Let me be clear, this is what I understand about fox scent:
- It is heavier than rabbit, lighter than coyote and always, always variable
- Books cite those areas of a fox’s body i.e. the pads, the glands near the anus, the fur itself as sources of scent. While the above may be true, it doesn’t address the nagging possibility a fox may be able to control his/her scent.
- Scent is stronger during mating season.
- The weather affects scent. The problem here is one hears rules such as when the earth exhales, scent is stronger. Sounds good and is good, yet I have been out on those overcast, earth breathing days and sometimes nothing. Other times, usually more often than not, a barnburner.
Each of you has been out on one of those supposedly bad days and run like blazes. Why?
As I’ve mentioned, at least in talking with others, topography, soil, and subsoil, atmospheric conditions, plant species affect scent. I don’t always know why, but I know the soils next to rivers and creeks contain water underground, unless it’s all rock. Davis loam isn’t bad for scent and nothing is better than earth the color of chocolate ice cream. A bluff on one side of water with land below helps keep scent in one place longer. If you learn to read the land topography, it’s obvious yet again, think of the times you’ve had a great run over sun baked red clay. Maybe not as often as on moister soil, but still it has to make you wonder.
My conclusion is that humans will never understand scent and I don’t think hounds do either, but they will find it long before we do.
Here’s some stimulating research on scent. I cite verbatim a report in the discovery section of “The Manchester Guardian Weekly”, July 18, 2014. The heading is “Quantum effects exist in biology. In part: “If you were designing life from scratch, you’d probably want to avoid the vagaries of quantum theory. Quantum particles such as atoms and electrons do strange things. They can be in two different places at once or be affected by measurements performed on other particles. Surely such things could only be a hindrance to the smooth functioning of life’s processes?”
That’s what Erwin Schrödinger said in 1944. Life, he decided had to be built on a scale that would bury all the weird quantum effects. But Schrödinger was wrong. Plants, for instance, use quantum theory to harvest energy from the sun.
There are also hints that smell is a quantum sense. Our noses appear to work by sensing the natural vibration frequencies of the bonds between atoms and molecules. Those frequencies determine whether a smell receptor is switched on and sends a signal to the brain. The best explanation for experimental observations involves an electron using a phenomenon known as quantum uncertainty to tunnel through a seemingly impenetrable barrier. Essentially, it borrows energy from the universe to leap across an empty space in the smell receptors and triggers the brain’s sense of smell. As long as it returns the energy quickly enough, the electron can use as much as it needs. This “quantum tunneling” phenomenon is also at the heart of electronics.
Reader, you and I have roughly 10 million scent receptors. A foxhound has at least 100 million and some studies declare 200 million. Can you imagine what this “quantum tunneling” (English spelling) means to them or in the hunt field?
July 12, 2014 WSJ ran an article in their science section about skin cells’ sense of smell. Again, the experiments used humans exposed to a form of synthetic sandalwood. They posit that ORs (olfactory receptors) specialize in particular odor molecules. Sandalwood applied to skin cells stimulated calcium release and the researchers put forth the concept that additional scent receptors outside the body, and possibly even inside the body, help us survive or as WSJ quotes a scientist, “We have only just begun to identify the non-olfactory, ancestral function of ORs in epithelial biology.”
For a huntsman or a foxhunter interested in hounds, such findings provoke more questions and no little excitement. Although hound skin is covered with fur, their noses and pads are not. At this point, I don’t know if any research on non-nasal canine ORs is in progress.
However, I can tell you this: A hound’s pads absorb chemicals. Their sensitivity to insecticides, plant killers, exceeds our own and the cumulative effect over years does damage them internally. Whether it damages scent receptors, my hunch is, yes. Not only do they have the chemicals on their pads, the lingering effect of the often strong odors of these things harms noses.
This is one reason we don’t bed down with cedar shavings. The odor, pleasant in a barn, would be equally pleasant in a kennel but unfortunately damaging. The late Jill Summers, MFH of Farmington was adamant about as little scent in a kennel as possible. No cedar shavings, no Pine Sol, use great care with flea and tick remedies, as well.
I also cite Nancy Hannum, the late MFH of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds, my grandfather, PopPop Harmon, his brother, Bob Harmon, kennel man at Green Spring Valley exercised extreme vigilance concerning any chemical or intrusive odor in or around the kennels. If the flea and tick population became bad, a little Sevin Dust would be lightly sprinkled on the beds, grudgingly. It worked. We use it as did PopPop and others.
If we could afford the newly developed kibble with flea and tick retardant in the bite itself (one bite/day) or the dab one puts on the scruff of the neck, we would. But the liquid (small dosage as those of you who have used it know) application is $10 per canine per month. There is no way we can afford Frontline or other such remedies. As to the kibble, again, cost is a factor.
If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate your interest. Our club seems to have more people actually interested in hounds, hound work, hound health than most which have a preponderance of run and jumpers. Actually, I’m just fine with run and jumpers for we all love to do it and anything that gets people out on the hunt field amidst all the beauty, I’m for it.
As a sidelight, PopPop did not need to deal with pesticides, insecticides and weed killer as we do. He had to ward off a few commercial “killers” but not much.
The intrusions on hound health were much less and less frequent than what we see today. This over reliance on chemical solutions makes sense when you realize that in my earliest youth, one could hire people to pull weeds. You only needed to pull a middle class salary to afford a gardener at least once a week. Those days are gone, never to return. And while a weed free yard, etc. looks great no one has any idea, no matter what the ads tell you, what will be the case forty years from now from the accumulation of the residue of these substances in the soils and in the water supply. We already know that drugs flushed down toilets are creating problems in reservoirs.
I can’t protect you, or secure a clean future but I will protect the hounds as best I can. And I will continue to read, talk to other huntsmen, run down research.
Will I ever understand scent? Probably not, but I’ll know more and more and as always, deepen my appreciation for the one creature that does understand scent if not quantum tunneling: the fox.
Up and Over,
Wayne Dawson, Bill Johnson, Dave Pritchard, Bob Satterfield and Gib Stevenson have rebuilt decks, put in a new door frame and two new doors.
As you may remember, Dave and Bill revamped our whelping and nursing room. There’s only a bit left to be done. It doesn’t even look like the same room.
John and Toot have repainted the interior of the kennels. We still have to repaint the Puppy Palace. And of course, “The Boys” cleaned up all the debris from the storms. Every time they’d clean up it seemed another storm was on the way.
What remains to be done, the most important chore, is digging a drainage ditch to disperse the gully washers. A hard rain is one thing, but we are just getting these pounding storms, as are you, I reckon.
There are other small things left to do but that is the big one along with fencing in a new kennel run, same run I’ve been talking and begging about for five years now. I hope this is the year that sees it materialize.
Our kennels were in good shape but needed a refresher.
Our second M litter has graduated from kindergarten and is now doing first grade work. They do their lessons in the Arena with the older hounds. Those lessons are brief, perhaps two to five minutes, then lots of playtime, then a bit more structure.
Maria Johnson, Stuart Jones, Mary Shriver and I play as much as the puppies do. John and Toot are with us every step of the way and occasionally someone will drop by or Amy Burke and Jacque Franco will ride in with horses.
The puppies are as comfortable with horses as with people and G-d bless Kali and the whip horses because Missle, Marco, Moneypenny and Masquerade stand on their hind legs and lean on the horses. Sometimes they even get right in front when the horses are standing and put their paws on those big chests. No one complains or even snorts.
By mid June, we will take walks outside the Arena and by July, a few horses will accompany us. The youngsters still need work on packing in but they should get it pretty quickly. The Ms are uncommonly beautiful and the most fluid movers imaginable.
We have a litter of puppies right about 4 months old now, our Z litter. These pups, 7 in number, the M litter is also 7), are brilliant tricolors. Already they display hunting drive, noses down as well as irrepressibly high spirits. It’s good we have a year before we will hunt them as they need to mature, as do all young things. This morning they were taken to the Arena with two of the Ms and they mimicked whatever Mikie and Marco did. If the two bigger boys ran, the puppies ran right behind them, all packed up. If the big hounds stopped, the little ones stopped. They didn’t really know what they were doing, but they were doing. Great fun for all.
We hope to breed one more litter. As you know, we must take great care in that department, most especially until we can return the Puppy Palace to a true Puppy Palace, which is why I keep trying to get this extra run accomplished.
As an aside, you who have seen the kennels and those big runs with condos, you might say, “We have lots of space. You can put more hounds in those runs and breed more.” Yes, but I don’t want to do that.
John and Toot and myself have the hounds divided according to who gets along with whom. We do not and will not overcrowd runs. One of the reasons we have few kennel fights and so many happy hounds is they have so much room and a bit of variety in the runs with shade, one has a pond etc.
What a gorgeous May 24. 94 people rode in the Hunter Pace and so many congratulated me on the beautiful course. I did nothing. The course was designed by Sue Satterfield and put together by the committee of Bob and Sue Satterfield and Gib and Lynn Stevenson. Dave and Liz Pritchard were in charge of organizing the food and Marilee Lindbeck, Jim Finn and Ann Aucker helped with timing and course directions.
A great team and a great day. Thank you all.