When W. Plunket Stewart started the pack in 1912, he chose the finest English hound bitches he could acquire. Mr. Stewart chose English hounds because they are more massive, stronger and gayer than their lighter-boned American cousins, and this open grasslands country demanded the strongest hounds he could get. Their cry was not as loud as that of the American hounds and their nose was not as keen, so Mr. Stewart went to work on these faults, and today the best traits of both types of hound are bred into the Cheshire pack. His skill in breeding established the pack as one of America's best, and when he died in 1949 he left his step-daughter the legacy of carrying on the pack and hunt which still bear his name. Mrs. Hannum was already the Joint Master with Mr. Stewart, and she eagerly took over the breeding and management of the pack.
For 200 years the hounds' ancestors had been selectively bred for their finest points. Their blood line stretched back deep into English tradition. This was the responsibility Mrs. Hannum inherited. One season of poor breeding or mishandling in the field could ruin generations of effort.
In or out of season, the kennels are always the nerve center of the hunt. Drawing the hounds, choosing the breeders, training the new entries, housing and working the entire kennel is a business which absorbs Mrs. Hannum's full time.
LIFE OF LUXURY
Few animals could have it any better than do the Cheshire hounds. Their kennel is a stone-walled palace set in its own tree-lined grounds. The kennel is split up into warm, yellow-tiled lodging rooms in which the hounds sleep on raised wooden benches on one and a half feet of straw. For the hounds to exercise in, each lodging room has its outside yard which gets hosed down and cleaned daily by the kennel staff. Leading off the lodging rooms are the feeding room, hospital room and kitchen, the latter a steamy, sweet-smelling place where the hounds' diet is prepared. It costs $10,000 a year to feed the 135 hounds in the kennel, who eat an average of two horses a week. The hounds eat deboned, minced, boiled horseflesh and an oatmeal pudding. Each day the kennel uses about 100 pounds of horsemeat, 100 pounds of prepared meal, 10 buckets of cooked oatmeal and eight gallons of milk.
Once a day the hounds, in manageable groups, are brought into the feeding room, where they eat from a long trough running down the center of the room. As the door from the draw yard opens, in rush the hounds, nudging and hustling their way into position at the trough. Excitable and hungry, the hounds are calmed by Mrs. Hannum, who murmurs a droning "Sace, sace, sace" as they eat.
Mrs. Hannum hunts her 135 entered hounds in two packs and in rotation. One pack is nothing but bitches; they are better, faster and more malleable. The other is a mixed pack of larger-sized bitches and the regular dog-hounds. It is to either one of these packs that the new entry must graduate. It isn't enough to be born a Cheshire foxhound. Becoming an "entered" member of the pack is like winning the crown in a babbling court of power-crazy blood brothers.
Of the 24 couples of hounds which are born to this purple life each year, only two-thirds will ever get into the pack. The rest are sold to ignominy. Two or three are killed at birth for obviously bad conformation. In the first draft, when the puppies are a few months old, the slightest imperfection, like a short neck or a stern set on too low, can eliminate the hound on the spot.
Only the perfectly formed hounds are left. These are then slowly winnowed until only the best working hounds are left. When they are one year old, the new entries are brought to the main kennel from their grass yards, and their training really begins. Mrs. Hannum teaches them their names first and then teaches them to come when called. They move about the kennels to orders, entering the draw yard, after their daily walks, to the command of "Eloo-in, eloo-in" which they will later hear at covert-side.
COUPLING TEACHES DISCIPLINE