Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A "What" Hound???

Except for a few people who have actually heard of the breed, everytime I tell someone I have a Plott Hound, the response is usually, "A what hound?" Sometimes, I can just repeat the name -- a "Plott" hound. Other times, I have to spell it "P-L-O-T-T."

Then I always feel I have to follow that by saying, "It's the North Carolina state dog." And so many people are surprised. (Not that I'm surprised -- I wouldn't have known if someone hadn't told me that factoid after we rescued Eve and had several people, including our veterinarian, confirm that she was mostly, if not 100%, Plott Hound.)

There are, of course, a few people who surprise me by saying, "Isn't that the North Carolina state dog?" or "I LOVE Plott Hounds!" or "I used to have a Plott Hound, they're awesome!" But most people want to know just what a Plott Hound is.

So, I tell them -- and in some cases, it's a fairly long story which leaves some people with glazed-over eyes and my partner Nicky looking at me as if to say, "Come on, we have places to go, can't you see these people are tired of your "What Is a Plott Hound?" lecture?"

Actually, I find the history of the breed interesting -- and don't mind sharing it. So I will, here, now. My knowledge is based almost exclusively on what I've extracted from the Internet -- from the AKC breed standards, from Wikipedia, and from various dog breed sites.

The Plott Hound's original ancestors came from Germany. Known as Hanoverian bloodhounds or Hanoverian Schweisshunds, these brindle boarhounds (akin to bloodhounds) were used to track down wounded boars in the king's woods because medieval laws forbade leaving a wounded animal alive in the forests. These dogs were famous for being able to follow a cold trail up to two weeks old, even if it had rained before the tracking started. Once they located their quarry, these dogs would either hold the boar at bay or fight it if it charged them (boars being extremely aggressive when wounded, some continuing their attacks even after dying -- their brains being slow to communicate this fact to the rest of the boar's body).

In 1750, two brothers named Plott brought 5 of these dogs to the mountains of western North Carolina -- Bute County, according to the AKC's story, though I've heard claims that they came to Madison County (just north of my own county of Buncombe). One of the brothers died, but the remaining brother, 16-year-old Johannes George Plott (later known as George Plott), started to breed his dogs. His son, Henry, continued the work and soon "Plott's hounds" became famous for their ability to track and hold at bay large predators such as cougars and bears. They later were also trained to hunt raccoons, placing them in the same category as blueticks, redbones, black and tans and other "coonhounds" -- with one difference. They did not owe their ancestry to the foxhound. (I discovered that there is another breed, the American Leopard Dog -- formerly known as the Catahoula Spotted Leopard Dog until recognized by the AKC -- that shares this distinction.)

Over the years, when outbreeding was necessary to revitalize the line and prevent too much inbreeding (remember, George Plott started with only five dogs), the Plott family chose hounds likewise named for the families that originated their line: the Blevins and Cable Hounds -- perhaps others, but I don't know any of their names -- at least not yet.

Gradually, the Plott Hound's reputation spread to other states -- Georgia, Tennessee and even to New England, the Midwest and the Pacific coast -- but their numbers have remained small.

Recognized by the UKC in the 1900s, they did not become recognized by the American Kennel Club until 1998, when they were placed in the "Miscellaneous" class -- a holding place for newly recognized breeds that needed to meet all the criteria for full AKC membership (i.e., a certain population in the US, a sponsor club, etc.). Before that, in 1989, they were adopted as the North Carolina State Dog. Finally, effective Jan.1, 2007, the breed, now renamed "Plott" instead of Plott Hound, was admitted to the Hound Group and allowed to compete in conformation competitions, such as the Westminster Kennel Club's annual dog show, the National Championships, etc. They had arrived!

I believe the AKC decided on the name change to distinguish them from hounds that did descend from the foxhound -- the Black and Tan Coonhound, the Bluetick Hound, the Redbone Hound, the English Coonhound and the Treeing Walker Coonhound.

So, this is what Eve is. A "what" hound of some distinction!