|Saturday, June 26, 2004
For champion coon hounds,dollars come thick as ticks
|The Buchanan County corruption scandal brings attention to the pricey world of hounds.
By Tad Dickens
Federal public corruption charges in Buchanan County are serious business, but they brought forth one piece of trivia: Good coon dogs don't come cheap.
Bribes alleged in a malfeasance case included $40,000 worth of coon dogs, including $15,000 apiece for two of them. One of the hounds, a Walker named Hairy Jr., is a familiar name to some hunting enthusiasts.
"Yeah, I know who you're talking about," said Randy King, a Botetourt County cooner. "They had an ad on him for stud on the dog" in American Cooner magazine. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bondurant said Friday that one of the defendants, Stuart Ray Blankenship, received Hairy Jr. as a bribe. Bondurant did not know whether Blankenship still has the coon hound.
Blankenship, a former Buchanan County Board of Supervisors chairman, was part of what federal authorities called a scheme to use state and federal money earmarked for flood cleanup in the county.
Hound neophytes may wonder: What makes a dog so expensive? It's all about championships and strong bloodlines in a relatively obscure sport where the best dogs win thousands of dollars, said Renee Bandy, a hunt organizer and judge from Bedford County.
"There's a lot of dogs down in that area that are worth quite a bit of money," Bandy said of the Buchanan County cooners.
But that's true of a lot of places. Bandy and a partner split the price on a redbone hound, Joe, who set them back $5,000. The biggest-ever earner, Silver Dollar Cracker, is from Kentucky. Cracker, a treeing Walker, has won $100,990 chasing coons around the woods in Professional Kennel Club meets, Bandy said.
"A dog with lifetime earnings that high, you couldn't get them for cheaper than $20,000 or $30,000," she said.
Big winnings prove strong performance on the hunt. Hound buyers look at family ties, too, she said.
Her hound, Joe, is a half-littermate to an American Coon Hunting Association world champion. Joe has already won first place at a United Kennel Club event and fourth place at an American Kennel Club meet.
Good redbones and Plotts are automatically worth a lot, because it's so hard to find talented ones, Bandy said.
"They're worth more than the average treeing Walker," she said.
Not that Walkers are cheap. Hairy Jr., the hound at the center of Buchanan County's alleged bribery scandal, is a Walker, said King, who saw the dog advertised at stud. So is Worm, who resides in a Botetourt County pen when he's not racking up thousands in winnings. King and his father, Harvey, take care of him for in-law Bruce Huffman.
Such talents are more common.
"Sixty percent of Walkers are good hunters," Randy King said. "It's only 10 out of a hundred on blue ticks and black and tans. I don't know why."
Walker or blue tick, redbone or Plott - the biggest money buys hounds that tree coons with the best of them, Bandy said.
"If they win the bigger events, they qualify for the world hunt," she said. "If they do well at the world hunts and other large hunts, they are worth more. Because there are so many dogs there, the competition is usually a lot harder."
The sport continues to grow in popularity, but the hard-core hound fans have been keeping tabs for years on such dogs as Hairy Jr., Randy King said. The word is out about the hound's unwitting role in the Buchanan County case, he said.
"This is going to be a pretty big story" among coon-dog aficionados nationwide, he said.
But unlike most coon hunters, who only tree coons and don't pull the trigger, federal prosecutors could seek decades in prison and millions in fines for the 16 people and six companies they've charged.