Winners … by a nose – Dillard’s rabbit chasing dogs win field trials

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Larry Dillard is a man who takes comfort in handfuls of cool noses and warm tongues.

He knows the difference between the bark of a dog who’s jumped a rabbit and one who’s just howling at the moon.

It’s the former – when a dog on a scent opens with a bugle and rolls into a chop-mouth bark – that makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

Raising Gundog Beagles has become &uot;nearly a full-time deal&uot; for the Shelby County Commissioner who will begin his fourth term next year.

Dillard retired from his job at U.S. Steel’s Fairfield works in 1997, leaving him more time to pursue his hobby – raising dogs for rabbit hunting and competition in American Kennel Club field trials.

&uot;The Lord has blessed me with some mighty good dogs,&uot; Dillard said.

Dillard regularly keeps anywhere from 10 to 15 dogs in the kennel he had built behind his Shelby County home.

Complete with dog houses, fencing, a bathtub and a room full of trophies and ribbons, his kennel is currently home to 16 registered dogs.

There are field champions Pon Run Tiger T and Havenwood Brother Phil.

There’s Timberlake Country Preacher, Honeysuckle Run Roho, Havenwood Coolhand Luke and Havenwood Calamity Jane. All four are just a few points or wins shy of becoming field champions.

There’s Queen Joyce, Hotbed Harley, Honey Babe, Rockin’ Rosie, Jumping Jenny, Bonnie Sue, Daisy Mae, Pretty Precious and Banging Bozo, all of which feature the name of Dillard’s kennel, Havenwood.

The pride of the bunch are his two field champions, Tiger and Phil.

Beagles registered with the American Kennel Club can become field champions by winning a certain number of races and acquiring a certain number of points. Sanctioned events are held at member clubs.

Dillard belongs to the Coosa Valley Beagle club, which holds its field trials at the old Baker Farms in Harpersville.

According to the American Kennel Club rules, Beagles compete in categories based on size and sex.

Dogs are judged by their ability to trail a rabbit and are given points based on qualities such as pursuing ability, accuracy in trailing, proper use of voice, endurance, determination, competitive spirit and others.

Dogs are penalized for actions such as quitting, backtracking, ghost trailing, lack of independence and others related to faulty movements during the chase.

&uot;Any dog that becomes field champion will have a home with me until he dies,&uot; Dillard said.

Others he will sell as hunting dogs or pets.

Once in a while, Dillard loses a dog before its time.

&uot;It’s the next closest thing to losing a family member,&uot; he said.

Dillard grew a love for Beagles and cut his teeth as a rabbit hunter at an early age.

Raised in rich farm country near Monroe, Ga., he used to grab his BB gun and tag along with his father on rabbit hunts as a 5-year-old.

When he was 9, his father bought him a single-barrel .410 shotgun.

&uot;When his pockets started filling up with rabbits, my dad finally got me my own hunting coat with a pouch on it,&uot; Dillard said.

His father, who worked the southern railroad, would take him hunting nearly every weekend.

&uot;I used to look forward to Saturday morning,&uot; Dillard said. &uot;I couldn’t sleep a wink on Friday nights because I’d be so excited in anticipation.&uot;

Those childhood hunts had a big impact on his love of the sport and the dogs it revolved around.

&uot;I’m a rabbit hunter not a rabbit killer,&uot; he said.

For Dillard, it is all about the chase.

&uot;We never kill a rabbit on the jump,&uot; he said. &uot;If a rabbit is smart enough to elude the dogs, then they get away.