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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, November 17, 2005

When deer hunting goes to the dogs

By Matt Cook

BERNE — Not every deer hunter hits his mark.

In the fall of 1970, John Jeanneney was hunting in the woods of Dutchess County when he spotted a large doe. What he didn’t spot, however, was a small branch between him and the doe, which deflected the slug from his shotgun into the deer’s shoulder. It was mortally wounded, but not dead.

The doe ran off, and, though he searched for it most of the day, Mr. Jeanneny couldn’t find the body. A few weeks later, a couple of hunters told him they found the carcass, spoiled.

"That really disturbed me," Mr. Jeanneny said.

The experience is not unusual among hunters, especially in the dense forests of New York. As Mr. Jeanneny later wrote in his book, "This set me thinking."

Thirty-five years later, Mr. Jeanneny, now of Berne, and his wife, Jolanta, are America’s leading breeders of wirehaired dachshunds used for tracking wounded deer. Mr. Jeanneny is the author of Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer, the first such book written in English, and co-founder of Deer Search, an organization that promotes dog tracking in America.

Dogs are everywhere at the Jeanneneys’ home—more of a dachshund complex—in the basement, in dog runs in the yard, and wandering around the house. Altogether, they have nine adult dachshunds, a beagle, and a litter of dachshund puppies.

All are purebreds, trained to detect and track scents long after blood has dried, leading their master on a long leash.

"The dog and the tracker together can do something that neither can do by themselves," Mr. Jeanneny said. "It’s kind of a symbiosis."

Sporting the short legs, elongated body, and floppy ears characteristic of their breed—originally bred in France to hunt badgers—the Jeanneneys’ dachshunds look and act like normal pets. They chew on toys, stretch out lazily on the floor, and paw curiously at a stranger. In the woods, however, it’s a different story. Some of these dogs have been ranked first in the United States in field trials.

Mr. Jeanneny speaks with admiration for his dogs’ abilities.

"Dog intelligence is very different from ours," he said. "They surpass us in different ways. But they can’t count; three is kind of the limit."

The birth of tracking

Mr. Jeanneney is a retired professor. He met his wife, a native of Poland, through dachshund circles after she moved to North America. Mr. Jeanneny first encountered dachshunds as a doctoral student, studying European history in France.

"I came home with one of them," he said. It was 1965. "I’ve had this breed of dogs for 40 years."

"That’s a nice anniversary," said his wife, realizing the date.

After the hunting incident in 1970, Mr. Jeanneney wondered if he could train his wirehaired dachshund to track a wounded deer. He knew the breed had been used for the purpose in Europe for centuries. Unfortunately, hunting deer with dogs for any purpose was illegal in New York at the time, as it was in most of the rest of the country. It was "heresy," Jeanneney said.

"The feeling was that dogs and deer hunting just don’t mix," he said. Many people blamed the use of dogs for the near-total decimation of New York’s deer population early in the 20th Century, Mr. Jeanneney said.

After six years of trying, in 1976, Mr. Jeanneney was able to get a special license from state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to research using leashed dogs to track wounded deer, not an easy task for someone without training in biology or forestry.

As Mr. Jeanneney’s research progressed, he brought others onto his license as "designated agents." This formed the core of the group that became Deer Search, and lobbied successfully for the legalization of leashed tracking dogs in New York.

The practice has since been legalized in six other states in the Northeast and Midwest. (Jeanneney noted that, in the South and Texas, hunters have a long history of using dogs, particularly hounds, for tracking, though with somewhat different methods.) In New York now, it’s a licensed program. Applicants must pass a state test and pay a $50 fee.

The dog in action

During hunting season, hunters who have lost deer will call the Jeanneneys or one of the local Deer Search agents. Besides the Jeanneneys in Berne, there is one each in Knox, Burnt Hills, and New Baltimore.

Mr. Jeanneney said they encourage hunters to search for their kill, for up to 18 hours, before calling in the dogs.

"Most will look a good part of the day before they call," he said. "We want them to really look. We’re the avenue of last resort."

By law, trackers in New York aren’t allowed to charge for their service. The Jeanneneys only ask for the cost of materials and fuel. They compare themselves to volunteer services like the fire department and ambulance squad.

After the call is made, the hunter guides Mr. Jeanneney and his dog to the spot where the deer was shot, and then the search is on.

Mr. Jeanneney showed The Enterprise a video of their best tracker, Sabina, in action. At the end of a 30-foot mountain-climbing rope, the dachshund, with her nose to the ground, waddled through the woods on an erratic path. Within a relatively short period, there were shouts of joy from the hunters and the camera came upon Sabina, tugging on the hind hoof of the dead deer.

In his 300-page book, Mr. Jeanneney writes that a taste of hoof and praise from her tracker and the hunters is all the reward Sabina needs.

Often, the search will last much longer, up to 11 or 12 hours. Mr. Jeanneney and Sabina are notorious for their determination to complete their task.

"You never know when he’s going to get home," Mrs. Jeanneney said.

In many cases, Mr. Jeanneney said, a deer’s blood trail will reveal that it wasn’t seriously wounded.

"If it’s jumping fences and running well, we’ll back off," he said.

So far this season, the Jeanneneys have taken 25 calls. Last year, it was 36.

Training and breeding

The Jeanneneys’ dachshunds are bred from European hunting lines.

"These dogs have been bred in Europe for generations," Mrs. Jeanneney said. "You maximize your chances [of getting a good tracking dog] by going with these bloodlines."

These are no show dogs, the Jeanneneys say. If Sabina were entered in a dog show, she would be thrown out of the competition, Mr. Jeanneney joked. One reason, he said, is that his dogs have longer legs than typical American dachshunds. This helps them make their way through brush more easily, he said.

The Jeanneneys start their dogs’ training when they are very young. At three weeks, they give a litter of puppies a deer heart to chew on and to get used to the smell of deer blood. At 10 weeks, the dogs are introduced to trails of deer blood, with pieces of hide at the end. The blood is left to sit for longer and longer periods as the dogs get older.

"What we do with the puppies is very intense," Mr. Jeanneney said. For training, he has fenced off acres of land behind the house.

The idea, he said, is to get the dogs to tell the difference between old trails and new ones.

"The toughest thing we have to ask a dog to do is to follow an old trail," Mr. Jeanneney said. "Basically, you can’t see it."

For that reason, the Jeanneneys use only the most experienced dogs to answer calls. Usually, Mr. Jeanneney goes with 11-year-old Sabina, "Unless we know it’s going to be a very easy line," he said.

As tracking becomes legal in more states, and it becomes a more popular activity, the demand for the Jeanneneys’ puppies is very high. There are not a lot of other breeders of tracking dachshunds in North America.

Though the demand is high, the Jeanneneys are very particular choosing among those who want to buy their dogs. They will never sell a dog as a pet unless it has shown itself not to have the skills needed for tracking. And, before someone buys a dog from the Jeanneneys, he has to come to their home and spend two days with the dog.

A puppy in their current litter is destined for Alaska to track bears, Mr. Jeanneney said.

The Jeanneneys love their dogs, and they love what they do. Now that the couple is retired, most of their life is devoted to the animals, especially this time of year.

"Basically, even though it’s a hobby, during hunting season, it basically takes over," Mrs. Jeanneney said.

"My retirement was not as calm as I thought it would be," said her husband.

Niles Road rough

By Matt Cook

RENSSELAERVILLE — Neil Carmen blames the condition of his road, Niles Road, for ruining the ball joints in his truck, twice.

"It’s from driving that road, day in and day out," Carmen said. "It’s like a rumble strip."

At its regular meeting last Thursday, Carmen presented the Rensselaerville Town Board with a petition signed by the residents of Niles Road. The petition demands that "immediate action be taken to improve the deplorable condition of this road."

Carmen said Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase had told both him and his wife that the road would be repaired this year. Though the road crew did some work on the road a few weeks ago, Carmen said, the problems are still there.

Chase admitted, "That road has been a disaster. There’s no question about it."

Chase said he had a skim coat put on the road at the cost of $3,500.

"That’s all we can afford to do this year," Chase said. "We can do only what the budget allows me to do."

The road crew has been through the whole town, patching holes, Chase said, and it cost a lot of money just to do that. Higher oil prices are also to blame for the increased cost of repairs, he said.

Niles Road is on the town’s list of roads that require work over the winter and into next year, Chase said.

Niles Road runs for about a-mile-and-a-half from the Greene County line to Medusa.

Other business

In other business at the Nov. 10 meeting, the Rensselaerville Town Board:

—Heard from County Legislator Alexander "Sandy" Gordon about the community wind project in the Hilltowns. Gordon and a few others are spearheading an effort to create a business plan for a 10 megawatt community-owned wind farm in the Hilltowns. The project is funded by a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

Gordon asked for a member of the town board or a designee of the town board to be a member of the focus group responsible for creating the plan. He asked the town board to think about it and get back to him;

—Declared Nov. 18, 19, and 20 to be Bob Tanner Day, Robert Thomspon Day, and Brian O’Keefe Day, in honor of three Rensselaerville residents who have returned home from serving in the military in Iraq;

—Approved a $2.2 million budget for 2006; and

—Agreed to ask the county for a new sign on Route 352 that says Fox Creek Road. According to a resident of that road, Fox Creek Road is used for mailing addresses, but the sign that said Fox Creek Road no longer exists.

Murphy sentenced for manslaughter

By Matt Cook

KNOX—A man who police say killed his friend at Thompsons Lake state campground a year ago in response to sexual advances faces over two decades in prison.

Stephen K. Murphy, 19, of 1030 Crane Street, Schenectady, was sentenced last Thursday to 21 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision. Murphy pleaded guilty on Sept. 21 to first-degree manslaughter. The sentencing was by Judge Joseph C. Teresi.

Murphy was arrested on Sept. 12, 2004 for the murder of Richard Agoney, 40, of Schenectady.

According to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department at the time of the arrest, after a night of drinking and smoking marijuana in a camper at a Thompsons Lake campsite, Agoney made sexual advances on Murphy. In the struggle that followed, Murphy stabbed Agoney and strangled him to death with a bungee cord, police say. Murphy then lit the camper on fire and drove away in Agoney’s truck, with Agoney’s wallet, police say.

The camper exploded when the fire reached the gas stove, police say.

According to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, Murphy used Agoney’s money to purchase a number of items, including a train ticket to Florida.

Conservation board asks to have its role clarified

By Matt Cook

BERNE — The Berne Conservation Board wants its work to mean something.

At a meeting last Wednesday, members of the conservation board asked the town board to clarify the conservation board’s role in making recommendations to the planning board.

"For the most part, we are not consulted," said conservation board member Patricia Rexinger, who works for the state as an environmentalist.

Other times, said conservation board member Harold Lendrum, the conservation board is asked for a report but the planning board makes the decision before the report is finished.

"Out time is wasted," Lendrum said.

The planning board is supposed to consult with the conservation board on the environmental impact of a proposed project, the board members said.

"Ideally, we should go out with them on a site review," Rexinger said.

However, Rexinger said, nothing like that is happening.

"There needs to be an understanding on their part that we have a formal role," she said.

The town board agreed with the conservation board. Supervisor Kevin Crosier said guidelines should be set down so the planning board knows when to consult the conservation board.

"You should be a box on their checklist," Councilman Joseph Golden told the conservation board.

Councilwoman Carol Crounse, who serves as the town board’s liaison to the planning board, agreed to arrange a meeting between the planning board and the town board. The boards will discuss the conservation board at the meeting, along with some other topics.

In other conservation-board news, Chairman Doug Fraser has submitted a letter of resignation, citing other obligations. The conservation board has submitted a list of six candidates to replace Fraser, and the town board will advertise for more. The board has five appointed, unpaid members.

"There might be some real experienced people that we’re unaware of out there," said Councilman Mark Huth.

The town board also discussed reinstating a program in which a student from Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School is appointed as a non-voting member of the conservation board. The program was discontinued because the student would change every year due to graduation, said town Clerk Patricia Favreau.

Crosier said the program is a good idea and Rexinger said someone from the conservation board will talk to the school.

Other business

In other business at its Nov. 9 meeting, the Berne Town Board:

—Discussed high-speed Internet access. Golden has been researching the issue since a complaint was heard at last month’s meeting by James Cooke, who runs an Internet-based antiques business. Cooke told the board it should work to ensure everyone in town has access to high-speed Internet.

High-speed broadband, not the much slower dial-up, is becoming the standard for which most web content is created. However, in rural areas where cable and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service is sparse, it’s hard to get.

Golden asked for, and was given, permission to use the town’s letterhead to send letters to Berne’s state and federal representatives asking for information on the topic. Golden said he thinks the Farm Bureau or the United States Department of Agriculture might be the most helpful.

Also, Golden said, "I would really like to sit down one more time with Time Warner and ask them if they have any more options on this." Time Warner provides cable service to parts of Berne;

—Continued a discussion on creating a park-and-ride lot in the town. The town would plow a parking lot in exchange for a central location for commuters to meet and carpool.

Highway Superintendent Raymond Storm said he spoke to the vice president of the Elsmere Rod and Gun Club and was told the club will discuss the possibility of lending its parking lot at its next meeting.

"He doesn’t think it will be a problem," Storm said.

Others suggested using parking lot of the overlook at Thacher Park. The town board asked Storm to contact the park, though it isn’t in the town of Berne;

—Passed Local Law Number Two of 2005, a tax exemption for a parent’s or grandparent’s living quarters attached to a tax-paying residence;

—Passed a $1.9 million budget for 2006;

—Declared seasonal roads. The list is the same as last year’s and is available on the town’s website; and

—Assigned Golden to oversee the drilling of a well for the town park.

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