Release the Hounds!

By Peregrine Fairchylde

Pennsic Independent Staff Writer

About a dozen dogs, including fleet greyhounds, petite Italian greyhounds and a pair of massive Irish wolfhounds, delighted a large crowd of spectators on the battlefield Saturday during a demonstration of coursing.

Lady Katla Ulfhedinn, the AEthelmearc Hound Mistress and one of the demo's organizers, who has been coursing for some five years, said the intent of the demonstration was to help familiarize more people with the period activity and help encourage coursing at other events.

But as for turning Pennsic into a place where gentles bring their hounds with them for the war, Lady Katla said that wasn't the goal.

"Honestly, no. I think there's too much health risk for the people and the hounds, as well," she explained. "I think what the Coopers are doing for us is fantastic, letting the dogs out here for a day and letting people see them."

While most kingdoms have coursing to some degree and many have kingdom officers over the activity, the opportunity for royalty from around the Known World to see it at Pennsic may help spread it further, he added.

"This gives their kings and queens a chance to come down and see what we're doing," said THL Corin the Huntsman, master of the recently chartered Hunt Guild of the Midrealm.
Indeed, several of the Known World's queens processed to the demo, escorted by the hounds and their handlers, and were the first to release hounds to chase the lure - in this case, a couple of plastic grocery bags tied to a line that was propelled around a series of turns and straightaways by a motorized winch.

Each greyhound and Italian ran the course in their own fashion, some tracking the lures closely, others swinging wide in the corners, and some even cutting across the route to head off their targets.

THL Corin said the light bulb-shaped course was designed for "couch potato" dogs like most of those present. Hounds that are in top shape would be given a more vigorous challenge, with many cuts and turns along the course.

Standing out from the sleek and streamlined greyhounds were the pair of Irish wolfhounds brought by Dr. Kimberly Berry, a veterinarian from Butler, and Tommasa de la Heil of AEthelmearc, one of her vet techs who introduced her recently to the SCA. Dr. Berry had already been coursing with her dogs.

"They do agility, obedience, coursing," she said of 6-year-old Erin and 2-year-old Dublin, a mother-son pair.

Once all the greyhounds had been run, the course was lengthened for the wolfhounds. With their curly, blonde fur and long legs, they put on a very different display from the greyhounds - long, loping strides with a rolling gait that, while less smooth than the greyhounds, nonetheless gobbled up huge distances. And while 135-pound Dublin didn't corner well, his more experienced dam neatly kept pace with the bags, eagerly grabbing up one as she came to the finish of the course.

Her Majesty of Drachenwald, Queen Eufemia, was among the royals to take part and said that she hopes to make coursing part of her life.

"I think it's marvelous because, being an Italian persona, I've been looking at Italian hunting scenes, and they all have Italian greyhounds," said Her Majesty, who had already been planing to acquire a dog. "I'm very excited to find the perfect accessory to my Italian hunting garb."

Lady Katla emphasized that most any dog, even if not a sighthound like a greyhound, can be trained for coursing, and THL Corin said an easy way to see if a dog was interested was to tie a plastic grocery bag to a line on a fishing pole and swing it around in circles. Gentles interested in pursuing coursing in the SCA should contact their kingdom hound master, he advised.