The chances of me ever going to Africa to hunt lion are about as good as the chances of me ever being called upon to dispatch a lion that has escaped from a local zoo. Considering there are no local zoos near me, my chances are slim. I expect Kate Upton will come to visit before I go lion hunting.
That does not mean it is something I do not want to do. I don’t really have a bucket list but I would really like to hunt lion. And, the operative word is “hunt.” I don’t care all that much if I ever kill one but I really want to hunt one.
What does that have to do with a dog. A lot or a little depending on how you look at it. I raised hunting dogs for about the first half of my life. Hounds mostly. I’ve also owned a dog just about all my life. The times when I did not, were not as bright as the times I did.
Hounds, Rottweiler’s, shepherds, collies, huskies and an exceptional lab. I’ve tried many dogs and now I, we – my family and I – own a lion dog. Hey, I may never hunt a lion but a man needs to be prepared right?
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a dog bred in Rhodesia and Southern Africa during the 1800s for the specific purpose of hunting lions and other Africa game. Given the dangerous nature of the African bush it was also bred for protection. Some famous folks owned, bred and hunted with Ridgebacks to include the lion hunter Cornelius van Rooyan who was a friend of Courtney Selous and Denys Hatton who was a Kenya hunter and the lover of Karen Blixen who wrote the celebrated book, Out of Africa.
The distinctive characteristic of the dog is its ‘ridged” back which is a section of hair along the dog’s spine which grows against the grain. This characteristic was passed down from what were called Hottentot hunting dogs belonging to the native Africa people who lived south of the Zambezi. Ultimately, European settlers bred a variety of their dogs to include; bull terriers, greyhounds, Great Danes and it is suspected, even bloodhounds, to these native dogs and as the desired hunting and protective instincts emerged, selective breeding began.
The result is the Rhodesian Ridgeback which was adopted as a registered breed by the AKC in 1955 as a member of the hound group. Yeah, some interesting trivia no doubt but what does any of that have to do with me?
Well, I like dogs and after we lost our wonderful lab about two years ago, we’ve been looking for that right dog. Having participated in five African safaris – three of which involved dogs similar to or with a linage attached to Ridgeback breed – I developed immense respect for the dogs. On may last safari we had a young ridgeback in camp and his temperament sold me. When I returned home the search began. We found a breeder in Kentucky, placed an order and picked up our puppy last Sunday. We named her “Whiskey” which is the rest of the story that you might find interesting too.
I’ve been a student of the air war during World War I for as long as I can remember. Even before my teens I was fascinated with the biplanes from that era and just as much with the men who flew them. To me, the most impressive story from that time has always been the Lafayette Escadrille which was a group of American pilots who volunteered to fly fighter planes for the French.
For their squadron emblem, those boys selected the head of an Indian chief thought to be a Sioux warrior. Most likely, this emblem was selected from a box that contained the Lewis machine guns that were mounted to their aircraft. Machine guns manufactured in the United States by Savage who has used the Indian head logo for years.
One of the pilots was named Raoul Lufbery. He was a native of France but earned is U.S. citizenship through U.S. military service during the Philippines. Lufbery had a pet lion that became the squadron mascot and this lion’s name was Whiskey.
So, in a round about way, every time I pet our new hound Whiskey, I’m hunting lions in Africa and flying World War I fighter planes in the skies over Germany and France with what might have been some of the bravest Americans to ever go to war. (You have to be brave to fight with the French, right?)
No, I may not be all that brave, I will never be a celebrated African lion hunter and I don’t believe in luck. But, even though I am getting old, I am still a dreamer and I can attest to one fact; some of the best dreams a hunter can have can be had with a dog.