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February 2014

A Breed Apart

The central Adirondack pedigree of the Patch beagle

More than a century ago Willet Randall, the son of a North Creek preacher, secured his place in hound history when he bred his first registered beagles. “I mated the best of their offspring together,” he recalled in his 1968 memoir, Wilderness Patchwork, “and un­wittingly laid the foundation for one of America’s leading families of hunting beagles—THE PATCHES.”

Randall was 90 and still overseeing his famed Patch kennel when he published his book, a collection of his columns from Hounds & Hunting magazine. He wrote plenty about his dogs, but also about the hardscrabble rural Adirondacks and its characters—and his love for his native landscape. Randall was caretaker for a vast garnet-mining property near Indian Lake, below Peaked Mountain, called Beaver Meadows. Here, he bred and ran his Patches; took in porcupines, motherless fawns and a black bear; confronted resident ghosts; met “Indian Jim,” who lived in a cabin along the headwaters of the “Sacandaigua.” Randall was solitary—“People never meant to me what they do to you,” he confessed—but for his devotion to his dogs. “During my life,” he waxed, “these many pets had held a place in my heart no other could fill and I loved them with a passion that I, myself, could never understand—but I knew it was there —and there to stay.”

In the late-1960s, after moving closer to North Creek, Randall be­friended and hired Michael Ca­pozzi, a legendary beagler in his own right. Randall, who died in 1970, en­trusted the Patches to Capozzi, who has since overseen the bloodline from his base in North River. A handful of years ago Capozzi took on a partner, Chris Hornick, to help continue what’s now the oldest and among the most celebrated American Kennel Club–registered beagle kennels in the country.

In a brochure, Randall described the Patches as “a family of strong, rugged hounds bred for the express purpose of running rabbits. The Patches are strong in bone and muscle, nice type and long low-set ears; handsome to look at; they have the nose and brains and inbred wallop to give you an all day’s hunt—and repeat it the next.”

Nothing’s changed, says Hornick. The dogs, which range up to 15 inches at the shoulder, are still “pure beagle. They’re athletic, sturdy, strong, smart. They’re built for the Adirondacks—they’re bred for that country. The standard has not deviated since Willet’s time.”

Hunting abilities aside, these beagles have “the warmth and trustworthiness of a faithful companion,” Hornick adds. “Other than my wife and kids, they’re my life.” And breeding Patches “is a passion, not a business. Mike and I do it to keep the line going, to produce quality hounds, to keep alive what Willet left behind.”

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