From Anecdotes of Dogs, by Edward Jesse, Esq., London: Bell & Daldy; 1870; pp. 475-479.
This variety is smaller than the greyhound, with its limbs stronger and shorter, the head less acute, with short, erect, and half-pricked ears: the whole body and tail are covered with rough coarse hair; it is grizzly about the muzzle, of a pale sand-colour, or iron-grey, and of sullen aspect.
The lurcher is supposed to have been originally a cross between the greyhound and the shepherd’s dog, re-crossed with a terrier; hence the quickness of his scent, his speed, and intelligence. The habits of this dog lead him to concealment and cunning, and he is seldom found in the possession of honourable sportsmen. He is often employed by poachers in killing hares and rabbits in the obscurity of the night; and when taken to the warren, he lies squat, or steals out with the utmost precaution, and on seeing or scenting the rabbits, darts upon them with exceeding quickness or runs them down at a stretch, without barking or making the least noise. He is trained to bring the booty to his master, who often waits at some distance to receive it. One of these dogs will kill a great many rabbits in the course of a night. Col. Hamilton Smyth says, “The lurcher occasionally makes great havoc among sheep and deer, and acquires the wild scent of game. Sometimes these dogs become feral, when their owners happen to be captured and imprisoned. They have been regularly hunted with 476 hounds, but seldom destroyed, because when the chase came up with them, the pack seemed to be surprised at finding that it was only a dog they had followed. At other times, however, when a lurcher had snapped up, or attacked the game the pack was hunting, the dogs on coming up have torn him to pieces, as if he had been a wild beast.
Bewick says that in his time this breed was so destructive that it was proscribed, and is now almost extinct. “I have seen a dog and bitch of this kind,” he observes, “in the possession of a man who had formerly used them for the purpose above described. He declared, that by their means he could procure in an evening as many rabbits as he could carry home.”
“In the year 1800,” says Capt. Brown, “I resided for some time on Holy Island, coast of Northumberland, and had occasion one day to be in Berwick at an early hour. I left the island on horseback at low-water, by moonlight. When I reached the Goswick-warren, I came upon two men sitting by the side of a turf-dyke. I spoke to them; and while I was in the act of doing so, a dog of this breed approached with a rabbit in his mouth, which he laid down and scampered off. Being convinced they were engaged in rabbit-stealing, I entered into conversation respecting the qualities of their dogs, which I was anxious to learn; and upon my declaring that I was a stranger; and that I would not divulge their delinquency, they readily gave me a 477 detail of them. They had scarcely commenced when another dog made his appearance with a rabbit, and laid it down, but did not, like his companion, make off when he had done so. One of the men said to him, ‘Go off, sir,’ when he immediately left them; and he told me he was a young dog, little more than a year old. They informed me, that such was the keenness of the older dog, and another which had shortly before died, for hunting rabbits and hares, that they would frequently go out of their own accord, when it was inconvenient for their owners to attend them, and that they invariably fetched in a hare or rabbit. Indeed, their ardour was such, that they would sometimes go to a rabbit-warren, at a distance of eight miles from their dwelling, in pursuit of game; in consequence of which it became necessary for their masters to chain them every night when they did not accompany them in this pursuit. The dogs never attempted to leave home during the day, for which reason they were allowed to go at full liberty. When the men intended on an evening to hunt rabbits, they threw down the sacks in which they carried their booty in a corner of their house, when the dogs lay down beside them, and would not stir till their masters took them up. These dogs scarcely ever barked, except on the way either to or form this plunder; on which occasions they always preceded their owners about fifty yards. If they met any person coming, they invariably made a noise, but never were known to bite any 478 one. I asked them if this was an instinctive property, and they informed me they were trained to it. As they found it necessary in various places to leave the highway to avoid villages, their dogs never failed to quit the road at the very places where they usually deviated, although at that distance before them. Sometimes one of the dogs would return back to the party while on the road, and wag his tail, but they seldom or never did so together; and if he showed a desire to remain by his master, the latter had only to say, ‘Go on, sir,’ when he set off at full speed to his post as one of the advanced guard. During the time I was conversing with them these dogs brought in seven rabbits.”
The following curious relation, in which a lurcher signalised himself characteristically but fatally, we had from a sporting clergyman of on of the midland counties. A gentleman kept a pack of five-and-twenty couple of good hounds, among which were some of the highest-bred modern foxhounds, and some as near to the old bloodhound as could be procured. They were high-fed and underworked; of course, somewhat riotous. One day, after a sharp run of considerable length, in which the whole field, huntsman, whipper-in, and all, were suddenly thrown out, Reynard, in running up a hedgerow, was espied by a lurcher, accompanying the farmer his master. The dog instantly ran at the chase; and being fresh, chopped upon it as he would have done upon a rabbit or hare. The fox turned and fought 479 bravely; and whilst the farmer was contemplating with astonishment this singular combat, he was destined to behold a spectacle still more remarkable. The hounds arrived in full cry, and with indiscriminate fury tore both the combatants to pieces; the whipper-in, and the proprietor of the pack, and two or three gentlemen the best mounted, arriving in time to whip the dogs off, obtain the brush, and pick up some scattered remnants of he limbs and carcase of the poor lurcher.