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Living the Dream

Laura Bell

Dreams start out as thoughts and images in our heads, but after a while they turn into something that we wish would come true. Only in the movies do dreams come true overnight, with very little effort on our part. In real life, if you want your dreams to materialize you have to want them, chase after them, and work towards them.

Seventeen-year-old Krystal Lear knows all too well about the trials and tribulations that come with chasing a dream as she spent most of her young childhood envisioning herself showing dogs someday. Now a senior in high school, Krystal isn’t just dreaming it, she’s living it.

Krystal Lear of Windham, Ohio was not born into a life with coonhounds; her only taste of it came from her uncle and aunt who were very committed to coon hunting. She remembers visiting with them at the local coon club in the area called the Geauga County Coon Hunters Association, Inc., and watching the club members run their hounds in water race demos at the county fair. Seeing the dogs in the water race was one of her favorite things about the fair.

Krystal had always had a passion for dogs, but never had a specific breed in mind that she wanted to dedicate herself to, but one thing was for sure, she had a dream to handle them in the shows. Her cousin, Megan Perez, showed the coonhounds in bench shows, and Krystal admired her for that. “I moved in with Megan and my aunt when I was thirteen and that’s where it all started. Megan introduced me to the coonhounds and what they’re about. She showed me the ropes when it comes to handling them in the show ring and that’s when I developed a passion for coonhounds. A passion for the breed meant a passion for what they’re bred for. I begged and begged for Megan to take me hunting, and finally she took me out on my first night of hunting. My first night I didn’t see a coon. We hunted for a couple hours and didn’t see a single one. I didn’t see a coon until a year into hunting. Megan had bought a female to hunt and the first night I hunted with her, she showed me my very first coon. I thought I was hooked just from hearing the dogs in the woods and not caring if there was a coon, but the second I saw those two eyes and that ringtail it started something that has yet to find an end. Ever since that night I’ve loved everything about coonhounds. Megan left for Missouri, but her absence didn’t slow anything down.

“By this time I had already bred my own litter of pups, and my cousin, Patrick Sarver, had bought a nice female. I was hunting with him quite frequently, and, of course, I had to test my bench skills on her. I would show her occasionally along with pleasure hunting. Patrick would always bring me to spectate on his casts and would let me do the scorecard. Of course, he would make sure I was doing it right. He would correct my mistakes and answer any questions. After a month or two of this, my cousins, Patrick and Chrissy Sarver, bought me the hound that showed me my very first coon, NITE CH ‘PR’ Daddys Moonshine Money (‘PR’ Gainwell Desoto Dan II x ‘PR’ Neosho River Itty Bitty), AKA Foozie. I was ecstatic. This really got me even more hooked into hunting, if that was even possible. My female came from Megan (Rimel) Perez. I’ll never forget meeting Megan and her husband, Danny, at Walker Days to pick her up. When I pulled her out of their dog box, I was instantly in love. I was ecstatic when we got home and could not wait to start hunting with her again. I began competition hunting with her. My family is the whole reason I got into the coonhounds and I couldn’t be more thankful for them.”

Since discovering her love of coonhounds, Krystal has immersed herself as deeply into the sport as possible. A senior at Windham High School, she’s trying to soak up as much of her final school year as she can, but outside of school it’s all about the dogs. “I don’t really have any other hobbies other than the coonhounds. I’m very passionate about them and the sports of coon hunting and showing. Outside of the hounds I enjoy drawing/painting. If I have the time I usually like to sit down and just draw something. Of course, the only thing that runs through my mind 90 percent of the time is the hounds, so generally that’s what I’ll draw. Aside from any of that I also have a huge interest in the history of the hounds. Things like past hounds and handlers that made a difference in the sport. I try to get my hands on as many old magazines as possible. I really don’t do much outside of coonhounds other than go fishing with friends or take a four-wheeler through the woods. I spend a lot of my time with my family, considering they’re so supportive of the hounds.”

Krystal has been a familiar face at many of the local clubs in northeast Ohio, but you’ll also see her at various major events within a few hours-drive and chances are she’s packing a dog to enter in the show and hunt, and maybe the treeing contest if one is held. If she doesn’t have a dog in the hunt, then she’ll tag along as a spectator or take to the woods on a pleasure hunt, she enjoys it all.

“I love to pleasure hunt and I do have fun in the competitions, but not everyone is there to just have fun. It’s hard for me to have fun when I draw out a cast of people who are there strictly to win, like the ones who turn it into some kind of big deal. I don’t let this discourage me too much though. I’ve been on my fair share of fun casts as well. I just hunt to have fun. When I enter a competition hunt, I don’t care if I win or not. I enter for the experience of it. Some of the most fun nights of hunting I’ve had were on a cast. I’ve been lucky enough to draw out more with people who like to have fun with it.

“It’s hard for me to choose between pleasure hunting and showing. I love both. I love to listen to my dogs run and see them tree coon, but I also like to set them up on the bench and just look at them. Both give me a feeling of pride and joy. When I show I’m a little more competitive than with the hunts. I do train and work hard before a show, but I still do it to have fun. Whether I win or lose, I know that my dog and I both tried our best. There’s always going to be a better dog, and of course every judge has their own preference. On top of that, everyone makes mistakes. I know I’ve had my fair share of handler mistakes. It’s hard to not let nerves get the best of you sometimes! I love going to shows and testing my own judging skills as a spectator. I enjoy the hunts, because again I get to test my own judging skills and I like to see the different kinds of dog power others bring. Not only do I learn to be a better judge/handler I also learn more about the dogs. Different dogs work in different ways.”

Another type of event that Krystal has hopes of showing her dogs in soon is UKC Conformation shows. She’s never done it before, but she has a feeling that it’s slightly more challenging than a bench show.

If you saw the amount of trophies that Krystal has accumulated from the events, you would never know that she’s only been into the sport for a few short years. One of her very first wins was at the Larry Packe Memorial Youth Championship held in Jefferson, Ohio, by the Ashtabula County Coon Club. It was the first time Krystal ever handled a dog in a hunt, and now she has a trophy to remember it by because she handled her dog well and placed in the event. Another proud win of hers is when she won the whole Carl Boone Memorial Event held at the Portage County Coon Club in Yale, Ohio. This two-night event is held annually in November, and Krystal won the hunt and show both Friday and Saturday in 2013.

Just this year, she added her most major win to date and it happened in April at the 2014 Walker Days Event in Montpelier, Ohio. She didn’t show in the Thursday Lee Crawford event, but instead broke out a young Walker female that she’s showing for her cousin Megan, in the Friday Registered class. Krystal handled CH ‘PR’ Backwoods Brave (NITE CH NGRCH GR CH ‘PR’ Southfork River Wonder Boy x GR CH ‘PR’ Southfork Rv. Backwoods Barbie); AKA Boo, then a registered dog, to a Best Female of Show win that would make her a Show Champion. She stuck around and entered Boo into the Champion class on Saturday and came away with another win. Krystal couldn’t begin to say how proud she was of how her young dog worked that day and how happy she was that luck was on her side that weekend.

I wanted to hear more about these winning hounds that Krystal enjoys so much so I asked her to tell me about the dogs she calls her own. “We currently have three coonhounds at our house. Two of which are mine. I have two Walker females. My pride and joy is, of course, my princess, NITE CH ‘PR’ Daddy’s Moonshine Money. This is the female that showed me my very first coon, and I couldn’t ask for a better dog. She was a natural as a pup and picked up on everything right away. She was bred when she was only a year old, so that slowed her down for some time. She’s just like any other dog and does have her off nights, but she has plenty of drive. For a three-year-old, I think she’s great. She goes back to Neosho River Rudy and Fletcher’s Stylish Jake. She’s my favorite dog of all time. I have yet to see a dog that has performed like Foozie does at her best. She showed me my first coon and won me my first hunt.

“She even has helped me as far as learning how to handle on the bench. She has a great disposition. Foozie shows nothing but love towards me, and I would not trade her for the world. There’s a connection between us that I don’t think I will ever have with any other dog. I know her like the back of my hand and can always be confident in myself when I make a call on her. I couldn’t be any more thankful to have her as my first coonhound. I don’t think any dog will ever surpass her in my eyes. She may not be perfect to some, but she’s perfect for me. She’ll be in my kennel ‘til the day she dies. Even when she’s too old to get the job done in the woods.

“My second female is CH ‘PR’ Backwoods Brave, a female Megan sent to me for me to work with and promote. Boo has done a phenomenal job here and I couldn’t ask any more out of her. She made show Champion in only three shows, and she absolutely loves the bench. I really look forward to our future shows together and I really hope I can continue to give her a good name. She’s only a year and a half old and only has room to improve. She is out of two of my favorite show hounds, Backwoods Barbie and Southfork River Wonder Boy. I have hopes of getting her to tree coon. I haven’t been pushing her like I should, but she shows great potential. One thing is for sure she’s one heck of a kill dog, and she absolutely hates a coon.”

We all know how crazy some nights in the woods can be and Krystal had quite a wild one happen several months ago. “I think the most exciting hunting I’ve experienced occurred over a few nights of hunting in one week during this previous coon season. I hunt frequently with my friend, Tyler. One week we were hunting and a few of our other friends came along with us. This week of hunting was full of deep swamps and long walks, but the last night was probably the most memorable. The last night we hunted that week, we were on our last drop. We had three dogs with us. My female, Foozie. Tyler’s male, Buster. At that time I had a male pup out of Foozie as well and I had brought him along. His name was Row.

“We cut all three dogs loose. It didn’t take them too long when they came treed. They weren’t super deep either. They did end up in some deep water, though. All three dogs were on the tree together. I handled Fooze, Tyler handled Buster, and Jake handled Row. We found the coon in no time. Tyler decided to shoot the coon out. He shot this coon right in the head and it dropped. Any normal coon you’d think would be dead, but not this one. He tried to bail. Fooze was tied back to a tree that wasn’t so sturdy and she got after him and tried to kill it. We decided to cut Buster and Row to help out. These three dogs had this coon stretched and it still wouldn’t die. We decide we’re going to handle the dogs and try to just shoot the coon again. Row and Buster are handled. I go to get Fooze when I see the coon try to pull Fooze under the water! I ran over and held her head above the water and got the coon to let go. As soon as he let go of her, he grabbed onto my leg. I try shaking him off and I fell. Now I’m lying in this water with a coon on my leg. I’m beating it with my light and trying to get it to let go, but it won’t. Finally Tyler helps and gets the coon off of my leg. By this time the coon is wore out. It crawls to some more shallow ground and Tyler shoots it one more time, finally killing it. I have yet to have an experience that crazy and exciting, but I’ll never forget it.”

Getting youth involved in the local club is something every club and its members needs to do. Krystal is a perfect example as to how getting younger people involved in the sport can not only help build them into something great, but help build your club as well. A proud member of the Geauga County club that her Uncle Rick helped build, there’s rarely an event or club activity that she doesn’t attend. From helping out in the kitchen, taking entries, entering her dogs, fund raising, cleaning, you name it; if it’s for the club, Krystal is for helping with it.

“As important as it is for a club to appeal to the adults in the coonhound world, I find it even more important for it to appeal to our youth. I sell candy bars for our youth fund and was even more than happy to take a position as a chairperson in our Youth Program. Whenever we have any kind of promotion for the club, I’m sure to bring my candy bars and a sign in hope to raise more money. I want to do anything I can to keep the sport alive and that means making an impression on the younger generations.”

While on the subject of youth in the sport, I encouraged Krystal to share her thoughts about the UKC Youth Program and to provide some advice and tips to the younger generation. “I think the UKC Youth Program is an amazing program. I think it’s a great thing to have specific hunts and shows just for the youth to help educate on the experiences. Plus, it’s nice for the youth to see that other youth enjoy it too. It’s a way to make some friends and learn. I know some kids don’t have a bunch of family that are into it like I do, so learning it can be a little more difficult.

“As cliché as it sounds, just practice. Practice, practice, practice! Just when you think you’ve learned every trick, you find something new. Don’t be afraid to ask experienced handlers for help either. I know that I absolutely love teaching anyone who wants to learn everything I know. I find more joy in that than anything. Never lose hope either. You’re not going to win every time. I’ve done plenty of losing. Let the losses be motivation to work harder. The hounds are something that have kept me out of trouble and kept me motivated. I hope to see the sport grow, and that means keeping you guys interested! I hope you can enjoy the sport the same way I do. It offers me a stress reliever and a place to get away when I need to. In the woods with just me listening to my dog, there’s no greater feeling. In the show ring the only thing on my mind is me and the dog on my bench.”

Krystal has a bright future waiting for her and of course they include expanding her knowledge in coonhounds as well as getting a college degree. “I plan to stay involved in the coonhounds. I will stay a part of my club, and continue to help with the youth program. I really hope I can make an impact on the younger generations to help the sport bounce back to be as big as it used to be. I plan to have my own bloodline of dual dogs who look like they belong in the show ring, but tree coon just as good as any other coon dog. As of right now, I plan to go to college and major in Psychology. I’ve always been interested in how the mind works and things of that nature. Of course I’m interested in studying sociology too. I know that surgeons and doctors help people, but I think as a counselor, social worker, or therapist I could help people in another way.”

Krystal wishes to send out the following thanks to those that have been an influence on her throughout her life. “All I want to say is I wouldn’t be where I am without my family. I know there are some great show handlers out there, but I believe I learned from the best. Megan will forever be my mentor and my idol in the show ring. I can only hope to be as great as her one day. Without her, I would have had a way harder time following my dream as a handler. Her husband as well. Danny has been great about being supportive of my wins and losses.

Not only do I have Megan and Danny to thank, but I a few others as well. My Uncle, Rick Rimel, is a great supporter. I hope to one day do the kind of winning in the hunts that he has. My cousin, Nick Mares, has done an awesome job in helping me learn how to hold my own in the hunts. He didn’t teach me how to cheat, he taught me how to catch the cheaters. He made sure that those people who think they can get away with pulling the wool over a young girl’s eyes, can’t. We constantly practice when we go to the woods together. He makes sure I stay on my toes. Not to mention he’s been a great support system at the hunts as well. Not only is he there for me, he also has no problem hauling me to the events. Even if it means going earlier for a show.

Bengie Bengala has also been an awesome friend. Bengie has been kind enough to let me ride with him to Autumn Oaks, and even allowed me to hunt his pride and joy, GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Night N Days Dozer HTX, at this year’s Ohio State Youth Hunt. Not only that, but he too has been great about supporting me at the shows and hunts. I can’t forget my friends, Jake and Tyler. These two have hunted with Foozie at her very worst and still wanted to continue hunting with me. I’ve had some of the best memories in the woods with these guys and I don’t think I’d have as much fun with anyone else.

My cousins, Chrissy and Patrick, deserve the biggest thanks, I think. These two adopted me into their home and bought me my first coonhound. They’re the ones who take me to all of these bigger events. Without them, I might have my show handling skills, but I wouldn’t have the hunt or show experience I needed to get this far. Without them I wouldn’t have Foozie, and without them I probably wouldn’t have a coonhound at all. I’d be living a totally different life without them. I’d like to thank all of them, because without any of these people I don’t think I’d be as happy as I am. I’m lucky to have so many people who support me. What they do means the world to me and I hope they all know that.”

Living your dream is one of the most fulfilling things you can accomplish in your lifetime. They don’t come true overnight or on their own. It’s up to you to dream it, chase it, and achieve it. Just like Krystal did. May she accomplish many more of her dreams in the future and continue her winning ways!

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