Beagles find refuge in Prairieville (with video)

From the road, there is nothing about the Rev. Gary and Cindy Peterson’s home that sets it apart from the others in their corner of Prairieville.

But step out the back door, and 20 beagles identify this as a place of refuge. Since 2002, the Petersons have operated Hokie’s Hounds, a rescue organization for beagles.

Why just beagles?

When Cindy Peterson, a speech therapist, volunteered for the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society in 1995, she discovered beagles, a breed made for hunting, made up a surprising percentage of the dogs in need of adoption.

Sometimes, she said, they’re over-bred. Though many hunters are humane, sometimes dogs that don’t keep up with the others get left in the woods.

“I had one hunter tell me pretty specifically they’re not worth feeding another year because it’s a commodity to them,” she said. “It’s not a pet.”

But there is no reason it can’t be. The Petersons have placed about 300 beagles. The dogs that make it to their house live in a spacious yard with a covered patio and an air-conditioned building from which they can come and go through a dog door. A few live in the Petersons’ home.

They go through a $20 bag of dog food per week, said Gary Peterson, who is pastor at Chapel of the Cross Lutheran Church and Calvary Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge. Heartworm and flea medicine runs about $50 a month, and almost all the dogs are heartworm positive when they arrive. The $90 adoption fee doesn’t cover the costs, so they accept donations.

“They just continue to give,” said Sarah Weissman, Hokie’s Hounds treasurer. “They don’t have the kind of jobs where they’re excessively wealthy, yet they put everything they have into this organization.”

Despite a decrease in the number of dogs they’re able to place, the Petersons keep on giving. They once placed more than 40 a year, but this year have only placed a handful of dogs. The Petersons blame a sagging economy and an increase in the number of pet rescue organizations.

They also have to battle misconceptions.

“The beagle by breed is very congenial,” she said. “Right now, we are at 20. You don’t hear anything out there. ... They’re not nuisance barkers.

“They bond well. I think the beagle’s loyalty to its family is what sells it as a good family companion. That’s really what it’s about, making sure we continue to get the word out about them. They’re way more available than we can help. It’s a very sad thing for us. There are very, very fine dogs.”

Among the positives are that they are typically long-lived, good with kids and not typically a danger to bite. Like any breed, beagles aren’t for everyone. They’re highly social, Gary Peterson said, so need to interact with people or other dogs. They aren’t good candidates for off-leash walking, because they’re hard-wired to follow the scents they detect.

“Even if you have done obedience with the dog, if they are after something, you will be looking at nothing but a butt and tail going off in the air,” Cindy Peterson said.

“You have to have a good sense of humor to own a beagle. Clothing out the doggie door. Loaf of bread out the doggie door. … If they can get it out the doggie door, it’s going to go. They’re always smiling, always laughing.”