Another Lost Dog Story

You know how so many of the stories you read in the news these days are just plain depressing?

This isn’t one of those stories.

This is more like last week’s dog story. The one about the dog that was lost for three years and lived on happy meals then was reunited with its owner thanks to the kind heart and perseverance of some people in the community that cared too much not to try to get that dog back to its family in Wyoming.

I think papers should publish more stories like that. So I wrote one of my own.

This is my lost dog story.

When I was much younger, before I could even drive, my dad and I turned loose our two Treeing Walker coonhounds, Jake and Sonny, behind our cabin for a nighttime hunt as we often did. As we waited for them to strike a trail, a nasty summer storm blew in. It was one of those that came in fast and hit hard with lots of rain and wind and thunder and lightning. We couldn’t hear our dogs, they couldn’t hear us, and we hadn’t yet invested in tracking collars. Eventually, we gave up and sought refuge from the storm at home.

It wasn’t the first time we had been forced to leave the two hounds to their own navigational abilities. But it was the first time they hadn’t used those abilities to find their way home by the next morning.

Realizing they hadn’t yet returned, we struck out in search of the wayward canines. The river bottoms south of Burlington comprise a couple thousand acres of unbroken swampland spanning more or less from the Skunk River to the power plant and from the Mississippi to Highway 61. It was a big search area.

We began with the obvious, searching near our cabin and the woods nearby. No dogs. We yelled, whistled, called their names. Still no dogs.

On day two we expanded our search via road. We started notifying neighbors. Some friends joined in the search. The sun set on days two and three and we still hadn’t found our dogs. I began to worry.

We caught a break after dark on the third day. A friend that lived near the sand quarry south of town called saying he thought he could hear Jake barking back in the woods near Patterson Lake in the 600-acre Blackhawk Bottoms Wildlife Area. Dad and I grabbed our lights and ran for the truck.

Jake’s unmistakable chesty bawl echoed through the night as we exited the truck at the small parking lot used by duck hunters in the fall and trash dumpers the rest of the year (incidentally, all that trash is why that parking area is now closed). As we approached, we noticed four sets of glowing eyes up in a tree near where Jake had been barking.

Three sets of eyes were raccoons. The fourth was Jake’s. He was a good fifteen feet up the tree, lodged in the crook of a branch, the three coons above him just out of reach.

Jake often climbed trees in chase of the coons he put up them. Hard to say how long he’d been hung up in that one.

I got him down but after searching nearby, there was still no sign of Sonny.

By day six I was distraught. By day nine, I didn’t know what else to do. I had spent every day after school searching for her.

Sonny had been my first coon dog. Sure, I was glad to have Jake back but I considered him more my dad’s dog than my own. Sonny, on the other hand, was mine entirely. And here Dad was telling me I ought to consider the possibility that I might not ever see her again.

By the end of day ten, I was beginning to give up hope of ever treeing another coon with Sonny.

Then the phone rang. It was that same friend that had located Jake a week earlier.

“Still missing your other dog?” He asked.

“Yep. Why?” Dad asked.

“I think she’s in my yard. You better get down here. She won’t let me near her.”

We ignored speed limits getting there and I was out of the truck before it had fully stopped in the driveway. There, illuminated in the headlights was the unmistakable black, white, and tan markings of my first coon dog. I had my Sonny back!

It took a few days to nurse her back to health. She hadn’t eaten much and had lost a lot of weight. But a week or so later, we returned to the woods to do what coon dogs lived to do. Only this time, and every time thereafter, we sent them off wearing tracking collars.

This piece was originally published in The Hawk Eye as part of my monthly "Living Land" column.