Being attached to two large and powerful dogs in thick brush is hard enough, but being hooked on to two 130 pound bloodhounds with their nose to the ground on a hot trail is downright crazy! These two dogs, normally docile and loving when at home next to the warm wood stove, have a one track mind when encountering a fresh scent in the woods. I usually let them follow a ground scent for some time when I am with them in the woods by myself. Letting them follow a hot trail while attached to me via two leashes is a real experience. First, few people understand the strength of a bloodhound. These dogs are no ordinary hound. They are very dense and pure muscle. I have seen our female hound, Adia, flip my wife over, making her do a complete feet over head 360 degree spin in the air, with one quick pull. Our male (Cooper) is even stronger, although not nearly as impulsive, as Adia. Cooper is more of the strong steady tug that never retreats. Adia goes from standing to “shot out of a cannon” when she picks up a scent.
So it is on this day, September 27th, that I find myself careening through the woods while the dogs follow a trail. I know by the tracks in the mud we are following a young eastern coyote. And given the lack of water in the silty track and the rain last night I know the track is from this morning. And the dogs baying with each lunge of the tether tells me it is a hot track as well. I soon learn that the coyote is in escape mode, meaning he’s not too far in front of us. A bloodhound has 240 million olfactory receptors in its nose (compared to 4 million for people) and a huge olfactory center in the brain that is dozens of times larger than the olfactory center in the human brain. Bloodhounds have a sense of smell that is more than 1000 times that of humans and dozens of times that of most other dogs. Their ability to discriminate smell is nearly unparalleled unless we are talking about bears. All of this adds up to one heck of a smeller. A nose with legs and a dog attached as the old saying goes. The coyote trail is direct and has no stopping off points. It goes through some thick brush where the dogs can easily enter the same branchy tunnel that the eastern coyote used while I am pulled through a dense thicket breaking through tangled branches and popping a cuff button off of my dungaree shirt that gets caught on a small branch. My shirt sleeve is now flapping in the wind and I’m struggling to stay upright. Handling one of these massive beasts is hard but hanging on to two is more than a challenge. I struggle to stay upright as my size 14 feet get caught up in the brush and with one more tug from Adia I crash down to the earth as the dogs pull forward. Their forward pace is temporarily halted as I struggle to get myself up in the wily tangles that pin me to the forest floor, even they can’t pull a motionless 270 pound object that is tied to the ground with vines and branches. Cooper bays loudly while Adia begins to howl. I manage to untangle my feet which is not easy considering each hound is now pulling my two arms in two different directions. But with a mighty snap of the leash to both dogs they quiet for a moment while I clamber to my feet and try to get some sense of balance. Before I can completely rectify my place in the universe both dogs bolt forward and I unintentionally follow their wake as the dust flies up from their large paws pushing hard in the forest duff.
After what seems like an eternity of breaking brush, snapping vines, and spitting leaves out of my mouth we emerge from the thicket, the dogs baying and still hot on the trail. We enter into an area of open forest. I can feel scratches up and down my right arm that lost the cuff button and across my forehead where I fell to the ground while being dragged forward by these irreverent canines. With open forest in front of me I feel a little more in control and get the dogs to settle by shouting commands that have multiple cuss words attached. The dogs are still baying as only hounds can do but they respond to my expert dog handling skills by running around in circles while I hold both leashes, one in each arm, twisting me into a web of tethers that unwillingly brings the dogs and I together in one unyielding mass. Untangling our predicament requires that I let go of at least one of the tethers for a moment. I choose Cooper given he is less apt to take off for a few moths in pursuit of the eastern coyote. I do not fully let go of Cooper’s leash but rather take the loop off of my wrist and try to unweave it from my body, Adia’s leash, and Adia’s body. Adia whines while I pull Cooper’s leash through her collar (how the hell did that happen without Cooper slipping between her neck and the collar?) and Cooper tilts his head up and howls at the cloud covered sky. After a few moments I can see that we really are three separate entities, align us all in some sort of unorganized fashion, and before I can congratulate myself they take off again in pursuit of the wild canine towing me long the uneven terrain.
The dogs pull at the tethers but I am confident that in these open woods we will make progress without any major disasters. I battle their power with my own strength and my body is now fully prepared for any unpremeditated falls. If they trip me up again I will go down in a relaxed state. I will roll as I hit the ground rather than land flat on my face and as stiff as a board. At least in my mind I will.
The hounds lose the trail for a minute and pull in opposite directions in pursuit of the trail. Adia puts her nose up in the air and tries to detect an air scent while Cooper steadfastly tries to locate the foot trail of the coyote on the ground. Cooper gets and idea and backtracks on the trail that we just covered. Adia has no choice but to follow. Soon Cooper locates another trail where the eastern coyote diverges off the previous path. Cooper heads off in a new direction with Adia trailing behind. Doubling back on a trail is an old coyote trick. It gives them time to get ahead while those that pursue them try to unravel the riddle. Cooper has been around the trailing block a few times and knows all the tricks. Adia, who is very dependent on air scenting, has not learned this pattern because of past success with locating an object by picking up their scent in the air.
We head east down a steep wooded hill where we soon encounter some southeast facing ledges. The ledges have a 40 foot vertical drop. There is no way that I will try to negotiate these while attached to two hounds. Cooper and Adia sense that I am putting an end to the chase and give one last lunge in unison. I fall forward, forget to roll, and do a face plant at the edge of the steep drop off. The unyielding rock proves harder than the cartilage in my nose and I come up bleeding. Sensing my anger the dogs stop pulling and I let them know in no uncertain terms that our adventure is over.
Although they are reluctant to leave the trail the dogs come as I tug them uphill. Cooper decides it will be fun to follow the trail back to where we begin and starts howling. Adia joins in. We are now heading north on the exact trail we came in on. The dogs bay as we move along. Still bleeding from my nose I am simply happy to be returning towards home on this 27th day of September the very day my mother gave birth to me 61 years ago.
Mom would have laughed at me being dragged home by two massive hounds, clothes torn, skin scratched, and bleeding from the nose. Yep, she would have thought it was a riot!
And the hounds? Believe it or not Cooper will lick my torn skin when we get home. He thinks its his job. He’ll lick and lick until he’s certain I will heal. We call him Cooper O’Malley, M.D (medical dog). Adia will put her her upper body in my lap and ask for a good scratch behind the ears. We’re a team, me and the dogs.
All for one, and one for all!
Written for www.wildramblings.com in October 2012.