Outdoors Column: Dog Gone

Billie, our poodle, is getting to be a big dog. He may look like an adult, but most of the time acts like a puppy. A sixty-pound dog running through the house throwing a tennis ball in the air or making a running leap onto someone’s lap can get on a person’s nerves after a while. He is full of puppy energy that needs be expended occasionally or I think he might explode. This is most easily done by letting him run outside. He can not be trusted to go outside while Jag, the terrier, is out as Jag likes nothing better than to have a buddy to go hunting with him. Though Billie enjoys hunting, we do not enjoy brushing the burrs out of his poodle hair afterwards. The procedure is, put Jag in the garage, let Billie out to play, bring Billie back in, let Jag out of the garage. The system, though annoying and time consuming, works well as Billie stays around the house, usually.


One day last week, my wife called and said Billie was gone. She had let him out and went to bring him back in after ten or fifteen minutes. He was nowhere to be found. After an hour, she knew we had a problem. He never wanders off for that much time, even when he has gone hunting with Jag. By the time I got home, though neither of us expressed to the other, we were both thinking the worst. At this time of year, coyotes will lure dogs away and attack them. Billie would not do well in a fight. As well as not knowing how to fight, he has not grown all his adult teeth. I thought about the possibility of falling through the ice on the lake again, not sure he learned his lesson from the last time he did that. He could be somewhere with his collar caught on a branch or fence, unable to free himself.


I started driving the farm, looking for signs where he might have been. It had been several days since it had snowed so there were tracks everywhere. Near the house were dog tracks from Billie and Jag with just a few rabbit and deer tracks mixed in. Farther away were large numbers of deer tracks, a few turkey, raccoon, and coyote tracks. All these tracks mixed in with a few left by Jag as he travelled the farm, made it impossible to determine which direction Billie had gone.


I drove the Ranger through deep snow over the trails in the timber, stopping occasionally to call and listen. After an hour I went back to the house to warm up and see if the lost dog had shown up. No such luck. My wife was near tears by this time, knowing as the sun got closer to setting, Billie’s time was running out. He would not make it through the night if he had not already come to an untimely demise. I had gone every direction except north into the horse pasture. He had never ventured there or even ridden with me when I drove out there, so I thought he would not go there exploring. I drove through deep snow toward the north pond. When I was about a quarter of a mile from the house, I stopped and called like I had done so many times before. This time, I heard a bark. From across the far ditch, Billie was running toward me as fast as he could go. He jumped into the Ranger and was as happy to see me, as I was him. He was shivering from cold and fear. He must have followed a deer or turkey far enough that he got lost and could not find his was home. After a joyous reunion with my wife, Billie found a warm spot on the couch and took a long nap.


As well as not being able to go outside with Jag, Billie is now restricted to only being able to play outside in our line of sight until the electronic range limiting collar arrives. None of us can handle the stress of him getting lost again.