Hunting Dogs

To The Dogs

How many times have you heard, “Don’t get attached to them, they’re hunting dogs?”  That doesn’t hold true in my family.  The dogs ARE a part of the family…..they eat before we do, they get a bath before we do, and their house is cleaned before ours.

My first experience with a hunting dog was an English Pointer.  Daddy and “Pete” hunted quail and always came home with several to grace the family dinner table.  Pete was also the family pet.  He always seemed to know when all of us kids were having a sleep over and telling ghost stories.  He would walk in front of the window at the scariest point in the story.  All we saw was a big white ghost scaring us to death and making us believe every word we had ever heard from these stories.  Pete loved my Daddy and when he saw Daddy’s truck come around the curve, Pete would run up the road, just in sight, and then run down the road, still managing to meet Daddy when he got out of the truck at the house.  The entire family was crushed when we came home one night and Pete didn’t meet us.  I will never forget when Daddy found him and he had been shot, one of the few times Daddy used language that wasn’t appropriate for us kids.  Over the years we had other bird dogs and many coon dogs.  One particular coon dog puppy, my Mother rocked to sleep every night.  They were all our friends and always provided an ear to listen to all our hurts and sorrows with undivided attention and soulful eyes. 

My husband Gary and our sons, Ben and Doug always had at least one coon dog over the years.  They were an important part of our lives and as a family we mourned each and every loss.

Several years ago Gary and I got our first German Shorthair Pointer.  It was my first experience with the breed but definitely will not be my last.  Gunn loved to hunt almost as much as he enjoyed playing ball.  If we came home empty handed after a day in the Grouse Woods, we knew the birds were just not moving because Gunn did his job.  As Gunn grew older we had to shorten our hunts, but we just couldn’t leave him at home.  Hunting was what he did! 

Gunn was just so special, we couldn’t have just one, so we got our second Shorthair, Katie and then it just naturally followed that we had to have puppies.  We anticipated the arrival of the puppies with much excitement.  We had an oversized dog house fully equipped with heat and carpet…all the extras to make mother and babies comfortable, or so we thought.  Gunn started barking early one cold February morning and I went to the door to fuss at him for barking.  When I opened the door, I heard the puppies whining.  Gary and I donned jackets and boots and went out to check on the new arrivals.  Katie had presented Gunn with five puppies, literally.  Evidently Katie did not agree that the new house was everything a dog could want.  She would have a puppy, pick it up, climb the chain link fence and put the puppy in Gunn’s dog house.  She would return to her nice heated, comfortable house to have another puppy.  And then start all over.  Gunn was barking because he couldn’t get into his house and it was cold.  We moved the puppies back to Katie’s house but she spent the rest of the night moving them back for Gunn.

The puppies were a joy. They were pointing grouse wings at an early age.  The hardest part was deciding which one to keep.  My vote was “all of them.”  When the puppies were a month old, Katie had to have minor surgery.  Following the surgery, she could not get wet or dirty.  What choice did we have?  We moved Katie and the puppies into our house.  The plan was to keep them confined on the tile floor in the utility room when we were at work.  Katie again had other plans and learned to open the door.  We gave up and the dogs pretty much had the run of the house.  If we laid on the couch, we had puppies laying with us.  I took turns with them rocking them to sleep.  We had to cordon off our bedroom to keep them from waking us at all hours of the night.  Television was a thing of the past, we just watched the puppies.  I felt like my kids were leaving home when each one of them left. 

We lost Gunn when the puppies were only six weeks old.  Our grief was eased because we had his son to carry on the legacy.  GJ loved his ball and my arm would give out long before he got tired of playing.  He would bring back anything you threw.  Walking through the woods, many times Gary would throw a limb out of the trail.  If GJ saw him, it was only a short time till he was dragging it up the trail to bring back to Gary.  I threw an over ripe cucumber out of the garden and when I turned around, GJ had brought it back to me, with no teeth marks!  He retrieved his first woodcock when he was six months old.  One trip to Michigan and he found he liked grouse as much as his dad.  He would get so excited at the first sniff of a grouse, just running every which way.  On a pheasant hunt to Iowa, he took to the fields like he had been doing it all his life.  He gave us so much joy.  He recently died in a freak accident.  Our first hunt to Michigan without him was bittersweet as we couldn’t keep from remembering how much he had loved to hunt.  Some of our enthusiasm for the hunt dimmed to know he was not with us.

Each of our dogs has left a lasting impression on our lives and a good memory in our hearts.  We again hit the grouse woods this fall with Katie and Sadie (our newest Shorthair).  We will make new memories as well as pause a moment to remember the dogs not joining us this season and the good memories of time well spent!


Coon Hunt

Darkness starts to fall as his tail begins to wag.  I grin as I put on my snake boots and light belt.  There is a bite in the air when I hook his lead and prepare to have my arm jerked off on the way to the truck.  I drop the tailgate and he is in before I can give him the command.  He is young but it’s time for him to step up and show us what he’s got.  His big dark eyes search mine for guidance.  I just smile knowing he has plenty to learn and I know just the dog to teach him.

We take an hour ride to a friend’s house to load up the “trainer.” A beauty of a Walker drags her owner to the tailgate and a night of coon hunting bliss is off to a great start.  Of course, all the way to the woods the stories of the past and those yet to come are traded in the cab.  We pull up to the first drop spot, walk around the back of the truck to the sound of tails slapping the side of the dog box.  We drop the tailgate and reach in for the dog we are leading.  Each of the three of us has one to handle.  My Black and Tan Eight steps out a ball of energy and excitement, as the Walker Haley hits the ground, she is all business.  My husband rounds the truck with his borrowed hound and we are off.  We step into the woods as their noses and tails go to work.  Reaching down for the collar as we line them up, someone calls out “cut them” and they are off like thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby.  A few seconds go by and we hear a strike bark from Haley.  Our conversation falls to shear silence as we wait.  Bullet the other walker falls in next and then he does it.  Eight opens and my heart jumps in my throat!  It’s such an amazing sound to hear a dog you believe in so much turn over and become a coonhound.  They are hot on the ringtails’ track working out just where it traveled.   Down the ridge, up the next, back down and around, then a long locate and they set down to chop.  I haven’t been coon hunting long but anyone can learn the sounds of a coon hunt gone right.  This one was right on track.  The season is still open a few more weeks so we roll the coon out to the dogs waiting at the bottom.  You can see the reward is greatly appreciated as the dogs go in.

Eight is wound up and I am all smiles.  He may not have done most of the work but I know he did the most learning that night.  As we head to the truck I turn to look back at my husband when Eight decided he wants to help Haley carry the coon.  He jumps ahead as we are going down a steep hill.  He jerks hard and I fall on my rear trying to hold him as we go down the hill.  I dig my heels in and stand up only to lose balance and fall on my face. Twenty yards down the hill he finally reaches his destination.  I am stretched out like I was sliding into home.  I stand up all smiles, dirt, skinned elbows and laughing friends.  That is when I knew I was going to love coon hunting.


Winter time in Nevada

In our neck of the woods, winter snowfall means Mountain Lions. We all sit by the radio, glued to the weather channel, and checking the internet every ten minutes for any precipitation that might make it to our mountain ranges. Come about November we start working the dogs, training them to get ready for the infamous lion track that we might cut. The ideal day is a beautiful cold sunny day right after any kind of snow fall. It doesn’t have to be a foot, but even a dusting will do. Anything to decipher if the track is fresh or not, the dogs take it from there.

With the sun coming over the mountain tops and our breath crystallizing in the air, we bundle up to take a trip on the snowmobiles, covering lots of land until we see a track worth investigating. Once we find something, we head back to the trucks and hook the dog sleighs to the sleds, load up the hounds and back we go. The worst part of this is staying calm enough to not tip the sleigh and dump the dogs to many times on the way back to the track. We start by pulling the lead hounds out first. Still leashed we lead them to the track to see what they do. We’ll walk them (or I should say, they’ll drag us) a ways to see if the track is hot enough to run and on the hounds cue, we turn them loose. From there, we better be ready cause we are in for a hike. Whether 500-yards or 6-miles, we push thru snow and trees, trying to stay as close to the tracks and the dogs as we can. There are few things that I compare to the sound of praising God in song, but the melodious sounds that hounds make when they are on a hot track is one of them. Not to mention when they are treed!

It’s an exhilarating experience to come up on a pack of hounds baying up a tree at one of God’s most majestic creations. But at the same time, before you do anything to that cat, you have to contain the hounds. That can be one of the scariest things you will ever do. 20-yards or less from a mountain lion and you are getting in closer to contain the dogs. The dogs are so excited they are trying to climb the tree themselves and you are going in after them! Stupid or… no, it’s stupid!!!

Sometimes we actually take the cat, but most of the time we just take photos. It’s amazing to follow and watch these creatures; they are just like a house cat. They may be in the wild, but their habits and instincts are very similar. The same way that my big fluffy orange cat (Tang) lounges on the couch with a ray of sunshine on him, a mountain lion will lounge on a rock. The way Tang creeps around the house, staying as close to the walls as possible, the mountain lion covers his country, slithering between trees and under rock lips. However, I keep waiting for the opportunity to find out if a mountain lion, like Tang will dive his head into my hand when I scratch his ear, or, will he just eat my hand?!!!

I hunt many seasons and many animals, but this one gets me thinking and working more then any of them.

It is not always about the trophy you can put on the wall, but about the trophy you keep in your heart.

God Bless

Julie Hughes


Is Your Pet Ready For Cold Weather??

Winter is coming and while we all know the long list of things we need to do to winterize our homes, cars, and even ourselves, there are a few things we can do that will make winter more enjoyable for our pets.

One of the most important is to take care using anti-freeze which is extremely toxic to dogs and cats. Unfortunately, antifreeze is sweet-tasting and pets will lap it up if they find even a few drops in the driveway or on the garage floor. One-half teaspoon of antifreeze per pound of dog body weight is enough to cause the clinical signs of poisoning. The poison attacks the nervous system and the kidneys; the symptoms are depression, lack of coordination, vomiting and diarrhea, increased thirst, and seizures. The toxin is rapidly absorbed; symptoms can begin within an hour of exposure.

If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, call your veterinarian immediately. There is an antidote available, but time is of the essence; the poison can be fatal if the kidneys are damaged. Most antifreeze available now is non-toxic, check the label.

Salt used for de-icing roads and sidewalks is great for us, bad for your pet’s pads. It dries out your dog’s pads. To prevent problems, wash your dog’s toes and pads with warm water after walks to remove any salt residue and dry them thoroughly.

Dog booties are available to protect paws, but many dogs do not like to wear them. Baby oil rubbed on and between the pads helps keep pads pliable and eliminate ice build-up when snow and slush cover the ground, streets, and sidewalks.

One way to prevent snow and ice from causing problems is to keep the hair between your dog’s toes and pads clipped short, even with the bottom of the foot. When hair is left too long, snow sticks to it, forming ice balls that are uncomfortable and hard to remove. Long hair between the pads also reduces traction, making it easier for your dog to slip and hurt himself on the ice.

Good nail care is important, too. Nails that are too long also reduce traction. They force the dog to walk on the backs of his feet, splaying his toes. The greater the space between his toes, the more snow will pack up between them.

When the temperature drops, dogs with short single coats of hair may benefit from wearing a coat. Dogs with double layers of hair such as Labs rarely require extra help.

Sometimes cold weather can bring on problems with dogs not wanting to go out  to go bathroom. This happens mostly with young dogs and toy breeds.  If necessary, shovel snow from the area you want her to use. If she will not relieve herself then and there and isn’t trustworthy loose in the house, confine her to a dog crate when she can’t be supervised. For most dogs, even stubborn ones, this refresher course in housetraining 101 reminds them that they’re expected to be ladies and gentlemen whatever the weather.

Does your dog spend time most of his time outside during the winter? That’s okay as long as he has the right equipment. Start with a small, cozy, insulated dog house. Bigger is not better! The house needs to be small to trap and hold your dog’s body heat which will help keep him warm through the night. It should be just large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down in comfortably. Put the house in a sheltered location out of the wind. Take advantage of the sun’s warmth by putting it on the east or south side of your home. Place it on a low platform, a pallet will work, to keep it off the frozen ground.  The house should have a door or heavy flap over the entrance to keep out drafts. Frostbite can occur in dogs, especially on the ears and scrotum so extreme temps do warrant an invite in for the night.

Want to put bedding in the house for your dog? Good idea as long as it stays dry. Straw is a great insulator but needs to be changed when it gets wet.

Not sure how to keep fresh water available when it’s 20 below? Remember this- metal objects conduct and lose heat quickly so switching to a heavy plastic dish will help. Dark colors absorb heat from the sun and a deeper dish will freeze less quickly than a wide, shallow one. A more efficient solution is an electric bucket heater or birdbath de-icer. Just make sure the cord is covered and can’t be chewed.

Like people, animals’ bodies become accustomed to the climate they live in. Getting used to the cold is harder when we’re exposed to frequent changes in temperature - one minute warm, the next minute cold. It’s usually recommended that a dog meant to live outside should be kept outside much of the time. This doesn’t mean, though, that your dog must stay out constantly during periods of extreme cold or very bad weather. Please do bring your dog in when it’s not fit outside for man nor beast!


Requiem for my Redbone

Greg got her for me on our 14th wedding anniversary. He said there wasn’t a better way to tell me he loved me than to give me a dog. I am a dog lover to the bone and growing up with Black and Tan Coonhounds, any hound dog has a special meaning to me. We adopted her from an animal shelter (remember, they used to call them the "pound"?) in Titusville, Florida. I named her "Ruby" - we said she was a Redbone hound, but nobody knew what she was. She did have the appearance of a Redbone but her left eye was blue - not a normal trait of a hound.

She was pitiful when we brought her home. We had no idea how old she was and didn’t know anything else about her. She was a mere frame of a dog - she had been severely neglected and abused. The vet would not even spay her until we added 30 pounds to her bony frame. Her back legs would not support her as she tried to run and play with our year old Beagle, Buster. We began our journey to bring her to full health and restore her faith in people.

Ruby blossomed into a fine dog! She filled out nicely, had a healthy shine to her red coat, and learned to trust us not to abuse her. She was always very sensitive, although she rarely needed any correction, her beagle companion demanded constant reminders to quit barking and/or destroying anything in his path, she would tuck her tail tightly and cowl down when Buster was verbally reprimanded for whatever it was that he had done.

She used her feet like a cat; I have never seen a dog do the things she would do with her paws. Our home in Florida had a screened in pool and while Ruby didn’t particularly care to go for a swim, she enjoyed watching Buster as he did. Once, as Buster tried to climb out of the shallow end of the pool, Ruby continued to push his head under the water with her foot - should have had a video!

She lived most of her life as a "city" dog; she never got to hunt. We lived in areas where both had to be confined in back yards and they rarely got the freedom to be out and about - and only without a leash when Buster had managed some escape tactic and she followed along. These escapades always made me think of the scene from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp when Tramp taught Lady to chase chickens!

As my husband’s Air Force career moved us from one state to another and our son to different school systems, it seemed each grade level required the students to read Where The Red Fern Grows. Jeremiah, our son, would have Ruby as a guest in his English class as a "show and tell" - a Redbone like Billy Coleman’s Little Ann.

I’ve know of Redbones that were very aggressive - don’t know if it was their upbringing or breeding that made them that way, but Ruby was very passive/submissive. She was very tolerant of Buster (the Beagle that thinks he’s a Rotwiller), but there were many times that she had no choice but to fight when he would jump on her for reasons only Buster knew. I pulled them apart many times and while Ruby was very slow to fight, she would seem to only be trying to hold the hornet until he came to reason (which he would not). She never tore him up as I am convinced she could have easily done. She would try to hold his head in her mouth, gently. When I would pull them apart, Buster seemed to think that he could easily whip her if I would only hold her for him!

When my husband retired, we moved one last time to NW Arkansas. Although we live in a very rural and remote area on forty acres, I could not let my dogs have the freedom to run loose. We would walk them (on leashes) down to Beaver Lake. Ruby loved to swim - she would go out as far as she could (I believe she would have swum across the lake had she had the opportunity!). She had never liked the swimming pool, but she did love to swim the lake and I would go in with her.

In the spring of 2000, Greg bought an English Setter pup, Charlie. We penned Charlie and Ruby together and let Buster enjoy his personal space as an only dog. Charlie and Ruby bonded splendidly. They did escape once and I did not find Ruby until the next day and Charlie was gone for two. I found Ruby about 5 miles from the house so sore and tired she could not walk on her own. At about twelve years old, the old girl had set out on an adventure with a young bird dog and just could not keep up. Some construction workers had seen her but she would not come to them when they called her, they left me a message and when I went to where they had seen her and called, I heard a pitiful cry in reply and found my old girl exhausted, hiding in some brush. She cried as I put her in the Jeep and continued to cry (howl) until I found Charlie the next day and three miles farther from home. Once he was back with her, she recuperated quickly from the adventure.

She had a beautiful voice, coarse and soft at the same time, deeper in tone than other female hounds I have had. She taught Charlie to howl like a hound dog. And as we added another Setter to our dog population, Laci learned to howl too. Laci and Charlie had a litter of pups on Christmas Day, 2004. We kept three of the pups. My husband is a bird hunting guide, he kept Dash and Two Dot to train as bird dogs and I kept Little Bit because she was the runt (that’s another story!). When coyotes would do their midnight serenade, Ruby, Buster, and the Setters sing along in perfect hound dog harmony. Eventually, this became a ritual - even without the coyotes.

Charlie is a very healthy and athletic dog, but on wintry or gloomy days, he seems to be prone to depression. Ruby would not leave him alone to mope, she’d pounce at him until he would have no choice but to get up and romp and play with her. To our knowledge, they never fought. They had a special bond and were buddies. They stayed in the same doghouse, although they had one each (we call it the twin howlers), they would drag out their blankets and lay in the sun together.

With the exception of her initial malnourished condition, Ruby was healthy. She only required routine checkups for shots, etc. She had a good health check up in the fall of 2004, but in February of 2005, there was a sudden change. Her blue eye turned red. She could still see and had a playful attitude and healthy appetite - I just passed it off that she had in some way injured her eye. There was no indication of infection or inflammation. About a week later, she was blind and in spite of her appetite, seemed to have lost down to the frail frame of a dog I’d adopted some twelve years ago, although her abdomen seemed to be of normal size, her hip bones began to protrude. Ruby always loved cornbread, she heartily ate the servings I made the night before we took her into the vet.

I had requested her appointment with the vet that owns the clinic I use. She is the best vet I’ve ever worked with (and I have worked with many over the years). Karen is honest and direct and I knew she would give the advice that was best for Ruby.

Greg brought Ruby in and we met at the vet’s office. As Karen examined Ruby, I knew it was serious. There was a mass, rapidly growing. Our options were exploratory surgery, tests, etc. Her loss of sight was irreversible and she was suffering.

I had prayed that God would give me the strength to do what was right for my friend and He did.

I stayed with her, held her head and talked to her as Karen injected the strong dose of anesthetic that would stop my dog’s heartbeat. With eyes shut tightly and tears flowing freely, I thanked her for what she had brought to my life. My husband told me I needed to watch to see how peaceful her departure was, but I didn’t - I wasn’t there for me, I was there for my friend, so she could know I loved her as she left. I had her remains cremated. I buried her close to my treestand where the sunshine she always enjoyed will shine on her grave in the morning and evening.

Initially, the routine serenade brought me to near unbearable heartache as one voice was missing. I now find comfort in that canine melody, Ruby is still with us in our hearts and the voices of the other dogs.

© June 2005