By Claire Oliver
If you’re anything like me, you’ve watched the hit-film O Brother Where Art Thou at least 100 times and can most likely quote the entire movie. When I think about why the decision was made to microchip our Coonhound, Boone, it was pretty simple really. All the times that dog decided to R-U-N-N-O-F-T. Just like Everett, Delmar and Pete, Boone gets a little taste of that freedom and hightails it before you can blink.
He is notorious for his ‘great escape’ adventures, as are many hounds. Yet I don’t think Boone’s escapades are premeditated. He’s a slave to his nose. You know the one. A hound’s sense of smell is stronger than the other four combined. Without that hot-nose they couldn’t ultimately do what they were bred to do. It leads them to a lot of things, including unintentional mischief.
There’s an old saying (because down South we love our sayings), “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. It’s a saying derived from the Old Testament that’s been engrained into the minds of my mothers’ side of the family for generations. Replace mind with nose and you’ve got yourself a Coonhound. My Coonhound. If he’s not sleeping, he’s busy sniffing. His nose is always hot. Always ready. Never idle. If it were, he’d go crazy.
So here’s a story about a runaway hound whose nose led him to trouble. A hound who got a little taste of freedom and ran like the wind…
It was getting close to 7 p.m. on a weeknight in September. I was enjoying an after-hours event when I received a call from my husband. “Hello?” “Boone’s Lost”, were the first words out of his mouth. My stomach immediately dropped. My mother had been keeping Boone like she does most days while we worked. The next words out of his mouth were, “Don’t get upset with your mom. She’s taking it very hard”. He usually knows what I’m going to say before I even say it. But it wasn’t until later that I realized he was right. My mother had taken Boone’s escape extremely hard and was blaming herself. She answered my phone call sniffling, in poor efforts to mask her crying. Trying to remain calm, I asked her what happened and it sounded like this…
Claire, he bolted! [sniffles] I didn’t realize the back gate was open and I ran outside to catch him but he was already half way down the driveway. I just can’t believe how fast he was running. I was hollerin’ and hollerin’ as loud as I could, but he never even looked back! He ran all the way down the driveway and then took a left going towards Lester’s farm. I’m so sorry. [sobs a little] I just can’t believe how fast he ran. [sigh]
Let me set the stage. My family lives in a rural area, however there is a main highway not far from their 22 acre farm which is heavily traveled (concern #1). It was 6:30(ish) and as I drove in that direction I realized there was not much daylight left (concern #2). Having read a significant amount on the Coonhound breed, I was aware that Boone could span miles and miles within a short period of time. My mind and heart raced as I tried to think about where he would go. And why was he running so fast? Did he see something? Smell something?
My husband, dad and I all spread out in our cars and drove slowly with our windows down hoping for a glimpse of him. I stopped anytime I saw someone outside and would ask if they’d seen a tri-color hound. I was searching in an area several miles away from his point of escape, thinking he had to be half way to the next town by then. My poor mother on the other hand decided to set out on foot. I didn’t witness it, but my husband said he passed her in his vehicle as she walked down the no-shoulder, winding country road. She was crying and yelling Boone’s name as her only spectators were the unamused Holstein cattle and neighboring donkey, John Henry. A sight I’m sure. She was in such a state of distress, I can only justify that’s how she completely forgot what Boone looked like when she walked up to a group of children and asked if they’d seen a white dog. “A white dog?” I repeated later. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I thought to myself a white dog is a Great Pyrenese, a Poodle, even a Malti-poo for God sakes. Yes, my Walker Coonhound has white fur amongst his black, brown and speckled body, but I would never refer to him as a white dog. We laugh now about her very inaccurate description of him. Bless her heart.
Forty-five minutes had gone by and the sun was disappearing into the earth. There was barely any daylight left or hope I was holding onto. My dad recognized the despair in my voice when he said, “Has anyone thought to check back at the house? Someone needs to go back in case he decides to return”. I thought yeah right, but decided to listen to him. It’s a funny thing how he’s always right. When I pulled up the long drive, something caught my eye. I noticed some paper wrappings and scraps of trash lying around near the outdoor trash bin that weren’t there before. Aha! A lead! I had a renewed sense of energy and hope. Then a lightbulb went off. Boone had gotten sick that morning so I decided not to feed him during the day. At that moment, I knew exactly what he had in mind and why he was running so fast after it. He was in search of the one thing that is the God of all Gods to a Coonhound:
I jumped out of the car and ran to the back of the property. The sun had completely set, but I could see just enough. I yelled his name and included his favorite word. “Boone, do you want a treeeaaat?”, I repeated slowly pacing the yard. Waiting, wishing for a sign of him. Then I saw it. Something running over the hilltop. All I could see were glowing eyes and the shadow of a four-legged body. I called his name louder “Boone, Boone!” and he ran faster towards me. It was him! Just like the scene from Homeward Bound where Shadow, Sassy and Chance run toward home, my runaway hound dog had found his way back. I crouched to my knees and he ran straight into my arms. I couldn’t quit repeating, “You came back! You came home to me!” He was loving the attention and rolled over on his back for a belly rub, soaking wet. The creek.
I didn’t care. I cried and hugged him hard. I led him around front at the same time my parents pulled up. I could see my mother in the front seat, now sobbing at the sight of his return. We made it inside and Boone was fed an extra helping. He was truly pleased with himself.
This wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last time Boone managed his freedom in search of something. He’s a wanderer and wants whatever his nose can help him find. It was, however, his last escapade without a microchip. I knew I never wanted to feel that unsettling feeling again, even if only for the two short hours he was missing. Now knowing if he does get lost, or R-U-N-N-O-F-T like most occassions, I have peace of mind knowing the chip is there to help us find him.
I’ve loved many dogs, but I have respect for Boone. He knows what he wants, does what he wants, and his love and trust have been earned. Yet sometimes I have to protect him from the things he wants, for his own good. He doesn’t know any better. And when I fail, because it happens, I know I have an extra measure in place. Hats off to whoever invented the microchip for dogs like Boone, who will always let their nose lead the way.
If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly.