Monday, November 13, 2017

Aidan, Spring 2002 - 8 November 2017

My swollen eyes,
     raw throat,
     throbbing head, and
     broken heart
express feelings for which I have no words.

As much as I hurt,
     it is nothing compared to your
          Surprise, when the door burst open;
          Fear, as you fled from the dogs;
          Panic, when safety eluded you;

You trusted me with your life.  I failed.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Great Escape, 2017

8 January 2017

Sunday is a day of rest for some.  Others try to fill their days with activity.  While we had plans, we weren't in a hurry to get outside, since the day had started at -20F.  One plan was for Scott to skijor with three two-dog teams on a trail somewhere.  Another was for me to take a short walk with Sally, just to keep my legs moving.  Later, we were going to take the garbage, which was full to capacity, to the transfer station. 

We started with Dora and I going to the garage to sort the recycling.  While I determined what should go into which box, she investigated every place a squirrel may have been at some point.  Dora and Sally are the only two of our dogs that I am comfortable taking outside without a leash.  Usually.  Solo.  Not in multiples.  Never.  

I vaguely noticed something fly past the garage as I opened the door to let Dora out.  She, too, proceeded to fly, offering me my first lesson of the day:  Always, always, look out the window before letting a dog out, no matter where you think the rest of the dogs are.  Dora was, of course, flying after the setters.  Down the driveway they went, with me yelling incoherently behind them.  

Cold Day
Running first to start the truck, I then ran to the house to alert Scott to the escape.  He was incredulous; he knew that the gate had been latched.  I had looked earlier, and also knew that the gate had been latched.  The buggers had figured it out.  Scott rushed to get the trailer hooked up to the truck, while I grabbed leashes from the van (because you need leashes when you are going to put the dogs directly into the trailer…) and out to check tracks in the driveway.  

There were three sets of tracks headed down the drive to the road, two that veered off into the woods, and no way of knowing which dogs went which way.  Except for Declan, who always heads into the woods.   Declan is either a good boy or an aberration in the setter world.  He came back on his own and right to me when I called him.  He also went quite happily into his crate in the basement.  Three dogs hit the end of the driveway and headed south.  We had no idea where the fourth dog may have gone.

Scott and I headed out, following the feral setter tracks on the side of the road, slowing at driveways to make sure they hadn’t veered off.  Once we hit McNiven, we turned right, because the dogs usually went that way and we assumed that they would do what they usually did.  Just remember what people say about that word.  

Danielle, our wonderful neighbor, was apprised of the situation at 9:22, no more than ten minutes after the yard break.  Vern, another neighbor, spotted one dog headed toward McNiven at 10:30.  Whichever dog that was had covered at least a mile and a half in ten minutes, and was probably behind the others, since Vern didn’t see them.  

We were very confident that the dogs were headed to Chisholm, again, especially since we could see paw prints of the right size running along the road.  We had our first doubts when we came across a deer carcass on the side of the road.  Dogs, especially our dogs, are opportunistic feeders.  There not only weren’t any dogs about, but also weren’t any paw prints.  We turned around.

They had never turned left in the past, even though that direction was more interesting in a non-paved, houseless way.  However, there were four sets of tracks, which would be consistent with that single dog Vern had seen joining up with the others, headed in that direction.  

We followed tracks all the way to highway 25, about six miles from home.  I got out and checked.  There were only two sets of appropriately sized tracks, and they turned onto the highway.  We looked at each other.  What had happened?  Where were the other dogs?  Were these our dogs’ tracks?  Coyote tracks are similar in size.  We followed, anyway, to the top of the Laurentian Divide, at which point we could no longer see tracks and did not believe our dogs would have gone so far.  We turned around.  

Danielle had, in the meantime, also been driving around.  She did the same as we had, first driving toward Chisholm, then back toward home.  She went in the opposite direction entirely, following the road north, to the left from our driveway.  She covered nearly 20 miles. The only tracks she saw were the ones that went south on 25, but she had to go home to relieve her babysitting sister. 
We also went home, to see if any more dogs had returned and to feed Blitz and Lucy.  If they ever learn how to unclip themselves, we will be in great trouble.  

With the addition of food and water for ourselves (coffee for Scott, who lives on it), we went back out, driving again down our road to McNiven, with two different plans in two different minds.  I thought we were going to drive back toward 25 and Scott thought we should go back toward Chisholm; neither of us thought to communicate our ideas with the other.  Fortune, though, was on our side.

We arrived at the stop sign at just the moment Dora was coming onto McNiven opposite us.  She looked tired and ready to go home but did not drop the long feather that was in her mouth.  Sally, her mother, came next, carrying a wing.  Both girls hopped willingly into the trailer, then we turned left, to check out 25 again, now looking for Shady and Lichen alone, and not knowing if they were even together.  It was 11:30.

Again, we got to the corner of McNiven and 25.  Again, we saw prints headed south, toward Kinney, or Buhl, or who knows where.  Again, we followed them until we decided there was no way that they would have gone that way. Again we turned around.  

After dropping the girls off at home, we ended up driving north on highway 73, out of Chisholm.  We had found Sally and Shady several miles north of town in a field off of 73 last year.  She and her brother Lichen may have gone that way, right?  

Next was my second lesson of the day:  Don’t assume that dogs are such creatures of habit that they will always turn right, especially if there are paw prints to the contrary.  Seriously.  Stop.  Get out of the truck.  Check the road thoroughly for tracks going in all directions.

At 3:00, Danielle went back out to see if she might see them.  It was at 4:23 that she called with good news.  We were a good fifteen miles from Buhl when she called.  She had seen them, called to them, offered them potato chips, on a snowmobile trail just outside of Buhl.  They barked at her and ran by.  We were at least fifteen minutes away.  Danielle thought they might have headed north, toward Kinney, and drove along the road where she could keep an eye out for them in the openings between the trees.  

We drove as fast as we safely could to meet up with her.  Feeling brilliant, I suggested Scott drop me off at a trail crossing point so that I could check for tracks while he continued on to see where Danielle was.  At that hour, of course, I could barely distinguish anything in the snow, let alone paw prints on snowmobile tracks.  And, though it was nearly twenty degrees warmer than when we got up, it was cold.  I greatly regretted getting out of the truck long enough for Scott to drive away and leave me.  

In the meantime, Danielle had spoken with a couple of snowmobilers and determined that the dogs had probably continued toward Buhl, rather than turned in my direction.  She came to get me while Scott waited with the trailer.  We held a conference and Danielle headed to Chisholm to talk with snowmobilers on that end of the trail.  This sounds simple, but there are many, many points where a pair of dogs could have deviated from the main trail and disappeared.  

I walked to the point at which the little spur trail joined the Mesabi [bike] Trail section of the snowmobile trail through Buhl.  Shady and Lichen’s prints had been obliterated by snowmobile traffic for the most part, but I did see two different pairs of prints turn left, to Buhl.  I called them and waited until I was too cold before returning to the truck.  

There is an official Mesabi Trail access point in Buhl.  It overlooks a pit lake on which several people were fishing.  I saw no tracks on the trail, aside from those made by snowmobiles and deer, and walked up to the top of the slope, at which point I whistled and called, watching the far side of the lake for movement.  Nothing.  

Scott and I drove around some more.  The light was fading fast.  It started snowing.  These are tough little dogs, but Irish Red and White Setters were not bred to be without shelter in sub-zero weather.  We were much more worried now than we had been even an hour earlier.  We drove randomly through tiny Buhl’s neighborhoods.  In one window, I saw a dog look out.  It’s head had similar markings to our dogs’ heads, so I became momentarily excited.  Then I realized that, even at dusk, that dog was liver and white, not red and white.  

Map of Lost Dogs
As we were approaching the Mesabi Trail access point again at about 5:00, Scott suddenly began yelling at me.  “There they are!  Get out!  Get out!”  He was practically pushing me out the door before I could get my seat belt off.  I saw them trotting with their heads down and tails out, in a very determined fashion, as I struggled out of the truck and up the trail. 

Now, I had been fantasizing on how this would go:  We would see the dogs and I would give the “come” whistle.  In my fantasy, Shady and Lichen would stop when they heard the whistle and come running when I squatted on the ground with my arms outstretched.  The probability was more along these lines:  I would whistle and they would glance over their shoulders, look each other in the eye, and continue on their way, frightened by now of any people they saw.   

The reality:  I managed to get out of the truck just as they moved out of sight beyond a building.  I whistled, I ran, I whistled again and gave the pathetically high-pitched “hey hey hey” that field trialers know me for.  When I got around the building, there they were, standing on the slope, looking back.  I called their names, dropped to my knees, and opened my arms to them.  

They came running.  I was never so happy to see them respond to a recall and they seemed to be just as happy to respond to it.  They were ten miles by road from home, nearly six hours into their adventure, and they were strong and confident.   Their tails were out and wagging and their heads were up and observant. 
Tired Lichen

I walked them up the side road Scott had continued up (to block the dogs’ path on the trail).  They ran happily to Scott, too, and then, like their mother and half sister, hopped gratefully into the trailer for their ride home.  

None of the dogs were injured during their wanderings and they all smell delightfully of Balsam.  Sally, at 11, has been walking up and down the stairs, as has Dora, who has spondylosis.  Lichen and Shady are also a bit stiff but appear to be shaking it off more quickly, as they are younger and in much better condition.  Lichen has been walking carefully, with his hind legs a little more apart than usual, due to abrasion to his dangly bits, but he will be fine.  

The final lesson?  Don’t believe dogs can’t open gates, just because they have no thumbs!

New Addition to the Latch