I belong to a forum that discusses tracking, wildlife, and nature awareness, and was reading this morning about a woman who lost one of her dogs while hiking in the mountains. The story was from last spring, so I don’t know the outcome – but there was much discussion about whether or not the coyotes would have killed the dog (a rat terrier) or whether the dog would find its way home. The story brought back memories of my own experience with this awful scenario.
Two springs ago, I was living in Kentucky. My then-husband brought home a very pregnant stray beagle, who whelped nine puppies. Six survived. They were half beagle, and half coyote/husky. Terrible combination – runners all. We lived nine miles into the woods from the main road, near the Daniel Boone National Forest. Coyotes everywhere, and an occasional mountain lion. Rarely any bears.
Now that you have a scene setting, on with the story. This is Howie, one of the kids at 6 wks. of age. His name started out as Howler, because at three weeks old, he started throwing back his head, coyote fashion, and howling his little heart out. It just evolved into Howie. When he’s naughty, it’s Howard.
Howie’s little brother is Joe Dirt. Joe was the runt of the litter, and so named because his momma, Sadie Lou, would remove him from the nest in the shed and stick him in the dirt under the studio. She would tend to him there, but she’d also leave him there. We’d have to dig him out of the dirt every evening and put him back in with the others for the night.
Early one July morning, on a Tuesday, when these pups were 13 weeks old, Sadie took Howie, Joe, and Wasi (pronounced Washeee, Lakota for lard) for a run up the mountain. The other pups had been placed, so we had only these three left. Sadie and Wasi came back in about an hour. Joe Dirt and Howie didn’t. As it started to get dark, we realized the pups were lost. We called and called and called. We turned Sadie loose, hoping she’d go get them. She lay out on the lawn and showed no concern at all.
We worried all night about our boys, lost on that mountain, and we were up at the crack of dawn, hoping to find two lost puppies on the porch. No such luck. We hiked as far as we could, calling. We would go outside and yell for them about every half hour. We borrowed an ATV and searched. We feared the worst. There were coyotes, lions, rattlesnakes, copperheads, caves and caverns. I had thoughts of the pups falling into a cave and starving to death. It was one of the worst times in my life. I can’t imagine what parents who lose human children go through.
By Wednesday noon, I had made flyers, using the picture of Howie, and put them in the first gas station down the road (12 miles away) in the hopes someone would see them. We drove around the mountain and left flyers at all the neighbors, where the pups might show up if they made it out of the woods. Everyone told us not to bother, the coyotes will surely kill those pups.
Friday morning, my husband had gone to one of the neighbors and I was home alone. We had pretty much given up on the pups – when I looked out the window to see a very skinny, very tired looking Howie coming around the side of the studio from the woods – followed by little Joe Dirt!
Somehow, against all odds, these two had found their way home. They were terribly thin and dirty, and very tired, but otherwise unscathed. They pooped dirt and insects for a day – I guess that’s what kept them alive.
Of course, after that experience, the boys had to stay. My ex still has them, and I get progress reports from time to time. There’s now a chain link fence around the whole property, and running time is restricted to the yard.
I can only hope the woman who lost the rat terrier fared as well.
Joe Dirt at home