The Story

Excerpt from the bloodhound book, Red Dog Rising:

Ronin was now definitely on the tracks of those I had found before.
He didn’t have his nose right down on them, but I could tell that he was following their general direction. This heartened me considerably, because it leant credence to his work. He trailed to a small bridge used for foot traffic and farm equipment that spanned the width of the canal and gazed across. The footing was a little funny due to large gaps between the creosote-covered planks. Ronin didn’t like to see through the gaps and always lunged across these types of bridges. He did the same thing on this day. He looked left and right just before crossing with this little worried look he used to get and then took two uncoordinated bounds and was over the bridge.

Ronin - Red Dog Rising

Ronin Red Dog Rising

Ronin picked up the trail with absolutely no hesitation on the other side. This time, he was on a foot trail running parallel to the cattail jungle on the west side of the canal. He was picking up speed with every few yards we traveled, and his nose was coming up off of the ground a little more than before. In these conditions, he was telling me that we were getting close. When his speed increased to a modest sprint, I knew that he was on something very hot. Dogs can normally run a scent trail fairly quickly in most conditions as long as the trail is fresh. Ronin’s speed let me know that this trail was pretty fresh indeed. The irony of that did not strike me until later.

Ronin ran up to another one of the farm bridges about a half-mile down the little footpath. The bridge was the same type—creosote covered railroad ties about twelve Inches Square with several inch gaps between each. This time, Ronin did not even hesitate. He simply got to the bridge and leapt. This time it was completely graceful, and grace is not a descriptive word for normal bloodhound maneuvers. His jump took him almost all the way across the ten-foot span, but not quite. However, both his hind and fore feet met together on the same railroad tie about three quarters of the way across, and he leaped again, clearing the short remaining length to the grass on the other side. His commitment and complete lack of fear or concern gave him a type of balance that I had never observed until this particular day. Every muscle rippled across his flanks, and he was moving as if we were running for our very lives. Maybe he was running for a life, just not his or mine.

I was at the tail end of my thirty-foot lead and holding on with every ounce of energy I could spare. My breath felt short and thick, and I tried desperately to make Ronin slow down, but he would have nothing to do with that. I was trying to yell, “Slow down!! Please!” in between ragged gasps, but I think that my voice was little more than a soft squeal. I was frightened that I was going to lose Ronin, because my legs were failing and it seemed as if he was just pulling away a little more with each lunge.
Our little foot trail was turning softly to the left, or east, and my lead was raking across the cattails on the canal bank, causing them to bend with the tension and force we were creating. Strangely, of all the things that were flashing by me at that time, I seem to recall the slight sound that our lead made as it scraped across the stalks of those water plants—a continuous “swoooooossshhh” sound like a kite racing through a windy sky. I lost sight of Ronin because of the bend in the trail and the cattails in between.

All of a sudden, I ran up on a slack lead lying on the ground and leading into the forest of green next to the waterway. This was the thickest part of the stand of cattails anywhere along the canal. They were taller, and each stalk was the thickness of two of my fingers. The lead was not moving any longer, and I couldn’t see Ronin. I noticed the tufts at the top of each coblike sprout at the peak of the stalks in the interior swaying back and forth and deduced that Ronin was just a few feet inside, but I could see nothing. I was worried that something might have happened to Ronin and had absolutely no idea what it was that he was doing, so I quickly parted the reeds and bulled my way through…..

Jeff Schettler Author »