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Dr. Keaton Smith is a graduate of the University Of Kentucky College Of Agriculture with a doctorate ...

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Dr. Smith's Journal

I chat about veterinary medicine and the life of a country animal doctor.
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That Dog Can Run!

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I heard the first crack followed by a loud pop. My hands tightened around the tree branches hoping that would save me in the event that things decided to go south, literally. I clung to the snow-covered limb not moving a muscle. So far things seemed to be holding. I could see the ground some 60 to 70 foot below me all covered in snowy powder from the night before, and I knew it would be of little cushion if I fell out of this tree.

Like all good Kentucky boys of the late 70s and early 80s, I was full of energy and the world offered a lot of adventure that didn’t include video games or YouTube. My family’s RCA TV was hooked up to an antenna and we fought over the three whole channels that blurred across the screen. Occasionally we could watch a show between the rainbow-colored lines that danced across the screen. That held very little interest for me because I had dogs ─  lots and lots of furry little beagle dogs. And, I had space ─  tons and tons of open mountain space.

That cold Saturday morning, my father was off to work, or he had other duties that I can’t remember, but regardless I was hunting alone on a small farm one of our church friends owned. Basically, I had a little over 600 acres of nothing to take my hunting dogs out and see if any rabbits were stirring. My dogs were so excited to go, especially Pete.

Now Pete was a special dog. He was the shortest of the lot, and to look at him from a hunter’s point-of-view, you wouldn’t give a slim nickel for him. His front legs were bowed like a bulldog. His head was the biggest part of his body, and his ears were big like a Bassett Hound. We knew his mother and father, and to look at them and to look at him would cause you to shake your head. Dad would always say, “That dog’s momma went dancin’ one night and left daddy at home.” I never really knew what that meant, but I would laugh every time he said it.

However, Pete had something the other dogs simply couldn’t match. His nose was a 5-star supernova of rabbit findin’ power. He had a superpower of a super sniff. I am telling you, he was the super-star secret weapon of shock and awe. This dog could smell where a rabbit had been, in the snow, three days after it had come and gone. And to match his nose was his voice. He was loud and proud and could sing like an Opera star from Germany. Yes, he was The Man and the most prized of our dog family. My father had been offered big money for Pete and had turned down numerous offers in hopes of some offspring that would carry his famous genetics.

However, Pete was also a stupid dog. Yes, I am sorry to say, that I called him a lot of names that morning, especially from the top of that tree. See, Pete’s nose was so powerful, that he didn’t care a lot of times if he was running a rabbit, a squirrel, or even worse the dreaded deer. There was nothing worse than a Pete jumping a deer from a trail. See, rabbits will always come back to where they started. They run in big circles hoping to get back to their burrows. Squirrels and raccoons will find a tree and head straight up. So after a short chase, the beagle quits and gets back to work. Not with a deer.

Those horses of the forest just keep running, for miles and miles and miles. Nothing slows them down or turns them, they just keep going. Pete had decided that today was a good day to find a deer and take off. No good!

Most non-hunters wouldn’t know that you can tell what a dog is running by their bark. They actually have a different language for what animal they are chasing. I know, you are now thinking, “baloney!” But I swear to you it’s true. I knew immediately when I heard Pete squall with the long, deep pitch that he found a deer and was on the run. I was hoping to grab his attention before he got going. But it was of no use because he was gone. My other two dogs were hot on the trail after him. So after walking and chasing for nearly 2 miles, I decided maybe if I climbed a tree, I might be able to catch a direction to find them.

Right in front of me was a huge pine. I loved climbing Pine trees because they have lots and lots of branches lending themselves to be like ladders. I made my way to the trunk and started climbing, leaving my gun and backpack behind on the ground. Higher and higher I went until I was near the top of the tree and I was looking out over the ridge. I listened as closely as I could, trying to pick up a noise. I was met with total silence. I started calling out over the valley when I heard the first “pop.”

I really didn’t understand how far up the tree I had come. I was a stout fellow of about 180 pounds, but surely that wasn’t enough weight the tree couldn’t hold.

Suddenly another crack and a louder pop ripped through my feet. I completely forgot about Pete and hugged closer to the trunk, becoming statue still. For a moment, things calmed down as my mind raced evaluating the situation. A small breeze picked up some of the snow and blew it in my face as if to mock me for my youthful folly.

I reached over with my hand to wipe my face when it happened. The branch holding my weight snapped completely from the tree down, down I went as gravity did its job accelerating my mass towards an impact with another branch. This limb became a victim as well and didn’t hold, snapping like a toothpick in my grandmother’s false teeth. And then another, and another and another until I landed in a puff of snow and green pine needles. I opened my eyes now lying on my back, flat on the ground. I took out every single limb of the north side of the tree.

I couldn’t breathe because I had knocked every single last drop of air out of my chest, but I also could stop staring at the sheer destruction I had caused to the tree. It was completely bare on the one side and all I could think about was how that could even be possible. Suddenly three wet tongues started licking my face.

“Pete!” I coughed out his name and sat there petting and rolling in the debris of my logging attempt waiting for my lungs to stop hurting.

Once I gathered my senses and found that I was no worse for the wear, I headed the dogs back toward the house. It was going to be a long walk home, but at least I had my dog’s company and a story to tell my friends later that day.

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