Free at last


This was the action we dared not take – turning Ollie loose.

That may sound strange.

Dogs deserve to run free, even if it’s only in your yard. But that was not for Ollie until Saturday. Ever since we adopted the spotted coonhound, he’s been on a leash. The exceptions have been his pen or in the house but, even then, Carol has paid special attention to restricting his exuberance and fencing off rooms to prevent him from racing around. There’s a reason.

Ollie was diagnosed with heartworm soon after being rescued from a “kill shelter” in North Carolina by the East Greenwich Animal Protection League. Treating him required a series of injections followed by a regimen of medication. The danger is that the treatment has the potential of being lethal and the risk is greatly enhanced if the dog is over-active. There was to be no running or excessive exertion until the treatment was completed.

Carol has been the enforcer, but it’s practically impossible, with a hound bred to pick up and follow a scent and with relentless determination, to keep the dog down.

Carol can tell you.

At one moment, he’s trotting at your side like a well-behaved pet. Next, he comes to a rigid stop. Nose to the ground, immobile, inhaling some perfume. What was it? Did a cat pass? Might it have been the fox we haven’t seen for more than a year? The skunk? The opossum? Perhaps a ’coon?

Then, with determination that is difficult to contain, he’s in pursuit.

“He’s strong,” Carol reported after being dragged around the yard.

For his size, Ollie is a powerhouse. Once onto the scent, he digs in, oblivious to the leash or who is holding it. The track is never straight. With frequent switchbacks, his nose remains just inches from the ground.

I thought that was the extent of it until last week.

On early morning patrol, he zeroed in on what must have been a fresh scent. He pulled Carol into his pen, where she freed him of his leash. His excitement heightened. He circled the pen, then focused on the maple in the corner. The howling commenced and he tried to climb the tree. It being before 6 a.m., Carol pulled him into the house.

But some canine switch had been triggered. Not even food would divert him. He raced from one room to the next, whining impatiently. Finally, with no recourse, Carol cornered him and pushed him into his crate. It was an hour before he settled down.

So, according to the calendar, Ollie had completed his treatment but there was some hesitance turning him free, even though the front gate would be closed and I would station myself at the seawall to dissuade any effort to jump.

“I think we should try it.”

Carol agreed. Ollie knew something was in the air. He’s good at picking up a lot more than scents, like when we’re ready to leave the house without him.

Carol went to close the gate. Ollie waited, ready for me to slip on the leash as I opened the back door. He gave me an incredulous “Didn’t-you-forget-something?” but didn’t wait for an answer. He bolted.

But he didn’t go too far. I wasn’t frantically chasing. I stood watching. He was bewildered by his sudden freedom. I expected that hound instinct would kick in and his nose to lock to the ground. It didn’t.

Instead, he scanned the yard. He spotted Carol, raced up to her, tail wagging, rolling on the ground to have his belly rubbed. Then he saw me walking to the seawall and took off at high speed – the first time I’ve seen him run. He arrived winded, turned, and then ran back to Carol. Suddenly we felt the adoption was complete and we were accepted.

He was home … and relaxed, at least until a raccoon dares to invade our yard.


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