I could hear the baying and barking of the dogs and the far away clanging of bells as I ran through the tall trees and thick brush of the dense forest. I was tired and wet. The air felt moist giving me a spark to run as my legs would repeat anew my running marathon this morning, a running through the woods I practiced for this day. I had to beat these dogs. They must not find or catch me. I must not let Blue, Sam and Sadie catch up with me, forcing me to climb up for sanctuary in a tree lest they tear me apart with their fangs I thought as I panted and gasped for air during the long run. These dogs were blood hounds following my body scents as I jumped into a shallow creek and ran upstream trying to throw off their pursuit.
These dogs are trained to develop a sharp sense of smell and for following scents of runaway convicts or find any particular odor placed before their nose. More importantly, these dogs are trained to threaten on contact to subdue and control their prey. Any movement of a hand in their direction during contacting a prey infuriates the dogs into a frenzy and into a dangerous situation for anyone caught on the ground.
When a bloodhound sniffs a scent article (a piece of clothing or item touched only by the subject), air rushes through its nasal cavity and chemical vapors — or odors — lodge in the mucus and bombard the dog’s scent receptors. Chemical signals are then sent to the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that analyzes smells, and an “odor image” is created.
For the dog, this image is far more detailed than a photograph is for a human. Using the odor image as a reference, the bloodhound is able to locate a subject’s trail, which is made up of a chemical cocktail of scents including breath, sweat vapor, and skin rafts. Once the bloodhound identifies the trail, it will not divert its attention despite being assailed by a multitude of other odors. Only when the dog finds the source of the scent or reaches the end of the trail will it relent. So potent is the drive to track, bloodhounds have been known to stick to a trail for more than 130 miles.
It was my job to train these dogs to find and catch me that day as I ran away into the bush. I was not a convict in any sense of the term. I was merely a 15 years old kid. If you know the history of my childhood stories written in diaries here on Daily Kos, you probably know the history of my relationship with my mother. Both histories equal this job of training blood hounds. This is but one of my many memories of those days. It is one I cherish as the one making of Ole Texan.
The clanging of the bells that hang around the dogs necks and their barking sounded like they would catch up with me in short order. I had been running and walking for about an hour and for a distance that I felt was several good miles. I stopped and looked back from where I came but could not see the dogs though the heavy brush. The sound of the clanging of bells ricocheted throughout the woods and that alone will cause for great confusion and fear by the subject being tracked and chased by these menacing dogs, but the dogs would not be distracted. The man on horse back leading the dogs follows the bell`s sound. It was still early morning Spring and dew covered the limbs and leaves leaving large wet spots on my bare upper body as I had left my shirt hanging on a tree, seeking to distract and fool the dogs.
But I already knew I could not fool these dogs.
Often called a nose with a dog attached, the bloodhound is so adept at scent tracking its trailing results is admissible evidence in a court of law. Its outstanding ability to read terrain with its nose is primarily due to a large, ultra sensitive set of scent membranes that allows the dog to distinguish smells at least a thousand times better than humans. I also suspected that Blue would be in the lead in this chase, and Blue was no fool. She was my favorite pupil in the dog kennel back at the farm.
Through the heavy brush I saw Max, my running mate on this run climb up a tree and yelling at me to follow. It was then that I saw moving brush not far from me and knew the dogs had caught up. I climbed the first low branch that I could find as the loud bells and barking of the dogs came rushing towards me. I pretended a hitting gesture towards Blue as I try to teach the dog to respond to threats, to no avail. The dog was too smart. She knew who I was. She wagged her tail and laid down and waited for me to jump down.
Sam and Sadie rushed up to the tree and saw that it was only me they were chasing. I jumped down and as tired as I was from running, dropped to the ground as the dogs surrounded me, pawed and licked my wet torso. I think today of the loyalty these dogs were to me then. Mr, Hollandsworth rode up on his horse a short time after. "Sadie is too fat, and too slow", he said. "We need to run her more next time. She can`t keep up with Blue".
"Let me know when you feel like running, so we can bring out Sadie and a younger pup", Mr. Hollandsworth told us. Training the dogs and running was all up to us kids at the barn. We were never pressured to run by this guy. On the other hand, when we asked him if he felt like riding into the woods the guy was always ready. A real cool guy with us barn kids. I tied the long rope to Blue`s neck collar and handed it to Mr. Hollandsworth. The other dogs would follow Blue back to the barn. "Don`t forget to lock the gates I left open when you go back he told us". There were several opened gates on our way back.
It makes me a bit sad to think of the humanity factor involved in caring and teaching of these dogs; to follow their everyday ritual of tracking scents and their survival. I thought of writing about the memory due to my involvement in their lives. I became involved with these dogs during a rough time in my own life. Perhaps it was the way I carried myself at the place where a Texas court found me to be under it`s care. You know, like a ward of some kind, under a court`s care, or perhaps, I don`t know - maybe I had a touch of dog in me. I never said or talked much. So I was seen as suited to working with dogs and horses. Cleaning up after them that is. This was Texas after all and its something I relish today.
The place depicted in this memory was actually a State School for Boys with a large wooden structure called a barn. In this barn were ten horse stables with a horse in each one that I would saddle each morning. It was around 1950 or so, around there.
Each horse had a rider ( a cowboy), as I remember, who would take the kids under his care as house father, as they were called, out into the field to work under the hot Texas sun. Corporal Punishment was an every day life for us kids then in that forsaken place. I was lucky to stay in the barn all day while others toiled the fields. I never experienced the whip latches by a house father during my stay there.
The man who supervised me and two other kids at our job at the barn was a cool and good man. Mr. Hollandsworth, I have never forgotten his name or his face. He was a real Marlboro man type of guy. He did not take kids to work in the fields. He had the barn to look after. He did not do that either. He left that up to us kids at the barn.
Max, Steve and I were always without supervision at the barn. We each had our horses to saddle each morning and the rider always knew who saddled his horse. We took turns feeding the dogs and going for the corn bread at the main dinning hall to feel them. In a wheel barrow we would get two regular trays of corn bread that we chopped into pieces and divided it among several dog pens in the kennel. The barking and howling during feedings told me that hunger was devastating for the dogs. I could easily measure in my mind only one cup for each dog, and that was if other dogs allowed the others to eat. One cup approximately a day. Today this memory makes me sad when such hunger still exist even among us humans.
Despite their obvious empty stomachs I am amazed to remember how sleek and ready the dogs were when I approached the kennel with the leach I used to hook up the dogs that would participate in the day`s running of the woods. I can see Blue jumping and howling knowing that she would be turned loose to run like the wind in search of a scent that day. A role that blood hounds occupy in their life times and born with a part of the brain that analyzes smells, and an “odor image” that triggers far more detail than a photograph is for a human. My experience in my role of blood hound trainer is one that I cherish and ascertain that I have always been a dog lover. Always have and always will.