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Photo contributed by Larry Case / Callie and Dotzie sit in the Ranger on a snow day. Hunting dogs love to work, but when they're not occupied they will sometimes seek adventure that involves surprising escapes and long journeys that force the owners to hunt them.

How is it something you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I'm not talking about dealing with your children or your friends. This is worse.

This is about dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs.

Anyone you know who keeps hunting dogs has more than one story about their dogs running away, getting lost or just in general being MIA — missing in action. Whether it is a pointer bird dog, a beagle, cur dog, coon or fox hound, most hunting dogs, you see, are not wired like your average pet. They want to hunt!

The intense desire to hunt makes a dog desirable to us, the dog owners. The problem comes during the offseason, when the dog is left to lie about the pen or yard and hatch evil schemes of escape.

Don't tell me that dogs don't do this, OK? I have kept hunting dogs all my life, and I have just about seen it all. I have spent hours, weeks and months driving country roads and byways while looking for a dog. One of the things that has always amazed me is you can look for days for your dog, always fearing the worst. You are waiting, hoping and praying for the call saying someone has found him. You come around a bend in the road, and your dog is sitting there seemingly waiting for the 12 o'clock bus. He gives you a look that says, "Hey, what's up?", like you just saw him at McDonald's that morning.

I freely admit my dogs are the worst (or best) when it comes to escaping. I'm sure I am well known in my town for this. To many I am probably "that guy who is always looking for his dogs." Dogs care not a whit about this. They have no concept of how they embarrass you.

I once got a call, and I am not making this up, that my two dogs were in a nearby tavern, a bar. No, not waiting outside the building like polite little doggies. They were in the bar mingling with the patrons, probably bumming quarters for the jukebox and buying a round for the house, assuring the bartender I would take care of it all when I got there.

I know I should have a bombproof pen and fence. I go for long periods and there is no problem, no escapes. Then you go out in the backyard one evening and, man! No one is home. I really do think they have a pair of wire cutters hidden in the back fence. I also think this latest rash of escapes all started after they saw that World War II movie with Steve McQueen in the prison camp.

One Saturday evening I discovered the dogs were gone and started my routine of driving the neighborhood in hopes of snagging them as they crossed a road somewhere. No luck. Saturday night dragged on into Sunday with no sign of them. By then, I was getting that nagging old feeling that makes you wonder if you're going to see them again.

The clouds parted and many prayers were answered when we got a call Sunday afternoon. We jumped in the truck and rushed off to the house of a very nice man who had called us about the errant canines. Here is the kicker: It was more than 20 miles away! Not just any old 20 miles away; this was on the other side of a major river gorge, the New River Gorge, to be exact. That is a lot of rocks, river, rhododendron thickets and rattlesnakes for two bird dogs to traverse in less than 24 hours.

It was 20 miles by road, so only heaven knows how far it was by the route the two miscreants took. Coda, the old brown dog, was on the front porch almost unable to walk. Callie, the white pointer, was actually in the man's house, enjoying the air conditioning. I walked into the house, and she gave me a look that said "Hey, what's up?"

That was a few years ago. Coda is gone now, and Callie is old and arthritic, so you would think her running days are over (but don't bet on it).

There is a new brown dog now, Bo is his name, and he is in his prime. Bo is tall and handsome, has a very sweet disposition, and everyone likes him. The problem is they don't see his dark side. Callie the pointer took him on as an apprentice and taught him in the ways of escape and evasion. I have seen, with my own eyes, both of these nearly 50-pound dogs get through a hole in a fence or a pen that a starved weasel couldn't pass through.

I'll keep on keepin' on with hunting dogs. Some days it doesn't seem worth the trouble and heartache, but I will. They will probably get out once in a while and go for a run. I just hope they will stay out of the bars.

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Contributed photo / Larry Case

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at larryocase3@gmail.com.

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