Trekkin’ to Trackin’

by Pat Etchells


Okay, Diggs should have done it at the Lenape test, which we were able to get in because of the test-worker option.  But he was more interested in investigating the deer beds than in tracking that day.  So we had to find another test - but I don’t have a lot of talent when it comes to getting into other clubs’ tests.  Then I had a harebrained idea that tests at the end of the tracking season in California might be easier to get into.   We needed to go to Oregon, so we scheduled the trip around the Palo Alto test, just in case the pool of entrants was down to a point where we might make the draw.

While we were in Oregon taking care of our business, we learned the results of the draw:  we were first alternate in the test.  That’s better than we had done in the East - and if they plotted the alternate as a titling track, we stood a fair chance of actually getting a chance to run!!!

Now we faced the situation that the last track Diggs had run was in January when there was about six inches of snow on the ground.  We needed to get his nose out in California cover - but it was really hard to find.  We were able to walk around the tracking site to see what the cover was like, but the park didn’t let non-members of the club off the trails.  In desperation, John put down a track in a city park which had lush grass - under the assumption that ANY track would be better than no track.  Maybe, maybe not.  After Diggs investigated mattress stuffing (probably left by a homeless person) and flushed a cat up a tree, his concentration was pretty much shot.   And then he saw baseball practice going on across the street - and any self-respecting Toller knows that balls are meant to be retrieved…   But he did finish the track  - sort of.

We then got an e-mail from the club saying that they had had two withdrawals, and Diggs absolutely had a slot!!!  The pressure was on!  We managed to drop into a tracking class being held in cover fairly similar to that of the test.  It was different from what he’d tracked in at home, but it didn’t take him long to figure out that the same principles applied:  just ignore the background scent and concentrate on what was by the first flags. 

Test day was overcast and in the 50s with not much wind.  It hadn’t rained in the past few days, but the ground was still moist from a wet winter.  I drew Track 5.  The first three tracks were in an old orchard.  We hadn’t practiced tracking between trees, so I’m glad I didn’t draw one of those tracks.  Two of the dogs in the orchard did a beautiful job tracking, so I was absolutely dumbfounded to hear the whistle, “tweet, tweet, tweet.”  The locals were quick to point out that in California three tweets is the signal of a successful track!

The long-distance tracking theme extended to our track.  It was about a mile from where the cars were parked, but I wasn’t too upset, because the walk in gave Diggs time to burn up a little energy.  His track was in a field with sparse knee-high cover and almost no thistle.  He charged up to the start flag and put his nose down and took off.  Of course he did his usual checking out everything on the first leg, then got into the groove.  He circled and jumped around at the corners a bit, then motored down the legs.   And in true Diggs fashion, at what turned out to be the last corner, he stared back at the gallery with a look on his face, “why aren’t you applauding?” Then he got back to tracking.  It seemed like no time and there was a glove ahead of us - and he pounced on it!  I took it from him and waved it, then gave it back to him so he could carry it to the crowd and show it off.

Of course, the journey to a title involves a lot of prep work.  Diggs sends Toller kisses to all the Lenape members who provided support, and especially Chris for letting him track in her fields; Nancy, Jim, Sandy and Judy, who laid numerous tracks for him; Peg for giving us the squeaky toy “foot” which was the reward in his practice track gloves (and back at the car at the test); daughter Beth who provided hospitality in California and drove us all over Santa Clara County looking for practice fields; and of course my husband John, who was involved every step of the way.

And I can’t help thinking that there should be one more long-distance acknowledgement.  Richard Knapp from Florida had certified Diggs and had kept in touch via e-mail in the ensuing months, giving us encouragement and making suggestions about Diggs’ training.  Even though Richard passed away about a month before the test, I know that he was there in spirit - cheering Diggs on.

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