Maggie's Track

by Edie Braginton


We got up in the middle of the night to get to the track site. New Paltz, NY, is not that far from where we live but it had rained on and off for two days. I knew that with the cool early spring, it was possible we would have sleet or freezing rain to contend with as we headed north.

We made a potty stop at the first rest area on the NY Thruway. I passed up on the Dunkin Donuts in order to give Maggie a little extra time to stretch her legs and relieve herself. Once we got to the trial grounds, it was anyone’s guess if there would be a place or even time for that.

When we arrived at the site we had to wait outside of the gates in a small intersection of roads and driveways. There was a little local traffic and deer kept crossing one of the roads about 100 yards from where we parked. A few of the test participants stood around nervously talking about whether there would be deer on the tracks. I guessed that there would be.

A representative from the club arrived with coffee. Finally, Mike Clemens came and conducted the draw for tracks. It was a novel draw! The club put numbered stickers on the backs of boxes of flavored chocolates. Maggie and I picked Track #5 (raspberry).

The caravan of vans moved inside the grounds and to the club’s trial headquarters. There was a port-a-potty in a horse trailer and a three-sided tent with coffee and snacks. There was a sea of mud off the sides of the narrow macadam paths and puddles everywhere. And the cold was numbing. We parked in a line of cars on the path. When Maggie and my turn came, in order to drive to our track, I had to back up on a narrow path past all the other vans and back down a little hill. Not easy to do when you are cold and nervous!

We drove less than a mile away. I was a little nervous. Only one dog had passed so far that morning. The judge and I stood on the little road and looked across a deep, narrow ditch at the beautiful fields with large puddles of water. The judges pointed out the start flags in the field in front of us. OK, I said, but how do I get to it? They laughed and pointed at a piece of board straddling the ditch, a makeshift bridge. Well, I thought, Maggie can always jump the ditch if she won’t walk on the board! But she was fine.

I took out my tracking line, made sure it was knot-free, and fastened it to her harness. We were on our way! She pulled me along strongly a short distance, then quartered and found the first turn. It was a right. She pulled me along the leg but seemed distracted, not really committed. Her head bobbed up and down. I felt something was wrong and backed up a few feet. She went behind me and pulled backwards to the area of the first turn. We backed up the entire leg, which was 50 yards. Unfortunately, I had curved slightly and now we were to the left of the leg! Maggie took the lead and pulled out again. I felt I could do nothing more to help her. I could only follow. I kept wondering why they weren’t whistling us off the track.

Maggie made a left turn and I followed. No whistle. Another left onto a very long leg. No whistle. We were slogging along through standing water and thick mud. We went almost to a tree line. No whistle. I felt hot. What was going on? She made another left.

She pulled me along then stopped and quartered. She splashed through a lot of water. Then I saw a bit of long fur from a deer, possibly the tail. I said “leave it,” and “track-track” and she went back to her search. She found another turn, a right, pulled along it a short distance and then stopped, her head raised.

I suddenly remembered something Hope Meaker had said at the TDX seminar the day before. We had talked about how Maggie had been blown past the final turn at another test. When the wind was at her back (40 mph!) she had followed air scent over a ridge and missed the turn. She reminded me that it is my responsibility to help my dog when I could. My job was to know how the wind affects the track scent and my dog. Were there any scent traps? There was a slight breeze. I looked around. There were furrows and follows which trap scent. I held my ground and held the line taut, keeping the communication going. The wind was blowing from right to left across the leg. Chances were that she was slightly downwind of the leg. Maggie paused, then sniffed the wind, quartered in the area and found the glove in a furrow three feet to the right! I caught my breath and ran to her, then raised the glove over our heads. She did it! She did it!

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