Jabba’s Toughest Cold Trail

Conrid and I stood outside his pickup truck as he aimed the tracker towards Mt. Blue, where the walker hounds Poncho and Pablo bayed and ran on a coyote trail. The sensors on the dogs’ collars connected with the tracker, and its beeps let us know that hound and prey were headed west, towards a spot called Hedgehog Hill.

As we’d hunted today and other days, I’d heard the stories of this particular line of Maine coyote hounds. How Amos, Conrid’s first dog, had grown from a malnourished puppy into the best hound in the valley, only to die young when his body systems failed.

But before Amos died he’d been bred to Misty, a trusty hound, leading to a litter of puppies that included Poncho, Pablo, Patty, Jabba, and Timber. Timber had died after he followed the track of a coyote off a cliff called The Chimney, a part of Tumbledown Mountain, and fallen 4,000 feet to the rocky field below.

Conrid’s Last Winter
Years had passed by the time I learned the story, and the five littermates were headed into their teens. None of us could have known that winter would be Conrid’s last to run the hounds.

He got prostate cancer, caught late, and it quickly spread. Less than a year later, he could only sit home, huddled on the couch next to the short-wave radio, listening in on the hunts. He kept Jabba at his house, and his son Billy picked up the dog whenever the snow conditions were right.

Billy told me later how it was at the end, Conrid home in his bed, connected to the morphine pump, surrounded by his family. At one point his labored breathing eased and he smiled, as if greeting an old friend.

“Amos,” he said with glad surprise, “It’s Amos.”

Those were his last words. After the funeral, Conrid’s wife invited relatives and friends to their house, where I met a man from New York, who had a hunting camp nearby. He and Conrid had met in the woods, and hunted together.

A Special Request
“You’re Lisa, right?” he said, handing me a box. “Conrid wanted me to give this to you.”

Inside the box I found a tanned coyote hide, and a letter. The coyote hide was from the big, gray one Timber had followed off the cliff. The letter included a hand-drawn map to one of Conrid’s secret hunting spots and a request.

Conrid asked that I would take care of Jabba for the rest of his days. He was 14 then, so bothered by arthritis that he had to be helped to his feet. Jabba slept a lot in a dog bed next to my woodstove, his legs twitching in dreams.

My own dogs wondered at this new long-legged addition to the household, a hound that limped to the front windows each day break, to peer with near sightless eyes into the woods and whine. They’d stand next to him, looking as he did into the trees and early shadows, as if trying to share what he saw or remembered.

Jabba’ Health Declines
I asked Billy to help me make the final decision with Jabba. I knew someday he would have to be put to sleep, and I didn’t want to have it done too early, or too late. One day Billy told me it was time to make the appointment.

Jabba spent his last month rising at daybreak, and staring out the front windows of the author’s A-frame remembering past coyote chases.

All the littermates were dead by then, although their kin still ran. The passing of Jabba, the last of the group, seemed to require some special honor, and we buried him atop Tumbledown Mountain.

Billy and I walked silently back down the mountain, each alone with our own thoughts. It seemed too much, too soon; Conrid had died in February, and Jabba in June.

“Well,” Billy finally said, as we stepped rock to rock near the base of the mountain. “That trail’s four months old, but Jabba will figure it out.”

We figured they were probably together already.

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