by Chris Braithwaite
copyright the Chronicle 12-26-12
ALBANY — Lisa Robinson spends a good deal of her time crashing through the woods or running through the brambles behind a big rangy dog named Redford who might quite possibly be pursuing a cat.
Though she’s not a young woman, and runs on two surgically replaced hips, Ms. Robinson’s accounts of these expeditions suggest that she enjoys every minute of them.
Redford is a bloodhound, and Ms. Robinson makes him — and herself — available to people who have lost household pets.
She and Redford have looked for a Westy that wandered off from his new home in Pownal, in the far southwest corner of Vermont, and a Chinook sled dog in Richford, on the Canadian border.
They’ve looked for a Siamese cat in Barre and a mother-and-son pair of Labrador retrievers in West Glover.
Ms. Robinson doesn’t think there are any other bloodhounds available in Vermont to search for lost pets. She’d like people to know about Redford so they’ll call her when their pet’s trail is still fresh. All too often, she says, by the time people locate her by word of mouth their pet has been missing for several days.
That doesn’t stop Redford. Ms. Robinson says her young bloodhound exhibits the tracking skills his breed is famous for, and can track a missing animal long after it has disappeared from home.
The problem, she says, is that she and the dog can only cover so much ground in a day. She hangs on tight to his leash on a hunt, for fear that his exuberance for his job will lure him so far ahead of her that he will become one of the missing pets himself.
Redford doesn’t always track down a missing pet.
On several searches, Ms. Robinson says, he’s led her and the missing pet’s owner over long distances to surprising locations, where the animal was eventually found.
But sometimes the trail just comes to a bewildering end, leaving Redford wandering around in uncertain circles. When that happens, Ms. Robinson suspects the worst — someone picked the pet up and made off with it. That, sadly, is how the search for the West Glover dogs ended, several miles from their home.
In Barre, the missing Siamese cat showed up the day after Ms. Robinson and Redford had climbed into her aging Subaru and headed home to Albany. The happy owners believe Redford led them close to it — what self-respecting Siamese would rush out of hiding to greet a drooling bloodhound? — and the cat followed their familiar scent home.
Redford, at three and a half, is a relatively new recruit. Ms. Robinson got him from a bloodhound rescue group after he was abandoned in Alabama.
He’s a replacement for Thurber, the bloodhound who taught Ms. Robinson the art of tracking. Thurber is memorialized, in a way, on the sweatshirt his owner was wearing during an interview last week. It’s decorated with a sketch of a big dog, most likely another bloodhound, by the great American humorist James Thurber.
Ms. Robinson’s first bloodhound was named after the humorist — she has a friendly but offbeat cat named Dillon, and a matching pair named Cassidy and Sundance — and Thurber, like Redford, was a rescued animal. Their owner thinks the dogs’ difficult early lives only enhanced their ability to find lost animals. They know what it’s like to be out on the streets, she says.
Thurber was killed by a condition called bloat, and Ms. Robinson is anxious that other dog owners — particularly owners of large dogs — be more aware of its dangers.
“It’s something that really worries me,” she says. “It affects the large breeds, the big-chested dogs that tend to gulp their food.”
When the condition strikes, Ms. Robinson says, the dog’s stomach swells to look like a barrel and, if tapped, to sound like one too. The condition is also called torsion, she says, because the dog’s stomach can start to twist, and actually flip over.
If it strikes, Ms. Robinson says, “there is no time. You’ve got to get to a vet.”
Untreated, she says grimly, a stricken pet faces “a horrible, painful death.”
Since Thurber’s death, Ms. Robinson watches her three bloodhounds closely for bloat, and tries to keep them as still as possible for an hour or so after eating.
At home when he’s not working, Redford is a big, floppy, affable young dog. This visitor had just left a dog at home, so Redford took a careful inventory of boots, pant legs, shirt cuffs, gleaning heaven knows how much information in the process.
He shares a big fenced enclosure with Simon, a seven-year-old bloodhound who quickly demonstrates a timidity that, his owner says, makes him unfit for tracking.
A good tracker, she says, “needs to be bold and friendly.
“Bloodhounds are stubborn,” she adds. “They want to find that scent. They don’t care what’s at the end of it.”
When working, she says, Redford ignores people he would otherwise spend time visiting, and anything he finds along the trail. She’s been amazed to see him stride heedlessly past bear scat, moose scat, deer scat, even a deer. But he proudly brought her the frozen scat left behind by that missing Westy.
A third bloodhound, Waseeka, has settled pretty permanently on a rug under a table in Ms. Robinson’s log house. More than 12 years old, Waseeka has lost much of her vision and her hearing.
There are two horses in a paddock, a Morgan and a Tennessee walker, along with three outside cats and five inside cats, all rescued animals.
Ms. Robinson and her dogs haven’t gone looking for lost people. That job involves a lot of legal regulations, she says, and a lot of paperwork.
She held a job for years at Kodak in Rochester, New York, before she and Thurber moved to the Northeast Kingdom almost 12 years ago. Working with that large corporation left her “tired of doing what somebody told me to do.”
But when she’s looking for a lost pet, Ms. Robinson strives to do what Redford tells her to do.
When a dog and handler team makes a mistake, she says, it’s almost always the handler’s fault.
“It’s all about Redford,” she says. “I’m just his translator and his transportation. He’s the one who knows what’s going on.”
To help dogs like Redford do their job, Ms. Robinson suggests that pet owners wipe each of their animals with a bit of clean cloth, and put the cloth aside in a sealed and labeled plastic bag.
If the pet ever should come up missing, she says, that will give Redford something to work with.
Ms. Robinson can be reached at 755-6331 or by e-mail at [email protected].
contact Chris Braithwaite at [email protected]