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Nicole Cyhelka
  • American English Coonhounds are sweet, mellow, and too friendly to perform as a guard dog.
  • Bred to hunt raccoons, the breed descends from English Foxhounds brought to America in the early 1800s.
  • American English Coonhounds sound a distinctive howl when locating their quarry.

On a rugged hiking trail, a young couple turns around and realizes their 4-year-old child wandered off and they couldn’t find her.

Who ya gonna call to look for the lost little one?

Think super sleuth Bloodhound? No doubt, this first-class schnoz of a dog always finds missing people in the blink of a droopy eye, but this time the tracker picker-upper was Billie, an American English Coonhound.

Named after jazz singer, Billie Holiday, the 18-month-old Coonhound located the youngster while hiking with Mikey, a 4-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and Linda Smith, the dogs’ owner.

Raccoon Racer

How did this hound bred to tree and hunt raccoons, but with only two tracking classes under her collar, discover the disappearing daughter?

“From the beginning of our first class, I recognized that Billie had a passion for tracking,” says Laura McKay, the scenthound’s tracking instructor in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

The rescue began on an early fall day in Collingwood, Ontario, with Smith and the dogs enjoying a casual outing through the woods near her weekend cottage. “That day, I had a long to-do list, so I only scheduled a short hike,” says Smith.

Photo by Nicole Cyhelka
Photo by Nicole Cyhelka

On the trail halfway up the hill, the trio came across a mother, father, and the couple’s 10-year-old son calling for their daughter and sister, Belle.

“They asked me if the dogs could help find her in the tall grasses and wildflower bushes and gave us the girl’s pink sweater,” says Smith. “Billie and I had never worked as a team, but the family hoped the dogs could pick up the child’s scent from her clothing.”

The dogs gave the small cardigan a few whiffs before lifting their noses and sniffing the air around them. “The girl had been missing for 30 minutes, and the parents felt frantic she had fallen and couldn’t call for help, but I couldn’t guarantee the dogs would locate her,” says Smith. “Bred to use its nose and find a raccoon track is one thing an American English Coonhound knows how to do, but for a young scent hound to track a person takes some time and practice.”

An Accidental Hero

The parents believed their daughter walked down the hill, but Billie pulled at the leash and ran up the incline with Linda, Mikey, and the girl’s mother following close behind. The father and the couple’s son went down the slope.

“About 80 yards away, the dogs veered off the trail and dove chest-deep into the brush and tall grass,” says Smith. “Billie stopped for a moment, reared on her hind legs, took a deep breath, and let out a single high-pitched howl.”

Closing in on Belle’s scent, the Coonhound inhaled again, yanked the leash out of Smith’s hand, sounded the characteristic coonhound bay, and sprinted 20 yards into a gulley.

“I ran after Billie and saw the girl sitting in the grass and picking flowers,” remembers Smith. “She hadn’t gone far, but the gulley and tall grass prevented anyone from seeing her from the trail.”

When Billie connected the scent to the child, the Coonhound bounded over and inadvertently knocked the girl down, which made her cry. Minutes later, the family hugged her, and everyone was crying.

Bred for a Reason

When Smith returned home, she called Billie’s breeders, Tracy McDade Kaecker and Frank Williams of Petersburg, Illinois, to share the Coonhound’s happy ever after search and rescue story.

“I’ve always had a special spot for Billie and Diva, the litter sister I kept, but when Smith told me how Billie found a missing child I cried,” says Kaecker. “I know there are no AKC ribbons or titles for breeding a dog who locates a missing child, but to learn that a puppy I purposely bred accomplished her original function of tracking is reward enough.”

Although Williams bred previous litters of American English Coonhounds, Billie came from Kaecker’s first litter of 11 puppies. “This litter was a challenge, as their mother died minutes after delivering her pups via Caesarean section, and Frank and I bottle-fed the pups,” says Kaecker. “I guess there’s a reason why these things happen.”