By Gareth Henderson
Vermont Standard Staff Reporter
A one-year-old tracking dog from South Woodstock, named Shiloh, has been trained for human search and rescue. But Shiloh and his owner, Lalita Karoli, had no idea this dog's skills would help save a horse last weekend.
Odyssey, a 16-year-old black Morgan horse, was missing in the woods for two days and was found on Sunday in Bridgewater, Vermont. He was upright and uninjured except for a bruise on his back and a slight cut on his hind leg.
Owner, Eunice, of Charlotte, Vermont, praised the Green Mountain Horse Association for their help.
"They mounted a very rapid and professional response."
She was also grateful for the search party led by Shiloh last Sunday. The team traversed difficult forested terrain for four hours to find the lost horse.
This dramatic story began during GMHA's fall foliage rides last week. On Friday, at around 11 a.m., Froeliger dismounted her horse, Odyssey, when he became flighty. Froeliger tried to lead him away, but the horse took off across a field. GMHA staff used vehicles and ATV's to search for the animal in remote areas over the next two days.
"A lot of people went out looking on Friday and Saturday," said GMHA Marketing and Horse Trials Manager Molly Hutchings. "We posted fliers in all of the general stores" and in Plymouth, Reading, Bridgewater and Killington.
GMHA also contacted the Vermont Horse Council, which sent out an e-mail to its extensive state network. The South Woodstock Fire Department, Woodstock Police and Bridgewater Rescue were also notified. Odyssey had last been seen entering the woods on Keeling Road.
However, by Saturday night, there were no further sightings. At that point, Ashley Packenham arranged a search party with eight hikers, led by Karoli's tracking dog, Shiloh. Froeliger and her husband, Robert, also joined the search. Packenham and Karoli emphasized that only professionals should undertake such efforts. The search party was essentially experienced hikers and outdoors experts led by a tracker and her trained dog. The stage was set for an intensive search once the party received permission from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the Vermont State Police and landowners Teresa Fullerton, John Connors and Peter Behr. Veterinarians Sandi Silva and Jeff Oney and tracker Harold Hutt were all on stand-by. South Woodstock Fire Chief Chip Kendall supplied radios to GMHA so they could keep in touch with the search party every half-hour.
The search party set out from Keeling Road at about 8:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Karoli opened up a plastic bag with items carrying Odyssey's scent. All Shiloh needed was a sniff.
"I gave him the scent and said, 'Find it,' and he immediately was on the trail and dragging me," Karoli said.
Packenham said it was basically non-stop jogging throughout the morning.
"Literally we jogged through the woods for about four hours, stopping only for a small drink of water."
The distance was about 12 miles, Karoli guessed.
"I had to run a half-marathon in four hours, and so did the whole party."
The wet conditions in the woods made the search more difficult, but Shiloh was able to find tracks. The hikers put surveyor's tape on trees to mark their trail (which they removed later). Shiloh took the search party back and forth over the same terrain several times, since a lost horse often paces in different directions.
Shiloh and the team eventually came to the top of Old Baldy Hill, very close to the Calvin Coolidge State Park. Shiloh still had the scent and was pacing in an area near a steep raving. The party was thinking about following the scent down the slope, when Rick Walker, who hiked these woods as a child, saw two definite horse tracks nearby. There was also a spot where the vegetation was depressed and where Odyssey might have laid down. Shiloh became even more intense, with his whole body skimming the earth. At that point, the search had lasted over three hours, and it was time to tell the back-up tracker, Harold Hutt, that everyone was okay.
"Around noon, part of the party went back, and the five of us went forward to follow the track that Shiloh was indicating," Karoli said.
Shiloh was hot on Odyssey's trail and followed the scent further into the woods. Shiloh paced back and forth for a while and eventually found the horse at about 1 p.m. The impressive animal stood in the dense forest with his saddle hanging under his belly. Odyssey still wore a red bridle over his majestic black coat, though he had shed his reins.
"It was a magnificent creature," Karoli said. "He was standing in the shadows of the forest. His head was at half-staff and he was very tired."
Odyssey's owners Eunice and Robert Froeliger approached their horse that had been stuck in the cold, wet forest for two days.
"(Robert) had tears in his eyes," Karoli recalled.
And then there was the most touching moment in the entire ordeal.
"Shiloh got on his back feet and licked the horse on the mouth," Karoli said.
The search team walked another 30 to 40 minutes to a dirt trail that led to Curtis Hollow Road in Bridgewater. Paul Kendall of the Kedron Valley Stables arranged for Odyssey to be picked up at the intersection of Curtis Hollow Road and Route 4 and brought back to GMHA.
The entire search party that found Odyssey included Shiloh, Lalita Karoli, Claude Victor, Ashley Packenham, Gene Limlaw, Ray Johnson, Rich Walker, Victoria Thrane, Bob Anderson and Eunice and Robert Frolinger. Deborah Donahue, the trails coordinator for GMHA, kept in touch with the search party by radio every half-hour. The Froeligers were also critical to the search, since Eunice knew Odyssey's habits and the places he would venture or avoid.
The party's leader, Shiloh, is a one-year-old Plott hound. These fearless dogs have been used to track bears in the forest. In the southern United States, police have used Plott hounds to track escaped convicts.
Shiloh is currently being trained for human search and rescue. Last weekend's search was his first time tracking a horse. To his credit, Shiloh was not at all distracted by moose tracks on the trail or any possible bear scent he might have picked up. He was on Odyssey's trail for four hours and covered plenty of ground in the 21,000-acre state park.
Shiloh and his owners, Lalita Karoli and Claude Victor, train dogs at Woodstock Pet Care Services and are members of the Vermont Tracking Club.
Woo-hoo! Way to go. Glad to hear good news every once in a while!