A Day at Camp Gone to the Dogs

Connie Bombaci with Trina Bianchi and Mare Potts. Much appreciation to these very special dog lovers for helping and allowing us return to the place where Hogan got to realize his hope to run free.

Who would have ever imagined that Hogan's Hope would return to the event that made it possible for Hogan, a deaf dog, to run free for the very first time? Sure, Hogan ran in his fenced yard or on a 30' long line when outside the safety of his home. But, it wasn't until he was introduced to lure coursing, better known as running the bunny, that he was able to run the entire length of a massive field and feel the heart-pounding, full-throttle speed of the chase. Trina, the wonderful lady in the center adorned with her smiley hat, reassured me back in 1996 to "Let him try. He'll come back. Promise. Hogan will come back." Not being able to recall Hogan if his back was turned toward me, my husband and I both feared that he'd just keep on going.  When Jim and I entered the dining hall before our author presentation, Hogan may not have been with us physically but he was definitely there in spirit. Several of the campers remembered him well from 21 years ago. Wow! Hogan's legacy lives on.

I share an excerpt from his book, Hogan's Hope: A Deaf Hero's Inspriational Quest for Love and Acceptance --
"It looked like enormous fun, and I was certain that all three of our pups would have a grand time playing this new sport. But Hogan and Georgia couldn’t be off leash because they couldn’t hear the call of “come” if their backs were turned towards me. Furthermore, when they were off leash, such as during agility, they could always see me and were close enough for me to snatch up the strap attached to their collars. Each morning and evening we would all stand on the sidelines watching and cheering on the pup who was focused on capturing the prey. Hogan barked more than he ever had, and I am sure he wanted
to chase that bunny down and across the meadow.
Jim and I continued to watch dogs dashing on the lure course and yearned for Hogan to have a shot at this exhilarating sport. We stood on the sidelines while Hogan barked ceaselessly and bounced up and down. He craved a piece of the action.
“Jim, do you think we could let him try this?” I asked. “You could stand at the far end of field just in case he tried to keep going.”
Jim shook his head with hesitancy when he replied, “I don’t know. He could really get a head start on me and then he’d be gone.”
“I could ask some of the other campers to help out. What do you think?”
Trina was a kind woman who partnered with her husband to make this opportunity available to the campers. While she stood at only 5 feet in height, her heart was “bigger than all outdoors,” and she offered it to anyone who earnestly loved their pets. What Jim and I didn’t know was that she had been watching us from her post at the starting line. Finally, she touched her husband’s shoulder and quietly spoke into his ear. Then, leaving his side, she came over to us and simply said, “Let him try. He’ll come back. I promise. Trust me. He’ll come back.”
Jim and I looked at each other with a mix of worry and hope. After a moment’s hesitation, we agreed to give Hogan a chance. Jim handed off India and Georgia to other campers who were willing to help and enthused to see just what Hogan would do. He then jogged his way to the far end of the field. I carefully listened to Trina’s directions. As she prepared me on how to handle the pup during his release and finish, the crowd of campers on the knoll to the right of the field grew larger. The knowledge of Hogan’s deafness had spread across camp throughout the week, and many campers were astounded at his ability to learn, perform, and succeed. They also witnessed the unyielding bond and devotion between Hogan and me. Silence replaced the roar of their usual cheering, and many held their hands over their mouths in great anticipation.
Tom asked, “Are you ready, Connie?”
“I don’t know about me, but I know Hogan’s ready to go,” I answered as I unhooked his leash and held onto his collar with a white-knuckle grip. 
“When the bunny comes around the wheel to the first pulley, let him go,” Tom repeated Trina’s earlier instructions.
“Get ready.”
As soon as the motor started and the “bunny” came whipping around that big wheel and first pulley, I released my grasp. Hogan was free. He ran faster than he ever had, and he was determined to catch the prize. What unrestrained freedom! The profound silence of the group remained unbroken. I had tears streaming down my cheeks. Jim had to wipe his face with his sleeve. There literally wasn’t a dry eye to be found. Hogan dashed at each corner and rushed across every stretch.
He ran the entire course staying sharply focused every inch of the way. As he rounded the last bend and entered the final lap, I positioned myself to pick him up when the bunny came to a stop. 
Trina called out over the sound of the motor, “Let him catch it so he feels successful! He has to win.”
Hogan was elated to capture his prey which he shook ferociously. The crowd’s silence broke into a jubilant uproar of applauding and hollering. Hogan had shredded the plastic bag by the time I signed for him to “drop.” The swarm of campers was stunned that he dropped his trophy. He unbelievably obeyed and dropped “the bunny.” Well, almost obediently. He couldn’t resist one last try to get it as I grappled to lead him away. Hogan came back. He came back just like Trina promised, having had the absolute best time of his life running free.
I knew that his heart pounded, and he panted with his tongue hanging as far out as it possibly could. The muscles in his entire body had gone flat out, and every drop of his energy was drained. There was no better feeling. Hogan got to go again after a rest, and he ran with just as much thrill of the chase. He was on top of the world."
© 2017 Connie Bombaci
Run free, Hogan! Always run free knowing we love you!
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