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Hunting Dog Rescued: A Lucky Escape

Published in About Animals

The hunting season on Hvar lasts from October to January. On Sundays and Wednesdays, from early morning to mid-afternoon, hunting dogs can be heard barking and yapping as they search out the prey for their owners to shoot.

A sorry sight, but safe. A sorry sight, but safe. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The hunting grounds are signposted here and there, but in fact extend pretty well over the whole island, so it's not wise to go walking in the countryside during the hunting hours.

Hunting ground sign. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Quite often, hunting dogs remain out and about after the end of the hunting day. While the well-trained dogs generally return to their owners on command, young dogs or those which are new to the island may not be as disciplined. The owners usually notify the local gamekeeper (čuvar lovišta, lovočuvar) that their dog is still loose, otherwise there is a risk that the dog will be shot if it is disturbing the hunting grounds out of hours. Other hunters are also asked to keep a lookout, so that the dog can be returned as quickly as possible. GPS tracker collars are a godsend in the owner's search for a missing dog. When the dog is micro-chipped, the owner can be identified , but this does mean the finder has to get the dog to the local vet or town warden (komunalni redar) to get the chip read. This system doesn't work if the micro-chip details are incomplete or not up to date. Dogs which are not micro-chipped are a problem, but because hunting dogs are a valuable commodity, the owner usually turns up when word gets around that a lost hunting dog has been found.

It's easy for dogs to get lost in Hvar's dense woodlands. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The best-case scenarios: the loose dog is found, or finds its way home in the shortest possible time, within a day or two of going missing. Worst-case scenarios for roaming dogs include: raiding chicken runs or sheep pens for food; killing cats; collapsing from exhaustion, especially in warmer weather; getting trapped in dense undergrowth; or falling into pools or water tanks and drowning. A dog whose owner has failed to feed it properly is more likely to go for the chickens or other animals, and is also at risk of dying of hunger and/or thirst if it cannot find sources of food and water during a prolonged period in the wild. Sad to say, some hunters, especially in the older generation, give their dogs less than enough to subsist on, especially outside the hunting season.

Not long after the hunting season started in October 2020, one Sunday evening a dog could be heard barking in the hillside above Gornje Pitve, the village where Eco Hvar is based. As usual, for the first few days no-one was worried. However, the barking continued, becoming more insistent day and night, and seeming to come from the same place. After more than a week it was clear something was wrong. Was the dog incapacitated, trapped or tied up somewhere? Eco Hvar supporter Susanne, who lives in Austria and has a house in Gornje Pitve, decided to find out during her regular walk with her own dog Poli.

Susanne and Poli in Jelsa. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Poli is no stranger to rescues, having been rescued herself with her mother and siblings from somewhere near Dubrovnik, by the Graz-based Austrian charity 'N&N helping Dogs', which specializes in saving strays in eastern European countries. Having captivated Susanne's heart, Poli now lives a joyful life of ease between Austria and Dalmatia.

The search lasted two days, because on the first day the barking stopped for several hours before Susanne and Poli could identify the source. Success came on the second day some time after noon, when Susanne and Poli managed to find their way to a pit, about a metre and a half deep, where a shaggy dog was trapped, too far down to be reached without a ladder. The pit was almost inaccessible, a long way from the normal path, and hidden in dense undergrowth. To reach it Susanne and Poli had to clamber down to cross the dry river-bed, then up on to the opposite side, where they had to negotiate a long stretch of very unfriendly terrain.

Trapped. Photo: S.P.

Having found the dog, which seemed to be in good spirits and apparently unharmed, Susanne organized the next stage of the rescue by phoning me and sending pictures of the dog and its surroundings. I then contacted Hvar's gamekeeper Tonči Batoš, who called on the Fire Brigade to lend a hand. Jelsa's chief Fire Officer Roman Radonić, himself a resident of Pitve, immediately abandoned his lunch and we drove out of the village until we could see Susanne waiting patiently for us on the other side of the riverbed, where she could be seen from the road.

Susanne waited over an hour for help to arrive. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

She had waited there for over an hour while we organized the rescue, as she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to find the place again if she left the territory. It would have been impossible to find without her guidance. Armed with his ladder, Roman climbed down the drops in the riverbed, while Susanne made her way through the undergrowth back to the stricken dog's location, which was not visible from the road.

Roman armed with his ladder. Photo: Vivian Grisogono
Roman climbing up to the dog's location. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Once there, in a trice Roman had gone down into the pit and handed the dog up to Susanne, who then threaded her way back through the undergrowth leading the two dogs to the place where the riverbed could be crossed without a ladder. As the walls of the riverbed were slippery, Roman sprang across to relieve her of the dogs. The rescue dog proved to be a coarse-haired Istrian hound, tired, hungry, probably shocked by her ordeal, but glad to be rescued, and physically uninjured.

Enjoying the grass after the rescue. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Removed to a safe place, she ate well and slept soundly.

Eating heartily after the rescue. Photo: Vivian Grisogono
Basking in the sun the next day. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Her white coat was masked by several layers of dirt and matted fur. Eco Hvar supporter Sara Radonić, a qualified dog groomer, spent four hours over two days restoring her to respectability.

Sara volunteered four hours of grooming to the unkempt fur. Photo: Vivian Grisogono.

The dog's owner contacted us as soon as he heard that his Dijana had been found, saving us the trouble of having her micro-chip read. He had been searching for her for ten days, and was grateful to have her returned clean, fit and well. He told us that Dijana frequently went missing once she was out hunting, unlike his other hounds, and this was confirmed by Stari Grad vet Dr. Prosper Vlahović. Fortunately, her owner obviously fed her well, otherwise she would have been in a much worse state after ten days stuck in the pit. Even so, one wonders how much longer she could have survived without food and water.

Happy to be free! Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The Eco Hvar team is, of course, delighted with the outcome of this successful rescue. Given that it is by no means rare for hunting dogs to go roaming, we hope this experience will encourage more hunters to fit their dogs with GPS collars, so that finding them doesn't involve so much detective work.

Susanne with Dijana, with the hillside where Dijana got lost in the background. Photo: Vivian Grisogono
Saviours: Susanne with Poli, relaxing, mission accomplished! Photo: Vivian Grisogono

© Vivian Grisogono 2020