THE LOSER IS EASY TO SPOT IN A TREEING contest. That would be the raccoon.
The trapped critter is tightly caged and surrounded by barking, baying and howling coon dogs, all trained and eager to go after the nearest coon. (For humans, a similar experience might consist of being lowered—unwillingly—into shark-infested waters in a metal cage. On the one hand, you have the protection of the cage. On the other hand, there are sharks.)
This caged coon is hoisted and lowered repeatedly from a tree branch. Each time he comes down, he is brought face to face with one of these dogs, his scent inflaming the hound. Then up the cage goes up, to the relative safety of a high branch, as the dog below leaps and barks and yowls around the base of the tree for a full minute, while judges count his vocalizations.
Over and over this is repeated, dog after dog, with no hope of reprieve. Well, almost no hope—let’s come back to that shortly.
The winners, on the other hand, are numerous.
This popular sideshow at the Grand American awards trophies to the top male and top female dogs in contests on both Friday and Saturday of the event.
“It’s a tradition that’s been going on since the ’40s or ’50s,” Grand American president David McKee says. “It’s just for the fun of seeing whose dog does the best.”
Top performers have a claim to fame that may translate into dollars. Scattered around the contest site are lucky sellers and buyers of pups that are the offspring of previous treeing-contest champs.
The true winners are the spectators. Crowded eight to 10 deep around the contest tree, we applaud a keen-nosed hound that never lets his target out of sight. We gasp and “ooh” at dogs leaping 5 to 6 feet up the tree trunk trying—fruitlessly—to reach that coon. We burst out laughing when one dog, straining at the collar to be let loose, runs right past the tree.
We smile and “aw” at the youngest dog handlers, giving their pups a first try. Whether the dog barks furiously, sniffs around vaguely or wanders back to its owner, the crowd loves the kids.
Now, back to the coon. At contest’s end, he’ll be released to the woods, of course. But if fate intervenes? Midday Saturday at the 48th annual Grand American, as the coon was lowered to the ground, suddenly his cage popped open. Freedom! Wasting no time, the coon scampered up into the highest branches of the contest tree and stayed put well into the night. Score one for the coon.