Quite a beautiful piece about a Coonhound named Hunter Lily.
It is said that on Capitol Hill, there are even more dogs than lawyers. And, of course, there is that old chestnut, usually attributed to Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” We don’t know our neighbors’ names, but we know their dogs’ names. When I’m out walking my dog, he gets far more smiles and greetings than I do, and we all learn which dogs get along and when a wide berth is in order. In short, we relate to each other through our dogs.
But seldom does a single dog define a neighborhood the way the Black and Tan Coonhound of A Street did.
When my family and I moved to the District from a small town in Georgia six years ago, the last thing in the world we expected to awaken us that first morning was the bay of a coonhound outside our window. We quickly learned that this morning sentinel owned our neighbor Rosemary Freeman, and that her name was Hunter Lily, or just Hunter. We also quickly found out about Hunter’s morning ritual of sitting on the front porch and greeting all the neighbors as they walked other dogs or made their way to work at the Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.
Not long after our introduction to Hunter, we were explaining to someone where we lived. “Oh, that’s next door to the bloodhound,” this person offered. We soon found ourselves giving directions that way. “Across from St. Mark’s and next to the bloodhound.” It was amazing how many folks understood.
Even though Hunter was a gentle soul, she was still a coonhound, and she could often be seen dragging Rosemary or some dog walker along as she tracked a scent. When she visited our house or back yard, in minutes she’d have her nose into every corner and crevice. Once, a friend who worked as a prison warden was visiting from Georgia, and he shared with Rosemary that he had worked with numerous coon hounds in his profession, tracking fugitives. Taken aback, Rosemary responded, “No, not Hunter Lily. She would never do that.” My friend smiled and said, “Oh, yes, ma’am, she would.”
But the only person I ever saw Hunter track was Rosemary — whenever she left the house without her beloved hound. That long, sad face would be pressing against the front-door glass, or peering through the front curtains, of course accompanied by a deep, elongated goodbye.
Rosemary has a weekend place on the Chesapeake, and it was there that Hunter was truly in her element, off leash and running, nose to the ground on the scent of a deer, a rabbit or maybe even a raccoon.
And so it was fitting that Hunter should spend her last day there.
The past year had been hard on the old girl, as she fought off the numerous physical problems that eventually got the best of her. Rosemary knew the end was near when she opened the bay house door and Hunter went out on quivering legs to do her business, then came right back in. A little while later she just gave out. That’s when Rosemary made that call to the vet that all of us who are owned by our four-legged friends dread the most.
Amid the din of health-care reform, nuclear proliferation, insurgencies and politics as normal, unnoticed by many but felt profoundly by a neighborhood, an era has passed on Capitol Hill.
As I sit in my living room and write this, the porch next door is sadly quiet, and I try to remember the last time I heard the song of our neighborhood sentinel. But in the silence the memory of a dear soul named Hunter Lily sings on.