Douglas Downs’ 3-year-old bloodhound, Honey, already had several impressive tracking recoveries to her credit before last week, including several wall hangers and more than 30 deer sniffed out over the last three seasons in and around the woods of Sabine Parish.
But the recovery Downs won’t ever forget happened last Tuesday night off of Highway 171 between Florien and Hornbeck, and it didn’t involve an 8-, a 10- or a 12-point buck.
For this mission, no giant inside spread was at stake, and no big Boone & Crockett score was riding on Honey’s nose to locate a downed buck.
Ultimately, what the dog found on the mile-long track in the wind and rain weighed only 35 pounds and stood only about 3 feet high, but it was a prize way more valuable than any state record buck ever will be.
Incredibly, Honey the deer-tracking bloodhound found 3-year-old Eli Alcock, who had wandered off through a hole in a fence at a friend’s house more than two hours earlier, while presumably following a hog dog named Mabley.
“I’m telling you, man, there’s not a greater feeling,” said Florien's Downs, who works as a driver for the Natchitoches Fire Department and serves as pastor at Gum Springs Baptist Church in Hornbeck. “I have found several deer, and helped many a man put deer on the wall they’ll tell stories about for the rest of their lives.
“But there is no greater joy that I can even begin to describe than when I handed him to his mom and she knew that he was OK.”
A week after the nightmare unfolded, Lindsy Alcock relived those few hours when she didn’t know where her little boy was. She was at her best friend Pam Squillini’s house, and had gone inside to change her 1-year-old’s diaper. Eli’s 7-year-old brother Jackson and Pam’s son were outside playing, and Eli was outside, too. The plan was for everyone to ride together to a Dixie Youth board meeting that night in Florien.
“I came back outside to check on the kids. I asked the two older ones, ‘Where’s Eli?’ They said, ‘I don’t know.’ So I said, ‘OK, he’s over here in the sand pile or over here in the mud hole.’ He has places where he’ll go off if he’s not with them,” Alcock said. “We looked in the normal places and he wasn’t there, and that’s when we kind of started freaking out because if he’s not there, you know he’s wandered off somewhere.”
That evening had started off simply enough for the 29-year-old Downs, when he and his wife Brittany went to the Ultimate Stop in Florien to grab a burger. His cellphone rang a little before 6, and good friend Steven Martin told him that Eli was missing.
“He asked me if I thought Honey would do anything. I said, ‘Man , I don’t really know. I’ve never done anything like that with her,’ Downs said. “If it was a deer, or he was wearing a deer hide going though the woods, I’d say no problem, no doubt.
“But I said, ‘Dude, all I can do is try. So I left there, came to the house and picked up the dog.”
The scene at the Squillini house wasn’t exactly conducive for Honey to search. The deer dog wasn’t used to the big crowd that had gathered to help, or other searchers wandering through the woods calling out the boy’s name.
When he arrived, Downs met his friend Blaine Landry and his brother Daniel, who had secured a jacket Eli had worn just a couple of days earlier for Honey to smell. They started their search from a mud hole at the end of the driveway where the child had been playing about 70 minutes earlier.
“I just started praying,” Downs said. “I told her, ‘Baby, this is different. It’s not something we’ve ever done before. Here ya go.’ And I just started praying, and she immediately took to tracking.”
The dog never put her nose to the ground, but smelled the wind as she zigzagged through the woods. Downs was confident the dog was on the right track, but was heartbroken when Honey led them to a pond levee deep in the woods.
“I’m not going to lie to you — my heart sank,” Downs said. “I told the guys that were with me at the time, ‘If she sits down on this pond levee, I’m going to the house. I’m not going to sit here and watch them pull this baby out of this pond.’”
Fortunately, Honey kept on trailing, and eventually led them to the back porch of a house a half mile from where they had started. Figuring Eli hadn’t come this way, Downs decided to return to the Squillini home and start the search over, this time near a trampoline in the backyard where Eli had last been seen.
“When we got to the trampoline, she was a completely different dog. She changed everything,” Downs said. “She stopped pulling and put her nose on the ground and went to sniffing, like me and her were walking and talking in the woods. She wasn’t excited — she just went to walking.”
Alcock said the two-hour timeframe when Eli was gone is still hard to put into words.
“People ask me how I was feeling, or if I can explain the feeling, and in all honesty, it’s really hard to pull those feelings back out,” she said. “When a parent can’t find their child, for that split second, your heart drops to your toes until you find him again. So imagine that multiplied by two hours.
“For the first 30 seconds, you mind goes to, ‘I have to find my kid.’ But after two hours, then the possibilities of what has happened come in. We had just had rain for two days in a row. There was a pond behind the house. There were creeks and culverts all over the place, and there was Highway 171 right in front of the house, and he’s a very friendly kid who’s never met a stranger. So sitting there and pondering and thinking about what the possibilities were was tough. But then you have to try to pull yourself back out of that and say, ‘Just find your kid. Just find your kid.’”
By now, it was dark and getting windy, and rain had started falling. Many searchers had returned to the house to regroup, but Downs let Honey keep working.
As they made their way up a hill, Downs thought he heard a cry, but the other two men, who were further behind, didn’t hear anything.
“Sound wouldn’t carry with the wind. Honey’s still just walking. I get to the top of the hill and hear the cry again and look over to my right, and I’m looking at the back porch of the house I originally pulled her off of,” Downs said. “And the little boy was at the bottom of the hill, sitting in a mud hole.”
Man and dog took off at a full sprint down the hill, and found Eli crying — cold and scared, but unharmed — with his boots stuck in the mud.
“We both hit the mud hole at the same time,” Downs said. “I scooped up the little boy, and Honey was just running circles around us. Then we all just started screaming and hollering, ‘We got him! We got him!’”
Honey celebrated with a big drink of muddy water, while the men made sure Eli was OK.
“I think he was more worried about his boots than he was about being lost,” Downs said with a chuckle. “But when it got dark, I think he got scared. My brother asked him if he was hungry and wanted anything, and he said McDonald’s.”
They chatted as they made their way back to the house, which was about 1 mile away from where Honey located the boy at the base of the hill, and reunited Eli with his mom.
“She was the first one that met us. She was standing right on the other side of the fence when we came though it,” Downs said. “It was pretty emotional for everybody. We had a big community turnout, a big community prayer afterward.
“Everybody kind of banded together and set their differences aside, and we all had the same interest that night, and that was the little boy.”
Lindsy got word via cellphone about Honey’s successful recovery, then Daniel placed a call to her moments later.
“He said, ‘I have somebody who wants to talk to you,’” she said. “It was Eli. He said, ‘Momma, I thirsty.’”
Lindsy’s husband, Brandon Alcock, had left that morning to go offshore, so he didn’t even find out about the ordeal until the following afternoon. But Lindsy said the whole episode showed her just how special the people in her community really are.
“I was sitting on Pam’s porch and it was already dark, and you could look into the woods like a panoramic view and you just saw lights everywhere, and there were four-wheelers everywhere, and you could hear yelling everywhere, and as soon as I got him and realized he was OK, of course my first thing was, ‘Thank God. Thank you Jesus for taking care of my baby.'
"But then my mind went to how blessed I am to be a part of this community. People dropped everything — people that I didn’t even know — to come and help.”
For her part, Honey has seemingly taken her new celebrity status in stride. The 95-pound bloodhound still enjoys her Purina chow, and thawed out deer scraps that Downs includes for a special treat.
“Right now, she’s laying out there sunbathing, like she’s on the beach,” Downs said with a smile.
With time to think about how the events unfolded that night, Downs realized what was happening on Honey’s first track to the back porch of the house that he pulled her off of.
“The first track we went on, Eli didn’t actually go in those woods. She was winding him all the way to that house,” he said. “The second track we took we were actually on his trail. She was in his footprints when we went the second time.”
As the father of a 4-year-old boy, Downs said the search and recovery for Eli had extra-special meaning.
“I can’t even imagine what his mom and dad went through, but I know if it was my little boy, I would want somebody like Honey to be there for him, too,” Downs said. “She has made a reputation for herself that’s unlike any other. Around here, she’s one of the bosses when it comes to tracking, but she set herself above any other dog that night.
“She’s on a whole new level.”
Downs said he’s just relieved the story had a happy ending. His prayers — and a lot of others from Sabine Parish, were answered that night — with the help of Honey the bloodhound.
“I just started praying, ‘Dear Lord, give her the ability to just let her work through You. I’ve told everybody that God showed up in a dog that night. If Honey ever had to do that again, I can't say whether she would or she wouldn’t.
“But it was meant to be that way that night, and I really think that God wanted his power and presence to be seen, and it was. I’m just humbled to be a part of it.”