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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Tragic loss of two accomplished handlers, Tom and Chris DiPietro, and their tracking dogs

Chris DiPietro with a recovered deer in 2012.
On March 22 we were shocked to learn that Tom and Christine DiPietro, both 59, from Jericho, VT, died due to the accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Their three dogs, Scout, Filou and Addie, died with them. For more information about it go HEREPoughkeepsie Journal published the full obituary

This article about Tom and Chris DiPietro from Jericho, VT, was written five years ago - see

It is impossible to express the impact of Tom and Chris's death in a couple of short paragraphs. People who were close to them have been grieving deeply. 

Their lives touched so many people, and this sentiment has been expressed with such emotion by many of their tracking friends, who were started in the field and supported by Tom and Chris. 

I received this e-mail from Tom 15 years ago:

"My name is Tom DiPietro and I live and track in Northern Vermont. I came to Vermont nine years ago when my company transferred me to its Essex Junction plant from Dutchess County New York where I grew up. My love for tracking started many years ago when I was a bow hunter in New York. One day I made a poor shot on a doe, after searching all day, I failed to recover the deer and called a number I had received at a local sportsman show for a group called Deer Search. The Deer Search volunteers came out and assisted me in tracking the deer, which we never found. I was very impressed with the way the small Wirehaired Dachshund worked the trail and the dedicated handlers who gave their time to help a person they didn’t know.  

After moving to Vermont, due to the demands of a new job, my family adjusting to their new home and being unfamiliar with the hunting area, I didn’t hunt as much as I would have liked to.  As I became more familiar with the area and my life settled down, I found myself drawn back to the woods.  A few years ago I heard about a man named Tim Nichols who had helped pass legislation legalizing leased dog tracking in Vermont similar to the service that I was so impressed with many years ago in New York.  I called Tim and he helped me to obtain a tracking license in Vermont.  Now all I needed was a dog.  I contacted a breeder in western New York, who does blood tracking with Wirehaired Dachshunds and had just had a litter of puppies, so I decided to go out and take a look.   I came home with a three-month old male puppy whose nose seemed as long as his body and my son named him Musket."  

Musket's first deer
In December 2001 this email arrived showing how serious Tom and his tracking family and friends were about helping hunters:. This was a summary of their 2nd tracking season.

Well tracking fans the year has finally come to a close. I have some mixed feelings on this: I'm glad to no longer be waiting for calls but at the same time I want to be in the woods and find some deer. It drove me nuts when we went out for an evening, then found out I'd missed a call and lost an opportunity to find a deer.

We did much better this year getting out on calls taking 24 of the 37 calls we received. Last year we took 26 of 44 so that shows some improvement. Calls were definitely down this year because of last year's winter kill but the lack of snow in VT extended our season 3 weeks over last year and we came close in the total number of calls. Perhaps the best improvement we had was in the number of finds we had: 12 of 24 for a exceptional 50% find rate. When you add to this the fact that we actually came up with 2 other deer that we found but determined they were okay and stopped chasing, and 2 more that we didn't find but they were seen alive later in the season I think we had a season that far exceeded our hopes. For comparison sake we found only 6 last year.

A few more numbers of interest: our avg call time was 9 hours after the hunter shot and the avg time of the deer we found was 7.8 hours.

We did get some interesting feedback from a guy I tracked for last year and didn't find his deer. Last year he shot a deer in the shoulder with his rifle and we had a very good run, but came up empty. Well this year he shot a deer in the same area that had a broken leg and a nasty healed over wound on the same side as the one he wounded last year. We believe it was the same deer that survived the year, what a great animal!
As far as our last 4 finds we had one very easy run where the deer made a quick turn and lost the hunter. Musket and I never even got to the last blood before Musket turned left and started down a trail. The hunter was saying: no, the blood is over here, you are going backwards.  I was starting to pull Musket in when I noticed a smear of blood on a tree. I let him go and within 15 - 20 yards we had the deer. The deer had executed a little J maneuver and I had to tell the hunter twice before it sunk in that we had the deer that quickly. We could still see his boat in the backyard.

Another find was in Craftsbury over an hour away and perhaps one of our best tracking jobs of the year. We went a long, long way with no sign before we found a single drop of blood. The hunter had walked out on the same trail the evening before so we had our doubts but Muskie was working well so we stuck with him and went a long way again before we found another spot of blood. The hunter was quite impressed and studying the blood spot when the trail got hot and we found a few more good spots of blood and then the dead deer. Something else had found it before us and a fair chunk of one hind quarter was missing and leaves had been thrown over the deer. We could have given up on the trail a number of times but Musket "looked" like he was working so we didn't quit and ended up with a very impressive find. Chris was with us and we followed the guy to the check station where we enjoyed celebrity status.

We had another very exciting chase on a four point buck 41 hours after he was shot. Someone else had tracked the deer the prior evening but they couldn't get a shot into it. We went out the next day and took up the trail from where the first tracker had started the previous evening. We eventually kicked the deer up (this was 41 hours after the shot and he was still alive!!! Like I said what a animal) after a short chase and a few more shots we had him down. It ended up the hunter had not shot him in the gut as he had indicated but shot his front leg completely off. Yes: "off " and the bullet also passed through into his other leg so he was running on 2 and a half legs. Chris says it was really a unfair chase because 3 people, 3 guns and 2 different dogs seems a little unfair. But it was really a good find because this deer was coyote bait for sure.

The last deer was another rifle shot that the hunter lost the trail after a long track. We re-established the track very quickly and took it to the deer in just a few minutes. This was another very impressed hunter who we had to tell twice that we had the deer because he didn't think a little dog could be that good.
 In review the season was great, we found 12 deer but we were able to share the finds with Rei, TJ, Danny, Scott Lopez, Scott's friend Joe, and Chrissy. I think the most fun day was with Rei, TJ, Danny and Scott where we found 2 deer.  

I can't wait till next year, I'll be losing Scott Lopez to college but Chris is going to get licensed and we will be running Filly and Musket which is sure to be a great team. We've learned a ton this year and made some equipment improvements. I never mentioned the night my light died and I had to stop and go back the next day.

In my opinion Musket was the best. Tom got Musket from Sue Redden, a Deer Search tracker from Western NY. Sue bred her Sage von Moosbach-Zuzelek, our Sabina’s littermate, to a male that had been bred by Gary Huber. Sage was a small, feisty female, who turned out to be a very good tracker. Musket, her son, lived to be 14.5 and found 148 deer for Vermont hunters.

Tom seemed to be a bit impulsive when it came to getting puppies. I remember he came to us to get a backup dog for Musket, and at the time the only pup we had was Filou von Moosbach-Zuzelek. She did not look too promising, but Tom did not want to wait for the next litter and got her. The arrangement was that he could return her within next few months. He kept her. In spite of a pretty good tracking start, she never turned out to be a decent tracking dog. At one point she was placed with a new family but she missed her old home too much and came back to live with Tom and Chris as their pet. She died with them at almost 15.

In fall 2003 Tom came back to us to get another dachshund, and around that time Filou’s sister Fredrika (Rica) became available. In October he wrote:

John,  I wanted to give you a quick update on our last few days and Rica's progress. First off, while we were gone the boys took two calls and found one so we didn't miss much while down at your house. Saturday night we got a call where the hunter indicated a shot through the body cavity but he wasn't sure exactly where. I took both dogs out with Scott handling Musket and Rica with me. We put the dogs down and Musket started the track while Rica ran off a little to the right. Once Musket was gone I restarted Rica and she marched along the track that Musket had taken. She appeared to be tracking so I let her do her thing. When we caught up to the others they had just gotten to the point of loss and Musket was doing some checks. Rica never faltered and marched right through! With us now leading the way we covered 50 yards when Rica turned left up the side of a cut corn field. Musket reached the point where we had turned and stayed straight, found blood, and continued the track. We followed for quite a distance when we reached a point that Musket was having trouble and we fared no better. Musket eventually restarted the track and we were off again but I kept Rica back behind on the trail. We reached another field where Musket was having trouble and once again Rica marched through without hesitation. With us now leading we crossed a stream and recrossed again. Just when I was thinking we were lost we picked up some blood to confirm the track, found her bed and kicked the deer up! Not long after finding the bed we lost the track and never regained it but I was thrilled with her first track and the way her and  Musket had worked their own trails but combined to have a very impressive track

In 2006 Larry Gohlke leased Fredrika (he raised her) and bred her to Susanne Hamilton’s Buster. This litter produced Danika and Nix; Cheri Faust’s Danika is an all-time #1 field trial dachshund in the States. Tom had one more litter out of Fredrika and Buster, and Scout and Avy came out of that breeding.

The last time I saw Tom, Christine, their son TJ and his wife Laura was at a tracking workshop organized by the United Blood Trackers in New Hampshire. The pictures below were taken during the workshop.

Chris DiPietro
Chris DiPietro
TJ and Tom DiPietro and Sally Marchmont 
TJ and Tom DiPietro with Dan Valdez
In 2013 John wrote a blog post about women as handlers and this is what Chris said:

The original motivation for tracking was to spend time with my husband, Tom, who loved tracking more than hunting.  I love to be in the woods and he would always ask me to go with him, so I would go and help him spot blood.  I also love a working dog and truly enjoyed watching Musket unravel the puzzle to find the deer.  My motivation to continue is to train our newest tracking dogs, Scout (WHD) and Addie (BMH) and to help the hunting community find their deer.  It is very rewarding to find a deer that the hunter could not find him/herself. My favorite weekend to track is our Youth weekend.   It makes you feel so good to help a young hunter find his/her very first deer.  Other motivations are that it keeps me in good health and you meet so many interesting people.  I remember my first years of tracking, I would be so exhausted.  Running up & down mountains and through swamps and thickets is very tiring.  Tom and I started training for sprint triathlons to keep us in shape for the "tracking" season. Just another thing we could do together.  Now I can track for hours and still get up the next day and do it all over again.  The hunters are very appreciative when we come out to help them and we have made many friends through our tracking connections.  I love the time I get to spend with Tom, in the woods with my dogs.  It's my favorite time of year.

Our deepest condolences and sympathy go to the DiPietro family and their friends such as Susanne Hamilton, Sally Marchmont and Scott Lopez. Tom and Chris lost their lives way too soon but they made difference in this world and they will never be forgotten. RIP.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the tribute to this special couple. If I remember correctly, Tom's interest in leashed tracking dogs began in 1980 or 1981 through the late Don Hickman. They met (John too?) at a beagle club in Duchess County, N.Y.. Several weeks later Tom called Don to help track a friends bow shot spike buck. Don arrived after dark with his sister, her husband, and the dogs. They had an exciting hunt, the dogs worked wonderfully, catching up to the liver shot deer after a 400 yard or so track. Don finished the mortally wounded deer with his revolver. Tom not only witnessed an exciting hunt, but the valuable service that Don and his dogs provide hunters and the deer. Please keep the families of Tom & Chris in your thoughts and prayers. R.I.P. , Old Friend