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Blood on the Tracks: CSI on My Morning Walk

The blood was on the footpath, three red splotches evenly spaced across the asphalt.

At first I thought it was juice, the contents of a sippee cup scattered on this popular suburban path by a toddler in a jogging stroller. But it was too red, a bright crimson. Then I noticed some to the right of path, down a bank and ending at Sligo Creek, red splotches every few feet in the leaves. My eyes traveled across the creek to the other side. There was blood there, too.

It must be an animal, I thought--a fairly big one given how much blood there was, each splotch the size of my hand. There's a golf course across Sligo Creek Parkway and the deer are numerous.

But what if it wasn't a deer? What if it was a person? Injured, shot, fallen off his bike, confused and stumbling through the woods? I could tell from the splatter pattern on the path that whatever was bleeding was headed south, away from the creek and the golf course. When I looked in that direction I saw more blood and a narrow track of disturbed leaves.

By this point my black lab, Charlie, had figured something was up. He's not the brightest bulb in the box but as we left the path he snapped to attention. He had found the blood and he buried his nose in it, almost flattening his chest against the ground. I kept him on a short leash.

The creature had fled south, its path as clearly blazed as a hiking trail. The red was jarring amongst the browns and yellows of an autumn leaf-fall. We came to an upended tree laying horizontally on the ground, its girth covered with moss. Drops of blood flecked the top. But on the other side, nothing. I scanned the forest floor then saw that the blood picked up again sharply to the right. Charlie was already pulling in that direction.

I stopped for a moment and thought. If a person was at the other end of the trail, would he appreciate my efforts? This was the quickest way to the backs of nearby houses, but what human would leave a paved trail in search of help? My mind flashed an image of a man slumped against a tree, his hands pressed to his stomach as blood seeped out between his fingers.

If it was an animal, might it be even less appreciative? Frightened by a dog and man bounding through the woods, would it turn and charge at us, its flight instinct suddenly transformed into fight?

I decided I had no choice but to go on. My own instincts had kicked in. I bent low to pass under some thin tree branches and followed the blood. I pulled at Charlie's leash, fearful he would lap at the crimson puddles.

Then, off to the right, I saw movement, a flash of taupe and the sound of cracking twigs. An antlered deer had risen from behind a large holly bush. It looked at us then bounded uphill towards the back yards of the neighborhood. It stopped, turned and looked at us again. It looked relatively uninjured but before it moved again I noticed blood on its back left leg. Charlie, still entranced by the bloody hoof prints in the soft soil, never saw it.

At least I knew where the blood had come from. I led Charlie back to the path and headed home. I called the park police and they promised to send an officer out to find the deer. It shouldn't be too hard. Just follow the trail.

By John Kelly  |  November 18, 2009; 9:15 AM ET
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