Night after night, Billy takes Old Dan and Little Ann out to hunt. He loves climbing through the wild forest and mountainous terrain, chasing his dogs as they trail the wily raccoons through the woods. Billy has great success, managing to trap raccoons most nights—and because the price of raccoon skins is high, Billy is able to make between $4 and $10 off of each hide by selling them at Grandpa’s store. Billy turns the money he makes off of his skins over to Papa—he doesn’t care about money anymore now that he has his dogs.
Billy’s love for his dogs and for the art of hunting is pure and simple. He doesn’t need to make money off of his work or even advertise his spoils—he simply wants the freedom to roam the wilderness with his beloved hounds night after night.
Little Ann and Old Dan go everywhere with Billy except to Grandpa’s general store, where the old dogs gathered outside often pick on Old Dan. Billy takes his furs to Grandpa’s store each week to sell them and he begins to notice that Grandpa is keeping a tally of the number and sizes of the hides Billy brings in. Billy loves going to the store on Saturdays, when other raccoon hunters are often gathered around telling stories about their hunts. The other hunters sometimes poke fun at the small size of Billy’s dogs compared to other hounds—their taunts make Billy’s blood boil, but he never causes a scene.
Billy loves being around other hunters but he hates when they underestimate him or his dogs. Billy is angrier when the hunters make digs about his hounds—this shows how devoted he is to them and how viciously he would fight to keep them safe from any kind of harm.
Billy loves his dogs deeply. He has noticed how much they love each other as well—Old Dan won’t hunt without Little Ann, and Little Ann is always protective of Old Dan on difficult hunts. The dogs help each other and they work together each and every night—even when they find themselves up against racoons so wily that Billy wants to give up the chase.
Billy continues to be impressed and touched by the meaningful connection between Old Dan and Little Ann. Their devotion to one another moves him emotionally and it inspires him to give his all to them, as they give their all both to him and to each other.
One night, during a particularly long and difficult hunt against a whip-smart raccoon, Billy loses sight of Old Dan and Little Ann after they follow a raccoon into the river. Billy soon hears Little Ann barking, but sees no sign of Old Dan and worries that the raccoon has drowned him by jumping on his head. Soon enough, however, Little Ann begins digging into a muskrat den in the riverbank—Old Dan has, somehow, gotten himself trapped inside. Billy helps Ann dig through the night to get Old Dan out—finally he emerges, muddy and excited. Dan rinses off in the river and then he runs right back to the hole to keep digging. Billy realizes that the raccoon is in the hole. Together, the three of them dig the raccoon out and trap it.
This passage shows how passionately Billy, Old Dan, and Little Ann work together. They never give up on each other; even when they face fear, adversity, or danger, they do their best to rally together and get the job done. This kind of devotion teaches Billy some important lessons about hard work and loyalty—lessons that will continue to deepen in significance as Billy’s journey with Dan and Ann progresses.
Another night, Little Ann and Old Dan tree a raccoon in a petrified tree. When Billy catches up with them, he sees that Old Dan has climbed up the hollow inside of the tree and has chased a baby raccoon out onto a limb. Billy knows that if Old Dan falls or jumps, he’ll break his legs. Billy decides to climb up the inside of the tree and bring Old Dan down. Billy slowly, carefully works his way up the tree, grabs Old Dan by the collar, and coaxes him back down again. Back on the ground, Billy lobs a rock at the raccoon to knock him out of the tree—and Old Dan at last “satisfie[s] his lust to kill." Exhausted, Billy leads Dan and Ann home for the night, their prize in tow.
This passage shows the flip side of the dogs’ extreme level of devotion and it hints that there are deadly consequences to the dogs’ bloodlust and singular focus on the hunt—especially when it comes to Old Dan. While the dogs’ loyalty to Billy can be deeply moving, it can also be a little disturbing—especially when they put their own lives in danger to satiate their desire to kill and triumph.