I found myself talking at length to our puppy today. Now, I did not grow up a “dog person”–although currently many of my friends fear I will become a crazy old dog lady when my children are grown.
It may be some gauge of Jim’s family’s fondness for dogs that all he remembered of family pets in his youth was a dog named “Zero.” It took our younger daughter ten years to talk us into adopting our first beagle.
Today’s somewhat lopsided conversations between me and our tri-colored companions were not an altogether unusual development. And we do have The World’s Cutest Puppy.
I am certain our older dogs understand me when I talk to them about their master. Rufus looks at me with those milk chocolate beagle eyes, made all the more soulful by being accentuated by what looks like eyeliner applied with a heavy hand; I can talk to him about Jim.
The night of the day Jim died, I sat, utterly spent, on our kitchen floor. Rufus walked over to me and sat with me, just as he had sat quietly by Jim’s side when Jim was sick. He held my gaze. It seemed he was agonizing with us.
Brady….well, he may not be as quick a learner as Rufus….but when I speak to him he gazes at me with those amber eyes and I know he understands important things, too.
Outside the house, both of them paddled furiously with their forearms against Jim’s garden gate, and howled as they never had before, during the moments Jim was dying inside on that bright cold afternoon.
And when, after Jim died, I watched our dogs sniff at his belongings and search the house, I truly believed their map of the world included him in a way that will endure.
“Dogs, they say, think in maps informed with their smell,” wrote Jeff Jarvis. “They sniff and resniff a location to find out what has been there and they sniff the air to tell the future: to discover what will be here” . . . and what no longer is there.
“Unlike our eyes, which take in what is visible and apparent at this moment, their noses can sense the past — who and what was here and what’s decaying underneath — and the future of a place — what’s coming, just upwind.”
On Jim’s birthday I find myself engaged in conversation with a three-month old puppy Jim never knew, in a home he never saw, and who will not have this sense of Jim in his map of this world. (Our new puppy has eyes more of a bittersweet chocolate–a bit lighter on the eyeliner.) After all, there’s nothing you can’t tell or ask a puppy. (“If a person’s not here anymore,” I earnestly asked 4.6 pounds of puppy, “how do you celebrate his birthday?”) Next to my husband, they are among the least judgmental beings I have encountered.
Yet the puppy narrows his eyes in a knowing way as if he, too, understands when I tell him that he never knew master but he would have loved him; that Jim would have held him in one strong hand as he did our children when they were of similar heft; that Jim would have thought me insane to acquire a puppy now, but I know he also would be glad for us to have this warm bundle to hold during the winter, to snuggle up with us as we write, to look in my eyes in a way that makes me believe another sentient being relies on me and loves me– because there is no downside to having a dollop of bottomless trust and love added to one’s life.
40 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Beagles”
Your last line, post hyphen, is one of the best I’ve read. Words to live by and aspire to. Well done
Thank you, Mike! Now that you’ve put it that way I feel like maybe I’ve somehow come up with the right way to recognize the day and toast Jim.
Your puppy is adorable. I grew up with dogs and have owned dogs all my life. Dogs can sense when you’re upset or don’t feel well. I had a Black Lab-Coonhound mix who knew me very well. For 14 years, he was always by my side, ready to give me his love, support, and protection. To me, there is nothing more comforting than petting a dog (or cat) when I am feeling down. Dogs bring unconditional love into your life and are always happy to see you when you walk in the door.
I may not have been a dog person, but I suspect I turned the corner pretty soon after Rufus joined the family. They really do seem to love, don’t they? And they never seem to get our signals wrong, like humans often do.
Beautifully written Stephanie. Beagles have helped me through some hard times also, although I could never write about it as well as you have. Would you mind if I shared your post on my blog?
Thank you–and I would love it if you shared and help let other people know about the therapeutic qualities of beagles 🙂
have you read “the art of racing in the rain” by garth stein? if you haven’t read it yet, I think you’d like it.
I second that. Excellent read.
I love the title and will be sure to put it on my list. Thanks for the recommendation!
Reblogged this on The River Bottom and commented:
I happened to find this blog and the first post I read was truly something special. I don’t often copy other peoples work but this deserves to be shared with everyone who’s lives have been made a little better because of a beagle.
Thank you very much, fellow beagle-lover 🙂 I appreciate your stopping by the blog and sharing.
I found this through River Bottom Beagles and just wanted to say thank you for putting all this so beautifuly. The older I get the more I find myself in awe of what animals do, and do for us. We have so much to learn, so much to wonder at, so much to love.
So very true. I have learned a lot thanks to our daughter’s tenacious dedication to animals.
Reblogged this on Dom and Lori and commented:
I am reblogging too. My first pup was a beagle mix. (“Part Beagle, part Wandering Stranger,” we always said.) Dogs see a part of our soul that no one else can see. I love your words here.
Thank you very much, Lori. The wandering part reminds me of a news account Jim once forwarded to me by email, about a beagle who was recovered five years after running away and 850 miles from home. Jim crafted a new header when he sent me the article: “I wonder how far the rabbit got?” 🙂 I just never knew what would tickle his fancy and end up in my inbox.
Bottomless trust and love…that sure does say it. Wonderful post.
Thank you very much. Every day I look into those angelic, trusting eyes, I wonder how these souls–or any others–could have ended up having to be rescued from a k-i-l-l shelter (we still spell it out in front of them, because Rufus, at least, is very smart indeed).
At first, I came here because of the beagle-link you made in the weekly photo challenge-post and was excited to see some cute beagle pictures (I am a huge fan of those little buggers). After reading your post, I was left rather speechless. Thank you very much for this wonderful post!
Have a great day,
That’s very kind of you. I’ve become such a fan of those little buggers that my children fully expect me to pick up another beagle pup as soon as each of them goes off to college…..but my strategy is now to avert my eyes from all puppies.
I can understand. At the moment, I can not afford a beagle or give him the space he needs. But in the future, I will probably get one. And I already see the problem that I’ll have to get another one as soon as I have my first one. A never ending story 🙂
This truly moved me to tears. What a beautifully written piece honoring man’s best friend.
This is such a heartfelt post, and it caught my heart and brought a tear or two.
You have captured something wonderful, in your words, of the bond between people and dogs. Trusting, open and loving….they are wonderful therapists I think 🙂
I agree wholeheartedly that there is no downside….. They make everything worthwhile, and I write this while my youngest hooks and unhooks some linked rubber hoops on and off my foot….asking me to play with her 🙂
Loved this post again Stephanie – thinking of you.
Bingo…another connection. My Jim had a beagle named Cha-Cha when I met him as a teenager.
The fur kids remember as do I, the soft voice with a gentle heart, the wonderful man born and not forgotten on this day. And while the youngest puppy did not know Jim’s touch, he understands as did Jim, that sometimes the job is to listen and maybe share the moment with a look or a lick.