The Secret Lives of Beagles


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.

“Tell me your story” (c) SMG
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