When my son, Selby, was six, my husband got it into his mind that he wanted Selby to have a beagle. Why a beagle, I really don’t know, but he was determined to find the boy a beagle. He talked to a friend who had one, and told me when his friend’s dog had a litter he was going to get one for Selby. That never happened. What did happen was my husband did a service call at the local animal shelter, and lo and behold there were two beagle pups there someone had found on the side of the road and brought in. Two little girls. He told me about them and said he was going back to get one for Selby. I don’t think I had much of a choice in the matter. Not that I minded. I do love puppies, and we had a 15 year-old dog, M.L., at home and I thought she could do with some company. Well, the next day he brought home one of those little sisters. I honestly expected him to bring both of them home, but one had already been adopted. Our new puppy was about eight weeks old, and her ears were bigger than she was. She was almost bald because she was getting over a case of mange. Selby was so proud of his new puppy. I was proud too, but I couldn’t see how she was ever going to grow into those long ears. Selby named her Sam. Just Sam, not Samantha, even though that is what she was called when she was naughty.
That first night I made a comfy bed fit for a puppy in Selby’s room, and settled her in for the night. When the lights went out I heard a little whimpering howl followed by the sound of puppy feet bounding into my bedroom. So that was how it was going to be. And that’s how it was. She was Selby’s, but in my heart she was mine, too.
We quickly learned that beagles are not known for their house training skills, so Sam was deemed to be an outside dog and given over to M.L. to look after. And that she did. M.L. took her right in and taught her manners and how to be an endearing dog. Then, she became M.L.’s, too. The only bad thing M.L. passed on to Sam was her fear of thunder, a trait Sam passed onto her charge, Lily, a few years later.
Sam loved being outside. It fit her nature. I never had a beagle before, so I wasn’t prepared for the hunting and barking. She hunted and barked at everything she could smell. Once, she dug a ditch in our backyard about 10 feet or more long and probably two feet deep trying to catch a mole. A mole! Squirrels were her favorite. She would position herself on our deck and watch for squirrels. When she had one in her sight she would leap off the deck, about four feet off the ground, and start the chase. If she missed she would track it from tree to tree, barking that howling bark the whole time. This exercise could last for hours. Once she had a target she was relentless.
She had a different bark for everything. One for the UPS man, one for strangers, one for family, one for tracking, one for a pending storm, one for an actual storm, etc. etc. My favorite bark was the one she did when she would find the trail of rabbit. She loved to hunt rabbit. If I saw a rabbit in the yard all I had to do was walk out, point, and say “rabbit” and off she would go. She didn’t need to see it to track it. It would only take her seconds to find the scent and then she would show me everywhere the rabbit had been in the yard, including how it got in and how it got out. She once lucked up and caught a rabbit. It was a good chase and the rabbit ran into a tree, bounced off and right into Sam’s mouth. Priceless. She was proud that day.
Once, after we had her for only a few weeks, her beagle nose led her away from home. We thought she was lost forever, but an old man, maybe her guardian angel, walked her home. When she saw us in the yard he knew by our relief he had found the right place. As much as she loved to hunt, and chase, and bark she loved just as much to play with her human family. Get on the ground with her and she would pin you down and clean you like puppy. Give her a pillow by your side and she would be on it. Throw a rug or pillow down by your bed and she would sleep on it, anything just to be part of the family.
So many other things about Sam come to my mind…how she wanted to eat the UPS man; her obsession with flying squirrels when they would come and eat the birdseed at night; the way she finally made peace with the housecats she once wanted to eat; how she made a ditch next to the fence from running back and forth barking at our sheep, and later, goats. This summer she started to show signs of slowing down. Instead of running the fence with the goats she had taken to quietly watching them while sitting under the shade of a boat we have leaning against the fence.
As Sam grew into her ears, her human, Selby, grew into his as well (so to speak). They spent their childhood together, until this past weekend when Sam slowed down to a halting stop. Our little dog, now 12, got sick with some unexpected auto-immune disease beyond a cure. If that old man had not walked Sam home that day long ago I wouldn’t have been able to have a mature conversation with my six year old son about losing his dog. Instead, I did have a very mature, very touching conversation with my almost 18 year old son, as we discussed the options, and he made a very adult decision. After all, she was mine too, but ultimately she was his, and the decision was his.
He knew we had to let her go. She was her sweet, loyal, self through her whole ordeal. She slept on her pillow, she slept on the rug beside the bed, and she enjoyed her pets and ear scratches. But most of all she got to be with her family, and I know that is what she loved best. I hope all dogs do go to heaven. I’m believing it anyway.