Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ignominious Hound

by Julia Buckley

When I was a kid, we had a family dog named Buffy. She was part Collie, part Beagle, and part Norwegian Elkhound. She was a lovely animal with a big, fluffy tail and minimal intelligence. The only person in our family who wasn't enthralled by Buffy's charms was my father, who saw her as a perpetual nuisance and a drain on money. Naturally, it was my father that Buffy loved above all, and she'd follow him around when he got home from work, panting and smiling, until he set his briefcase down and treated her to a full back massage, all the while grumbling the words "No good, mangy hound. Useless, no-good, worthless dog." Buffy was immune to the verbal abuse, but she knew authority and good petting. She loved my father, perhaps because she sensed that if there was one person in our house who would instantly sell her to traveling gypsies, it was he.

I never understood why my father didn't seem to return the dog's undying love. But flash forward about thirty-five years and meet the Beagle in the picture above. That's Simon. My son waged a campaign for a few years before we relented and got him this little fellow as a companion. Simon reminds me of Buffy in many ways. They share a Beagle heritage, and his brain power is often reminiscent of Buffy's low-wattage efforts.

Simon loves my sons with typical doggie devotion; he seems fond yet wary of my curmudgeonly husband. But Simon simply loves me, perhaps because he knows that I'm a hard sell in my older years. Like my father, I'm the one responsible for the dog's room and board, and while my sons walk him intermittently (read: when they feel like it), I have to be sure that the dog gets a healthy amount of fresh air and exercise. There are five pets in our family and my husband and children are content to rely upon the fact that I will keep all of them alive.

Simon and I had a rocky start to our alliance. We got him as a six-month-old pup, and we were assured that he was potty trained. When we returned home with him two days before Christmas, though, we found that this was not true, and that Simon preferred to make his deposits in the warm indoors rather than in the icy back yard. This fact significantly lessened the joy of my holidays that year. :)

Simon has spent years trying to get us to adapt to his indulgences--all of them rather gross experiences that he has when he follows his unusually long nose into trouble. Because he wouldn't leave our garbage alone, we had to start putting the can on a high chair. This worked for several years, but in his older age Simon is becoming either canny or desperate. He has found a way to tumble the kitchen garbage can off of its chair so that he can munch on its contents.

Unwilling to concede defeat, we began locking the kitchen garbage in the bathroom when we went to work and school each day. This worked for a while, but today, Saturday, I emptied all of the garbages in the morning, then went to drive my husband to work. Alas, I forgot to take the garbage with me. I returned home to find the Beagle slinking out of the kitchen with his patented guilty look. On the floor--and I mean all over the floor--was the evidence that he had been chewing coffee grounds and eggshells and empty meat trays which still held aromas dear to his heart.

"Simon!" I yelled. He trailed slowly into the kitchen, knowing that he was in trouble, and went right outside when I opened the door. Simon gets a lot of time-outs in the back yard, but I think he feels safer out there than he would in a room with my stewing anger.

Eventually, though, he barked at the door, as if to say that he'd had enough. My sons had been ordered to clean up after their dog, and for once they did it without complaint, obviously fearing that I was about to drive Simon to the pound.

Instead, I let him in and glared at him as he trotted past.

In our family, though, I am the one whom the dog worships. He lies at my feet when I type at the computer (as he is doing now); he waits for me at night before retiring, and we go upstairs together like an old married couple. We learned long ago that his upstairs basket (yes, he has two) must be near me, or he will simply get out in the night and stretch out near my side of the bed. When I leave he whines, and when I return he celebrates. Because I find him handy as a food-cleaner-upper, he regularly seeks snacks from me, and if he doesn't get them he growls in his throat until I meet his gaze, and then he jumps up and down as if to say, "Let's go get my food!"

The dog is often in a state of ignominy, at least with me. On more than one occasion he has come close to breaking my legs by running past me while I'm climbing or descending the stairs. He doesn't smell great, even after his bath, and he barks at every darn thing.

Still, I am used to him. When he finishes his doggie dreams, he'll get up on his sturdy little legs and start sighing at me to feed him or take him for a walk. And I'll do it, because someone has to, and he looks really cute when he's trotting down the street with his adventurous expression, peeking over his shoulder now and then to make sure I'm at the other end of the leash.


David Cranmer said...

A great post and "low-wattage efforts" gave me a chuckle.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, David. She was lovably dim.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I'm passing this one on to my husband, who had a beagle as a kid and characterizes the breed as dogs who even at dog age 45 will still steal the whole roast beef from the kitchen counter if they get the chance.

Julia Buckley said...

Yes! They are real opportunists. And Simon always finds his chance.

lil Gluckstern said...

What a lovely story, and what patience you have. I always wanted a dog, but knew I would be the "one", so instead I have had cats, now only one. She, however, thinks she is a dog, and follows me and takes walks with me, sans leash. She has occasional accidents, and is very verbal about what she wants, I sometimes think I have a toddler. But, boy, is she good at loving, and snuggling-currently on my other arm comfortably asleep. Warm fuzzies are special.

Barb Goffman said...

Julia, what a beautiful dog. And no matter what you claim, I can feel how much you love him through your words. So there!

Julia Buckley said...

Lil, I have cats too, and they are warm and wonderful companions--although they're always sweeter when they are solitary. In a group they just hang out with each other and treat humans with disdain. :)

Barb, that's what my kids are always telling me, too. :)

Diane said...

I have a beagle named Sniffy. I 'inherited' him from my grown daughter's family who had adopted him from a pound (my grandkids named him). He couldn't be left alone inside. He would do things like tear the thermostat off the wall (of a rental). It was getting too cold to leave him out when they went shopping, so I ended up with him. I have never had that problem. All he needs is to be able to see outside, not feel cut off. Though he did grab a container of home baked cookies from the counter (no chair - jumped I guess) & polished them off. Just jumped and grabbed. For the trash can issue, I have always kept a 13 gal. one in a kitchen island cupboard. No issues there. He can be exasperating, but sweet, too.

Sandra Parshall said...

How can you ever be angry at an animal who worships you?? Simon is adorable, and I'm sure he's precious and fun a lot more often than he's exasperating. (I love beagles.)

Julia Buckley said...

Sniffy sounds very familiar (and appropriately named). And yes, those guys can jump quite high! Simon jumps our back yard fence whenever he feels threatened, even by gnats!

He is mostly treated like a little king around here. Except on the garbage-emptying days. :)

Sobaka said...

Great post. Crate training and baby gates are always helpful. The left-alone dog feels less anxious and keeps out of mischief if confined to a spacious crate (which they view as their den) or a single room from which temptations have been removed. Set them up for success and they may just be able to achieve it!

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