Good Dog: The Education of a Beagle
How a neurotic city dog found itself in the woods
My beagle is a purebred, white-tipped-tailed, big-eared baby. Sure, he looks like any one of the pack of rabbit hounds my Uncle Ed kept penned beside his trailer in East Tennessee all my growing-up years. But he’s nothing like those real hunting dogs.
My Bubba is a sensitive boy. He may have a keen sense of smell, perfect for nosing through the kitchen garbage, but he is not scent driven. He is fear driven. He has a delicate, anxious spirit. He’s afraid of the rain, crowds of people, even our twelve-pound Chihuahua mix, who claimed her place as the alpha dog in our family pack of two long ago. Then again, my beagle is from L.A.
I had been living in Pasadena for nearly ten years when I decided I needed a beagle. Needed, not wanted. I was missing home and longing for all things Southern. Every sensory receptacle in my brain was flooded with thoughts of overly sweet tea, buttered grits, banana pudding. All clichés, yes, but your memories are colored that way when you’re more than two thousand miles from home.
I spotted an ad for a beagle pup and immediately pictured myself lingering outside my uncle’s chain-link pen, begging him to take me hunting just so I could ride along with the dogs in the back of his pickup. Begging got me nowhere then. This time, my husband only asked that we name the puppy Jeff Lynne, after the lead singer of ELO. I knew I was going to break that promise even as I was making it—not typical of my behavior, but I was homesick something bad. So Bubba was procured under false pretenses, and in an L.A.-karma way of thinking, I may very well deserve this psychologically challenged dog.
I paid five hundred dollars for him even though I knew the classifieds back home asked no more than fifty. Some litters were offered up for free. Every dog I had ever owned had come from a shelter, and as I wrote the check to the breeder, I promised to donate more often and more generously to the local shelters. (Reminder to self: Write another check.) But my dog’s pretty papers came with the California state seal emblazoned on the top in impressive gold-colored ink. My beagle was certified, authentic, even though I lost the papers within weeks of bringing him home. Of all the puppies there the day I picked him up, Bubba was the one that came right to me, big ears nearly dragging across the ground. He chewed on my shoelace and whimpered and fussed, waiting for me to lift him. At the time, his needy nature was cute.
During the forty-five-minute drive back from the Valley to Pasadena, he cried. He cried and cried…and then cried some more. I should have realized then that he was a special dog with special needs, not the rugged outdoorsy type you expect of a true hound. But I excused his behavior. “He’s so young. This is traumatic. He misses his mama,” etc.
When we got home, I set about reinforcing our fence, certain that if Bubba were to dig his way out, he’d run free, far and free, tracking some animal scent to the point of exhaustion. A few days later, I let him out to play and within minutes he did escape. But he ran straight to the front door, crying for someone to let him back into the house.
Oh, the crying. He cried on walks, wanting me to carry him in my arms. He cried at bedtime, wanting to sleep beside me. He cried if I left the house. He cried when I came home. He still cries if he’s left alone outside, and is darn near catatonic when a thunderstorm sweeps by.
In hopes of emboldening him, I watched lots of episodes of Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer. I read books on training dogs and dog behavior. I read to Bubba, anything to calm him. A friend even suggested I call a pet psychic she’d read about, as if coming to terms with Bubba’s past lives would bring him (and me) some peace.