- by Beverley Cross
“Oh.my.GOD, why is she constantly scratching?" I half-bellered into the phone, "I don’t see any
bumps or redness, I’ve given her baths; there are no fleas. The only time she isn’t scratching at
herself is when she’s sound asleep. It’s like having a hyperactive 7-year-old with a drum set in the
house. Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump – non-stop...wherever she goes. And at night? She
sleeps on the foot of my bed and she’ll start in with that locomotive leg routine. Last night it woke me
up shaking the bed; I thought we were having an earthquake. Sometimes she gets so carried away
with it she moves into my space and is actually kicking me. It’s driving me crazy.”
“It could be an allergy,” said the vet lady on the other end of the phone. “Everybody’s dogs are
itching this time of year. Give her 25 mg of Benadryl twice per day and that should help a lot.”
Okay. More medicine. No sweat. She just finished up 2 rounds of antibiotics, coughing pills, and post
surgery pain pills, what's one more?
My current work schedule and geographic situation makes it next to impossible to participate in the
sport of beagling on any level that justifies keeping a kennel of dogs. So, over the last couple of
years I have been out-placing the dogs who could still compete or hunt...one-by-one finding them
good homes that would allow them a better quality of life than sitting in my kennel day after day. It’s
been hard to say goodbye to them, but I know it will take exactly 2 bacon strips from their new
masters and they will forget I ever existed. Beagles are lucky that way.
This new business is cramping my style a bit, but it’s not like I’m new to having dogs in the house.
With the exception of the last 5 years, I’ve always had some sort of rescue mutt in the house. But,
the purebred competition beagles were out in their fancy kennels, and I was smug in the knowledge
that they could survive best that way. They must hunt in any weather; it's best they be conditioned to
the seasons. Five years ago when I put the rat terrier mix down at age 12, I decided no more dogs in
the house. It’s been a stress-free five years. Needless to say, it was a no-brainer that I struggled with
what to do with 13-year-old Dolly, my only remaining competition beagle. The rest of the dogs were
now re-homed, and by many kennel owners’ standards, Dolly qualified for the “peaceful nap” exit.
She was too old to compete, too old to breed, and too arthritic to hunt. She also had a mouth full of
rotten teeth that were making her sickly; it would cost a small fortune to fix her mouth. I have been
lifting this dog into her above-ground kennel for the last year because she can no longer jump up
into it on her own. Why is this a difficult decision?
Beagles are pack dogs, and love to pile up on top of each other to sleep. Dolly, however, never
cared to share her house. In occasional acts of futility, I would put a dog in with her, hoping to find a
good match, but invariably they would end up standing outside on the wire, looking at me all dejected
as if to say, “What now? She won’t let me in her house.” She seemed to prefer the solitude. The
exception to this would be when she was raising one of her generous litters of puppies. Dolly was a
dutiful mother, and once even raised another dog's orphaned litter, but she was always more than
ready to wean them at about 5 weeks, when they got to be rowdy thugs. Yep, she seemed to prefer
being alone. Still, after the last hunting dog left, I sat on the back steps of the house, sipping a
whiskey and staring at her kennel. With nary another dog around to chime in with her on a decent
howl, I wasn’t convinced that she would truly be happy. And I certainly wasn’t looking forward to the
dead of winter -- donning coveralls and boots each night to feed and water one dog, and to make
sure the heat lamp was functioning. I told myself, “Cold weather is coming on. Put her down or bring
her in, but make a decision.” I decided that her positive attitude and unfettered appetite warranted
some effort on my part to improve her health and comfort, and not put her down. After all, this old
dog and I had been through a lot together over the years. She has been a trooper in the roughest of
conditions, and has always given me her personal best; I owed her that much. I called the vet to see
about fixing her mouth.
At times I think I made a mistake by bringing Dolly in. For almost 14 years she has lived outside and
that is what she knows. And outside hunting dogs are not like home-raised dogs. They stink, they
have no manners, they don’t care where they poop, and the garbage can is their personal food
ATM. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but there are some you cannot. You just have to find
work-arounds and hope for compromise. Now that Dolly's often in the same room with me, I’ve
noticed some things about her that were hidden from me when she lived in the kennel. For example,
she snores like a husband -- out of both ends. And she’s almost totally deaf now. My work-around for
communicating is to use a lot of arm waving, pointing, and gesturing. I look like the ground crew at
Indianapolis International, guiding a 747 to the gate. It's working, though, and she will often come get
me if she needs to go out. During the daytime while I’m at work, I contain her to the kitchen. Those
puppy training pee pads are next to the back door and she seems to understand that’s where I want
her to go. Every night I pick them up and mop the area. And now that her almost toothless mouth is
healthy, and her old joints are enjoying the warmth of the house and its softer surfaces, Dolly has an
extra spring to her step, a happier swing to her tail, and she gazes up at me with fairly bright eyes
and an eager expression. Good grief…she may live for a few more years. I hope I can keep this up.
Sometimes in the evening I will turn around from my computer and look at her sleeping in what used
to be my favorite movie chair, and I’m amazed. Considering the amount of hair that’s all over the
house now, this red and white freckled dog should be bald. But that aside, I’m also thinking back to
years before. "Exasperating" is probably a good word to describe Dolly as a young hound. She was
too quick with the mouth, excitable - very high-octane, a downright hot mess at times. She could
screw up a pack of dogs in 2 minutes flat. The ex wanted to get rid of her, but I sensed something a
little different about this dog. She had almost a human quality to her, more intelligent than the
average bear. And then there was that crazy-ass red-ticked coat which fascinated me. There were
many aspects of handling and training that we didn’t need to teach Dolly because…she just knew.
You could tell in her eyes that she understood the game, and when you put her in the field she knew
why she was there. Dolly had a certain sentience about her, and at age 2, I felt she needed more
time to develop. In her case it was too soon to make a cut. So, I dug my heels in stubbornly and
insisted she stay in our kennel. She had the energy and personality of a Border Collie working an
agility course, and that alone amused me to no end.
After Dolly's first litter at age 3, it was as if a light switch flipped on. All of her good qualities started to
manifest themselves into a mature, organized style of running, and she became a serious contender
in both the field and in show. Within the year she had earned her Rabbit Champion and Grand
Bench Champion titles, (and I got to say “neener-neener” to the ex). She was a delight to gun over
and would handle for a child. Everything just seemed to come together for her and Dolly became the
foundation bitch for our line of dogs. She would also be the measuring stick by which we tested the
mettle of the up and coming. All of her litters were born with me in attendance, watching over her.
Without any prompting from me, Dolly learned to sit up and beg for whatever you were eating. An
admirable trait for a hound dog -- mastering the art of chiseling for food. She fed us too. She put a
lot of rabbits in the stew pot and trained many a pup in the field. She even led a couple of night-time
“jail-breaks” that resulted in the terrorization of the neighborhood yard bunnies by half of our pack.
Porch lights coming on everywhere, we scrambled to catch up the hounds as they threaded in
between the houses in full cry. Ever try to run when you're laughing? I was always so very proud of
Dolly – even during embarrassing moments like those. When the marriage went by the wayside in
2005, it seemed only right that I brought Dolly and a few others into my modest new camp. Although
she was retired from competition, she was my Champion and I'd always been hers; I felt she would be
better off with me.
Seeing her now, curled up in the papasan chair, the distinctive pattern of her coat which is burned
into my memory takes me back to pieces of our history together that evoke the gamut of emotions.
With more white on her than most of the hounds, I could see her stand out from a distance – most
often leading the pack, chasing the hair off a rabbit, the gallery awestruck by her urgent, machine
gun war chant, and the other dogs just hoping to keep up. I envision her standing nicely on the
bench, on her toes and posed to perfection, as still as a statue…except for the very tip of her tail.
Dolly at her best behavior couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. As the bench judge would approach her,
she wouldn’t move a whisker, but she would acknowledge him by wagging the last 2 inches of her
tail. I think this may have endeared her into a blue ribbon or two.
Some of the memories are downright frightening to recall. I remember a time when she was running
a field trial in the strip mines of Southern Indiana and we thought we’d lost her. This was before
tracking collars were commonplace. She and another dog named Rudy split from the pack and didn’t
come in at the end of the cast. I was worried sick because the terrain down there looks the same 360
degrees for miles, and the wildlife abounds. You lose a dog down there and you can only pray they
show up at a farmer's house one day with their collar and name tag intact. A search party was later
formed by all the beaglers in our club, and that evening after dark we found Rudy killed on Hwy 57.
We put her in the truck; it would be some sad news to deliver to her owner. Dolly was nowhere in
sight. My heart sank. I just knew a coyote had gotten her...or something. Suddenly, I heard the rapid
roll of her machine gun mouth not too far off. More fortunate than Rudy, Dolly had made it across
Hwy 57 and was running a poor rabbit through a ditch full of water and all around a junk pile next to
the road. There were just no words to explain the mixed emotions of grief and relief.
Fast forward nine years and now this old, toothless, itchy, stinky, deaf dog is in my chair, under my
feet, and sprawled all over the foot of my bed. For the most part she’s alert and tuned in, but
sometimes she will startle in her sleep, bolting upright, and she will look at me with momentary
confusion. I'll pat her head and then she’s instantly all good. And sometimes in the middle of the
night, when I’m in and out of slumber, I can feel that she has carefully army-crawled her way up next
to me, using my hip as a pillow. Or sometimes she politely and unassumingly inches all the way up to
my pillow – her body alongside mine, her warm breath on my cheek. This dog, who for 13 years
refused to share her kennel and pile up with other dogs, has decided she will pile up with me. What
a pain in the ass. I love her.