February 17, 2008

Voyage of the Beagle

UPDATE: Edited for syntax. Content unchanged.
This most excellent graphic is from the folks at OBEYTHEPUREBREED.COM -- it's also available in Pug.

My first dog of my very own was a beagle. Field-trial bred, she had a chest like a wine cask, limpid eyes and a bay I hope to hear in heaven: it was a deep, beautiful, roaring aauuoooo that lasted endlessly between breaths, and according to neighbors could be heard at least a mile away. That bay was a sound with the power to change the course of a person's life, to make dog-haters and poodle-owners of some, and convince others that a well-lived life must at some point involve keeping a hound pack.
Go, one of you, find out the forester;
For now our observation is perform'd;
And since we have the vaward of the day,
My love shall hear the music of my hounds.
Uncouple in the western valley; let them go:
Dispatch, I say, and find the forester.
We will, fair queen, up to the mountain's top,
And mark the musical confusion
Of hounds and echo in conjunction.

I was with Hercules and Cadmus once,
When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear
With hounds of Sparta: never did I hear
Such gallant chiding: for, besides the groves,
The skies, the fountains, every region near
Seem'd all one mutual cry: I never heard
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.

My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flew'd, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew;
Crook-knee'd, and dew-lapp'd like Thessalian bulls;
Slow in pursuit, but match'd in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tuneable
Was never holla'd to, nor cheer'd with horn,
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly:
Judge, when you hear.
Maybe sometime they'll set that play in the South, and the voices will sound just right.

My parents shuttled my beloved beagle and me to an obedience class run by one William Koehler and his assistant Bob Yankie [a fine hand with a dog -- he did the illustrations for Koehler's first book on dog training]. We "graduated" with a respectable score, but my girl was not an eager participant. Her tail was always down and her warm eyes unhappy, and an observer might have believed the talk that beagles are stubborn dogs, slow learners, and hard to train.

In fact, she may have been the smartest dog I've ever known. She learned like lightning, knew a million tricks, was quickly and absolutely housetrained, hit the back door with a paw to let us know she needed in or out, and never left the kitchen to visit the rest of the house, but at night when the coast was clear would slip across the hall into my brother's bedroom and sleep on his bed. During dinner she would choose a spot between my father's chair and mine and sit up with her forepaws against her chest, and she could hold that position for at least twenty minutes. She looked like one of those pear-shaped toys you can't knock over, her extra weight functioning as ballast.

Beagles can make fine agility dogs: Marietta Huber's Squiggles [on the left] earned a Mach11 and was on the gold medal-winning Mini team at the FCI World Championships in 1998. Squiggles was still enjoying the sport at 15. Beagles are great contraband-sniffing dogs, as demonstrated by the Beagle Brigade in airports across the U.S. The AQIS uses beagles, too, and in the private sector they sniff out termites, gas leaks and, of course, rabbits.

A beagle is all nose and appetite. My girl ran away from the cabin one summer afternoon and returned with her nose raw from glorious hours of sniffing. I'd like to say she came back because she loved us and was sorry in her good-natured way for causing a general panic, but I'm pretty sure she was just hungry.

The secret [food] to training a beagle [food] is finding the right [food] motivator [food]. "Fanatical about food (even after being fed)," says the AQIS, a description beagle lovers will recognize as massive understatement.

I cheered out loud when Uno [on the right, maintaining his boyish figure] won Best in Show last week at Westminster. CBS newsman Bob Schiefffer says he cheered, too, and his wife was so happy she cried. "Beagles are the best dogs that ever were," he stated in his commentary on Face the Nation. Will Uno's win trigger an increase in pet store/puppy mill beagle pups? I hope not -- I want to believe the breed is as popular as it's going to get. Marie over at K9 Solutions has more on the chances of a beagle population boom. If you think you'd like to add a beagle to your family and have decided on the rescue route, check out Beagles & Buddies in El Monte, SoCal and visit your local pound or all-breed rescue.

Me? I'm counting the days until retirement, a place in the country and a roo-rooing hound pack of my own. I heart beagles.


Social Mange said...

If you are in Canada and love beagles, contact Big On Beagles rescue. I know the lady who runs the rescue, she's wonderful and beagles will always be in her heart.


FrogDogz said...

Uh Oh!

Uno is on a treadmill - you know what that means -

Dog fighting paraphernalia!

QED - Uno must be a Pit Bull.

I hope the Beagle rescue people aren't too swamped... and that this doesn't bring on a puggle boom.

Luisa said...

Thank heaven Uno doesn't live in Denver, CO. The haters in that town have killed many a good dog for less.