Lightning flashed illuminating our sleeping household seconds before thunder rolled from the rooftop through the basement. Over and over again the storm pounded our home, promising to awaken the whole family. Amazingly, the house slept on—everyone except for Charlie.
Charlie is my beagle. And like his human siblings before him, he is a Mama's Baby. He rides with me on errands, follows me from room to room, and settles down beside me when I’m working. Still, the family joke has always been that Charlie views my husband Jay as the top-dog of our pack, not me. When Jay’s out of town, Charlie freely jumps up on the furniture at will; but when Daddy’s home, Charlie finds an acceptable place on the floor. And while he knows I will give in and let him on the bed, he would never, ever try that with Jay.
That stormy night, I felt Charlie’s paw taps at my side of the bed and heard his fearful whimper.
“Hi buddy. You want Mama to put you on the bed?”
Charlie trembled in my arms as the lightning lit up the room; I laid him on the bed at my feet. Immediately my beagle stood and walked to the middle of the bed to snuggle up--not to me--to Jay. You could not have run a rawhide between Charlie and his top-dog.
“I see,” I said to my beagle, “When the storms get this bad, you need Daddy to keep you safe, is that it?” Charlie didn’t answer me. He’d already gone back to sleep, cuddled up next to his security.
There really is nothing like a pet, is there?
When I get back home, I open the door saying in the voice I save for this particular communication, “Is there somebody handsome in this house?” If Charlie does not come creeping right away (it’s so very hard to wake up), I say something like, “Oh I wish I had a beagle. A handsome beagle . . .” By this time, it’s hard for him to resist. The jingle of a dog collar, the tiptoe sound of nails on hardwood. I turn the corner saying, “A beagle with a white-tipped tail, with a little smudge on his nose . . . ” He appears, walking slowly, his tail smacking the wall with each wag.
“There’s my boy! How’s my sweet baby?” He sits, looking up at me with practiced expression, eases his way down, and rolling over, waits for his long overdue tummy rub.
I comply. (I’ve been well trained.) And I am home.
Every single day it's the same thing. Every breakfast. Every dinner. There is never any variation at all. It's true: every day of his life, my beagle get's a half of a cup of Purina One kibble in the morning and then again in the evening. And every time, without fail, he is positively exuberant.
At mealtime, Charlie dashes from person to person, barking and wagging his tail as if to say, "It's time! Yay! Aren't you excited? I am so excited. I can't wait! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!"
When we get out the dog food, Charlie stands close by to oversee the process. He watches impatiently, shifting his weight from paw to paw, tail quivering with anticipation. We fill his bowl, give him a quick pat on the head, and step out of the way just as Charlie rushes in, devouring every last morsel. He walks away seconds later, sated and content. He's calmer now, communicating in his beagle-speak, "That was amazing. Wow. It was even better than I thought it would be! Man, I love that stuff." And then at the next meal, he does it all over again.
Every mealtime, our beagle shows us what joy looks like. And I just wonder: if a canine is capable of pure delight over such simple provisions, isn't it possible that I could be too?
A lot of my life is mundane. Much of what I do, I have to over again the next day, week, or month. And I confess, sometimes, I'm not exactly joyful over the monotony. Maybe I could start by being more grateful for the blessings surrounding the routine; gratitude so often morphs into joy.
So I think I'll start acting a little more like Charlie. Just a little though. Barking and wagging my tail? Not going to happen.
My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have rescued.
Psalm 71:23 NRSV
"I believe in kibble and in rawhide which are brought home by my mommy and consumed by me. I believe in the suffering of squirrels, in the burying of bones, and that no canine should have to suffer the humiliation of baths or toenail clipping. I believe in naps--morning, noon, night and at all times in between--and in having nice fluffy beds in every room. I believe in treats, tummy rubs, long walks, digging in the dirt, barking really loudly, and in naps ever-lasting. Goodnight."
Featured Image taken a decade after this conversation: My niece and her beloved Lucia.
"My parents should get me a dog.” My six-year-old niece was holding my beagle’s leash as we walked. “I’ve been asking for one, but Daddy says, ‘No way!’.”
“Daddy’s very smart.”
“But Aunt Aileen! You got your kids a dog.”
“Nope. I got myself a dog.”
It’s true. You see, the youngest of my three children had just started kindergarten and this stay-at-home mom needed someone to stay at home with. After much thought, research and a great deal of prayer, I bought a dog: Charlie, my beagle.
Sure, I let my children play with Charlie and help me take care of him. We all laugh when he’s funny and we’re all sad when he’s sick. We all love Charlie. But Charlie is my beagle—he always has been.
My advice: never get a pet for your children. Get a pet; but don’t get a pet just because your children ask for one. You’ll be wasting a perfectly good pet.
I know, I know. Your child makes a great case. It goes something like this:
“Please, please Mommy, can I have a goldfish?”
“Honey, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time to take care of a pet.”
“No, Mommy, I’ll take care of it.”
“Do you know what is involved in caring for an animal?”
“Oh yeah! I’ve read The Complete Guide to Goldfish Care. It explains everything.”
”What about the bowl? Are you going to clean out the bowl?”
“The book shows how to do that too. All you have to do is. . .” She describes the process precisely.
We’ve all been there. Our child pleads, promises, and then pretty pleases with a cherry on top. And we want to bless them. We do. We want them to have the desires of their hearts. Guilt sets in. Every boy needs a puppy, right?
So we start asking other parents for advice and sure enough, our friends are happy to weigh in on the issue.
“Oh, do it! Pets add so much joy to our lives. Besides, it will be good for your child—teach him some responsibility.” (Just so you know, these dear friends aren’t going to clean up the fresh piles of responsibility on your new carpet.)
Give the child chores—not gerbils—to teach responsibility. And as for needing a puppy, children don’t need puppies. Children need love, shelter, food and water. Beyond that, raise them up in the faith, get them a good education, and help them learn to get along with other people. Really, a child doesn’t need a puppy. Or a kitty. Or a komodo dragon.
The truth is most children don’t take care of animals in the long run, parents do. Kids usually tire of the daily grind of pet care. Then parents get frustrated with their children for neglecting the pet that the parents never wanted in the first place. Inevitably, parents are stuck with a goldfish floating upside down in a dirty bowl, or even worse—looking for a new home for a living, breathing potbellied pig.
When we were potty training my beagle, we learned that puppies make messes when their people mess up. But we worked together; I never saw it as my kids’ total responsibility to train Charlie. When it’s cold and rainy and Charlie needs to go outside, I don’t like it, but I bundle up and take my beagle for a walk. When Charlie makes mistakes and tears things up, it annoys me, but I don’t get mad at my kids for letting their animal tear up my things. After all, he’s my dog.
But let’s say you have a radically responsible youngster who is devoted to the pet plan. Your child is the exception to the rule and she really will take excellent care of your new family member. Great. Is she also devoted to the financial responsibility of a pet? It adds up quickly: food, boarding costs, routine veterinary care, and fun things like toys and treats. Plus most pets require some type of enclosure—reptiles and rodents require cages, puppies and piggies need yards with boundaries, and even kittens need carrying crates. And what about veterinary emergencies? Most childhood allowances won’t cover the cost of vet surgery.
When we travel and Charlie can’t go along, I pay the boarder to keep him safe. Each year, and sometimes more often, I pay for vaccinations. When Charlie gets sick, I take him to the vet and pay the bill. And I don’t mind these expenses. After all, I wanted a beagle, and these costs are part of having Charlie in my life.
Indeed, my kids benefit from having a pet in their lives. It teaches them lots of things like cooperation and compassion. But the thing is I wanted the beagle. Hey, I needed the beagle. And because I have Charlie, my children get to reap the benefits of living with a pet.
But forget the guilt trip; your kids don’t really need a pet. If a pet is not right for you, it’s not right for your children. So get a pet for yourself if you need one, or if you want one. But do be sure to share. Your kids will love it!
“It’s driving us all crazy,” I told the vet. She and I sat cross-legged on the exam room floor as my beagle paced, sniffing around for a way out.
“Charlie licks the floor constantly,” I said, “And it’s not just the floor either. He licks the carpet, his bed, everything. It’s . . . well. . . it’s gross.”
She got my point. “Any other symptoms?” she asked, holding out her hand to Charlie, enticing him to come close. She scratched his ears, cooing, “That’s a good boy, Charlie. Aren’t you a sweet boy?” He leaned into her so she could do a better job.
I told her what was going on with him, trying not to leave anything out.
“It sounds to me like he has some tummy trouble,” she said. “When dogs experience stomach pain, they try to find a way to get rid of that pain. So, they lick, trying to consume something that will make them throw up.”
“Yeah, I know. But when they can get rid of the contents of their stomach, they feel better. At least for awhile.”
Fascinating. What she was saying was that it is my beagle’s instinct, when his tummy hurts, to consume something even worse for him to make the pain go away. Even after Charlie and I left the vet that day, I kept thinking about this canine tendency. I thought about how many times I do this. How many times do I self-medicate, using a drug that’s far worse for me than the problem itself? My drug of choice is food. Yours might be sleep, anger, work, cigarettes. Whatever: we just keep licking the floor, trying to find something to make us feel better.
“And the problem is,” the vet said, “that the licking itself can become a habit. If an animal has had long-term chronic stomach pain, even if it is treated and the problem is resolved, sometimes he will keep licking out of habit.”
(Like self-medicating just because we can?)
“Then we have a psychological problem.”
“So what we try to do is treat the stomach ache early, before the licking has become a compulsive behavior all its own.”
(Now there’s an idea.)
She prescribed—yes it’s true—Pepcid®. In a few days Charlie was feeling much better and licking a lot less. Amazing. We treated the real problem, and the destructive behavior went away.
Wonder if that would work in humans?