He was supposed to live forever. I felt sure he’d live to be 15 at least. That meant I’d have him another four years minimum. And heck, Butch—the oldest beagle on record—was 27 when he died, so I figured if Butch could do it, so could my Charlie.
Charlie and I found each other one September afternoon in 2003. I’d been looking for a dog since my youngest child, Margaret, went to kindergarten a month earlier (the house had become way too still). I prayed about it all the time, asking God to guide me to the right dog for our family. I had in mind an adult female mixed-breed rescue; but despite visiting several shelters, I had not found one with whom I felt even a slight connection.
It was my husband who suggested a beagle puppy. I checked the classifieds and of all the beagle listings, one ad stood out to me.“Three month old, tri-color beagle puppy. Male. Full blooded. Parents on site. $100.”
(The ad might as well have said, “The exact opposite of what you think you want.”)
The children (5, 7, and 9 at the time) buckled up, and we followed the back road directions I received when I called the number listed. We rounded the last bend and the address came into view. As we drew closer, I saw a woman out in the yard with a blur of black and tan at her feet. I pulled up and shifted into park. The blur settled into a brown-faced, floppy-eared, saddleback beagle, his white-tipped tail waving to me. Instantly, I knew. I knew because I felt deep in my spirit that all-to-rare feeling of being perfectly in sync with God’s will. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was truly one of the high holy moments of my life.
I bent down and held out my arms. He came to me. And in less than 20 minutes, we were on our way back home with the beagle I’d already named Charlie. At puppy school a week or so later, the trainer remarked, “Wow. Charlie is definitely bonded to you. It’s unusual for such a connection to exist so soon.” Unusual? Shoot; it was downright supernatural.
Fast-forward 11 years to June 7, 2014. My oldest daughter would be 20 in a month; she was living and working in DC for the summer. My son was about to graduate high school and Margaret, 16, was finishing her sophomore year.
She was the one who called to me, “Mom! You need to come here! Something’s wrong with Charlie!” I went upstairs immediately to the kitchen where I found Charlie standing, awkward and immobile. He seemed stunned, confused, afraid. I scooped him up and Margaret and I took him to the closest vet. Still, it absolutely did not occur to me that my sweet baby could be dying. That was unthinkable.
By the time we got out of the car ten minutes later, Charlie had begun losing hair by the fistful. He could still walk, but he trembled all over, his tail sagging and his steps unsure. In the exam room, we held him close, telling him what a good boy he was, so handsome, so brave. When the vet came in, I lay Charlie on the table, continuing to stroke him while I told the doctor what had been happening. After the briefest of exams, the vet told me it didn’t look good. He could barely get a blood pressure and Charlie’s heartbeat was weak.
My husband, my son, and his girlfriend arrived and crowded into the exam room with me, Margaret, the vet, and the vet tech. My beloved beagle lay in the midst of us, fading away. “There’s nothing more we can do for him,” the vet said, “As best we can tell, he’s had a stroke. The humane thing would be to let him go.”
I think I screamed.
Seconds later, his heart stopped beating and he was gone. It hadn’t been forever. Not even close.
When he was alive, Charlie did not actually follow my blog (Google Translate™ doesn’t do Beagle), so I’m pretty certain he’s not reading this now. But if he were, if I could tell him just one thing, it would be this:
(To read more of Charlie's story, click here, or paste https://aileengoeson.com/?page_id=1597 in your browser.)
Our beagle, Charlie, absolutely loves to eat. We’ve often wondered, if he were left alone with a never-ending supply of kibble, would he just keep on eating and never stop? We had no evidence to the contrary; so it was anyone's guess and not something we were willing to test.
We got our answer one Friday morning when my husband, Jay, went down to the garage before breakfast. We keep dog food in the garage in part because Charlie is rarely in there by himself. We leave the food in its original bag, rolling the top down tightly to keep out the critters. In Charlie’s 10 years, we’ve never had a problem. So, that morning in the garage, Jay noticed a nearly full bag of dog food—not the huge 20-pounder, but a travel bag of about five pounds—was open and more than half empty. Naturally, he went in search of the most likely culprit.
“Charlie? Charlie!” Jay found our beagle lying snug in his doggie bed. He looked up at the sound of his name. “Charlie? Did you get into the dog food in the garage?”
Charlie blinked and looked away, breaking eye contact.
“Charlie?” Jay used just as stern a voice as he can muster when fussing at the beagle. Charlie flopped his tail, then lifted himself on his front paws before plopping down again. “You ate just a little too much didn’t you?”
Charlie tried again to stand. This second attempt got him out of the bed and mostly on his feet, his tummy hanging low: it was twice its normal size! He took a step, then sat down. He worked his way back up to a stand, only to be pulled back down by the weight of his girth. He looked up at us, bewildered. As best we could tell, in just 12 hours, our 22 pound beagle had increased his body weight by over 10 percent. It was no wonder he could barely walk.
Charlie missed breakfast that morning, and dinner that evening and by the next day he was pretty much back to normal. But now we know. Charlie will indeed stop eating when food is still available, but not until he is completely miserable. Just one more bit of evidence that Charlie is just about human.
Because I have an old dog, people feel compelled to ask me The Question. If you have an older pet, you've heard it too. You know the one, right? They ask it with a touch of general interest and an overdose of premature sympathy. Yep. That's the one:
"How long do (fill in name of breed/species) live?"
The question is almost always preceded or followed by that other question:
"How old is (fill in pet's name)?"
People ask me these questions all the time. I'm pretty sure they do so to keep from saying, "Whoa. Your dog is seriously old. Isn't he about to kick it?" So, ya know, thanks. Credit given. But for everyone who might want to ask in the future, here are the answers.
It really isn't amputation. First of all, amputation would take a lot longer. This is a five minute gig at worst. Seriously. By the time I get back from paying up front, Charlie's toenails are trimmed (ground, actually, but that sounds so much more brutal, don't you think?) and he's ready to go.
I make a day of it--it's like a field trip really. We go for a nice walk outside around the pet store; Charlie sniffs up all the latest gossip. We go in where he visits the parakeets and the guinea pigs and checks out all the latest in pet apparel and doggy toys. And after the deed is done, he gets a treat and another walk. All he has to do is spend five minutes with a nice groomer and leave a small sample of his toenails. So why the face? Why the tail tuck? Why the earth shaking tremors?
After I retrieve him, I apologize profusely to the poor groomers. "I'm so sorry!" I tell them. "I've worked with him on this since puppyhood. I've done everything the vet says to do, but still he behaves like this."
"Like what?" They ask, cocking their little heads beagle style. "He's fine. Squirmy, but not nearly the worst we've had." They hand me back my little Shakespeare who is back to whimpering and quivering, looking as if he's just been told he'll never walk again.
Little faker.I stare him down, unyielding. He blinks, working up a tear, and just like that I'm a goner.
"You want a treat buddy? Here's a treat! What a good, brave boy you are!"
He takes his treat, nods to the audience, and prances away without so much as an acceptance speech. Ingrate.
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.
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
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!