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.
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