Stories about pets always seem to have sad endings, so I was prepared to get a little emotional as I neared the end of “Marley and Me”, John Grogan’s book about his family’s goofy but loveable yellow lab. Sure enough, Grogan’s book got a snuffle or two from me as Marley passed on. It also got me thinking about the various dogs in my life — and one in particular.
We were enthusiastic rabbit hunters on the farm where I grew up. Along with a shotgun, a good beagle was considered essential — and Judy was the best.
The beagle is a bright, inquisitive — and I believe courageous — little dog, often no more than a foot high at the withers. They have one of the best noses in dogdom. When a rabbit is flushed they are on the trail with unmatched persistence and a thrilling bugle call that will make any true hunter’s heart race.
They are great at their job precisely because they aren’t very fast! A rabbit rarely wanders far from familiar territory during its entire life, so, lulled into a sense of false security by the beagle’s failure to catch it, it makes a large circle and eventually hops back — and under the guns of the hunters! Ahhh…fried rabbit in the skillet tonight!
Other hunters would frequently bring their own favorite beagles around to run with Judy, hoping that her magic would rub off on “Buck” or “Duke.”
One warm fall day, in my mid-teens, I took my shotgun, called Judy, and headed for the fields north of the house. I was enjoying the walk — perhaps more than the hunting — when suddenly a ring-necked pheasant raced through the weeds no more than 15 yards in front of me. I raised my shotgun and, as I fired, saw Judy cross in front of the gun barrel! She let out a yelp and tumbled head over heels.
Later, I realized what had happened. Someone had winged the pheasant. Unable to fly, it had been running through the tall weeds — and these long-legged birds can really run. Judy had seen it and given noiseless chase, but I had not seen the little beagle hot on the pheasant’s tail as I fired at — and got — the bird. As I ran up to Judy, I saw — to my utter horror — that she was frantically rubbing at her eyes and nose with her front paws.
I was sickened at the thought that I might have blinded my dog. I picked her up and looked her over. There was one bright streak across the bridge of her nose. Apparently a single pellet had creased her there. Within minutes she seemed like her old self, but I put the pheasant in my game bag and carried her home anyway.
I found an ointment of some kind in the old farmhouse medicine cabinet and put it on the wound. She healed quickly, but carried the scar the rest of her life.
I figured that, at the least, Judy would be gun shy from that point on, and useless as a hunting dog. I was wrong. Till almost the end of her days, Judy looked forward to a rabbit hunt with unabashed enthusiasm.
Even when she became old and arthritic, nearly deaf, and unable to hunt, she would rouse from her pillow in the warm corner of our living room and give an excited little howl when my brothers and I pulled our guns from the cabinet to head for the fields on cold, crisp fall days.
We knew what it meant to her. One of us would pick her up and carry her outdoors. We would walk a few yards toward the fields and sit her down. She would run around a little — searching for a familiar scent — but would soon tire. We would pick her up, carry her back to the house and return her to the pillow in the warm corner. Only then would we take off on our hunt with the younger dogs — leaving her, I like to suppose, to dream of crisp fall days and brushy fields and the scampering rabbits of long ago.
“A Dog’s Life” first appeared in Senior Scribbles Unearthed by Chuck Thurston. The book is available through Amazon or Second Wind Publishing.