We have another dog in our lives, a beagle named Buddy. We are looking after Buddy and some chickens while friends are travelling. Our job is to eat fresh eggs and walk Buddy a couple of times a day. What could be easier?
I walk Buddy but it would be more true to say Buddy walks me and mostly we’re running anyway. Nose to the ground, snuffling madly, he chases down every dead thing within five kilometres. For Buddy, this is nothing. For our dog Spike and me, it’s a thorough workout. If you saw us, Buddy out front to the full extent of his lead, careening down the street changing directions constantly, dragging a little chariot of a woman and a fluffy blonde cavoodle, the cavoodle looking perplexed, seeming to say, “Why are we doing this? And why have we got a dog? I didn’t want a dog.” Spike doesn't know she's a dog, and we don't worry her by telling her.
Buddy is friendly to Spike – “LOOK WHAT I FOUND! A DEAD POSSUM!” But Spike doesn't get it. And when he sees other dogs on walks, Buddy barks or howls. It took me a few days to understand he’s saying, “HELLO. I AM CALLED BUDDY. WHAT ARE YOU CALLED?” The other dogs hear, “WANT A FIGHT?” especially those nasty small dogs that growl back and try to attack Buddy. He also howls and barks at joggers, cyclists and bus-stop folk. He is loud. I have learned to say to those who stare at me as if it’s me and not the dog who’s howling, “It’s his way of saying hello.” They nod, or look away, or smile knowingly. “I had one of those,” one woman said. “Good luck!”
Never having known a beagle other than the aged Duchess up the street in childhood and Snoopy, the font of Peanuts wisdom, I talked to my friend Bron the vet. “Beagles,” she said with considerable feeling. “They must be disciplined from an early age. Intelligent. Food-motivated. A firm hand.” She looked at me, both of us knowing a firm hand was unlikely. “They’re so cute people let them get away with anything.”
The next day, I decide, a firm hand will be mine. I leave Spike home so I can focus. On our morning walk, I stop every time Buddy gets ahead and make him sit until he settles. I last ten minutes, and then Buddy sits before I’ve even told him to and looks up into my face – he has that grey beard around those big dark eyes, and those beagle ears. “Please,” those eyes are saying. “I am doing my best. I am Buddy, and I hope you will be my friend.” My heart melts. And we’re off!