In October last year, our beloved 16-year-old beagle died. He was the very best bad dog you could have and, actually, the only dog I’ve ever had. He was friendly and food-obsessed, and excellent with the kids (even though every time we brought another baby home, he’d look at us in confusion, possibly wondering why we kept bringing these helpless, hairless creatures into his house and giving him more responsibility to look after them). And despite everyone else’s best intentions, I’m not ready to get another dog.
You see, three times in the past month, someone has said that we need to get another dog. “It’ll be good for the children,” said one of the teachers at my son’s school. “They can learn responsibility while they take care of a dog.” Um, no, well-meaning teacher, they will not. They will do exactly what they did with our old dog, which was cuddle him and pet him and lay all over him while playing video games and fight over who gets him in their bed in the winter. Dad will be stuck picking up poo and swearing under his breath while he spot-cleans muddy pawprints off the carpet.
“Don’t worry, I’ll train him when I get there!” said my mother, who is coming from overseas for a visit later this year. “And then you will LEAVE,” I replied, “and the dog will not.”
“The house seems very empty without him,” said a friend who came for tea the other day. “But at least he’s not trying to steal my food from my plate when I’m not paying attention.”
Exactly, I thought. For the first time in 16 years, I can eat an entire meal without a beagle staring longingly at my plate or snatching half of the baby’s dinner out of her flailing hand. (Yes, I know dogs shouldn’t beg or steal food. I know he should have been better trained. But he’s in doggie heaven now so there’s no point berating me for it.)
I loved my dog. He was there through all three of my pregnancies with my children, and he was there waiting at home to meet them when they arrived from the hospital all new and interesting-smelling. When our oldest child was born, we actually stopped at the pet store on the way home from the maternity home, got the biggest bone we could find, and then staged an elaborate “meet and greet” whereby I went into the house first with the baby’s blanket so the dog could have a good sniff, then my husband followed with the baby and the huge bone, and we told the dog that the baby was here to bring him a present. People who heard about this rolled their eyes. I don’t care. It felt good to do this. It felt right. After all, the dog was our first baby, and he was meeting his new sibling.
The first time I was alone in my house after the dog died was very hard. I kept thinking I would come across him sleeping in the sun somewhere, or snoring in a pile of laundry. In his later years, he slept a lot more than he was awake. Sometimes the dog door rattles in the wind, and I think for a split second that I’ll see him coming through it.
I’ve had to learn to vacuum the floor a lot more frequently since he died. I didn’t realise just how many crumbs he hoovered up, even in those sleepy latter years of his life. Food = #priorities, which was one thing the beagle and I had in common right from the start. The other day, my son dropped a bite of sausage on the floor, and I looked up and met my husband’s eyes. “The dog would have loved this,” he said wistfully as he tossed it into the disposal. I sometimes think my kids dropped bites of food on purpose just because the dog loved to come catch things mid-air.
The other night, my oldest daughter was feeling sad, so I texted a friend with a beagle to ask if we could go pet it. Fortunately, she’s the kind of friend who would never tell me if she thought I was making a weird request, and she said sure, come on over. So we went. We petted her beagle, scratched its ears, talked silly doggy talk to it, and got covered in dog fur (people who say beagles don’t shed are LIARS). And then we thanked my friend and went home.
In the car, I said to my daughter, “Sometimes you just need to pet a dog to feel better about things.”
She agreed, then said, “But, Mum, I don’t think we’re ready for another dog yet.”
Not yet. I’m not sure when. But not yet. We’re still figuring out how to live without our old, much-loved, naughty, funny, friendly, smelly, cheeky, grumpy, sorely missed beagle, who was part of our family.