We brag to others about them. We believe they display human traits. They become enduring friends and members of our families. We recognize their intelligence, and after a time discover they are even smarter than we thought. And sometimes, they become our heroes.
Our dogs are all those things, and more. If we’ve lived for any length of time we’ve owned several of them, and we never forget their names or key events in their lives.
We treasure photos and recall stories about them. For me, it’s a Great Dane named “Czar” that proudly carried around an old moose leg bone that no other dog was capable of lifting; a Standard Poodle named “Dieter” that could jump a few feet straight up in the air; a Newfoundland named “Charlie” that small children rode around the yard like a horse and who used to retrieve, or “rescue” large sticks thrown into Eklutna Lake—a dog that was so laid back that he didn’t even bark when a bear entered our back yard.
And then there is “Parker,” a Beagle, who has been a member of our family and loyal companion for nearly 15 years. Though he’s slowing down in his advancing years, like someone else I know, he’s still energetic and enjoys his walks almost as much as his first love: food. But amazingly, our beloved chow-hound is not overweight.
A local veterinarian once commented that he is one of the few Beagles she’s seen in the Eagle River area with a waist. Perhaps it’s because of all the long hikes I’ve taken him all throughout his life, including some mountaineering trips.
I could brag about Parker endlessly–about his sense of smell that is off the charts. But his flaws are more interesting. As a young dog he was never socialized very well with other dogs (my fault), so when he encounters them he goes ballistic – not to fight, but to engage–mostly to play.
He can be quite noisy; thus acquiring the nickname “Parker the Barker.”
Everyone at the veterinarian’s office knows when Parker is getting his toe nails clipped or treated for anything. He is known affectionately as a canine “drama king.”
He’s lost about half of his hearing over the years, so he’s not much of a watch dog. But if a person with a dog passes by on the street he bays and creates quite a fuss. He sits in the window and waits for such opportunities. If we’re out and about, he’ll sit in the window waiting for our car to show up on the driveway.
Ask anyone who has owned a Beagle, and they’ll tell you they’re a handful. They’re dynamos of energy, and off leash they follow their smell wherever it takes them. Their powerful olfactory organ overrides all other senses—especially hearing. You can yell and call and they’ll just keep going.
I used to carry special treats with me to lure him back when he was on the run, but even those would fail. Thus, for most of our hikes, Parker had to be on an expandable leash.
Maybe he could have been trained to heed my voice instead of the hundreds of smells his twitching nose transmitted to his brain. But I think it would have been difficult for both of us. It always seemed to me that I should simply allow him to be a natural Beagle and let his ultra-sensitive nose inform his world.
When walking with him and he suddenly begins frantically pulling at the leash and baying, nose high in the air, I can almost count to the minute when we’ll encounter another dog and owner. Generally, he’ll detect the oncoming canine(s) about one-fourth of a mile away.
His most wild reaction to another canine? That was a couple of years ago when through our backyard window he spotted a coyote on the bluff, looking back at him. I told Parker “wild dog!” I thought he was going to jump through the glass. And to this day, If I mention those words, he looks up in that direction.
Yes, dogs have memories, but they create many more within us.
At 15 years old, we already consider Parker a “wonder dog” to have reached this point in his life and remain healthy and vigorous. Granted, there have been a couple of operations along the way, some special medications for this and that. But overall, he’s been a charger all his life.
We’ve always given Parker the very best attention and care that we could, but in the final analysis, Parker has given us so much more.
We sometimes feel like he owns us, and I’m sure there are many dog lovers who feel the same way.
When it comes to such unconditional love, the boundaries seem to fade away.
Frank E. Baker is an ECHO team member and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired Birchwood ABC school teacher. He welcomes comments and column suggestions.