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Joyful Obsession

by Colleen Halupa

Colleen is a college professor, former health administrator and retired Air Force Veteran.  She is a multi-modal writer and writes poetry, fiction and primarily creative non-fiction.  She and her husband are avid animal lovers and live on a small farm in Texas where Barney the beagle reins supreme over a large pack of dogs large and small, as well as horses, cats and donkeys.

It is an obsession. It is my obsession, one I never thought I would have. I always liked the male sex, shyly gazing from afar.  He chose me. When sit and gaze into his brown eyes, deep, dark pools of liquid amber, I cannot believe he is mine.  I watch the clock at work, as the minutes “tick, tock” down, agonizingly slow. I can’t wait to get home to see him. He greets me at the door, excitement evident in his posture. We embrace. He brings me such joy. He never disappoints, except when he poops on the floor. He is Barney J. Beagle.

When I was growing up in a narrow row home, tiny yards lined up side-by side like dominos, our neighbor on the left had a beagle named Jigs. Jigs stayed out all night, baying at the moon, the stars, and anything that moved, until my mother finally complained to Mrs. Moyer.  Because of this, they had a falling out; but then, my mother was always falling out with someone. Jigs died when I was in elementary school and was replaced with another beagle named Boots. Boots was friendlier, but not much. He chased us up and down the fence line baying and barking furiously like a starved monkey taunted by a banana. There is an old adage attributed to Quintus Curtius Rufus that a barking dog never bites, but he obviously never met Boots. I was nipped more than a time or two.

I met and married another dog lover, and although we had numerous dogs of purebred and dubious lineage over the years, we never had a beagle. I never wanted one after Jigs and Boots. That is, until one day driving out in the country in the middle of a bridge project where large, growling trucks beeped furiously, and bulldozers dug their massive teeth into the ground, I saw what I thought was a squirrel running down the road. As I peered myopically through my windshield, I saw it was a puppy. I stopped my new car in the middle of the mechanical madness and grabbed her.  She was cold, shivering, and her paw was bleeding. I quickly sped back home, plunked her in the bed with my husband, and she stays there still.  We knew she was part beagle, but she was totally unlike Jigs or Boots. We named her Penelope Pitstop (aka The Pooch), and she is the queen of our house.

Penelope led me to one of the great loves of my life, Barney J.  We live about an hour and a half from Canton, Texas, the site of “First Mondays” which is the largest ongoing flea market in the country. At the south end of Canton is Dogtown where breeders, puppy mills, and individuals bring cats, dogs, goats, pigs, sheep, chickens and most any other legal animals known to man, to sell. Our vet cautioned me never to get a dog at Dogtown. She hates the place. In the brutal summer, six-week old puppies can be found baking in the oven-like heat as their owners mist them with spray bottles of water, wanting to bring in some extra “under the table” cash. We had already broken our vet’s rule once, and the Aussie puppy we got there was healthy and wonderful. We learned we just had to be discriminating.

My husband and I already had more dogs than we could handle, but that February we walked into one of the buildings and a lone beagle puppy excitedly greeted us. He was jumping, pawing at the rungs on his cage, and he looked like he was smiling. Most puppies at Canton are sleeping, or staring blearily at yet another gawking human being who pokes at them in their cages or boxes, but won’t take them home. Another couple came in. The baby beagle ignored them, his gaze intent on us. My husband asked the woman to take him out, and she put him on a carpeted platform in the window. He acted crazy, running in circles, playing with the toys, joyfully jumping and giving us doggie kisses. We thanked her, and she put him back.  We decided to walk around and agreed if he was still there when we returned, he was ours whether we needed another dog or not. It would be karma. He waited for us. That day Barney J. Beagle entered our lives.  He captured my heart like Cupid with a bow and arrow. I cannot bear the thought of him ever leaving this earth before I do. I imagine both of us, like the sculptured coffins of the French kings and queens in the crypts beneath the Church of Saint Denis outside Paris, me lying in repose with him at my feet because we died simultaneously.

I knew then my husband and I were obsessed with our beagles, a dog breed I never gave a fig for before. We had a metal sculpture commissioned by a New Orleans artist who created black and white cartoon dogs in metal that look like Penelope. We commissioned one in brown and tan, and it looks just like her. For his birthday, my daughter ordered a custom stuffed dog created from the images of “The Pooch” for my husband.

This obsession later translated into memorializing Barney. For a gift, my husband commissioned an online digital artist to paint Barney’s image in a steampunk hat and cravat. He bought a second one where Barney is lounging in a leather chair in a suit, cigar in paw, titled “Barney J. Beagle, the Most Interesting Dog in the World.”

I thought this obsession was mine, unique and linked to the personalities of these two beagles. However, when I decided to join some beagle groups on Facebook, I realized I was not the only one with a beagle obsession. The “Beagles Rule” page has 33,879 members and averages almost 100 posts a day from all over the world. The “IHeart Beagles” group has 24, 073 members, while” Owned by a Beagle” has 12,224. The last group I joined, “Beagles,” has 26,435 members and 54,518 “likes” (Facebook a,b,c,d 2020).  These are just the major groups, and membership increases every day. This is just one of many social media sites.

Every time I go onto my Facebook page, hundreds of beagles flash by on the screen.  New, cuddly puppies with unwieldly limbs and fat bellies, misbehaving beagles who have chewed a hole in the wall, or ripped apart their beds, peering shamefully at the camera, old beagles with white muzzles and cloudy eyes being honored by their humans before they leave this earth. I scroll quickly past the epitaphs of dead or dying beagles, the author’s pain reminding me of the pain I know I will experience in the future. Of course, none of these beagles are as beautiful as my little man Barney.

So, what makes beagles so revered? According to the Staff of Rover (2019), beagles have inspired more cartoon dogs than any other breed, from Snoopy, the most famous, to Odie, Grommit, Mr. Peabody, and Brain from the cartoon Inspector Gadget. They do have their foibles; some bay unerringly, and they follow their noses, which means they do not listen worth a darn. To beagle lovers, these faults don’t matter. Although there are dogs that are more beautiful and statuesque, ones who will protect me instead of greeting the intruder joyfully looking for a snack, beagles’ distinctive faces and eyes I can melt into inspire the devotion of thousands. The Rover staff notes beagles are “mild-mannered, affectionate and happy” (2019, p. 1). Of these characteristics, the most important is happy.

In this, I think I have found at least the reason why beagles are so loved. The world is complicated; simple joy is often hard to find.  Happiness is elusive like bubbles blown by a child floating on the wind. Beagles find joy in everything they see. This is something I can learn from them.  To have fun and actually play. To stop and smell the roses (as well as the grass, the pinecone, the tree, etc. etc.). To snuggle blissfully under the covers on a cold winter’s night, stretching, and snoring joyfully. Because it is the simple things in life that make me happy. Barney J. reminds me of that.

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