Editor’s note: Look, I know there have been far greater losses in the past week than that of a beagle. Please don’t think me insensitive or thoroughly without perspective. If you take a look through the archives, you’ll see this is how I best deal with the inevitable end of the line with our pets. Your indulgence for a little while is greatly appreciated.
Here is the basic reality when you adopt a mature dog … you’re not so much owning the dog as renting them, trying to provide them the best life that you can during the assuredly brief time that you will spend with them.
Having said that, you never expect your time with the dog to last for only 383 days. And that’s what happened with Dalton, our felicitously named 11-year-old boy that was our Chanukah dog last year from Arizona Beagle Rescue.
Early last December, about the time the video of the beagles from the test lab taking their first steps on real grass, I just happened to head to the Arizona Beagle Rescue site. Tobey, the first and the dog featured on this site and on most of my marketing, is an AZBR alum. In any event, on the front page there was Dalton. Two days later we visited him; two days after that he came home to stay.
Dalton wasn’t a full-bred beagle. In fact, his beagleness ended with his coloring. He barked instead of rooed, he didn’t join the rest of the pack (he was our fourth) and he had a severe alpha dog syndrome, which only dissipated when the youngest handed him his beagle ass in multiple confrontations over time. (Both Morgan and Dalton ended up at the vet once for some antibiotics after biting the other’s ear; it was during Dalton’s visit a couple of weeks ago that we learned something was up.) When the others went out en masse to bark at something, he rarely joined in.
Oh, and he was fluffy. Very fluffy. So fluffy that when he jumped onto the couch next to you, you couldn’t help but lose yourself petting him for three or four … hours, days, weeks, months.
Dalton slept with my 13-year-old, first on her bed and then under as time went on. When he came into our room to sleep, he would paw at the blanket on the floor until his bed was perfect; it usually ended up a few feet away from where it started.
He had taken the place of my beloved Griff as my work shadow, coming into the office to lay down whenever I went in there to work. He almost always stopped by my chair to be petted first. Normally I’d say that I wish I’d petted him more often but, well … did I mention he was fluffy? He got rubbed down a good 75 percent of the time when he wandered in.
As if to hook you on his fluffiness, Dalton had this reflex where he rolled over, curled up his front paws and waited for you to scratch his belly. At least until the moment that his belly betrayed him.
During that vet visit 10 days ago, the vet mentioned there was some solidity in Dalton’s abdomen and recommended we watch it. If it grew, we would need to have an X-ray done. Fast forward a week … just a week … and Dalton’s entire abdomen was solid. He was panting and he was having trouble getting comfortable. Then, this morning after I’d made the vet appointment, he started having trouble walking. His left leg kept losing its grip on the tile, like he didn’t have enough strength to keep it together.
The X-ray wasn’t pretty. First off, we discovered Dalton’s been living with a pellet from a pellet gun in him for who knows how long. Second, there now was an enormous mass through his abdomen. The vet explained the options, as all vets do rather than state the obvious, but the message was clear. Dalton wasn’t going to come back out the front door. Our fluff was very sick and, at age 11, there wasn’t much of anything we could do.
There’s good news along the line here … Dalton got sick so very quickly, just 10 or so days, that he didn’t suffer or linger. I wish my two youngest had been able to see him to say goodbye, but bringing him home for a night just for that made no sense.
And then there’s the realization that though we had him for barely a year, we undoubtedly made his life better during that period. Dalton had been returned to Arizona Beagle Rescue twice in the past, as best we could tell because of the alpha dog thing. Even with the conflict with the other dogs from time to time, we’d decided firmly this would be his forever home.
We just never expected forever to last for such a very, very short time.
* * *
As I write this, I’m in the press room at US Airways Center ignoring the Suns game I’m covering. I know that they’ve rallied from a 19-point deficit to win by 11 and I’m sure the play-by-play will have all I need to write my article for NBA.com. It’s all I can do not to break into tears again, especially as my wife is going through our Facebook pictures of Dalton and putting them on the wall.
Moments before the photo above, Dalton was rubbing his snout with his left paw … one of the most endearing, adorable things I’ve seen. For the first time since we redid our backyard this summer, I’m not looking forward to going onto the patio. Yes, I wanted the backyard landscaped for the kids and the patio done for me but it all also was done with the beagles in mind … the same annoying beagles who refused to stay off the sod, which grew in spite of their best efforts.
For as short as our time with Dalton was, I can’t tell you how happy I am that we decided to adopt a mature dog. Everyone wants the puppy. Almost no one wants to adopt what will be a short-timer to some degree or another. That’s a shame because these older dogs need love as much or more than the puppy that everyone falls over. Finding love doesn’t get easier with age, regardless of your species.
There are so many great rescue organizations out there but, being beagle-centric, I urge you to visit Arizona Beagle Rescue and find your own new best friend. And if it’s a mature dog, all the better. You will change their life more than you know. Maybe we’ll do it again ourselves down the line, once we’ve healed.
I’m losing the battle with the tears and Suns coach Alvin Gentry’s about to start his postgame press conference so I’ll call it an article here.
Dalton, I will love and miss you forever. The couch and the patio won’t be the same.