Friday, April 17, 2009

A Sly Dog Meets His Match

The first dog my husband and I bought was a beagle puppy. Our then-teenage son insisted on naming him, and so the puppy's name, properly registered with the Kennel Club, was Eddie Van Halen II.
Eddie's faults grew huge and fluorescent as he matured. He was sly, greedy and power-hungry almost beyond belief. He would watch us carefully until our attention was elsewhere, and then fight our toddler tooth and nail for her bottle, trying to be alpha baby. Eddie would then drag the bottle off by its nipple and we'd discover him later, reclining voluptuously behind the piano, ravening over the soy milk, eyes crossed in a swoon of ecstasy.
Eddie was incapable of seeing anything in the yard that was smelly or dead without doing a belly-buster in it. He was also a bully; our children would have to rush out and rescue kittens, or baby birds with bits of the shell clinging to them.
I compulsively watched Barbara Woodhouse's dog-training show on TV. She would stalk the turf of the training ring like a dominatrix, barking orders at the humble, cowering dog owners. In fact, she always treated humans like crap: a bunch of sniveling, chuckle-headed dead-asses and drooling screwups who were sure to muff her simplest commands.
However, she believed all dogs were sensational darlings. She wooed them with musical, brightly joyous and extravagantly approving praise and treats. I noticed that everybody, man or beast, obeyed Barbara instantly.
During one session she casually mentioned that she liked to arm herself with a stout cudgel when she walked her dog in case she ran into anything that needed bashing. This nugget of information made the humans noticeably pick up their heels as they galloped haplessly around the ring at her command.
I brooded over the fact that I lacked Barbara's natural authority. I was at my wits' end about Eddie, and that is why I took him to the Blessing of the Animals ceremony at the town's Episcopal Church.
Devout farmers brought their livestock to be protected by angels from hoof rot, spontaneous abortion, death by lightning strike and the whole ocean of disaster toward which farm animals rush with gleeful neighs, quacks, gobbles and moos. I hoped that in the general swells and backwashes of grace, some of it might slop over onto one bad dog.
People beamed at the cute little beagle. They didn't know he was the notorious Nasty Eddie. He made an appealing picture as he stared with wonder at mighty draft horses, and trotted admiringly after a couple of goats, yellow-eyed reeking sons of diablo whose ferocious smell and horrible attitude problems impressed him greatly.
The rector was tall, dignified and nobly spiritual. In the golden light of a paradisal afternoon he made holy gestures over the animals and told them to be good horses, goats, cats, ducks and (graciously patting Eddie) beagles.
Eddie slobbered fawningly over the rector's boots and, with a smarmy look on his face, cuddled close to the lace hem of his robe. Eddie preened, smirking, as photo were taken. People talked about the peaceable kingdom.
It couldn't last. Fatally, refreshments were served. Eddie never met a deadly sin he didn't like, but gluttony was his favorite. Shedding his fresh blessings like lint, he frantically attacked a 90-year-old church organist for her handful of popcorn. He thought she would be easy pickings, but he was wrong. This ancient gentlewoman seized her walker and brandished it at him. Eddie bolted off as though shot from a cannon and could be heard baying with terror up and down faraway hills. And I remembered, as clearly as though it were written above me in the beautiful blue sky, his breeder's cheerful comment that beagles were very long-lived. With luck, We might enjoy Eddie's companionship for twenty years or more!

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