Four Life Lessons from the Family Beagle

(Content warning: pet death)

In 2010, my parents got a beagle puppy and named her Molly. She was playful with a high-pitched yip and a voracious appetite. She had accidents on the carpet and chewed up Mom’s flip flops during her worst teething phase. This pup could get on your last nerve, but the moment she looked up at you with those brown eyes, all was forgiven.

I moved to Oregon from Texas in 2013 when Molly was three years old. I was going on 30 then and, though it was hard and we drove each other nuts, I had to live with my parents until I found my own place. Molly didn’t seem to mind though; it was more time to get to know her big sister, or ‘Sissy’ as I would come to be called.

Molly became my little shadow after I moved in, following me around the house to see what I was doing. She was curious about the stuff in my suitcase and took to stealing my clean socks whenever I wasn’t looking.

I was dating a guy who had accepted a post-doc at MIT. Moving to Oregon wasn’t one of my goals, but I opted for this sudden Plan B so I could wait until my guy finished his work and because I couldn’t afford the price of living in Boston.

In the meantime, I had a pup to sit with me in the recliner as I read a book or job hunted on my laptop.

I wasn’t in a good place when I moved in, having to up-sticks from Houston and come to a state in which I had no interest. I had visited before and Oregon was nice, but Texas was my home. My parents moved up here for Mom’s new job and so Dad could finally retire, but even when I was living with them, I felt lonely and hopeless.

I asked myself, “Did I make the right choice?” and I would hear Molly snoring next to me.

She was my housemate for two years, and in that short time, she helped me find my joy again with four simple lessons.

Don’t be afraid to explore and meet new people.

When someone new came to the house, Molly wanted to know everything about them so she would crawl into their lap and sniff every inch of their face.

Photo: author

Beagles aren’t big on personal space, but we humans are. I’m an introvert and have always been a ‘home body,’ and it was hard for me to socialize outside of my retail job in Houston, even though I was around people all day. For an introvert, too much socializing is exhausting.

Molly wasn’t good on a leash; hound dogs lead with their noses so she would pull me along to pick up the next smell. I would take her for walks around the neighborhood and she would pull me through the ridge trails that grew thick with wild blackberries.

With every walk, I found myself eager to see more. I ended up exploring Astoria and then I was there every weekend. I would walk along the footpath that follows the Columbia River. I bought balsa wood airplanes for a dollar and climbed up the 164 steps of the Column to let them glide on the wind. I explored Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach at low-tide to look at starfish in the tide pools.

The more I visited Astoria, the more people I met. The small bookshop became accustomed to me browsing their shelves, and the coffee shop owners know me by name. I took writing classes at the community college, saw live shows at the old Liberty Theater, and joined the Queer Center choir.

Exploring helped me out of my homesick slump. I was inspired to become part of the community thanks to an impatient hound dog that pulled on her leash.

Treat yourself.

If you have a beagle, then you know how much they love food. You would think that Molly was never fed in our house. She didn’t beg, but she hung about your feet as you plated your dinner, hoping that some of it would fall on the floor.

Mom’s tea cakes are the best!/Photo: author’s mom

I would open the peanut butter jar to make a sandwich and hear her collar tags frantically jingle as she jumped from the sofa and ran to the kitchen. Of course, I would give her some, not because she wouldn’t leave me alone, but I loved the glow in her eyes as I offered her half a spoonful.

Peanut butter was her favorite. Well, that and strawberries. Molly would dig into our strawberry bush before we had a chance to pick the ripe ones. She would even snap up the little green ones. When we brought some home from the store, she would look up at you with hopeful eyes, like she was the most deprived pup in the whole world.

Of course, I shared my strawberries. And Mom’s tea cakes. They were soft enough for her to chew and we had to keep a close eye on them as they cooled on the counter.

When I worked in Houston, I would treat myself to a pedicure every two weeks. I didn’t make a lot of money at my retail job, but I was living with someone at the time and was able to afford half of the rent and utilities. I made sure to set aside enough money for my biweekly indulgence. It was how I relaxed on my day off.

One of my co-workers told me if I was really living paycheck to paycheck then I wouldn’t waste money on pedicures. She said that what I was doing was selfish. I told her that not only was this none of her business, but that if you are able to afford it, then there is nothing wrong with treating yourself.

Self care is not selfish. Dr. Maria Baratta wrote an article in Psychology Today entitled “Self Care 101,” which states that self care “goes a long way in managing stress and living your best life.” I didn’t know the term ‘self care’ then, but I was doing it every two weeks with money I worked for and set aside just for me.

Whether it be a pedicure, going for a walk, or even one of Mom’s tea cakes, treating yourself once in a while is normal and healthy for your well-being.

Take a nap every day.

Molly and Snoopy, life-long nap buddies/Photo: author

When Molly wasn’t eating, she was napping. One of her favorite spots to nap was at the end of the love seat in the den. My Mom set up a cushion under her ‘paw paw blanket’ (shown in photo), and Molly would settle in with her Froggy toy or her Snoopy, two toys she had since she was a puppy.

She napped after her breakfast, before dinner, before bedtime, and then she would do it all over again the next day. She wasn’t a lazy dog; lots of dog breeds need 16 to 18 hours of sleep to get the same quality as their humans.

Naps are good for human health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, daily naps that span 20 to 30 minutes can improve cognitive focus and enhance work performance.

If I want to catch up on my writing on the weekends but don’t have the energy, I will lie down and close my eyes for an hour. Even if I only sleep for 15 minutes, I am able to concentrate on the project in front of me and will have the energy to write and sometimes finish the piece.

So don’t feel bad for taking a nap, especially if it’s with your dog (don’t lie; you do it).

Show the humans in your life how much you care.

Every human who has a dog knows what it’s like to come home to them. They greet you with excited yips and jumps. Maybe your dog runs laps around the house because their joy can’t be contained. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to know that someone is genuinely happy to see you.

Molly knew our work schedules. She would sit at the sliding glass door that looked out into the driveway and patiently wait. Then she would howl and bark as Mom’s Honda pulled up, and when she saw her get out of the car, Molly ran into the hallway to meet her at the door.

She did the same with me. I worked later than Mom so I was always the last one home. As I pulled into the driveway, I would glance at the patio door and see Molly barking. It was easy to shrug off whatever hard day I had because Molly would be at the door when I came in, whining and wagging her tail.

There are naysayers that claim that dogs only like you because you feed them, but research conducted at Emory University found that dogs’ caudate nucleus (the part of the brain that emits dopamine) responded “most significantly when the dog actually smelled someone they knew. A similar response occurs in humans when they are shown photos of people they love.”

There are many stories of dogs rescuing their humans. There was Ace, the 2 year-old pit bull who alerted his deaf owner of a fire in the middle of the night. There’s Figo, the golden retriever service dog who ran in the path of a mini-bus to keep his blind owner from walking into it. Witnesses to a road rage incident in Atlanta saw the family’s German Shepherd shield one of the children from gunfire.

It’s truly amazing how pure and unconditional a dog’s love can be, but we humans can express this love for others in even the smallest of ways. Is there a relative you haven’t spoken to in a while? Give them a call or write them a letter. Help out your neighbors when they need it. Volunteer in a local non-profit, whether it be a highway cleanup or a food bank.

Dogs thrive in packs and humans thrive in a community. However, neither of these have stability if there isn’t trust. With the divisiveness in society today, we should all strive to show compassion to our fellow humans.

Not unlike the kind you see in your dog when you come home from work.

August 7, 2015

This is the day we said goodbye to Molly. She was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma the previous month and her health rapidly declined.

Molly ate a little bit of peanut butter off my finger and laid down by the dining room table. I laid with her. I could tell she was trying to hang on because she struggled to meet me at the door when I got home, grunting and whining in pain.

I told her, “It’s okay, Molly Girl. We’ll be fine.”

Mom and Dad took her to the vet at 4:00 pm, and with lots of kisses and her toy Froggy at her side, Molly went to sleep. She was five years old.

Though I told Molly we would be okay, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my little shadow. The house felt empty without her.

In 2016, Mom and Dad got a golden retriever puppy and named her Lucy. She was vastly different from our beagle. She barked a lot and chewed just like Molly, but she was rambunctious and excitable.

In short, she was a typical golden retriever.

As Lucy grows older, I see that she has the same qualities as Molly. She’s curious and isn’t afraid to explore. Instead of having a favorite food, she has a pile of her favorite sticks, and she brings more home after every walk. She loves to sleep in the recliner or in a spot of sunshine that comes through the window.

I have since dumped the MIT guy because I fell in love with Oregon too much to leave it. I got a job in downtown Portland and still visit my parents on most weekends. I have hiked mountains and met new people. I have become a part of a new community and, even though I’m proud to be a Texan, I’m even more proud to call Oregon my new home.

Every time I visit my parents, Lucy greets me with boisterous barking and jumps up just enough to rest her paws on my hips in her version of a hug. When we settle in for the night, I sit on the sofa and she rests between my knees, putting her head on my stomach to fall asleep.

Lucy is turning four this year, and she is still a happy, rowdy Goldie whose love is limitless. It was this intense love that filled the grieving space in our hearts.

Lucy and Molly/Photo: author

I miss Molly every single day, but I see some of her in Lucy. I see her in the way Lucy looks at me with her brown eyes and the way she snores in my lap. Lucy gets excited when she hears my name, which is still ‘Sissy,’ and she loves to steal my socks.

Maybe it wasn’t just Molly who knew the secrets to a good life. Maybe it’s in the wisdom of all dogs.

Maybe the key to having a life filled with joy is to live it…like a pup.

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