Best Boy

“It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch…” - Author Unknown He had a welcome home wag that pumped his tail straight up and down, before it circled around and launched into a perfect figure eight. Born in my kitchen during the spring of 1991, he was a handsome hunk of tri-colored magnificence. His sturdy legs and heavy duty paws earned him the name of Sherman Alexander, a reflection of his invincible, tank-like appearance. When he went to live with his new family later that summer, I found myself missing the chaos of three beagles, and the soft snoring noise he made while sleeping. His mother and sister gradually settled into a new and quieter routine and as unbelievable as it seemed, life went on without him. Seven years later, Alex was unexpectedly returned to me and though I was sad and disappointed for him, I knew that this change was necessary. I also knew there would be a major lifestyle change at our house, and wondered how I would manage my frenetic schedule and three beagles. I needn’t have worried, as he easily found his place in the pack and quietly hunkered down for the long haul.

When he returned to live with us, he was overweight. His head appeared small in proportion to the bulbous body attached to it – he looked more like a tick than a tank. I called him “Big Al,” in reference to his size and lack of fitness and in order to help him shape up, we began to take walks together in the early morning before sunrise. Over the next few months, he trimmed down, our walks became longer, and I discovered that nothing thrilled this boy more than the sound of his leash coming out of the closet.

He was an outgoing, friendly beagle who chortled/bugled at the sight of anyone walking ahead of him with a dog. It was a difficult noise to describe (although many people tried), but it sounded most like howling, yodeling and gargling – all at once. Not your ordinary dog sound by a long shot, and it always managed to turn heads and create laughter as we traveled down the walking trail in the park.

He delighted in all things “beagle.” He gave new meaning to the phrase “inhaling his food.” While gently taking a treat from your hand, he would continuously inhale and make a squealing noise the entire time the treat was leaving your hand and entering his mouth. It was an endearing trait he managed to maintain for over sixteen years, and it never ceased to amuse those who heard him do it. Outside, he nosed his way over countless trails, never tiring of the hunt. Inside the house, you could find him pouncing, twirling and doing play bows with his favorite yellow duck, checking the counters for food, or snoozing. While snoozing, he could easily be located in the house, as he had also managed to maintain the characteristic snoring that was uniquely his. On those nights when sleep was elusive, I would awaken during the dark, early hours of the morning, and would listen for that familiar, comforting sound, and would know he was in his usual place, wedged close beside me.

Many of us develop “pet” names for the dogs who live with us, and Alex had several. Big Al quickly became “Allie,” morphing into Allie McBeast, which eventually gave way to McBeast. McBeast seemed to suit him, and was later reduced to “Beast” and then “Beast Boy,” – which meandered into Best Boy, in honor of the store that has almost everything. It seemed to fit.

People often say that things happen for a reason, and just two years after Alex was returned to me, I came to understand that he arrived back in my life at just the right time. His mother Jessie, turned fifteen in June of 2001 and though she was still active and healthy, I knew that my time with her was growing short. I was not prepared, however, when two months later, September arrived with a diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma for his littermate, Scout. I watched the girls over the next year, like two falling stars, wondering which would vanish over the horizon first. Aware that the black tunnel ahead of me was likely to be a short one, we made the most of the time we had left with walks, car rides and trips to the local ice cream shop. Jessie died the following June, two weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday. My father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in July, and Scout crossed the Rainbow Bridge a few weeks later in August. In the depths of my sadness, I found myself fascinated with two white butterflies that graced my back yard for several months, and wondered if they were really new, or if they had always been there and I had just never noticed. They fluttered everywhere together and would occasionally dance past the porch where I sat, lost in a semi-fog of grief. It was hard to remember that less than two years earlier, I had worried about having too many dogs in the house, and suddenly, there was only one. Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Alex was there during one of the most difficult times in my life, and his presence was one of the things that kept me getting up in the morning, and putting one foot in front of the other each day. Literally and figuratively, we walked many miles together during the next few years, and those walks served to strengthen our bond, and mend my heart. Alex was my constant companion both day and night, and I was grateful to have him in my life.

I cannot think of many things that are sweeter or dearer, than loving a dog who has grown old next to you… their muzzle grows whiter, their senses less keen, and the love between you grows quieter and deeper. They watch constantly for you, and you constantly watch over them. In May, Alex reached his sixteenth birthday and we celebrated by sending flowers to the veterinarian who had taken such good care of him over the years, and we passed out treats to all the dogs in class on that day. It was a major milestone for the Beast.

On Tuesday, July 24th, Alex spent a typical evening at home. He followed me around the house, and with great interest, watched me cook ground turkey and rice. He begged for (and received!) an extra helping that evening, and spent the next forty five minutes participating in one of his favorite hobbies -- cleaning the skillet. Alex quietly slipped away from me the next morning… and though it is, indeed, a fearful thing to love what death can touch, it is also a brave and unspeakably wonderful thing to love such a magnificent beast for so many years. He was quiet, gentle and constant, and was most certainly, my Best Boy. I miss his sweet, white face and in these days nearing autumn, I contemplate the lone white butterfly that now graces my backyard.