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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

This is a dog story that’s neither “Old Yeller” nor “Lassie” – neither touching nor noble. This is the story of a dog that’s been bred with a compulsive eating disorder. This is the story of a dog I fondly call “Jabba the Mutt” for reasons that will become obvious.

One day, 10 years ago, my wife and son overruled me and came home with an adopted dog. “Heidi” was 9 months old. Part hound, part beagle, she ran like the wind wherever her nose dictated. She chased bunnies and cats with baying exuberance. She dared to chase deer – 10 times her size – until one dramatic confrontation, and she has never chased them since.

Heidi has mellowed with age, but the beagle inside gives her an aloof attitude. Issue a command and she ignores it with practiced nonchalance and sublime arrogance. But call her to dinner and she responds in a mad dash, with tail wagging.

We assumed this was just Heidi’s personality, but recent literature about beagles suggests that the breed possesses her, and there is no exorcism – not even through a seance with Cesar Millan. Here’s how one dog expert put it:

“The Beagle possesses a ravenous appetite. It loves to eat. When it comes to food, the Beagle’s cleverness can come into play. They can be relentless – stealing from the table, the trash, the counters, pantries, children, etc.”

Relentless describes Heidi. She raids local barbecues and steals steaks from the hot grill. She snatches kids’ ice cream cones with one deft lick. She climbs onto our picnic table to graze on crumbs. Food lust is in her blood, and she pursues it doggedly.

“Originally bred for rabbit hunting … the beagle has an acute sense of smell; they can detect smells that are too faint to be sensed by scientific equipment. In addition, they have a voracious and undiscerning appetite.” – Wikipedia

Another dog expert issues what sounds like a bear warning in Aspen: “Beagles will eat anything. Keep garbage and trash in locked receptacles and spray the can or bin with bitter apple. You may also have to put a lock on the refrigerator, as Beagles have been known to figure out how to open them.”

Our “Jabba the Mutt” is all this and more. She sups on Russian olives snarfed up like delicacies from our lawn. She munches succulent deer pellets by the pound, chewing them like Milk Duds. Scat from elk, bighorn sheep, coyote, bear – it’s all provender for our pooch.

In truth, Heidi knows no bounds at all, as another dog expert warned: “If you are looking for a mellow, extremely obedient dog, you had best look elsewhere! Some breeds of dog are designed to work closely with you, taking direction easily and following commands. Beagles were designed to follow their instincts and work independently.”

Independent describes Heidi, who is also instinctively autonomous. Somewhere in that inscrutable noggin of hers lies a wild dog instinct that has yet to be domesticated. Heidi is typically friendly, but if another dog gets anywhere near her food bowl, she is overcome by the “Call of the Wild” and transforms into a savage, snarling beast.

Sometimes, when I’m home having lunch, Heidi will sit several paces off and watch me with unwavering eyes. I can appreciate how primitive man must have felt when encircled at the campfire by a glowering wolf pack. If these wild canine ancestors were anything like Heidi, it’s no wonder that food became the lure for domesticity.

As an understudy of cats, which she madly chases, Heidi can walk without a sound, an advantage that allows her to snag with discretion anything within reach. Whether by instinct or by learned intelligence, the many wiles of the beagle in Heidi will serve her well in even the worst famine.

Those uninitiated to beagle brashness are doomed to fall prey to pilfered plates and gobbled garbage. And if stealth fails her, Heidi casts baleful eyes and drooping ears like a starveling, even though her stomach bulges like a watermelon. Drop your guard for a moment and your victuals are vanquished.

Finally, when she’s fat and happy, she waddles home to impress us with room-clearing flatus as her GI track vents vapors that could be useful in riot control. This, while she basks on a sunny patch of carpet in shameless lassitude, becoming what one beagle aficionado calls a “couch pet-tato.”

Through it all, we love our old hound dog almost as much as she loves food, an animal love to which no human love can ever aspire.


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