My father had recently died, my husband had finally agreed to getting another dog, and I was convinced that a beagle was the perfect dog for us. On a Saturday morning in November we happened to drive by the city pound, nowhere near our apartment. Jack was certain we wouldn't find a beagle, I wanted to look, it wouldn't hurt to check.
In the second room, full of row after row of dogs in cages, we found her. She was literally bone thin, her big head and long nose exaggerated by the scraggly body. On her cage was a red tag, a warning, but there was no description, nothing to warn about it seemed. The pound worker let us take her outside where she immediately curled up in the grass. We had a ball to throw which she looked at, and then us, and laid back down. I sat down next to her, while Jack continued the effort to engage her in play, and she moved over and put her head in my lap. He knew then, this was going to be our dog. But what about the red tag? The pound people guessed it was there because she was timid; she was a return dog, someone took her and brought her back, so they thought that perhaps she was not good with children. We had no children but had been married just over one year and thought children were a possibility, if not soon, someday. I was convinced we had the time, that she would be fine. We took her home.
On the way home she vomited on my feet in the car.
We bought her a bed and a kennel and read about all the best ways to train a dog. Immediately I called her "Eleanor" to which Jack laughed, "she has no idea who you are talking to" but eventually she did, learning in no time that she was Eleanor Roosevelt, a perfect name for a dog of such distinction.
She adjusted quickly to her new home, finding her big monogrammed bed suitable for her eighteen hour per day sleeping habit. And that bed, placed in a corner of the kitchen, proved to be the perfect spot for a quirky beagle who was content to lay for hours, waiting for one morsel to be dropped near her nose. That she was adopted into a largely vegetarian household was never discussed, although she did grow to appreciate tofu and garden burgers over time.
She ate chocolate cake, garbage, paper, laundry, dirt, poop, diapers, random animal bones on the sidewalk, and anything that smelled, although she did not like olives, dried pasta or bananas. She routinely ate things that upset her stomach, sending us too often to the emergency vet late at night, and once to the corner store for hydrogen peroxide (see chocolate cake). Together we walked the neighborhood, Eleanor out in front meeting neighbors and making friends. She slept in our bed, under the covers near our feet.
One year later I was pregnant. We read all we could about introducing the dog and the baby, concern over the undefined red tag still lingering. Jack dutifully took a baby blanket home from the hospital, to give to Eleanor a "heads up" as to what was coming. Three days later the actual babies arrived.
She was overjoyed to have us home, jumping and crying and celebrating. We put the babies on the ground, for her inspection. She sniffed each one extensively, looked at us, looked back at them, and found a nice spot to curl up, for a nap. Eight months later they were dropping, throwing and spilling food with wild abandon; Eleanor surely thought the heavens had opened, food was falling from the sky.
As soon as Mary was able to see the world around her, she saw Eleanor. She laid on her, pulled on her, sat on her and loved her. One year later her first word was something that sounded like Eleanor, more specifically, Elnor, which the beagle recognized immediately as her own.
In her 8 years with two little girls, she has worn flower leis, doll sweaters, tutus, diapers, t-shirts and socks. She has suffered the indignity of bows tied on her tail and Santa hats on her head. She has attended tea parties, dance parties and magic shows. She has been a bench, a foot stool and a pillow. More than once she has looked at me with a "really? why me?" expression, only to return to having her ears brushed and costume fitted.
Eleanor has been a terrible house guest, pooping immediately in almost every home she's visited. While bunking with friends recently, she opened their kitchen cabinet and helped herself to all the garbage she could find, leaving a trail of discarded yogurt containers and chicken bones throughout their apartment. The neighbors upstairs often leave their back door open and Eleanor has seen that as an open invitation to come inside. Once they found her in their bed, napping.
The girls have, in the past year, started walking her. Her slowed gait, not quite as eager to chase anything that moved, combined with their growing independence made this a perfect pairing. They tottle down the street, the three of them, as I walk behind, poop bags in hand (because they are just not ready for that chore). Often the leisurely stroll gives way to hysterical laughter as Eleanor wanders on the other side of the tree, and as the girls scream "bread and butter!" she tangles herself in her leash, all three lost as to how to remedy the situation. They talk to the neighbors, Kate stopping to explain her dog's now full coat of gray hair while Mary continues on, her "Eleanor", now fully pronounced and so full of giggles it is as uniquely her own as "Elnor" was seven years ago.
Yesterday, for the first time in eight years, I threw the crusts from Mary's sandwich in the garbage.There is no beagle underfoot waiting for a crumb to drop, no big huge eyes watching for the extra piece of cheese to land on the floor. Eleanor died on Sunday, in her sleep, in her favorite place to be, at home in the girls' room.
With the perspective of four days, I can say that I am happy she was able to die on her own, when she was ready, and I'm thankful that we didn't have to make the decision for her. She was tired, and had, in the last few days, lost some of her ravenous appetite, for both food and squirrel chasing. But we thought we were entering the old lady years, in no way were any of us prepared to say good-bye.
It's too quiet here. I miss the click click of her nails on the floor and the jingle of her collar. I miss having someone follow me from room to room, miss seeing her buried under her blanket, on her bed in the corner.
Mostly, I miss Eleanor, we all do.