“The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.” C.S. Lewis, Shadowlands
The thing was, we were not going to get a dog. We’d had to put my dog down the year before and I'd had her for 15 years. But the kids wanted a dog. And after a while, I was ready too. David, however, was not.
“We are not getting a dog!”
Eventually, I sent in the big guns—Malorie. You know, dads can’t say no to their little girl. And so we got a dog.
Callie the Beagle came into our lives on July 3, 2002. She was about 4 lbs. of beagle and 10 lbs. of fleas. We got her from some farmer in South Georgia, drove down to Dublin to pick her up with all three kids and on the way we went through the alphabet trying to pick a name. We finally settled on Callie, and I’m pretty sure Casey is mad to this day that we didn’t take his choice: Angel. But that’s good because she was no angel.
We called her Callie the Beagle most of the time because some of our dearest friends have a daughter named Calli so we had to differentiate.
I had researched dogs because I wanted a smart dog. The list I found had Border Collies at #1, German Shepherds #2, and Poodles #3. Beagles were #42. Callie never proved that list to be incorrect.
The next day, July 4, we took the kids down to Lenox Square for the fireworks, which had become our annual family tradition. I couldn’t bear to leave our brand new puppy at home alone for several hours, so we took her too. The kids were walking around the parking lot holding her when we heard several hundred thousand people collectively say, “Awww!” and we looked up to see a little beagle face on the big screen.
We wrapped her head and those big ears in two towels during the fireworks so they wouldn’t hurt her ears, then afterward we placed the sleeping puppy down in my purse and went across the street to Houston’s for a late dinner—I’m certain Callie the Beagle is the only beagle to ever dine at Houston’s!
The Person Who Didn’t Want a Dog soon became her biggest fan and that continued for the rest of her life. If you lived anywhere near our neighborhood, you were likely to see David driving around with a little beagle’s head hanging out the back window. He took her everywhere he went and soon the regular places like the bank and pharmacy knew Callie and passed treats out to her through the drive-through windows.
This may or may not have contributed to her life-long obesity battle.
We learned early on that we would have to watch her around food. The first Thanksgiving, she leapt up and grabbed half a pound of turkey right off the platter that was sitting on the counter. And she never stopped getting into food. If we had unsuspecting visitors who had snacks in their purse, Callie would find them.
Our friend Gregg said she might have been the best fed dog in Georgia.
For years, friends would gather in our basement nearly every weekend during football season to watch the UGA games and everyone would bring game day snacks. We always kept things away from the edge of the table but every weekend without fail, someone would forget and would set their plate down within beagle reach—and sure enough, before they could react she would have snatched and run away, gobbling something as she went. But hey, she was a Damn Good Dawg.
Other times we would forget to secure the garbage or the pantry door and would come home to find a beagle with a belly so large she could barely stand. And for days she would suffer the consequences, looking at us with those big, soulful brown eyes as if to say, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!"
She was a nosy little thing. We called her Mrs. Kravitz, after the character from Bewitched. Most days when she could still get around good she would perch herself upstairs on Malorie's bed because the window gave her a perfect view of the street outside.
Or she would stand in a chair in the living room that gave her a different view. From that chair she could see the school bus every afternoon so she always knew when the boys were coming home and she would get so excited.
Callie the Beagle was expensive. Around age 4, her left cranial cruciate ligament went out and she had corrective surgery at the University of Georgia Small Animal Hospital—a wonderful place that we highly recommend. They told us most likely the other leg would have the same problem and a year or so later it did so she had another surgery.
The injuries and recoveries changed her a bit and she became snappish around other dogs and small children, maybe thinking they would hurt her legs. We didn’t do a good job of socializing her after these experiences so in her later years we just had to keep her away from children and most dogs.
A few years later she developed a herniated disc in her back and we returned to UGA, but surgery would have been too dangerous so they couldn’t do it. This disc problem affected the nerves in her hind legs and walking became difficult for her but she persevered for many years. She would run like a rabbit, hopping instead of putting one paw in front of another.
She loved her pack—the kids, David and me. Once when Casey and some of his friends were horsing around in the basement, she leapt over a recliner to get to them because she thought someone was hurting him. But food was always Callie’s first love.
When Casey graduated from boot camp, we took Callie with us to a house we had rented near Parris Island. He had visions of a grand reunion like you see with servicemen or women who have been gone and then reunite with their dogs. Unfortunately, we had stopped at Chick-Fil-A on the way back to the house.
She ran outside and was so excited to see Casey—but then she smelled chicken and took a detour.
Even so, she never really wanted anything more than to be with us. If David and I were out of town, she was sleeping with either Brian or Casey. And when Malorie came for the weekend, Callie was so excited every single time even if she hadn’t seen her in a while. If David and I were home watching TV, Callie was right between us on the sofa. And when she reached the point where she could no longer jump on or off the sofa, David built her a step that she used to get up and down.
Beagles are notorious for howling and Callie was no exception. Once when we took her with us to visit Brian at Georgia Southern, we left her in our room at the pet-friendly hotel while we were getting dinner. The hotel called and informed us they were not THAT pet-friendly. Callie the Beagle was evicted.
Callie was not a guard dog or a protector. She was a scaredy-cat. If she saw a big dog she would bark and bark, but she would inch around behind our legs to make sure she was safe. She was terrified of thunderstorms, fireworks, the lawn mower, the vacuum cleaner, guns, David’s piano playing—anything that constituted a loud noise, she didn’t like it and she would get right underneath us.
She would do the same when she was hurting or didn’t feel well. If she had a sore paw, she would come to us. She always believed we would take care of her. And we did. Her fears didn't end at loud noises though--she was also frightened of different noises.
Once our sweet neighbor, Efi, was taking care of Callie and broke her food bowl. Efi bought a new food bowl and set it up and when we got home we discovered that Callie was scared of the new bowls! She did finally get used to them but we had some good laughs.
When my parents moved to the country in Middle Georgia six years ago, boy was our little beagle happy. She could get out and roam the woods with no leash. By then she was overweight and couldn’t run and was too scared to go very far without us in her sight so we didn’t worry about her wandering off. She was always near the perimeter of the yard. But she enjoyed it so much.
She loved nothing better than chasing squirrels—though there was never any chance that she could catch one. But she never stopped trying.
Last year, after we sold our house and downsized to an apartment, we bought Callie a wagon so we could take her on walks without stressing her joints. She was so happy when we would take her to the Silver Comet Trail. We’d walk a bit with her in the wagon and then let her out to walk and sniff—if you’ve never tried to take a beagle for a walk before then you might not understand, but they must sniff every blade of grass, every leaf, every step that another dog or a squirrel might have taken.
Walking her anywhere took forever. But it was worth it. And sometimes we just had to carry her.
Callie the Beagle did not like to be alone. She was our shadow throughout her entire life. When we were in our house, our offices were in the basement, separated by a hallway. Callie was usually either underneath my desk or underneath David’s desk and sometimes she would just lie in the hallway, as close to both of us as she could get. She did the same thing when we moved. Whatever room we were in, that’s where she wanted to be. And if we were in two different rooms then she would be somewhere in the middle.
Nearly every night for 14 years, she slept right in between us, stealing the covers along with all the room so we each hovered on the edge of the bed. But we never made her move. We loved reaching down in the middle of the night and feeling a soft little paw next to us.
“Dogs’ lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware it comes with an unbearable price.”
Dean Koontz, A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog
A few months ago, Callie had an episode of fainting, a terrifying experience for us. She was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure. We were told that most dogs live 6 to 12 months after diagnosis. She was already on thyroid medication, and anti-inflammatory medication and we added two and then three heart medications to the mix. She ended up taking 17 daily pills.
Then a few months later, our vet discovered that Callie had an anal gland tumor. Since she had CHF, surgery to remove the tumor was not an option. So we added frequent antibiotics to help the new problem. It seemed as if we were racing to see what was going to take her first.
In the end, though, the CHF proved to be the bigger foe and the battle that she could not win. Callie stopped responding to and refusing to take her medications and in the last days she lost her appetite. She did nothing but sleep and didn’t even want to go outside for walks in her wagon.
And so today, this big little beagle who stole our hearts 14 years ago has departed her earthly life and is running pain-free, barking, howling, and finding all sorts of treats along the way. This afternoon we came home from the vet clinic and walked into a quiet, tomb-like home giving a whole new meaning to empty nester. Everything feels empty. The air is heavy with sorrow.
Our shadow is gone.
We are shattered and saddened and the pain feels unbearable.
“If by the example of her joy and innocence, a dog can greatly change two lives for the better,
then no life is little and every life is big.”
Dean Koontz, A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog
Great love, whether human or beast, is transformative. It deepens the life experience in a way that nothing else can and fosters compassion, tenderness, selflessness. When you think you can’t possibly love more than you already do, something like a little beagle comes along and grabs the turkey and you feel your heart begin to grow. But the life lesson is that with great love also comes great sorrow. And is it worth it? Is it truly better to have loved and experienced the anguish of loss than never to have loved at all?
Of course. What would be the point of life otherwise?
Look out, heavenly squirrels. There’s a beagle headed your way.
Special thanks to our wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Michelle Mills, who has cared for Callie the last several years. We always knew our girl was in the best of hands from the most compassionate friend and animal lover. Dr. Mills currently owns Mills Animal Hospital and we appreciate all that she has done for us.