The worth of a family dog

Talk of Best in Show beagle leads columnist Claudette Sandecki to muse about her past pups

A personal essay titled “Beware the Beagle” published February 21, 2015 in the New York Times led to my family reminiscing about the farm dogs we had when we were kids.

Written immediately after Miss Pee, a beagle from Victoria, B.C. won Best in Show at the Westminister Kennel Club in London, Emily Yoffe describes the breed as having a keen nose, hence their use as sniffer dogs searching for drugs and other contraband at border crossings.

From Yoffe’s personal experience with beagles, however, she warns they can be independent (in other words, difficult to train).

Her beagle, Sasha, tore up or ate anything that hinted of once having touched food, from a handbag to her favourite bra including its elastic shoulder strap with a metal ring on one end.

After reading Yoffe’s humorous essay, I sent it on to my brother Bob, and asked, “Was Mom’s beagle this poorly behaved?”

Mom had a beagle named Minnie during our parents’ retirement years in a small Saskatchewan town unfettered by control bylaws.

To cope with a painful hip, Mom used a walker. She was in no condition to walk any distance, and coming from a farm, had never heard of anyone walking a dog. Farm dogs exercise themselves.

My family made Minnie’s acquaintance briefly when our youngest daughter was eight years old. To her Minnie was scary and barked a lot.

I remember Minnie as a typical beagle, rotund, laid back, content to stay in the kitchen waiting for a treat.

Minnie had been Bob’s family’s dog gotten from a Saskatoon humane shelter.

She was only part beagle, possessed none of the scent-sleuthing urge or hounding habit. Bob’s first child proved to be highly allergic to dander.

They gave Minnie to Mom where she found a good home and became Mom’s devoted companion.

Talk of Minnie led Bob and I to compare memories of our farm dogs. The first, Tip, was a Sheltie-sized black and white mutt who assigned himself no duties beyond announcing visitors and barking furiously alongside the team whenever Dad used the sleigh or wagon.

Early in his life he misjudged where the team would go next when Dad left the elevator with a load of grain. As the team curved around toward home, one of his legs got run over enough so that forever after he limped.

Herding cows wasn’t listed in his job description. I have no memory of him accompanying any of us kids as we brought cows home at milking time. He slept with the cats in the cozy warmth behind the kitchen wood stove.

Our only pup was Buster, somewhat of a golden retriever. He had been advertised for sale in the Western Producer. Dad made a deal by phone with the farmer, and one night after supper drove the ten miles to fetch the little guy. He was small with gigantic feet which he grew into.

“How much did you pay for him?” Mom asked. The year was 1945. Money was hard to come by. No doubt Mom figured any amount was too much to pay for a dog.

“He told me the pup was free,” Dad said, “but I could pay $10 for his feet.”

Buster became an inseparable companion whether we were playing, sliding on our sleighs, riding our bikes or picking Saskatoons for hours.

He stayed near when we moved cows and was quick to speed them up at our signal.

We never found a way to make him brake; he chased until he deemed the job complete. Instinct told him to duck when he nipped at a cow’s heels.

In the end, he cost less than $1 per year. And that was worth every penny to my way of thinking.

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