A Best Friend I Never Deserved
Beryl the Beagle, and a lesson in unconditional love
As I sit to write this, I am more than aware of the uncomfortable road down which this memory will take me. I was not a good dog owner. I wasn’t a bad owner either: Beryl had shelter, space, food, insurance, regular vaccinations, and regular veterinary care. What I did do was take her for granted and, ultimately, did not show her the love she deserved.
Beryl came into my family’s life in the summer of 2014. For the Brits of a certain age, it may amuse you to know that I wanted a male beagle so we could call him Jeremy. Jeremy Beagle. This joke will fly over the heads of anyone under 30 or not British.
At the time my wife and I were going through a rough patch that would ultimately end in divorce a year and a half later. She wanted a dog, and, as I saw a small chance to redeem myself, I went along with this plan despite not being a dog person.
I believe that we are all sorted into ‘people’: dog people, cat people, lizard people, bird people, small rodent people, or not-pet people. Some overlap, some go for more exotic options, but I think as a general rule this is correct. Until recently I thought I was a cat person, having had a cat as a child, but really I’m a pet-with-no-hassle-whatsoever person, and a cat generally fits that bill.
Out of all the types of pet owners, dog owners genuinely cannot comprehend anyone not loving dogs. My wife was adamant: ‘You will love her like a child once you get to know her.’
I knew nothing about dogs, so removed myself from the process with two instructions: I don’t want a smelly one or one which malts. She chose a beagle. I am now aware that few dogs malt more, or possess that peculiarly ‘houndy’ smell, than a beagle. She came from a litter of puppies on a farm. We did see the mother and father, and all the puppies were very healthy - one thing we did do right. She was sold to us as a full beagle, later downgraded to a field beagle. I’m convinced she’s a bit of a mutt, with some terrier in her.
The signs were there from the very first day, when we picked her up, that we were woefully - shamefully - underprepared for this pet. We didn’t own a car, didn’t have enough money for a taxi, and so took this poor, frightened puppy from her brothers and sisters on to a crowded bus in a cat carrier. She was distressed; it was upsetting for my children, and it was such a poor start to Beryl’s life with us.
I had little to do with Beryl over the first 18 months. She was part of my life, but I had other concerns that interested me more in my kids and work. The care of Beryl became quite the metaphor for my marriage: I was a functional participant, but emotionally pretty distant.
While I never bonded with her, she most certainly bonded with me and with the family. As a pack animal, a beagle becomes very invested in its pack, very quickly. She would be into everything with the kids, she would want to be allowed everywhere we all went, and would become quite distressed if she was unable to. Many times we would nip out to the local shop briefly for something small, and Beryl’s baying would follow us down the street as she wondered where her pack was going.
When the separation from my wife happened, I was left with Beryl. As my wife was leaving the house and going into rented property she couldn’t take her, so Beryl became my companion throughout perhaps one of the roughest periods of my life.
It was suggested to me that I should get rid of Beryl, but I felt my two children at the time were going through enough and that we made collective decisions which we should be responsible for. Not only that, I was becoming attached to Beryl.
I would sit on the kitchen counter while getting used to my children not being a constant presence in my house. She would lie in her bed, and we would talk. But this life was still not the best for Beryl.
If any of you have known beagles, you will know they are generally very high maintenance dogs. My job involved me being at work for sometimes 14-15 hours at a time. Never once did Beryl mind. She didn’t destroy furniture, would not mess the house, and generally was the perfect dog; a miracle beagle!
I had people that took Beryl into their lives. One of my colleagues would take her walking once a month over a weekend, trips away that Beryl loved to go to, but disliked returning from. That was perhaps my first sign that I needed to do better by her.
As I started dating again, she became as much of a deal breaker as my children did. Like children but hate dogs? I’m sorry Kim Kardashian, you’ll have to settle for someone else. It turned out that the women I did date probably listed Beryl as one of my positives, such was the amazing dog she is.
Eventually I met my current partner, and things settled for a while. We were able to take Beryl out and about. My partner drives, so walks became further afield and more interesting. Owning a dog was starting to look like a grand idea after all, and the change in Beryl was obvious: she looked sleeker, she rested better, she was more content and less of a coiled spring.
When my partner became pregnant with our first child, we noticed that this seemed to affect Beryl. She became moody, a bit snappy, and a little withdrawn, as my partner approached the end of her pregnancy. It wasn’t until we noticed that Beryl was leaving small patches of milk on the floor that we realised: we were about to have a litter of pups alongside a newborn!
The problem here was that Beryl had never known the company of a boy. She wasn’t spayed, but when we took her to parks she had absolutely no interest in male dogs, and even if she did they could never keep up with her, and Beryl is a lady who deserves to be chased! So, unsure if she was about to birth the son of dog or not, we took her to the vets to find out what was going on.
In the wolf pack, hierarchy is everything. The betas are there to serve the needs of the alphas, and the needs of the alphas are the needs of the pack. When the alpha male impregnates the alpha female, the beta females immediately begin to develop phantom pregnancies. This serves two purposes: to prevent a glut of pups removing the pack’s focus from the alpha’s children, and so that if anything happens to render the alpha female unable to care for her pups another female can step in. Beryl was preparing herself to step in to care for our baby.
Unfortunately the only remedy was for poor, loyal beta Beryl to be spayed, so that was done post haste, and generally that was to her benefit. But the instinctual love and loyalty this showed was really quite touching. And it made us realise something stark: Beryl deserved better.
She showed us love, understanding, and acceptance. We were her world, but she was not ours. And so, we took the decision that, while we would prefer to have Beryl around, she was not an ornament, and deserved a family who could love her as much as she loved us.
You may not be surprised to learn that re-homing Beryl was an incredibly easy process. We contacted a Beagle re-homing charity, they advertised her, found a prospective owner, we dropped her off at the local charity branch, and a couple of hours later she was picked up by her new family.
As easy as this process was, I found it rather stark and uncompromising. I knew what I was doing was for the best for everyone, but that final hurdle of trusting that the people Beryl was going with would be perfect for her was worrying. Once signed over to the charity, Beryl was no longer ours, and so if her re-homing didn’t work out we wouldn’t necessarily even be told.
It felt rather like I was putting an elderly relative in a home: you love them very much, but know you cannot look after them, but fear they may not be looked after like they deserve. It’s an oxymoron - I cannot give them the care, but I worry that someone else will not care for them.
We were lucky and received a few photos after a week from her new owners. Beryl looked like I wanted her to look like: happy, excited, and cared for. And as much as I miss her, as much as it hurts to have given her up, I know I have done the right thing for her, and that is really all that matters.
Go, Beryl: go chase those rabbits!
If you enjoyed this, please give it a heart as, if anyone deserves a heart it’s Beryl. If you would like to tip, feel free, but I think I’d rather you go donate to a local re-homing charity in your area instead. They do vital work for poor dog owners.
I’m very much motivated by a wish to escape from reality. Weirdly that more often than not involves dark, dystopian fantasy or science fiction, which you’d think, given the state of the world, would be the last place I want to retreat to.