The winter woods, the woods that we frequent in search of rabbits, has been a bit quieter the last two hunting seasons due to a retirement. And just recently they’ve become even quieter as we mourn the passing of that retiree. Our Buddy, the Rabbinator, the Bunny Bouncer, the original Black Powder Beagle is gone. He had been on a slow decline for almost two years, due mainly to arthritis in his hips and knees, but other issues arose that would finely tell us it was time to say goodbye. Looking back, Buddy had a good life, a good run. And let me tell you there was a lot of running at times.
Buddy was the only survivor of his litter, so he got a lot of attention from his mom. It wasn’t until later we realized that because he was an “only child” he never had to develop any sort of competitiveness; there was always plenty of food with no siblings to compete with. So Buddy was not aggressive at all toward anybody. He was always very gentle, even with young kids. Our neighbor kids loved him; often they would knock on the door to see if Buddy could come out and play. I could pull his full food dish out from under him with no repercussions. However he would certainly defend himself when needed, especially when it came to his food dish and other dogs. Beagles love to eat. It’s one of their hobbies.
Buddy was often quick to learn; about a week after we got him as a pup he did something we didn’t want him doing and so I said “Bad dog.” in a stern voice. He immediately dropped his ears and hung his head looking absolutely like the proverbial pathetic little puppie. It was all I could not to pick him up and tell him it was OK. Puppies are like that. As I said he tended to learn quick and house training was fairly easy; once trained the only time he made a mess in the house was when he was ill and would vomit, but even then he would try to make it to the door, even up to his last hours.
Early on I knew I had a good future hunter. Living out in the country like we do made training him easy; just let him loose in the yard. Rabbits were plentiful. I remember the first time I introduced him to the gun. I used a .22 rimfire because it’s not as loud as a shotgun; loud noises early on could make him gun-shy. I was out in the yard with him and I waited until he was about 30 yards away, aimed at the ground and pulled the trigger. At the report he came running to see what was going on, with his tail wagging like crazy. I just smiled. By the end of his first hunting season he knew the sight and sound of the gun meant fun and adventure.
Being a beagle his nose led him everywhere and he quickly learned to backtrack back to me by following his own scent. As he got older and gained experience he would venture out for longer periods of time. I don’t remember his first rabbit but he put two and two together and that was all it took. From then on just the sight of a gun would get him howling by the front door, with excitement that could only mean “Come on let’s go, let’s go!” He wore a bell in the woods so I could keep track of him, although that was laughable at times. Before we would leave for a hunt I would put the bell on his collar. First I would take the bell out of the cabinet and ring it a few times, and he would come running. Then he would sit down in front of me and wait “patiently” while I removed his collar, put the bell on and put the collar back on his quivering neck. At that point the excitement was almost too much for him. Yes, running rabbits was his favorite hobbie, above all else.
He went by many names out in the field: Buddy the Bunny Bouncer, the Rabbinator, Relentless Buddy-Boy. He was all business once into good rabbit territory, and I could count on him to give 150%. Like my buddy Sam would say, “Buddy could be right next to you and if you were trying to get his attention while he was on a rabbit scent you had no chance of being heard. He was hardcore.” Hard core indeed. If we got a rabbit he would often give it a quick cursory sniff then be off to find another. No ceremony; all business. And I remember one time trying to track him down after he got on a deer scent, which was bad news. Over the years I found if I ever lost track of him the best way to locate him was by sound; that wonderful beagle braying. Anyway this time it was almost an hour before I heard from him and he was so far away I had to go back to the truck and drive in his direction to catch up. When I finally caught up, there he was working a trail and no amount of shouting would get his attention from only 20 feet away, and he was moving too fast for me to physically stop him. So I shot into the air. That worked, but he followed me to the truck reluctantly.
Another time when he was nine years old we were on snowshoes because of the deep snow. Buddy was sinking up to the top of his back when he wasn’t following in our tracks. At times all I could see was the tip of his tail whipping back and forth as he followed the scent on the rabbit runs, and sometimes I couldn’t see him at all but I could hear him breathing like a steam engine, the Little Engine that could, and did. After two hours of tough hunting we made our way to a field that had hard drifts on it. Buddy made his way to a drift and proceeded to roll on his back most luxuriously while making happy snorting sounds. Then he jumped up, shook himself off, looked at me with wagging tail and took off in search of rabbits. Still having fun after two hours of snow up to his neck. I just laughed and shook my head in awe. It always amazed me how a dog weighing less than 30 pounds could have so much toughness and stamina. There were many times when I would find flecks of blood in his tracks because he had worn his pads raw. It never slowed him down. He loved to run rabbits.
One woods we’ve hunted many times has a field between the woods and where we park. Typically when it was time to head home I would call him over and he would follow me back to the truck, his little bell jingling behind me. If the jingling stopped I would stop and see what was going on. At this woods it usually meant Buddy had spotted the truck, which meant he would stop and sit down, refusing to go any further(home). When I called him to come he would look at me and not budge. Upon further urging with a stern voice he would look at me, then look over his shoulder back at the woods, then back at me as if trying to decide what to do. Eventually he would give in and with a look of resignation follow me back to the truck where he would immediately fall asleep. Every once in a while he would run out of gas like a lithium-ion battery: go-go-go and then just like that no more. He would turn around a few times in place and then lie down, done for the day, which meant I had to carry him to the truck, sometimes up to a quarter-mile, with him asleep in my arms.
And I learned to trust that nose of his. His eyes and ears were as good as any, especially the ears. But like our eyes and ears they could be tricked into thinking we saw or heard something we didn’t. But not that nose. If Buddy indicated he smelled something you could bet it was there, had just been there, or had been there in the last 18? hours. And he could obviously figure out which scent was the freshest, which one to follow. It might take him awhile to figure it out, which is how he came to get the name Relentless Buddy Boy. His nose never failed him in his later years. The eyes and ears began to fail him like they do, but his nose worked just fine.
Another nick name for Buddy was Houdini as he was very good at finding his way into or out of our fenced in backyard. We put in the fence because of his nose; there were way too many cross-country workouts for my legs, seemingly at the most inopportune times. He fit through openings in that fence that a rabbit would have a hard time getting through. Drove me nuts.
Scientists tell us there are only a few species of animals that use tools to get things done. I would like to add beagles to that list. A little background here. At one time we had two beagles: Buddy, and Boomer who came to us when Buddy was four. Boomer was with us only 4 years but that’s another story. Then five years ago we added a chocolate lab by the name of Mocha. He’s a real sweetheart. Anyway by the time Boomer had arrived Buddy had claimed the house as his territory, and the couch for napping(another hobbie), especially when one of us was sitting on it. If Buddy was on the couch next to us it meant that all of the couch and anything within 4 feet of it were off-limits to all other four-legged critters. Entering this airspace caused a reaction in Buddy that reminded you of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Whoa! Well, sometimes, when the planets became misaligned, Boomer, or in later years Mocha would get to the coveted warm spot next to us on the couch before Buddy got there. Now remember Buddy was not aggressive, so he didn’t charge in with teeth blazing. He would sit down, grumble, grouse, and throw in a woof! while rocking back and forth on his haunches. He would look at us for help, but not get any because we were snickering by this time. He would go silent for a moment, then get up and search the house till he found one of the dog toys. With this he would lie down in front of the couch and proceed to thoroughly enjoy himself as he shook it and tossed it into the air. Boomer would see the fun going on without him and jump down to play. There would be a playful tug of war which Buddy always “lost.” Happy, victorious Boomer would start chewing on the toy while Buddy slowly but deliberately took his place on the couch next to us! The first time we saw this we looked at each other and said “What just happened? Did I really see that?” Buddy would dupe Boomer and Mocha several times over the years. True story.
Finally, Buddy was a bit of a hero to some of us, not because he was so hardcore in the field, although he did introduce a number of people to fun, successful rabbit hunting. He did it by being a friendly dog. His tail was always wagging, even around strangers. His motto was “Win ’em over with friendliness”. With a face like that and a happy-go-lucky-attitude it hardly ever failed. Small people adored him and were drawn to him, and the feeling was mutual. And if the small unknowing child got too rough, Buddy didn’t snarl, he just walked away. Our neighbors have children that grew up with Buddy, and they would come over to play with him, letting us know if Buddy got bored with them and had headed off into the woods. Even as late as two months ago, when I had let him out to putt around the yard and he had wandered down the shared driveway they brought him to the house, thinking he had somehow gotten out when we were at work. I literally heard the disappointment in their voices when they saw that I was home and they couldn’t play with him, even from the older siblings who are in highschool.
And many years ago we went camping with my sister and her young daughter who was about 6 or 7 at the time. Young Kenzie was scared to death of dogs, but we brought Buddy anyway. When the weekend was over Kenz and Buddy were best buds. Kenzie, now in college would eventually live in a household of many dogs, big and small, both inside and out, and has her own Yorkie that she adores. And she has a photo of her and Buddy from that camping trip that she keeps on a shelf in her room. Buddy’s beagle charm won her over.
To be sure there are memories of Buddy that aren’t as fun or pleasant. Anyone who as ever owned a dog knows this. But what’s the point, it’s not the bad memories we remember so much anyway. It’s the good ones that made an impact on us, that we miss now. The tail, the greeting at the door, the happy howling, the “helpfulness”, the games of tag, the snuggling on the couch, the comical antics, the winter woodland music, the exciting hunts, always glad to see you. We get so much more out of the good, even if it’s a dog.
In the end, on that day I knew it was over, the vet just confirmed it for me. I had to go it without my wife, who couldn’t get away from work. Some people say that smells can bring back memories better than sights or sounds. For a dog that’s probably true. In his final moments Buddy’s nose, that wonderful nose was still working, still sniffing, so I made sure I was the last thing he smelled before he crossed the field into the woods.
Somewhere I was reading about the beagle breed; the author suggested that beagles are big dogs in small bodies. Yep. Thanks Mr. Bud.