A beagle in paradise

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Aug. 17, 2006

Dear Pat,

Strays seem to find our house. All three of our dogs did.

The newest stray was a beagle puppy whose feet and ears were still too big for his body. He had the feisty personality our beagle Alvie probably had as a puppy but, unless a female dog is around, now expresses his personality mostly while sleeping.

No lost-and-found ads for a beagle puppy appeared. DC wanted to keep the puppy. That appeared to be OK with our dogs Lucy and Alvie. Lucy sat sphinx-like when he nipped at her collars or her ears. Alvie wrestled with him. But our socially unskilled dog Hank growled if the puppy ventured into his vicinity. The puppy growled back.

Bloodshed was a constant possibility. We decided not to name him. This puppy needed a new home.

A puppy is a lot of dog for most people to take on. We tried parents, friends, known beagle lovers. They wished they could and tried to think of someone who really could. After a week, Hank's hot breath was not cooling off.

Then DC remembered Maurice and Mollie.

In 1998, Maurice ran a newspaper ad offering a $1,000 reward for his miniature beagle Mollie. Mollie rarely left Maurice's side. She rode in the combine with him. She went to the tavern with him. But she disappeared from his farm about noon one early December day. He didn't know if someone had stolen her for a hunting dog or if her hunting instincts had gotten her lost.

He and his family handed out fliers with Mollie's picture and positioned rented flashing advertising signs along roadways. Maurice went to dog auctions hoping to find her. He never did.

Maurice wasn't an ordinary farmer, and his 160-acre place was no ordinary farm. Back then he had 37 bison, eight white elk, 25 brown elk, four camels, two zebras, seven fallow deer, a white-tail deer, an emu, eight donkeys, five llamas and two wallabies. As most homemade zoos do, this one started innocently with the purchase of a few fallow deer, a donkey and some ostriches at an exotic animal auction. Then came incubators. Soon school buses were parking on the county road.

When I called about the puppy, Maurice didn't even pause to consider. "I'll take him," he said.

On the drive out to the farm Saturday morning, the puppy threw up on DC and she cried some, wondering whether he would be happier out there in the country or back home with us in spite of Hank. What I knew when we were looking for a home for the puppy is that DC thought of Maurice because she understood how much he loved Mollie.

The farm ain't quite what it used to be. The majority of the exotic animals are gone. Feeding and caring for so many got to be a burden for a lone farmer who still makes his living growing crops. But the farm still buzzed with life.

Margie and Maurice stood in the backyard talking with their grown children and young grandchildren. A profusion of plants and flowers filled the yard. Zebras and fallow deer grazed on the next hill over. Willie, one of their dogs, was about. The other one, a pug called The Tank, appeared.

Grandchildren greeted the newest member of the family and passed him around.

Wherever Mollie is, this member of her beagle clan had found paradise. They named him Otis.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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