Debra gets home after I do on Tuesdays and Fridays now, which means I feed our beagle, Sam, when I get home. He has been in the house, with doggy door out to a small yard for the day, which combined with some pretty swanky sleeping arrangements constitute the criteria typically imagined when invoking the phrase, “a dog’s life.” Still, from the dog’s perspective, it must bear some equivalency to an open-air prison of sorts, a kind of Palestine in the Los Angeles suburbs, weirdly lorded over by an irreligious Jew and a similarly disposed Catholic. By the time I park and get to the door, his toenails are tapping a novel in Morse code across the vertical panes of glass that flank our front entance. He doesn’t stop until I am inside the door, at which point he launches himself at me in a series of corkscrewing trajectories and emitting a river of continuous yelps. I bow to him and extend my arms, and he calms enough to place his front paws on the insides of my forearms and we bury our heads next to one another and we wriggle in calm nonsense for a moment. He breaks our clinch and darts toward the kitchen. He will be fed.
He eats a half of a can in the morning and a half of a can at night, and after dinner (about fifteen seconds later), he begins a second Saint Vitus dance, one that cajoles me to get the leash and climb the local hills to a dirt mound with a view, a journey with incline enough to get us both panting. The trip up those hills, while largely single or double story suburban ranch houses with drought-resistant lawns, stone arrangements and cacti, also features a few sudden small conifer groves with dirt patches, and it was in one of these that Sam found a dead rat tonight, probably having staggered away from a nearby house in his death throes after eating the D-Con, a front paw on an opposite breast, tearfully sparing his family the piteous sight of him dying, “Ma, they got me, they got me good this time ma, take care of the kids, ma, I can’t…let them…see me…like this!”
I had been letting Sam lead the way to that point, rushing when he rushed, having picked up a scent, and stopping when he stopped, having lost it. So he had his snout well into the maggoty rat by the time I figured out what he was onto and drew him away with the leash. He launched a loud, focused hound bleat and I praised him for his excellence as I led him away from the carcass. I had a tissue so I scrubbed his gob of death bugs and we continued on up the hill. The next adventure in the mighty quest for a tired beagle was the dump. And of course I had forgotten the bag. But what this animal did for me, what this magical creature did, was to pull over into the next little miniature pastoral area between houses for his sworn duty. He chose a spot in loose dirt below, with an ample supply of more loose dirt and fallen leaves right nearby. There was a steep embankment that tumbled down a good fifteen feet just another foot away. I covered the Los Angeles Steamer in loose dirt first, then in fallen leaves and gave it a sweet little boot over the lip of the ravine. 100% biodegradable, and with an El Niño predicted, I guarantee that thing will not see the springtime. On we went.
Sam went berserk at the next little forested area, and it was something really special. Another dog’s shit. Here he had just made some, so it was only natural he review the work of his peers, see where he might need to sharpen his game a bit, maybe get some ideas about style or content. Who knows what goes through a dog’s mind? Not me, certainly, as I have never had a dog call me Dad so I’m pretty new to all of this. I have a suspicion though about the opinion dogs have regarding the way things smell. They don’t qualify them per se. They identify them, but even though their sense of smell, especially hounds, is around forty times more sensitive than a human being’s, they don’t establish nearly the spectrum of nauseating to intoxicating that humans ascribe to smell. The difference between suddenly presenting someone with a fly larvae-ridden rat corpse and a cup of freshly brewed coffee is dramatic. The beagle makes no such value judgments. I see the beagle’s sense of smell as being able to differentiate what a thing is and where it is with a stunning accuracy, the way most people see colors or the way Mozart heard music, vividly, in great detail, without question. What does not particularly exist within the beagle purview is much of a qualitative assessment. The gradations boil down to good, better, best.
Better would be what food smells like, best is what people food smells like, and good is everything else. I don’t think anything smells bad to a dog. Shit smells like shit, dead rats smell like dead rats, and both can be filed under “good.” Sam is a not only a good dog, he is a springboard for endless ruminative amusements.