Virginia Real magazine
The real  Virginia, old and new
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A Texas Beagle

By Harry Henson

   I am not a hunter. My sole experience with killing wildlife is limited to the shooting of a possibly rabid fox in the road near my house when I was in high school. That wretched animal's nearly human cry of agony when the shotgun blasted it ended what slight taste I had for blood sports.
    My father did not share my squeamishness, likely because his skill with firearms was as remarkable as mine is inept, and I can't recollect him ever shooting without scoring anything but a head shot. After he bought me a pair of beagle puppies for my 13th birthday, he, of course, wanted those dogs to hunt.

       Unfortunately, Fred and Pearl, when at last taken out to the fields, showed a complete lack of interest in rabbits.

       “They need an experienced dog to train them,” my father reasoned. “They will do just fine then.”

       For some reason, instead of buying or borrowing a trained dog from a friend who had a pack of them, he decided to order a beagle from a company in Texas.

       He had been enticed by a small ad in the back of a men's magazine -- no, not the kind with pictures of naked women but  the “true” adventure type, featuring such accounts as swashbucklers panning for gold in the Amazon rainforest while dodging headhunters, or mercenaries in the Congo shooting their way out of ambushes. The ad offered to sell trained beagles at an astonishingly low price. The total cost, with air freight from Texas, was something like $30. The dog would come with papers to certify his thoroughbred status, the ad promised.

       “We will be able to breed him with Pearl and sell the puppies,” my father said. “If you will take care of them, you can have the money.”

       That sounded like a good idea to me. We sent a money order to Texas.

       On the day the dog was scheduled to arrive at Byrd Field, as the Richmond airport was called then, I insisted that my father stop by my school and take me with him. All through interminable classes I impatiently awaited the summons to the office and freedom. None came. I went home at the usual time ready to throw a teenage tantrum.

       “The flight was delayed,” my father said. “It won't arrive until six. We'll leave in about an hour.”

       I was still sullen as we drove to Richmond, irked that I hadn't been able to get out of school like I had planned. Soon, though, I was eager to lay eyes on my new dog. I had to wait until we got back home. There was an odor coming from the crate and my Father was not about to allow the beagle, after being confined in that box for two or three days, to ruin his car seats.

       Besides, he said, the dog would likely be frightened and not in a very caressing mood.

       On the way home, I examined the contents of an envelope taped on the crate. They had neglected to include any breeding papers. However, there was a reminder that all sales are final on delivery.

       Fully expecting to view a canine Apollo emerge as we at last opened the crate, what met our sight was something more like Grendel.

       The dog was twisted and knobby and limped, as if every bone in his body had been broken and then reset by a blind vet,  and he was bowlegged as a Texas cowboy. Judging by his teeth, he had also been born sometime during the Eisenhower administration.

       My mother and sister burst out laughing.

       Appropriately, his name, according to the manifest, was Monk.

       “He may be old and battered, but that means he knows his business,” said my father confidently.

       The next weekend, we took the Texan and the younger dogs out for the first training session. The younger dogs paid no attention to Monk, who went off alone and got lost in the woods.

       “Well, he can pay for himself when Pearl goes into heat,” said my father after I had retrieved his Texas dog from the swamp. “You won't get as much for the puppies since he doesn't have papers, but you will still be able to get at least $20 each for the males.”

       But when we saw that first litter, it seemed Monk was incompetent in that line also. The puppies bore a marked resemblance to a stray long-legged mongrel that we fed who wouldn't allow anybody to get very close to him – except, at least once, for Pearl. 

       On the other hand, I did sell a few of the puppies, and for about 20 years we had descendants of Pearl and the mongrel for pets, until the last died without issue in the early 1990s.

       My father bought no more mail-order dogs. That was all right with me. One Texas beagle was enough – tired,  twisted and bowlegged as a cowboy, but always game.

Harry Henson is a writer in Richmond County.

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