Dear Goddamned Beagle,
Yesterday we had a very rare day off. I celebrated by starting off with an extra-long stationary bike ride, while you celebrated by not having your sleep interrupted quite as early before your breakfast and morning nap.
The pandemic we’re going through has not been easy on anyone, but I know you’ve been suffering more than most people realize. With only me around, your rate of reinforcement for begging has gone way down. Wait, let me clarify. It’s not that your rate of reinforcement per behavior has gone down. We’re pretty much holding steady at a 1:1 ratio: you beg, I refuse to reward such things and give you food to replace begging by instead training hope. I’m a professional, after all. But your pool of suckers has gone down to just me when we’re home; me, the Trollop and Dad when we’re on the Cape.
It should be pointed out that they don’t train you to hope. They just leave their chairs out, and because the Trollop insists on putting all the food on the table every. single. meal. and then walking away to go get things she should have put on the table first, you are what we call “reinforced by the environment.” This is followed like clockwork with, “NO, Nellie, NO!” You, my father, and I all understand that in beagle that means, “Eat faster, I’m coming to take away the chicken,” but she does not. You are an AP student by nature, Beagle. The Trollop, not so much. Regardless, “no” is now a cue to scarf food as quickly possible while standing on the table looking furtively over your shoulder.
And people think you’re untrained.
Pandemics last years, not months, so to combat your misery I had the back deck screened in. In the open air we can socialize with the Things, dad can see his grandthings, and we can have other family and friends over safely, in small numbers, by keeping distance, all without mosquitoes driving us indoors to our chosen doom. Everyone prefers a pandemic to swarms of mosquitoes.
We spent most of yesterday in the new “outdoor living room,” our first chance since they finished it a couple of days ago. You and I both tried to put our heads through the screens a few times, me trying to look into the garden, you scanning for rabbits and squirrels and all the other riff-raff that stroll through the yard. Normally you’d put your head through the porch railing balusters, but now that’s not possible. Sorry, Beagz. I didn’t think that one through. Next year I’ll have them build you a screened bump-out. I know how important that is to you.
Today started pretty well. Bike, shower, tea, first breakfast for you. Then we went for a walk in the perfect, upper-60s sunshine. I chatted with a friend on the phone and then listened to an audiobook. You sniffed and peed and sniffed and dragged and then, with that irritating lightening speed you weirdly possess, you ducked into a bush.
This bush-ducking-into behavior of yours just never ends well. You’ve gotten your leash tangled. You’ve been swatted by a cat. You’ve gotten your collar stuck in a giant thorn bush, requiring me to go in after you and come out bloody and scraped while you screamed and the guy walking past demanded to know what I had done to you. One time, when Thing 2 was walking you, he pulled you out to find your mouth filled with an entire fried chicken leg quarter, which wouldn’t be as bad if you didn’t also threaten to bite him as he wrestled it away from you. (But mom, a chicken leg quarter? Fully cooked? How does that happen?)
This time when I pulled you out you were soaking wet, which is not a good sign on a beautiful, sunny day. It quickly became clear that some massive Great Dane, or something of similar height, had emptied an impressive bladder all over that bush recently, not a concern to you as you scarfed the partial burger you’d found. I’d have no interest in that burger. Trust me. You could have slowed down.
You were in no hurry to get moving and glared at me with guilt-inducing hurt as I dragged you home, my arms and hands, and your entire being, leash, and harness covered in very stinky urine. And mask. It was on my mask, amplifying the aroma of some mammal with what surely must be a kidney ailment.
When we got home I looped your leash to the door handle and ran for some towels, the international visual signal for “dog is about to be waterboarded” according to dogs.
I put you in the sink, lick mat smeared with baby food and cream cheese, and washed you down. Your filth was so heavy it took two tries to get a lather going. You complained, but then I threatened your life and you went back to your misery-snacking on pureed beef. It was all you could do to finish two jars of it.
Since bath time you’ve been sulking. There’s no other word for it. The family came by for an outdoor lunch and you barely begged, didn’t howl, and stole not one morsel of food. Your half-assed try at my salad was pathetic. Cousin Amanda may have fallen for it, but you and I both know you hate greens. During my last zoom meeting of the day you lay in your bed the entire time, your thousand-yard stare looking past, not at me, as if to say, “Go ahead. Speak to your imaginary humans in the stare box. I’ll just be here reliving the trauma of my bath, and the ruination of all the fun smells I was going to put on our bed.”
Not this time, Beagle. Not this time.