Yesterday, after dinner, Bill and I decided to take the dogs for a walk. The weather was beautiful. It was sunny, but not too hot, and there was a pleasant breeze. This time of year, the sun doesn’t go down until well after 10:00pm, so we had plenty of daylight. The dogs were delighted to have both of us walking them. Nowadays, that’s a rare treat for them.
As we were walking, we started talking about dogs of the past. I’ve loved all of them, but probably my favorite of the lot was Flea. We got Flea in November 2003, about a month after we lost our very first beagle mix, CuCullain (CC). On October 12, 2003, CC died of a nasty mycobacterial infection. They are exceedingly rare in dogs and our vet had never before seen a case of it in her long career. We ended up taking CC to a speciality hospital in northern Virginia, where we spent a couple of thousand bucks we didn’t have to find out that the situation was hopeless. We’d only had CC for sixteen months and we were devastated to lose him. He was part husky and had beautiful blue eyes.
Flea was everything CC was not. Feisty, temperamental, loudmouthed, and vain, everyone in the neighborhood knew him and where he lived. CC, by contrast, was known for being sweet, quiet, gentle, and having startlingly blue eyes. CC also used to shed like a husky.
Of the five dogs we’ve rescued so far, Flea was the closest to being 100 percent beagle. He was someone’s hunting dog before he was rescued, half-starved, afflicted with Lyme Disease and heartworms, and covered in fleas and ticks. A lady spotted him standing on the side of a road in Chester, Virginia. She picked him up– actually, Flea was very good at hitchhiking, and he was gorgeous and charming. The lady nursed him back to health, though she neglected to have both parts of his heartworm treatment done.
When we went to Richmond to pick up Flea– she had named him Fleagle after the Banana Splits’ beagle– he was obviously trying to overtake her busy household. Although he was much smaller than her other dogs, he would regularly challenge her large male shepherd. He adored the lady’s toddler aged son. We took Flea for a walk/test drive, and he surprised us with his energy and boldness. His rescuer told us he needed to be “top dog”, and live somewhere where he could “be a star”. She was definitely right about that. Flea was the smallest of our dogs, but he was also the most alpha. Sometimes I wonder how Arran would have reacted to Flea. I think Flea would have kicked his ass. One of our former vets hated Flea’s name and said we should change it, but I think it actually suited him perfectly. He was just cool enough to pull it off.
Flea was a bit blue when he became our dog. He liked having other dogs around, and got really bad separation anxiety when he was alone or not the center of attention. He also missed the little boy. He would have loved it if we’d had a son for him to play with. Flea loved kids– especially boys. I remember he would bugle for me if I so much as left his sight. After a few months with us, we had him tested for heartworms again and learned that he was never fully treated for the disease. We got him healthier, then picked up our dog, MacGregor, who is probably Bill’s “special” dog– although Arran runs a close second. Once we had MacGregor, Flea totally changed. MacGregor was perfectly happy to be second banana, and that was just what Flea needed. Once he had a sidekick, he was a lot less anxious about being left alone. He turned into a great family dog who was super protective of me and also liked to play canine pranks.
As we were walking last night, Bill chuckled and said, “I remember when Flea used to purposely sneak up behind you and startle you.”
It’s true. Flea was just like Misterjaw… “Gotcha!”
I’d be sitting at my computer, hard at work writing something. He’d saunter into my office, silent as a church mouse. He’d sit down and watch me for a minute. Then, just when I was in the middle of a thought, oblivious to his presence, he’d let out a sharp yelp. I’d jump, then turn around to give him a dirty look and a sharp word. Bill watched him do this many times in the six years we had Flea. He thought it was a riot. I’m sure Flea was amused, too.
In the summer of 2009, Flea was diagnosed with prostate cancer. We were living in Germany and our former vet in Herrenberg– same one who treated Zane and Arran for the past four years– told Bill that Flea had cancer. We took him to Stuttgart, where they did an ultrasound and x-ray that confirmed the presence of cancer. It was July. Ever since then, I’ve kind of hated July. It seems like the worst things happen in July. I’m always relieved when July is over, and I generally dread its onset, even though July is also the month my dear husband came into the world in 1964. It’s also the month in which Bill will become a grandfather again, when his daughter has her baby girl. She chose July 9th to be induced… the fifth anniversary of my dad’s death.
We managed to keep Flea going for another four months after he was diagnosed with cancer. He made it back to the United States with us and died on November 18, 2009, two days after our wedding anniversary. The night before we had him put down, he’d lost the ability to walk. Even still, he didn’t want to die and made it very clear to us, although it was obvious he would not live much longer as the cancer turned him into a skeletal version of himself. Of the dogs we’ve had euthanized, Flea took the longest to give in. I was beside myself with grief when we lost him. He was such a little character– full of self-confidence and spunk. He reminded me of a canine version of George Jefferson. Flea was also instrumental in our getting to know our neighbors in our first German neighborhood, when he fell in love with the next door neighbor’s little boy, Robin.
Flea only visits me in my dreams now, with the occasional “Gotcha!” Flea’s successor, Zane was born exactly one year prior to the day we lost Flea. He’s going to be eleven years old this year. I worry about him all the time, especially as he gets lumpier. There are times when I would swear Flea jumped into his body to visit us down here on Earth. I feel the same way about Arran, who sometimes behaves a bit like MacGregor used to. So far, both of our dogs have had mast cell tumors, but they’re both plucky and fun loving. Zane isn’t quite as spunky as he used to be, but his eyes are bright, his coat is shiny, and he still loves to take walks. And sometimes, when he’s feeling especially jaunty, he’ll sneak up behind me and bark “Gotcha!”, just like ol’ Flea used to, back in the day.