Reigning Cats and Dogs

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Harry S. Truman

August owns a moniker, ‘the dog days of summer.’ Well, every dog must have his day, and I’ve got that off-the-leash feeling. Also, what about cats? A good question, one likely misconstrued when considering a barking or mewing issue, as the Bard may have punned. 

We can be politically divided into cat people, dog people or those few without an opinion? I’d fall into the latter category if I had not met a great mix of animal characters. Do owners often share in their pet’s appearance? Does Mitch McConnell own a Bassett Hound? 

If so, has he had all of his shots?

I like dogs. Dogs, like Lassie, save kids when they fall into wells. They can defend a child from wild animals. German Shepherds help police to find the lost or capture criminals, risking their lives. Good dog! Drug dealer Pit Bulls are less so; they too are dogs. Fight-trained pits have a relentless bite, making them like an unsecured gun with a hair trigger. 

Conversely, Corgis seem nice because they run around the feet of the British Queen, long her favorite breed. The dogs’ share ‘Companion to Her Majesty on their resume`. Yet, a royal Corgi with top-dog ambitions suffers from being in a pack of look-alikes. 

Alan Bennett’s, “The Uncommon Reader,” imagines Elizabeth II walking her dogs, and befriending a book lover inside the Buckingham Palace bookmobile. Tension ensues. A funny summer read.

Beagles

Are famous for making good noise, I’m not sure what Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog was baying about, probably teen dating, which is ever a thing. Our dad loved his Kerry Beagles. The dogs weren’t from Ireland’s County Kerry, but he was. The purebred Beagles were registered with the American Kennel Club, (AKC), with papers to prove it. 

Each dog’s mettle was proven in field trials, earning trophies and ribbons. Jim and his fellow Beaglers founded the Northampton-Russell Beagle Club. The club expanded by buying many acres in Westhampton for field trials. At the club’s founding they met at Horse Mountain off North Farms Road in Florence. My siblings and I were dragged along to get us out from under mom’s feet.  Those days live on in “A Beagler’s Child,” from “On History’s Front Steps” (2010), which concluded:

At his dog’s success in the field. His own trials
Of the past week appear to be gone. Fifty miles

Home will go by in a flash. His “Kerry Forger”
Is a winner this day! Bragging is never torture

Among the best of friends. Jim is two points up,
Need he say, with ribbon prizes and a shiny cup.

We boys trailed along on many a day. Shuffling
Feet all the way: Coke and hotdogs our muffling.

These men and their sport, called coursing in Ireland, competed in AKC weekend field trials with official judges. Not unlike umpires calling balls and strikes, trial judges followed the hounds taking notes. If baseball is a game of inches, beagling is a game of noses. A lead dog voices his rabbit-trail find, and if the pack follows, is rewarded AKC points towards a local or regional championship. 

It’s a workout for dogs and their proud owners. Ribbons and trophies are prized in this low-budget hobby, at least compared to keeping horses. Dad loved betting on horses at the 3-County Fair. 

As I recall, he soon found it wiser to bet on the jockeys.

When I began writing, I realized mom’s scrapbooks had more photos of dad with his dogs and beagle buddies than with his six kids. Too late to complain—never get between a man and his hobby. Mayor Jim’s photo at his City Hall desk featured a heavy Beagle paperweight. Hounds & Hunting Magazine is every Beaglers bible because it lists upcoming field trial dates and locations. Owner/Editor Kaylynn Cole reports that the sport of beagling is growing nationwide. 

 “Mi casa es su casa”

There were no cats in dad’s house. My getting married changed that; we’ve had both cats and dogs. ‘Tigger’ came to our back door and never left. Young Daniel brought home Baron, ‘on trial.’ He stayed to the end. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Baron ran free in the meadows off South Park Terrace. We erected a 6-foot wooden fence around our backyard. A wiry-haired-combo of breeds, Baron would charge up and over its pickets at will. Tigger ruled Baron from a tall kitchen stool. Maureen loved her Beagles Charlie and Sam. Each would cuddle on the couch to share remnants of the hot fudge sundae apologies I’d tendered for missed suppers, etc. 

Sadly, both were lost nose-down in South Street traffic. 

Stealing out after dark in the Burgy wildwoods threatens unlucky pets to be taken by coyotes. We’ve lived with primarily-indoor feline company. Three cats: Oscar (Wilde), Spitfire (R.A.F.), and Liddy (Austen’s Lydia). Caring children advise that people our age need a cat. Liddy passed away on Valentine’s Day, making us orphans. We’re grateful for Liddy’s dozen years of unpredictable company—and those few friends who weren’t scratched! Belying her warm greetings to visiting nurses and pet lovers—we cautioned them all to avoid excessive petting—because, like this Opinion column: Liddy had her limits.

ARF!

Williamsburg writer and poet Jim Cahillane admires pet lovers and the comfort found in their resident friends. (Columnists@gazettenet.com).

PHOTOS:

  1. Jim Cahillane Sr’s Trophy case with ribbons.
  2. Northampton Beagle Club members and dogs. C. 1951
  3. Hardwick Vt. Field trial winners. August 30, 1946. Jim Cahillane Sr. standing at left in white sweater.

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