Judy, an 11-year-old beagle, showed major signs of sickness on Independence Day and I took her to a local city veterinarian the following morning.
I had noticed some of the same symptoms a couple weeks earlier, and I brought it to my veterinarian’s attention during a routine office visit. He believed she was only in heat, and so I didn’t give it much attention, until I noticed on July 4, she was so weak and dizzy she could barely walk.
The city vet determined that she had a uterine infection and would need an emergency spay operation. I considered having him do it, until he came back with the estimate — a little more than $1,300.
I didn’t even consider it, especially on such an old dog. Instead, I decided to wait until the evening and take her to my regular vet out in the country, who said he would do the work for $300 or less. He was fairly confident the surgery would cure the infection, so I told him to go for it.
My vet was going to call that evening when he got done with surgery, to let me know how it went. But he ended up calling much sooner — about 10 minutes after I got home — to tell me he found major cancer inside her and I needed to come quickly so I could sign the paperwork for her to be euthanized.
It wasn’t a pleasant trip back to his office, but it was a necessary, and I credit my old country vet for doing everything he could for me and my dog.
It was sad seeing her spread across the operating table when I went back — heavily sedated but with her eyelids widely open and looking out at me. I saw the scar in her abdomen from where she had been opened up just minutes ago — for a surgery that was supposed to save her life, but exposed something that would spell her death.
Dogs are a little like humans in the sense that you get attached to them and begin to treat them like family. That’s so with hunting dogs, too.
Judy and I hunted rabbits and she had an impressive ability to find and keep a scent. She also had a good, deep bark that sounded beautiful when she was on a fresh trail.
I could point to a particular pile of brush and usually she would go in — knowing that if I wanted her in there, there was a reason and that reason was usually because I had seen a rabbit.
In her final few years, she displayed the envied trait of picking up shot rabbits in her mouth and carrying them back to my feet. This was especially beneficial when the rabbit had died in a particularly dense part of the brush.
She did not always listen the greatest, but it was usually because she didn’t want to give up hunting. And often, if I just let her alone a bit, she’d regain the tracks I thought we had lost.
My biggest regret with her was two-three years ago when I took her hunting in a deep snow of more than 10 inches. I thought we’d just go out for some exercise and maybe hunt part of the woods, but she muscled her way through the snow and tried to hunt as hard as she always did.
She ran several rabbits that day, and even though we only hunted an hour or two, she was so worn out I thought she might fall over dead by the time I got her home.
Dogs make the difference
I’ve told many hunters — and I firmly believe it — the best part of rabbit hunting is really watching your dogs work and have fun.
Their yelping and chasing of the rabbits is what makes rabbit hunting great.
And petting your dog and congratulating her at the end of a successful hunt is good for the hunter and the dog.
I have one surviving beagle — Cleo — and she’s a long way from reaching the quality of Judy. But I’m working with her, and my brother and I are in the process of training a new beagle pup, so we can keep the tradition alive.
It’s tough to say good-bye but it’s part of the fact of living and dying.
My dog is buried in the corner of a woods on my family’s farm and when I hunt there this fall, with new dogs, it will still feel like she’s part of us.