Every pet I’d ever had in my life came easily, whether adopted from the local animal shelter, given as a birthday present, or picked from a litter and paid for. I guess I just never expected it to be any more difficult.
The first indication that adopting a beagle was going to be a much more difficult process came when I downloaded the adoption application from the Arizona Beagle Rescue (AZBR) website, a 5-page document that requested all sorts of information—from how much time our prospective pup would be spending alone each day, to the names and phone numbers of references who could attest to our dog-owning skills.
Once our application was approved, I had to schedule a Home Visit with one of AZBR’s volunteers, so they could come and check out the living conditions, and make sure the walls and gates were secure enough to keep a curious beagle from escaping at the first interesting scent to pass by. When I told Steven, he just shook his head in disbelief.
“Are you kidding me?” he asked, laughing. “Any idiot can bring an innocent child into this world, and we have to have a home visit? For a dog?”
After a few emails back and forth with our assigned volunteer, I had the home visit scheduled for a Tuesday night in October. Our Home Visitor brought her two fosters, Stevie and Bill Bailey, along with her to let us see two typical beagles in all their glory. While Stevie ran through the house, sniffing everything and trying to stretch her nose above the top of the counters, Bill Bailey came and sat next to me, coughing and wheezing, to get a back scratch. Abandoned in a pound by his former owners, Bill Bailey had developed a case of kennel cough so severe that it permanently scarred his throat. He walked around now, constantly trying to clear his throat, sounding very much like an elderly man with a bad case of smoker’s cough.
I was afraid that once Steven got a taste of the chaos, he might very well tell me that he had changed his mind and I could forget about getting a dog. Then, Bill Bailey strolled over and jumped suddenly into his lap as he sat at the kitchen table. Surprised by the sudden display of affection, Steven stroked Bill Bailey’s head and scratched his ears. After several moments, when it finally dawned on Steven that Bill Bailey was eyeing the bag of Foerth’s dog food sitting on the table in front of him, Steven helped him back on to the floor.
He walked around for several days after the visit saying, “Bill Bailey used me. That dog used me to get to the food, and I feel dirty!”
The next afternoon, I got an email congratulating us on being approved. Now, all we had to do was hurry up and wait for the Adoptions Coordinator to contact us with the name of an available beagle that matched our requests. We had fallen in love with a 3-month-old puppy named Gracie May after seeing her photo on the website, but there was no guarantee that we would get her. Instead of adopting dogs out on a first come, first serve basis, AZBR tries to match beagles with families where they feel they fit best, based on temperament, activity level, household members, etc. While we were impressed with the professionalism and genuine interest AZBR had in finding the best possible homes for all the beagles, we couldn’t help but be frustrated by the lengthy process.
As we the days and weeks passed, Steven and I prepared ourselves for our new arrival much like expectant parents. We purchased a crate and a comfortable bed and found the perfect place for our new puppy to sleep in the corner of our room while she adjusted to her new home. We picked out toys—chew toys, a red AC/DC guitar with a squeaker inside. We bought treats shaped like little bones and dyed orange and black for Halloween. We each made a list of possible names, and made fun of each other’s choices. We had everything. All we needed now was a dog.
After a month of waiting, an email finally arrived, asking if we would like to meet Electra, an 8-month-old beagle that had been rescued by AZBR a little over a month ago. I logged onto the website immediately. All that was posted were two photos. No description. No details. Nothing. And yet, looking into her sweet face, I knew we had to go see her. I contacted her foster mom, and made arrangements to drive to her house in northern Phoenix the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
The usual protocol for AZBR’s visits is for the prospective adopters to make arrangements to meet at the foster’s house. They do not notify the foster directly about their intentions to adopt or not. Instead, they return home and contact the Adoptions Coordinator. This system saves any embarrassment or hard feelings, should the potential adopters decide not to take the dog for any reason. The day before we were supposed to go for the visit, Electra’s foster mom called me again, with a small amendment to the usual plans.
“Here’s the deal,” she explained. “I’m leaving first thing Tuesday morning for Thanksgiving, and a conference for work. I’m going to be gone three weeks. I called the Rescue and worked it out so if you decide you like Electra, I’ll have all the paperwork here for you to sign, and you can take her home that day.”
“Wow, sure. That sounds great,” I said, wondering if perhaps things were suddenly running so smoothly because we had found the dog that was meant for us. I tried not to get my hopes up, but my pounding heart betrayed me.
Adopting Angel had been the most natural thing in the world. I knew she was my dog the minute I saw her in the little pen the pastor had built in his living room to keep the puppies corralled. When I sat down on the carpet, Angel walked right over to me, and climbed into my arms. She was so small that she could fit in one of my hands, and she fell asleep as I cradled her there.
“Now, I don’t know that you’ll want that pup,” the pastor said, eyeing me cautiously as I held Angel. “See how much smaller she is? She’s the runt of this litter. Was born dead even. I had to rub her almost five minutes and breathe into her nose ‘til she finally woke up and started movin’. She’s likely to be sickly. Might not even live that long.”
I remember looking down at the little black and white ball of fur in my hands and thinking that maybe he was right; maybe I shouldn’t be hasty in my decision. Then she opened her little brown eyes and looked at me and sighed, and I knew then that I couldn’t let her go. I named her Angel, thinking that there must have been one there with her the night she was born.
I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be the same with Electra.
We arrived at the foster’s house and rang the bell. Inside, a cacophony of barks and howls greeted us through the screen door. There were three beagles bouncing and falling over each other in front of the door when we entered.
“There,” the foster mom said, pointing to a dog that stood across the room. “That’s Electra.”
She stood, as if waiting patiently for her turn to greet us. I leaned over and held my hand out in front of me. Electra lowered her head and trotted over. She didn’t even stop to sniff my outstretched hand. Instead, she reared up on her hind legs, put her front paws on my thighs and turned her droopy hound dog face up to mine. I rubbed her long floppy ears and ran my hands along her smooth black sides. Like Angel, I knew from the moment I saw her, from the moment I touched her, that Electra was mine.