Blossom: Beagle in the Big Apple
Blossom the beagle was a tiny baby puppy when I met her several years ago. She often assisted her person, Chris, in the Kansas City newsroom where we both used to work (with Buddy the gentleman beagle‘s own David and Nadia, keeper of Radar and Bean).
Chris, who puts me to shame with his wit and wordsmithing, kindly answered the following questions about Blossom’s life since they both moved to the sleepless city of New York.
Blossom was born in the country, grew up in Kansas City and then became a sophisticated New York City dog. How did she handle the transition?
In New York, she had to get used to pooping on pavement, which was kind of strange to her at first. “Look, Blossom, that crazy homeless person is doing it right in the middle of the intersection.” In Kansas City, we always had grassy areas for evacuation purposes. The parks here are great, so it’s not like she lives on asphalt all the time.
There are way more people per cubic inch in New York, which, to Blossom, is heaven, because every single human being on the face of the planet is her best friend, period, full-stop, wag-wag-wag, kiss-kiss-kiss, etc. Her friends are everywhere and uncountable. By contrast, I could take her for a late-night walk through Columbus Park in KC without seeing another living soul (which is obviously nice in its own way).
I live near elevated MTA tracks, and the trains are really noisy. That used to make her nervous on walks, but she grew accustomed to it pretty quickly. However, for some reason, she is extremely frightened by the loud pneumatic bolt extractors they use at the tire place a couple blocks over, and she tries to hide behind me if they’re replacing a tire. I talk in a loud, booming Alpha voice when it happens, like, “NOTHING TO FEAR, GENTLE CREATURE.” But she remains unconvinced.
What’s challenging about owning a dog in New York City?
Blossom has a long-standing problem with separation anxiety, and it’s always upsetting when I leave her alone in a new apartment for the first time. She’s lived in a couple of New York apartments, so it’s something I’ve had to deal with. She cries very loudly, and I don’t want unhappy neighbors (or unhappy beagles). There are a couple of strategies that help. I give her a Kong toy stuffed with chicken jerky when I leave the apartment so that she associates my exits with positive, chewy things. That tends to mitigate the crying and anxiety and probably keeps my neighbors happy.
That said, she is almost an ideal apartment dog. She rarely barks (not once in calendar year 2012, in fact) and has never in her whole life belted out an awesome beagle howl. As you know, that is extremely unusual for a beagle, and prospective hound owners probably should not expect to win the behavioral lottery where howling is concerned. My net worth, as measured by unusually quiet little hound dogs, is among the top 2 percent.
Does Blossom have lots of doggy friends in the Big Apple?
New York is most definitely down with dogs. We regularly encounter neighbors walking their dogs, and I know she recognizes them because she has clear favorites (among both dogs and people). One guy who lives near Astoria Park has two little dude beagles, and they all very obviously like each other. They start tugging and pulling on their leashes as soon as they see Miss B. You can tell that those guys are from the same litter, because they walk side-by-side with identical gaits, and their tails stick up at the same angle.
Describe a day in the life of Blossom.
Saturdays are the best: Wake up, poop, eat, and then we go to Astoria Park with her long lead — I have one that measures 25 feet. That way, she can roam around within that circumference and explore all of the interesting smells and also roll around in dead frogs. That actually happened. It was unbelievably cute to watch, but I now try to stop such behavior for an obvious reasons: After the roll, she smelled like a zombie. Regardless, the long lead is important, because beagles have to be leashed at all times. (More on that below.)
We always meet lots of other dogs at the park, and she’s incredibly charming, so people want to stop and meet her, too. It’s summer, so we go home and eat ice cubes. Then she naps on the cool kitchen linoleum. More walks ensue throughout the day, normally three. Little hunters need a lot of outdoortime, tired dogs are good dogs, etc. etc. Which is cool with me; I walk around the nabe taking Instagram shots. Even on weekdays, Blossom gets two long walks. At night, she sleeps on the bed with me.
What’s her preferred pastime?
Engaging with people in some way. She often jumps up on the couch with a tug toy, challenging me. If I step out of the apartment for ninety seconds to get the mail, I am received with a HERO’S WELCOME on my return. She likes to fetch. She’s very kissy. I quite irresponsibly failed to train her off of face-licking, but homie likes beagle kisses. SUCK IT, Barbara Woodhouse.
She’s incredibly excited when people come over to visit. That’s probably her favorite thing — a person that she knows coming into the house.
How spoiled is Blossom?
I’m not sure how to answer that. Dogs have a much shorter lifespan than people, and I feel the obligation to give her the happiest possible life I can. I don’t want a tubby beagle, so there are no open feedings — she gets measured portions. Open feedings qualify as “spoiling,” I think. But I do give her a lot of healthy, protein-y treats, and I like to buy her toys now and then. Really rugged toys. Blossom also sometimes finds cheese or peanut butter in her Kong toy. Again, I’m really conscious of the fact that I will be a witness to her entire life cycle from infancy through death, and it’s important to me that her life includes some of the things that make her happy, at least every now and then.
How naughty is Blossom?
Oh, man. Beagles! Did you step out of the room and leave your veggie burrito on the coffee table? Now you have to eat cereal, HAHA. Even the best beagles are little opportunists, and you need to keep an eye on them. She’s an avid counter cruiser, too.
It’s not really fair to call it “naughtiness,” though, because these are instinctive survival behaviors. It’s good enough that she knows what I want when I say “Blossom, off.” If she eats a bowl of ice cream that I left on the sofa for a minute, well, whose fault is that, really? There are no bad dogs, just bad owners.
Does Blossom help you accomplish writerly tasks?
No. Humans be crazy, staring at glowy screens when they could be outside smelling things and meeting other dogs. She kind of has a point, there.
To build on David’s recommendations, what sage advice do you have for anyone who wants to live with a beagle?
Because they’re hunting dogs, beagles are bred to be stubborn and to follow their own agenda, to stay on the hunt. It takes a little convincing to impose my non-hunter, human agenda sometimes. It’s that nose, man — they have about 100 times more olfactory receptors per square centimeter than humans. It’s easy for beagles to become distracted by scents.
Plus, their olfactory centers are wired up to their pleasure centers, so they’re getting happy little neurochemical pops whenever they sniff something out. But because beagles are also bred as pack dogs, they are extremely sociable — most of them love people and other dogs. Blossom is crazy about children, too — she recognizes puppies when she sees them. So the stubbornness is paired with this effusive friendliness. It’s a totally endearing personality. They do require some patience, though.
One big difference between beagles and, say, shepherds, is that you can never leave them unfenced or take them off the leash. They will wander away, 100 percent guarantee, and they have no homing instinct, so they won’t find their way back. There are always behavior differences between individual beagles, but for the most part, beagles are leash dogs. Getting the dog chipped is really important.
You can read more wonderful sentences written by Chris in the venerable Village Voice newspaper. Check out his author page.
Readers, do you have city dogs or country dogs?