C.W. Gusewell


Would the apple of our eye mind the apple of our purse?

I have lived with three beagles and only one woman. Let me hasten to say that does not in any way indicate my personal preference.

It only reflects the fact that there is nothing in law, in Scripture or in the pursuit of political office that requires a man to observe a mondogamous lifestyle.

From what I can read of their history, the beagle breed – or something like it – extends back as far as three centuries before the Christian era.

In quite early times, in England, they were favored by the royalty. It is reported that, through selective mating, they sometimes were bred down to such miniature size that they could be carried in a pocket or even inside a lady’s glove.

One can imagine the startled scream of an ardent suitor when he reached to grasp his sweetie’s gloved hand and a savage little beast leapt out to lacerate his fingers.

The literature reports that the ears of beagles – both the early and the modern ones – are soft. And I can vouch for the truth of that.

At the end of a frantic and disheartening day, there’s almost nothing that can restore the spirit quite like one of those velvet ears rubbed gently between the thumb and fingers.

My first two beagles came to me as strays during a winter when I was living alone in the Ozark woods.

Their scenting ability was amazing. They were tireless on trail, and any rabbit whose odor they happened to come across had only one possible destiny: the pot.

Thanks to the three of us, during that frigid and hungry season the bunny population in my country neighborhood declined dramatically.

When we came to the city, the chasing of rabbits ended. Streets and cars present too great a hazard. I don’t hunt with bow and arrow, and the sound of gunfire likely would trouble the neighbors. So we were left with hunting rabbits in our dreams.

Shorty and Slatz were those beagles’ names. Time claimed them, as it has so many other friends.

The present beagle is a rescue, gotten from a shelter to be company for an aging Brittany. There’s no warrior in him. He wouldn’t know a rabbit from an elephant. He loves cats, and if you so much as look at him he rolls over to have his stomach scratched. His name, Buddy, fits him perfectly. He is a friend to everything that breathes.

Yet another beagle – not mine, but one I read about – was pictured prominently in a national newspaper one morning not long ago.

That one’s name was Izzy, and she is a talented professional – a highly valued, brightly uniformed enforcer of the law. The pity is she’s never had the opportunity to display her gift in the field.

That’s how it goes with people, too, when they’re devoted to their work. Some men, when they retire from the relentless demands of their profession, take up golf. Maybe Izzy will one day take up rabbiting.

But for now she’s a sniffer whose beat is the customs area of JFK International Airport in New York. What she’s after are vegetables, fruit, meat or any other plant or animal products concealed in the belongings of incoming passengers – items that, if introduced into this country, could be a hazard to health or to American agriculture.

We’ve never met Izzy, but coming home from France a few years ago we ran afoul of one of her capable colleagues.

We’d taken the morning train from Paris to Calais, then the ferry across the channel for our afternoon flight out of Heathrow. Katie, my provident wife, had packed a lunch for the trip.

The seven- or eight-hour journey to England was uneventful. The plane departed as scheduled, and we landed at Kennedy Airport on time.

The arrival hall was crowded, but the lines, though long, were moving briskly. We had nothing of value to declare and anticipated being through customs shortly.

Then a man with a badge appeared, accompanied by a beagle in a bright crimson jacket – a perfect double for Izzy, the one in the newspaper photo.

The little beast pointed her nose upward and riveted Katie with a steely look.

“Please let me have your purse,” said the man.

And inside he found the damnable apple – as evil as the one that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“It was left over from our lunch on the train from France,” said my wife. “I just didn’t think to throw it away.”

We were escorted to a different area. And all our bags – both checked and carry-on – went with us. Every item was unpacked.

The inspection took most of a half hour, and it was only by a minute or less that we made our connecting flight home.

I’m confident that if he’d had the opportunity when he was younger, Buddy, the beagle of our household, could have qualified for federal employment.

His senses are keen. He can smell a can of dog food being opened from half the house away. But he’s a senior now, a creature of leisure.

He wouldn’t much care to deal with the class of people who’d smuggle in an apple in a purse.