I made up my mind, screwed up my resolve, and purposed–after all these setbacks–to confound my critics. To accomplish the life-task I’d set myself. To keep a pack of hunting dogs in a small New York apartment.
It took weeks of checking shelters and beagle rescue groups before I found my Franzi. When my friend drove me up to the shelter in Westchester, Franz Josef broke from the pack of motley labs and terriers, and waddled straight up to me. “Rowf!” he averred, like an indignant elephant seal. “Rowf! Where’s your car?”
I’d only had Franzi a week before he made his first escape. In a past life, it seemed that the beagle I’d named for my favorite Kaiser had lived on an estate the size of Schonbrun, and he wished to inspect the rest of his new domain. Thinking him a slow and compliant middle-aged dog, I unhooked the leash just outside my apartment door. Franzi raced off like a greyhound down the street. Who knew that a pudgy, sleepy dog could run so long, so far, so fast . . . ? I tracked him on foot for more than two hours, got close as he stopped to smell the garbage, snuck up on him, and pounced. . . .
If you’ve never fallen face first, flat, on a New York sidewalk at 4 a.m., then you haven’t met Franzi. As I climbed to my feet, I watched him disappearing down 21st Avenue—sure he would meet a quick and ugly fate beneath the wheels of some guy’s Camaro.
It took two days of my roaming the streets and posting fliers before a kind soul turned the rascal in. Two hours into his newfound freedom, it seemed that Franzi had gotten bored and followed some woman home. He’d trotted along behind her, walked in as if he owned the place, and looked up expecting breakfast. Who could stand to lose such a dog? I happily forked over the reward.
Since his return, Franzi has worked hard and achieved a lot. He has, on various occasions:
– Escaped through narrowly opened doors and under fences.
– Climbed rocks and forded streams as I ran behind in frenzied pursuit.
– Led me, clad only in a t-shirt, boxers and flip-flops, for two miles through the private property of 24 of my neighbors. (I’m surprised nobody shot me.)
– Chewed the heel of my girlfriend’s Manolo Blahnik.
– Eaten the silk headband she’d had hand-made from her favorite Pucci scarf.
– Ransacked her Fendi bag, then trotted up to her thoughtfully, holding the bag in his teeth.
– Shredded 24 double rolls of toilet paper to make a feathered mattress, then gone to sleep.
This reign of terribleness has led me to believe I might have misnamed this particular dog. He only appears as sleepy, peaceful, and benevolent as the long reign (1848-1917) of good Kaiser Franz Josef. Leave him alone for just a few minutes, and the dog is transformed into a creature we call “Osama Franz Laden.” And in our War on Terribleness, it’s always Yellow Alert.
Sometimes I envy those people who copped out and had a bunch of children, because they couldn’t face the responsibility of beagles.
This piece has previously appeared at Takimag, Dappled Things, and inThe Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins.