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Photo: Victor Juhasz
It was one of those spur-of-the-moment impulse buys that usually turns out disastrous. From a squirming cluster of beagle puppies in a roadside wire cage, tended by a nasty looking hillbilly with a wooden pickup truck, four teeth and a shitty attitude, I paid 350 bucks for the littlest one, a pitiful runt with a broken tail. He was no bigger than a hamster, weighing in at less than a pound, and when She Who Must Be Obeyed finally stopped yelling at me, we learned from our vet that the feeble wee grub was from a puppy mill in Oklahoma, chemically dependent and completely incontinent. Hey, I'm not from Oklahoma, but already we had a couple of things in common! We named him Ziggy, and I knew I would love this dog like no other.

We'd never had a beagle before, but we were prepared for psychotic chewing and howling trauma. Our resident house-hound, Willard the Wonder Mutt, was positively dog-smacked about the new arrival. He thought this was great, something that he could hump around the den, but once young Zigmoid got a little strength, the student-houndling became the master and--who's your daddy!--the humper became the humpee.

As far as I can tell, a beagle's human exists only to provide too much food and the kind of vigorous arse and back-scratching that a beagle deserves simply because he's a beagle. If Ziggy goes missing in the house, there's an odds-on chance he's buried in the most expensive throw pillow, and not before he's given it a horrible trampling. If I drop an M&M anywhere in the house, Ziggy will find it within 45 seconds, and I swear if the rest of the packet were hidden in the house next door, he'd spend the night tunneling through hardwood floors and four feet of concrete slab to get at it, pausing only to kill several squirrels and bang the crap out of an apparently dead posum. Hey, if it's still warm...

I adore this dog, whose life's mission it is to be at the center of mine. He's under my feet, in my bed, on my lap in the car and down my throat after dinner. I used to be able to blame the occasional sly air-biscuit on old Willard, but now Ziggy heads straight for the source at the seat of my pants. He's up my arse like a DustBuster. He's like a tricolored scratch 'n' sniff lie detector. If I had two of them, they might meet at my pancreas. But the thing I admire most about the little prince is that, in his own mind, he is obviously the highest form of intelligence on the planet, and yet he carries himself with the sweet humility and groveling gratitude that only a dog can possess. In any other creature, such behavior would be revolting.

And Willard, the simple wiener-schnauzer-gerbil-hound who used to be top dog, has been transformed from the Wonder Mutt into the Mutt That Wonders. I dole out chew sticks, one apiece, and Ziggy calmly takes his and buries it in a houseplant, underneath a sofa cushion, or in the suitcase that lies half-packed most of the time on my dressing-room floor. (Finding a slimy piece of rawhide in your underpants is a real beagle bonus in a hotel room.) Then he returns to the underdog, and with the efficiency of a turbo-charged wood chipper, he eats Willard's treat. Then he goes back to the houseplant, retrieves his own, and eats it too. Willard is completely unperturbed, but then one of the reasons dogs are better than humans is because the losers among them are happy to follow.

My life is weird. I have a late flight here, a bad flight there. Here a prop, there a jet. Occasionally a bed wet, and waaay too often, old McDonalds for dinner. It's hard to find anything consistent on the road, but I do know this: When I stumble in at 1 a.m. on a Monday from Memphis, or Detroit, or Milwaukee, or wherever, even if I'm still wearing golf shoes and plastered with sunscreen and stale sweat, there will assuredly be frantically wiggling bodies at the back door. Willard will try to lick me into a coma, and after Ziggy has rooted through my suitcase to make sure there isn't some rotten pig's ear he's forgotten, this 28 pounds of anointed hound will allow me the privelege of scratching every square inch of him before he burrows his way under the sheets and molds himself into the crook of She Who Must Be Obeyed's legs.

Yes, we adore this dog, but then again, as he constantly reminds us, we're only human.

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