Tell-'tail' sign that our beagle's found a friend

This dog knows no strangers.

Tom Uhlman/AP
Arf: A beagle puppy played outside as snow fell in Cincinnati in March.

"Very sweet," they'd written on the notecard when Gracie was admitted to the humane society's shelter. I looked down at the beagle-mix dog sitting serenely at my feet and wondered if she was too small to place with our larger dogs at home.

But something about the warm look in her eyes and the optimistic tilt of her head made me think she was the one.

Within an hour of her arrival at our house, Gracie had established a cheerful dominance over the other dogs and claimed the best napping spots.

The next morning she trotted down the steps with an enthusiasm that seemed to say, "I wonder what good thing is going to happen to me today!" I soon learned that, for Gracie, the best thing that could happen was the opportunity to make a friend.

At her first checkup, Gracie sat quivering through the poking and prodding. When the vet gently took her face in his hands to examine her eyes, Gracie stopped shaking, leaned forward, and looked deeply into his.

A second later Gracie's tail whap-whap-whapped on the metal examining table. She had discovered a friend.

Each time we began our daily walk around the block, Gracie would stop at the end of the driveway to scan the horizon for potential buddies. I'd call out to mail carriers, neighbors, and pedestrians, "Could you wait a minute? Gracie wants to be your friend."

If someone at the end of the block didn't stop when I called, Gracie would pull me down the sidewalk, coughing and sputtering at the pressure of the leash, determined not the miss the pleasure of a stranger's company.

One day, Schottzie, the neighborhood guard dog, barked furiously as Gracie approached. Gracie lunged forward, dragging me along as she pulled straight into Schottzie's attack zone. I yanked Gracie away just in time. She glanced back affectionately at Schottzie, and I realized that she hadn't even seen the snarling dog – she'd only seen a friend.

When a winter storm had us trooping through drifts, a snowlady hiding behind an evergreen shrub startled Gracie. To allay her concern, I suggested we move in closer for a sniff.

Gracie stepped tentatively around the snowlady and then gazed up into the button eyes. Her body wiggled with delight and her tail whipped joyously through the frigid air. In that mound of aproned snow, Gracie had found – a friend!

I believe that I learn life lessons from each of my animals. From Gracie, I learn to find friends in mail carriers, snarling dogs, and snowladies. And I learn to look deeply enough into the eyes of the people I meet to realize that they are the best thing that can happen to me today.

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