For Bailey

I had so many muses growing up: chickens, pigs, goats, llamas, emus, parrots, geese, rats, rabbits, hamsters, snakes, an iguana, 3 dogs and at least a dozen cats. My whole life was feeding them, petting them, watching them, drawing them, photographing them, writing about them and dreaming about them. 

The books I loved best were about animals, too. I especially loved dog books like Shiloh and romanticized the idea of having having a canine companion, a loyal-to-the-end best friend to go on adventures with. I remember running up to my parents' bedroom in the middle of the night after finishing Where the Red Fern Grows, and just sobbing my eyes out, absolutely consumed with grief. Eventually this grief segued into an obsession with the idea of getting a dog of my own.

At the age of 12 I really kicked the campaign into full gear. My equally animal-obsessed best friend, Courtney, would come over every weekend and we would plaster the house with sticky notes. Tiny billboards directed at my parents, all containing variations on the same message: "GET HALLIE A BEAGLE." The sticky notes would slowly disappear over the week, and the next weekend we would cover the house all over again. We left them everywhere from the milk carton in the fridge, to the inside of my parents' underwear drawers.

As annoying as it must have been, my brainwashing campaign worked, and on my thirteenth birthday my mom drove me to the Sacramento airport where my puppy was flown in from some beagle breeder in the midwest. She was, and I am not exaggerating, the cutest puppy in the history of the world. I'm not gonna go into detail but you can imagine how dorkishly giddy and excited I was. (I had braces, if that helps.) I had named her weeks before I met her: Bailey.


Her integration into our home was complicated by some weird class issues. Before Bailey, my family had always had mutts. I'm not sure why it made a difference but there was a vague consensus that because this was a 'pure-bred' dog, we had to do it 'right'. My mom read a book on dog training and got Bailey a big plastic crate which she was supposed to sleep in. We would lock her in there at night and she would howl and whimper for hours. To this day I do not understand the purpose of the crate, and it makes me very sad when I think back on it.

Probably entirely because we actually tried to train her, Bailey grew up to be the most poorly trained dog my family had ever had. She never really learned any tricks. She was never house trained. And being a hound, she would follow her nose all over the mountain and howl her head off. Irritated neighbors would call to complain, and we would call for Bailey to come, and she never would.

In fact, she would rarely react to us at all. This was the biggest shock for me. I had dreamed for so long of a dog I could leash to my very heartstrings, but Bailey was tethered to no one. I would sit with her on my bed (eventually we gave up on the crate) and look directly into her big amber eyes and say something like "Bailey, I love you."

What was I expecting? Maybe just a glimmer of recognition. A dumb doggy grin or a lick or a tail wag. But Bailey stared blankly ahead, as if I wasn't even there. I briefly considered that perhaps she was deaf or blind, but I was eventually forced to accept that she would never be quite the companion I had dreamed of. 

She wasn't gonna join my sports team and help us win. She wasn't gonna save me from drowning or defend me from bullies or even just lick the salty tears from my cry-scrunched, acne-ridden, pre-pubescent face. She had better things to do. Like eat chicken poop.

(Come to think of it, it's probably a good thing she didn't lick my face.)


Don't get me wrong, Bailey was still a wonderful muse. She was probably the most written-about character in Paws Times, the humorous (I use this term generously) pet-focused newspaper Courtney and I produced for the duration of the 7th and 8th grades. She had her her own Geocities website. I made a short film about her called Because of DarlaShe slept on my bed every night, and peed on my bathroom rug on a very regular basis. 

But as I got older, I guess I probably got like the kid in Toy Story, and just moved on in a lot of ways. I still loved Bailey, but our relationship was overshadowed by disappointment. When I went to college, my parents resented me for leaving them with her. She was always getting into trouble and, unlike our other dogs, failed to make up for it with adorable, boundless affection.

On visits home, I saw Bailey grow gray around the muzzle. While my mom made slightly cruel jokes about her (clearly resenting the amount of pee she's had to clean up over the years), my brother Nick, who lived closer to home, unwaveringly defended her against all slander.


Last May I moved home for 8 months, and I quickly began to see what Nick's fierce loyalty was about. To many, including my parents, Bailey appeared to have two settings: she was either silent and emotionless, or extremely loud and unpleasant. She was either completely overshadowed by the other dogs, or singled out as the only bad one. But to understand Bailey, you had to pay close attention. You had to catch that single, sweet, almost imperceptible tail thump.

I don't know whether it was the fact that she was old, or that I just had more time to notice, but at the age of 11, Bailey was sweeter than ever. One time, she even let me rub her tummy. I was flabbergasted that she wasn't running away from me as she usually would. I smothered her with affection until I realized this meant she must be very, very ill. My friend Adia and I called the vet and piled into the car with Bailey almost immediately.

Holding her limp body in my arms was a surreal experience. This little dog who was always so independent, had never seemed to need anything from me, was suddenly completely helpless. A protectiveness, a deep familial loyalty, bared up in me. From that point on especially, I would defend Bailey's honor and come to see her, among our dogs, as a wise queen among bumbling fools. 

The vet predicted that she had internal bleeding, and possibly cancer, but nothing conclusive could be determined without an expensive operation. We took her home with some medication and special food. She improved, but the fact remained that she was dying. Sooner rather than later. 


For the entirety of my stay at home, I went on a walk with the dogs every evening around sunset. Bailey would tag along but walk separately from the group and often just turn back halfway to walk home by herself if she got tired. As she got sicker, though, she kept closer to us, and moved slower. On the last walk I took with her, we had gone a mile or so when she just stopped. My dad told me we should just keep going. She'd find her way back like she always does. But I knew this was different. Bailey was exhausted, in a mortal sense. 

Dad went ahead to get the truck, and I stayed behind with Bailey. We sat on the side of the gravel road beneath some manzanitas. I held her in my lap and stroked her ears and her body and collected her weirdly removable beagle hair in little piles as I have always done. 

The circumstances were regrettable, but part of me was elated to finally be so close to her. To be holding her and to not have her run away from me. Her eyes were closed, as if she was asleep, but she wasn't. I talked aloud to her, for a long time, because I thought it might comfort her, but also I felt that I could say everything I'd always wanted to say. Mostly: I love you and I'm sorry. 

In January I flew to Hawaii to visit Adia. The morning I left, Bailey was conked out on her dog bed by the TV in the living room. I sat with her and played with her ears and asked her to please wait to die until I got back. Something in me knew she wouldn't. 

Five or six days later my dad called to tell me she'd gotten bad again. They'd taken x-rays and she was, essentially, riddled with cancer. The vet recommended putting her down.

"Do you want us to wait?" he asked. I told them no. She shouldn't remain in pain.


If I could time travel back to my 13-year-old self, just for a night, it would go like this:

I climb out of bed and tiptoe into the living room where Bailey's crate sits against the bookshelf.
I touch her wet nose through the bars as I open the door.
The sound of her whining is replaced by the sound of her little tail against the side of the crate.
I take her up in my arms.
She sleeps in my bed, with me.

Miss you, girl.

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