Monday, May 21, 2012


(Courtesy of
Let me start by saying I think beagles are fine canines. My first dog as a child, Angus, was a beagle and I've known several since. So I know whereof I speak when I say that hounds in general and beagles in particular are a little different in the brains department. I have a suspicion that beagle brains have an unusually high percentage of neurons dedicated to the nose and that simply leaves fewer synapses for such mundane activities as, say, house training, and coming when called.

Training a beagle to do something that isn't his idea is an exercise in patience and reduced expectations. (Yours, not the dog's.) However, if you think of them as noses with dogs attached and use a sufficiently extravagant quantity of odoriferous treat rewards, (something in the bacon/sausage/week-old-carcass family for instance), you can get and momentarily hold a beagle's attention. Until some other lovely scent lures his nostrils to ground and away he goes.

It was a routine afternoon at the clinic, or at least as routine as things can be when you never quite know what to expect. We attempt a modicum of control by scheduling appointments but try as we do it seems merely a hard and fast suggestion. Car dealers have MSRPs, manufacturer-suggested-retail-prices, which everyone knows don't mean anything. I coined VSATs, veterinary-suggested-appointment-times, which, though agreed upon in advance, are often similarly ignored. In any case emergencies do happen.

And so it was that a gentleman came in with his extremely pregnant and unproductively laboring beagle in tow. As I recall, according to her owner, she had been in labor well over 24 hours and he'd reluctantly concluded that a visit to a vet was in order. I'd never seen pets for him before but her history and an exam indicated a cesarean section was in order if she and the pups were to survive.

We've done quite a few c-sections and have a protocol and rhythm that gets puppies delivered and breathing and mom safely recovered in as short a time as possible. This includes passing the pups, still covered in amniotic fluid, off to waiting hands for rubbing and drying as they're delivered. Sometimes a pup will have fluid or mucus in his airways, in which case holding him head up with your hands in a praying position and gently swinging down will clear his nose and throat and assist breathing.

Explaining the need for surgery and what to expect, and also trying to lighten the mood, my assistant joked with the owner that things moved fast and sometimes I got a little excited handing the pups off and needed reminding that we weren't playing puppy football. That prescient comment has haunted her since. (And, for the record, I prefer to think of it as "efficient" rather than "excited.")

I had just delivered the last of several pups across the operating table to her, the others were breathing well and the owner stood nearby watching. This puppy was 'wet' and I nodded that a gentle swing was in order. I started to close as she swung the pup between her legs...and hiked him out the door and across the room, inadvertently of course. She looked at me horrified as I raised my eyebrows and muttered through my surgical mask, "Slippery little buggers aren't they?"

She hastily retrieved the now thoroughly stimulated and breathing pup and was relieved to see no signs of injury. The owner never batted an eyelash and since we never saw him again, <g>, we still don't know if he thought that was the actual maneuver or not.

Although I don't condone puppy-hiking, given the abuse pups endure being carted around by the nape and dropped by their dams I was fairly certain the pup was uninjured from his trip across the linoleum. Leaving for the day a few hours later, my assistant was still fretting a bit and wondered, "Do you think he'll have brain damage?"

My answer, "He's a beagle, how would you tell?"

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