20 October 2023
Bonnie Lynne Milligan, my first beagle, truly was my dog, but she truly was not a beagle, at least not a pure-bred one.
Her father was a hunting beagle, and her mother (Vanna Rae) was beagle-like. And Vanna Rae liked to run away from home, on a routine basis. The summer night that Dear Husband, Dear Toddler Son, and I procured Bonnie, Vanna Rae was running down the street, toward an empty lot. It was a sight I’d come to know, very well.
Bonnie was a throwback hound, the Neanderthal prototype for a scent-breed that became, after her days on this earth were done, a prize-winning beagle with exceptional qualities as a pet.
There are absolutely no bloodlines in common between Bonnie and Uno, as there are between Bridget and Uno, and Jolene and Uno. What Bonnie lacked in pedigree, however, she more than made up for in tenacity, persistence, and a pure unmitigated drive to meet her goals.
The fact that her goals nearly always involved getting out of the yard, roaming for miles and miles until the break of dawn; sniffing out food and then, as a perfectly just reward, eating it — that fact of her life does not lessen her as a dog in my eyes, or as a pet in my heart.
It did cause my heart to skip a beat or two, the first few times that she escaped the latest fence we’d devised to keep her confined. In time, though, I accepted her Born-Free drive, a trait of which I’ve frequently been accused. As if the need to be free is a drawback!
In truth, Bonnie was my pet, not that of my family. I was pregnant with my second child, Dear Daughter, when I decided that “we” needed a puppy. Bonnie bonded with me, but she didn’t make much room for the new baby. She felt protective over this infant, but also felt very jealous over the number of times I was feeding her!
The vet suggested I devote some extra time to Bonnie, which I did, during reading night by the fire. And our long walks became a lot longer!
Bonnie tolerated Dear Son, mostly when he had a plate of food. The toasted Eggo waffle with peanut butter for breakfast was a guaranteed snatch-and-grab each morning. I nonetheless remained the voice she’d listen to, the only person she’d eagerly come to, and, even then, I had to endure the humiliating experience of having to bribe her with some food.
It’s been said, with profound accuracy, that a pet, especially a dog, comes into one’s life for a reason, a purpose, even a mission. Bonnie came to me during a time when I was at several crossroads in my life, and uncertain of how to proceed. She assisted me in moving me forward — to my future, but also in helping me to reclaim parts of my past.
Bonnie was the first real pet I truly loved since my childhood. In some ways, she was a physical reincarnation of Trixie, the terrier-beagle mixed breed of my girlhood. She was not affectionate like Trixie, nor did she display the loyalty and devotion of that dog. Bonnie instead was fiercely independent and willful, to the point of being obnoxious.
And it was the combination of those inflexible traits that guided me toward strengthening corresponding aspects of my nature. Those innate forces had become dormant, or undermined because of painful, wretched experiences I’d survived during the existence I’d cobbled together, long before meeting the young man who would become my husband.
Once I was able to nurture my inner warrior, there was little that I could do to encourage Bonnie to be any other type of dog but the quietly willful hound she was born to be. As we moved from House #1 to House #2, I sensed that every one, of the humans, was progressing to larger spaces and better opportunities. Bonnie didn’t fit into this somewhat more affluent domicile. And neither did I, her registered owner. In fact, I called this place my Gilded Cage.
Thus, we, the Milligan family, took extensive trips in our Ford Explorer, and Bonnie, the road warrior, enjoyed every one of them. The trails, the hiking, the snowy cabin we rented (I’ve never seen a dog that loved to walk in snow so much). The sight of the dog carrier made her silly. She’d jump onto it, and recline on the top of it, refusing to leave until she was placed inside the plastic crate for another expedition.
By the time that we moved to the Peach House in Newcastle, in August 1998, Bootsie had joined the family. He was the real family hound, and Bonnie knew it, but she carried on — with even more determination — to investigate the regions beyond this fenced one acre of land. Bootsie would allow this female hound to dig the hole under the fence (since she had the larger chest). He’d then follow Bonnie out of the property, down the trail, to sites and scenes and scents and smells that formed the New Frontier for them.
Bootsie was always happy to return home, or to be returned home by Dear Master. Bonnie was a different matter. She was used to roaming, without restraint, at leisure, alone, for hours and hours.
Her wanderlust in the suburbs had been the reason why Bootsie became our 2nd beagle, and the triumph of hope over experience. One night, just before Labor Day of 1997, Bonnie stayed out all night — and showed up at the sliding glass door to my bedroom at the break of dawn, muddy, panting, happier than I’d ever seen her.
“That’s it,” I informed Dear Hubby. “We are getting another beagle. I am not going to let her break my heart.”
My children were elated at this chance to have a real pet, for themselves. I was a bit somber, aware that divesting emotionally is more than a touch cowardly.
Bonnie thereafter tolerated Bootsie with the indifference that he didn’t deserve, but Puppy Boy received so much love from the kiddies that the affection equation seemed to work out.
Knowing that it was just a matter of time before Bonnie managed to do herself in, I strove to take care of her as much as she would let me. She taught me how to face life with unyielding tenacity, but she couldn’t help me in saying good-bye to her. For that noble feat, I needed to make use of the self-reliance I’d developed, and I needed to turn to a much higher Power.
One day, shortly before Christmas of 2001, Bonnie, followed by Bootsie, escaped the property at the Peach House. A very kind gentleman picked them up in his truck, about a mile away, and drove them to the address stamped on the dog tags.
Unbeknownst to me, and to my family, at that time, Bonnie had ingested some anti-freeze. Just after New Year’s Day of 2002, Bonnie Lynne went outside, and sought privacy and solace, under a bush. There, I visited her, and spoke with her, and, when the time came, I let her go, with as much serenity as possible.
This written tribute is long overdue to a libertarian dog who loved me, and showed me how to love her. She led the way for me to realize my own liberty, and to cherish all my hounds, beagles every one.