“Dogs have boundless enthusiasm but no sense of shame. I should have a dog as a life coach.” – Moby
Chapter 1: Dogland
Jávea is a dog town. Practically everyone here has at least one dog, often more. You constantly see people out and about with their dogs and dogs are welcome in many restaurants and shops. Walk (or run) by any house and dogs will come to the gate and bark. There is a vibrant animal rescue scene here and a significant portion of the Jávea Connect Facebook page is devoted to posts about dogs. Pet stores and vet practices are numerous. My sister-in-law rescued two. Her sister and her sister’s boyfriend spent many weeks feeding, medically treating, and retraining a former street dog, helping him evolve from a scared, suspicious, skinny stray into a relaxed, trusting, sweet-natured guy. It felt like all of Jávea was cheering on this process.
Our friends all have dogs: Maya, Tully, Tizer, Harper, Jodi, Sarka, Klaus, Frodo, Mojo, Rocco, Zorro. As far as we could tell, we were some of the only people in town without one. This suspicion was eventually confirmed by our pool maintenance guy, a Dutch expat who, along with his wife, owns several, fosters almost two dozen more, and keeps dog treats in his pockets for his clients’ dogs as he makes his pool rounds. With that guileless directness that we’ve come to associate with many Northern Europeans he cheerfully let us know that being American is different enough around these parts, but as non-dog owners we’d gone from being a mild curiosity to real weirdos.
It’s not that we don’t like dogs, we do. In fact one of the things that my husband and I first bonded over was our shared love of all animals. We adore our friends’ dogs and have dog-sat for several of them. But our current life in Spain is much more of spur-of-the-moment when it comes to going out and travel and we like the pet-free flexibility. Even cats, which I’ve always had, and the animals to which I relate to most, are out for now.
Tom, especially, loves dogs. When he was five, he got a beagle mix puppy and immediately fell in love. With typical 5-year old sophistication, he named her “Brownie.” His parents tried to explain that the puppy was a “she,” and Brownie was more of a male dog’s name (this was, after all, the 1960s), but Tom held his ground. Brownie she was, and the two grew up together, practically inseparable until he left for college. Tom once told me that the first time he realized it was possible to cry from happiness was when he was seven. After returning home from a long family vacation during which Brownie had to stay behind, he stepped out of the car and Brownie ran down their street from the neighbor’s where she’d been staying to greet him. Tom threw his arms around her neck and was puzzled by the tears that started streaming down his face. His mother gently explained this new phenomenon to him: tears of joy. In his sophomore year of college, after over 15 years together, Brownie died and Tom was devastated. Ever since, he’s had an affinity for beagles.
Chapter 2: Meet the Beagles
This affinity was soon rewarded. On a walk one morning to check the mail, not long after we moved to our new neighborhood, we passed a man strolling along with his cocker spaniel on a lead. We stopped to chat by the neighborhood mail center and to pet his charge: a soft, old, and docile female, who promptly took advantage of the break and the affection and flopped down on the street at our feet with a contented snort. Right at that moment, two scruffy-looking beagle-mix dogs came trotting past, off leash and no owner. Upon seeing the cocker spaniel, they started a frenzy of yapping. The poor startled spaniel jumped up, panicked. The man whipped around and began yelling at them in German, which, predictably, only incited them to bark louder. Furious, he turned back to us and explained in English that he couldn’t stand those animals: They barked all the time, annoying him and the neighbors and terrifying his dog. Worst of all, they often escaped their nearby yard to roam the streets without human supervision. He pointed out the offending house where they lived down the street, and explained there was one more dog there as well but he was apparently too little to jump the gate and join his brothers.
Tom and I sympathized, but as we eyed the culprits, we couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t seem terribly threatening. Roguishly scruffy and rather ungainly, they lacked that tensely sleek and eerily steely-eyed demeanor of genuine attack dogs. Although loud and hyper, their tails were wagging, and they looked almost hopeful that at least one of us–including the petrified cocker spaniel–might want to play. The man, however, was not amused. Grabbing his dog’s leash he stormed off with her in tow, but not before once more sternly reprimanding them.
Chapter 3: The Great Bread Heist
About a week later on a morning run through the other side of the neighborhood from our original encounter, we saw a dog running towards us with, of all things, a baguette in a plastic bag in his mouth. As he trotted along, his pace quick and deliberate, he scanned his gaze from side to side, alert to any potential interference. As he passed by, he sized us up and gave us a wide berth but didn’t seem overly concerned by our presence. In a flash we realized he was one of the beagle-mixes we had seen the previous week. We couldn’t help but laugh, trading theories on the possible backstory, when suddenly up ahead, the second dog appeared, trotting briskly in the same direction as his brother, again scanning in all directions. He too passed us, giving a quick side-eye, then loped along until he also disappeared around the bend. Something about the way they moved as well as their apparent broad-daylight robbery had us both smitten. It was like a madcap scene in a Disney movie. If they had suddenly started speaking with Cockney accents I wouldn’t have been in the least surprised.
Chapter 4: Beagle Alley
Over the following weeks, on our daily runs or walks, we made it a point to pass by the dogs’ house. Sometimes all three would be home, boisterously yapping from behind the gate; sometimes it was only the littlest one, peeking though the fence slats and wistfully wagging his tail; his brothers clearly out on one of their capers. A few times now we’ve passed one or both running the streets but they are then in mission mode: no barking or jumping or even any sort of recognition, just pure focus as they roam, likely up to no good. As we got to know the neighborhood better and better, we discovered a trail though one of the little wooded Zona Verdes by our house, and realized part of it went past their backyard, a large fenced-in area with a dog house. The fence here was chain link allowing better interaction with them, and before long, they’d come running up to greet us, tails wagging. We could reach through the links to scratch their noses or ears. One time as we ran by, the three spontaneously broke into a loud, coordinated baying, each one pointing his little snout into the air higher than the others, their mouths in round “O” shapes, howling with all their might. We’ve renamed that stretch of the woods “Beagle Alley.”
We’ve even begun buying biologico beef jerky dog treats, which earned us an upgrade in status from kinda cool to superstars. Every now and then, when only the little one is around, we feed him the whole beef jerky stick, instead of having to break it into thirds. Not once in all our interactions have we ever seen the owners. We sometimes fantasize that if one day we found out they needed to be re-homed, we’d take them in a minute.
Plotting the next caper…
I think we’ve come to earn respect of these three. We bring treats, we liberally dispense ear and nose scratchings. And most importantly, when it really matters, they know they can count on us to keep our mouths shut and look the other way.
This post is dedicated to Brownie, Shiloh, Tyler, Boots, Blackie, Harvey, Coco, Cotton, Zelma, Sophie the Wonder Dog, Uma, Sadie, Samson, Boo, Leroy Brown, Lucy, Holly, Lotte, Anabell, Zoe, Tache, Hutch, Atticus, Louie, Casey, Bemba, and the rest who have crossed that Rainbow Bridge; all very good dogs indeed.