Tifton, when he was losing his hair, and his pal, before he lost his.
He was not as tall as a Pepsi bottle when we got him from a friend in Tifton, GA and named him for his hometown. I wasn’t all that much on dogs, considering myself a cat person, but she loved him, and who wouldn’t? You can’t get much cuter than a baby beagle, and he had the perfect mix of black, tan and white. While he was growing up out in the country with us, there were no other dogs, only horses, so Tifton assumed he was one, too. We frequently had to rush through the barbed wire fence and rescue him when we spotted him running among the flying hooves.
He got a mysterious, mange-like rash that caused his hair to fall out. The vet couldn’t cure it, even though he required us to scrub Tifton with rough pads until he howled. Much money and suffering later, a young UGA vet prof discovered an undescended testicle and theorized that it was messing with T’s hormones. Fixing him fixed the problem. The memory did give me a shudder when my own hair began to go.
When she left, to my surprise Tifton stayed with me, since she was moving into town and thought he should stay in the country. That’s when Tifton and I bonded—just two guys out in a tin-roofed shack in the kudzu, surrounded by woods for roaming. And, to tell you the truth, he was a comfort, as I guess I was to him.
Then began the period when we were starting The Athens Observer, working from early morning to late at night. I felt so guilty, leaving Tifton alone out there in the country, that I made it a point to go for a walk with him in the woods every morning. Oh, how he loved to run and sniff and, on the rare occasions when he struck the scent of an actual rabbit, to let out that beagle bugle-bark. I loved those walks as much as he did, and they came to be the time when I could get away from everything and start each day in the teeming calm of the woods. Who knew how much Tifton contributed to keeping the launch of the Observer on track? A counselor and personal trainer who worked for dog food.
In the country, we were inseparable: sleeping together, eating together and riding around together in the old Chevy Blazer: best friends forever. Then a visitor began to drop in at our bachelor paradise. It’s the old story, and how can a dog compete? He wasn’t happy with being displaced, and he showed it in various snarly, sulky ways, never completely warming up to my new bride, but consenting to be the family dog, nevertheless.
By the time we moved into town, Tifton was an old dog, hanging around the house, going deaf. Our new-old house on Oglethorpe Avenue across from the Navy School had a big backyard, and we naively assumed Tifton stayed there while we were at work. Only later did it come to light that he had a secret life as sidekick to the Supply Corps students across the street, where he was known as “Sluggo,” panhandling outside the mess and flopping down in front of the classroom air-conditioners during hot days.
Sluggo was dishonorably discharged from service when, in front of an audience of dignitaries and brass during an outside change-of-command ceremony, just as the retiring captain saluted the new captain, the full-of-Navy-beans old beagle waddled across the stage and was busted by the shore patrol.
That didn’t stop him from trying to get back to his buddies, but his bad hearing and a fast car did—a too-late and much needed reminder to us that good fences make good neighbors. Tifton ran with the horses, rambled with the rabbits, hung with the ensigns and made a dog-lover out of me.