Today, we profile Fred, the world's oldest-looking six-year-old beagle.
For those of you who followed this journey in 2003, you'll recall Fred was just a puppy then. Spry and energetic, Fred became the star of the trip. Readers of this daily missive were polite enough to wait about a week before asking us to stop including any photos of ourselves, and just include pictures of Fred. By the time the '03 trip -- entitled Fred Takes America -- ended, this e-mail was going to so many folks that we had a party at our house so our readers could meet Fred. As you can imagine, he was just a tad spoiled.
Life has been a little rougher on Fred since the end of the last trip. First off, there was the boredom factor. After seeing hundreds of America's natural treasures, being fed junk food and spending all of his time with us, we returned home, dumped Fred on the couch, and went back to our lives. So after four months of seeing something new every day, Fred had to settle for looking out our front window and barking at every car, jogger, deer or pedestrian that went by.
It was Fred's boredom that largely led us to get Hank. As I alluded to Monday, that effort initially backfired, as their rough yard play led to Fred coming inside one day holding one leg in the air. Diagnosis: torn ACL. This led to surgery and three months of rehab.
We were told early on that when a beagle blows out one ACL, there's a 50-50 shot the other one will eventually go. And, Fred, being the obedient beagle he is, obliged. About a month after Fred was fully recovered from the first ACL surgery, he blew the other one. Wash, rinse, repeat. So there was another surgery, another rehab, another hoodie.
In fact, when he blew out the second knee, he needed two surgeries. One to repair the damage, and other to remove the pins in the plate that were needed to hold the knee together until it healed. All told, Fred spent the better part of a year crippled, and somewhat depressed.
Finally, in late 2008, Fred's knees seemed back in working order, though he couldn't sit directly on his hind legs (look at the top picture here to see what I mean) and occasionally came in from some yard play holding a leg up in the air. But then his back starting giving him problems, and he started getting gimpy again. By then, the total cost of Fred's medical woes were at a level that left us somewhere between the "boy, they love that dog" and "those people are insane" range.
Then, his physical therapist -- yes, his physical therapist -- suggested canine acupuncture. Yes, canine acupuncture. You can now wipe off the coffee you just spit on your computer screen. When this was first proposed, we scoffed too. But when your dog is in constant pain, anything sounds worth trying. So Joan took Fred to acupuncture, and he got better. And every time she took him, he got even better. Fred's now had about 10 acupuncture appointments, and I swear, he's a new dog. He's running around like crazy, wants to chase toys all the time and has shown a lot more interest in Hank. So we leave here with Fred in the best shape -- physically and mentally -- than he's been in since we arrived home in 2003. And he doesn't even know we're taking a trip yet. And, yes, Joan has been scouting for where we can bring Fred along the way to get him acupuncture tune-ups.
I mentioned yesterday that Hank is not the brains of the operation, though he's a sweetheart. Fred is definitely the brains, though he's definitely more spoiled than Hank. He's a nice dog, don't get me wrong, and he gets crazy excited whenever we get home and doesn't go much farther than five feet away from me when I'm home. But he's definitely not as slavish as Hank.
Now, those of you who followed the 2003 trip might wonder about that "brains of the operation" comment, recalling Fred's strange desire to attack the windshield wipers from inside the car.
Indeed, Fred is pretty smart for a beagle, a breed not too high on the list of smart dogs. In fact, I don't think beagles actually made the list. That said, Fred has a beagle's ability to get to food wherever it may reside, learned to lean into turns during the last car trip and knows about 10 times as many words as Hank. He's an academic compared to Hank.