“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.”
-Jack London, The Call of the Wild
Wolves were domesticated 12,000 to 15,000 years ago.The earliest ancestors of the breed of dog known as Beagles today are thought to have been used as hunting dogs in Greece as early as the 5th century B.C. Beagles were imported to the United States from Europe in the early 1870’s.
Lilly, our miniature beagle, spends the bulk of her life doing one of three things. Sleeping, begging for treats, or staring out into the woods from the safety of her fenced yard at home. Often, as she gazes longingly out into the woods beyond the fence, I notice a far-away look in her eyes as if she is remembering on some cellular level the ancestors from which she came.
You could say that Lilly is highly domesticated. In fact, she is about as far removed from being a wolf as a dog can be. She is a spoiled, noisy, floppy-eared baby who is afraid of things like wood ticks and hates being wet or cold. Which is why, on Monday night at dusk when she took off into the woods up at the lake, my sister and I were more than a little concerned. Lilly spent the night out in the woods. By morning, her happy Roo! Roo! had been replaced by an urgent Help! Help! and so, we walked for miles through thick woods trying to find her. By afternoon, she had stopped making any noises at all and we worried that she had gotten herself into something she couldn’t get out of. Like a trap. Or a bear’s mouth. We worried that perhaps she’d become the main course for a litter of hungry wolf pups. One’s imagination runs wild when a beagle near a swamp gets too quiet.
She must have just been taking an afternoon nap because by evening, she was once again sending out her beagle S.O.S. She’s lucky she ended up with humans who know how to follow their instincts when it comes to being in the woods. Humans who pay attention to where the sun is in the sky before they go into the woods and know how to use a compass. Ones who actually know what poison ivy looks like. The next morning, those humans listened and walked. Then listened and walked some more. An hour later, Lilly was rescued. In the thirty-six hours she was gone, the only things that had dined on her were a few wood ticks and a very hungry army of gnats.
She’s home now. In the evening, as she dreams, she whimpers and runs from whatever scary things she seems to be remembering. Things like wood ticks, gnats, and the night sounds in the woods her ancestors, the wolves, understood. She would have made a lousy wolf. I am beginning to wonder if she’s even very good at being a beagle, frankly.
Luckily for Lilly, her very human pack has some pretty good instincts, too.