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The Importance of Being Ernest
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...the Life and Loss of a Beagle

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"Ernest"

The Importance of Being Ernest - The Life and Loss of a Beagle
by Jim Willis, Copyright 2000

Ernest lost the use of his hindlegs yesterday evening, and this morning he yelped once in pain. It was time to say goodbye. His two-week fight against kidney failure was over. I thought if I cried all the way to the veterinary clinic, I might not cry in front of the vet. I was wrong. I had remembered to bring a bath towel with me, Ernest doesn't like cold stainless steel tables.

Twenty dollars to end discomfort and prevent suffering. I've spent much more on gifts for my friends which weren't nearly as appropriate.

When you lean over them sobbing as they draw their last breath, does their soul pass upward through yours on its way to Higher Ground? Does it blaze a trail we can follow later? Will we recognize them at our reunion without their earthly appearance, when we can judge them only by their spirit and not their species? I hope so.

I drove home in a torrent of rain and tears, and now know what it feels like to pilot a submarine. I halted at an intersection and watched cars and people bustle about their everyday life. "Why don't they ring church bells?" I wondered, "or stop traffic, or
observe a moment of silence? Don't they know that I am chauffeuring one of the kindest, most gentle and loving spirits who has ever walked the planet?" I thought about the little things, like how he wiggled his butt when he walked. I thought about the enormous, like why is it that the world's only imperfect species, the only one which sins and suffers guilt, should have been granted dominion over the Earth?, and how we should take that
stewardship more seriously.

I dug his grave in the rain and obsessed about keeping it dry. Ernest always avoided mud puddles. I looked around at the other graves, each marked by a plant or
tree: Amber, Khufu, Sir Edmund, Katerina, Ebony, Viva...too many. Over decades and on two continents, I've done this all before - why does it always seem that it rains, or do
they weep with me?

I remembered what a roly-poly riot he and his brother Julio were, the Laurel & Hardy of Beagles. How he'd lose his temper and chase off a wolf when she got to be too obnoxious. How he counted the minutes until dinner and then sang for his supper. I am so grateful to their former hunter owner who abandoned them on my road a couple
of years ago, and our neighbors on this road who did as they always do, ignore any stray animal until it becomes our responsibility. They gave me one of the best friends I've ever
had of any species.

I remembered how, when he was too weak to eat or drink on his own, he always managed to wag his tail for me. Even when I had to stick needles into him, that look of absolute trust and undying devotion never flickered in those beautiful brown eyes. I closed
his eyes and gave him one last kiss.

I have to tell Julio now that Ernest is gone and that he'll have to sing more often and more loudly now to make up for the silence - which he'll gladly do - and explain that, no, he cannot have Ernest's dinner from now on. Then I'll hug him and probably cry
some more, and we'll remember that there was something so wonderfully important about the being, Ernest.