My column this week has been prompted by two events. First was the recent 20th anniversary of the passing of my beagle, Barney, who accompanied me on more than 2,500 TV segments between 1991 and 2002. And second, that I have finally agreed with my wife (and all my friends) that I need to invest in a good pair of hearing aids.
What’s the connection? Toward the end of Barney’s life, he was beginning to lose his ability to tune in to the sounds around him. Those big floppy ears were nothing but window dressing.
In the past, Barney could hear me chomp on a pretzel three rooms away. He knew the doorbell would ring seconds before it chimed because of footsteps on the walk. If he ran off, all I needed to do was shake a box of Milk Bones. He was at my feet in a flash.
Eventually, I realized his ears were failing him but I chose to ignore it (as I have with my own hearing loss). When I said to him: “Bad dog!” or “Get out of the trash!” or “Sit!” he paid no mind. He never listened to me. Was he deaf or stubborn?
There was more evidence. On workdays, we both arose about 3:30 in the morning to begin our early broadcasting of feature stories around Indy. Barney was usually waiting for me at the front door. Then one day, he wasn’t there. He hadn’t heard the shower, my electric toothbrush or my car keys jingling. He was still asleep, his body vibrating to some fantasy canine dream.
Our walk in the woods changed, as well. Beagle hounds are bred to travel in packs when they hunt. Barney often walked ahead of me but would twist his head around to be sure I was nearby, still part of the hunting party. On occasion, I would hide behind a tree. When my footsteps ceased, he predictably turned to check my whereabouts. This confirmed his devotion to me, a method that has never worked with my wife, who once walked ahead of me for three miles while I waited behind a tree to see if she would notice.
Other aspects of Barney’s walks changed. He would waddle along with his body almost at a right angle, bent in the middle, so he could see me at every step. He looked as though he had a perpetual stiff neck. If he turned and looked ahead, he would have no evidence I was behind him. He had lost his radar.
Despite the loss of his hearing, he lived a happy life right up to the end. He could still smell a doughnut a block away and he remained bright-eyed and alert until his last day. “He is so cute,” people said. “And so smart. And so funny.” Barney had heard it all; he just wasn’t able to hear it anymore.
With dogs, there is not much you can do to remedy this problem. Not so, with humans.
A few days ago, I ordered a pair of hearing aids offered by Costco. They cost more than I wanted to spend, but I did the math: for the next 1,200 times I am in that store, if I can resist walking out with a quarter-pound all-beef hot dog from the snack bar, I will pretty much break even.
Retired television personality Dick Wolfsie writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected]