Nils Parker
10 min readNov 18, 2021


The Soul of the Beagle

Today, we have to say goodbye to Buckley the Beagle. A great dog of many names: Floppers. Snouty. FlopperSnout. BuckleyFlopperSnout (this was our WiFi password for three years). Buddy. Doodle. Buckles. Mr. Buckles. Buck Buck. Buckster. Sweet Boy. Little Baby Buckley.

Buckley’s visible decline came on quickly. Like a winter storm at the summit of one of those majestic mountains that can create its own weather. One minute there are light flurries fluttering down from cool, patchy skies, landing softly on your skin like butterflies; the next moment you’re buried up to your chest in the wettest, heaviest, hardest driving snow you’ve ever experienced and the sky is so dark and so full that it’s impossible to tell which way is up or out.

There were signs of its onset — Buckley’s face had fully whitened, he’d begun to slow down and to eat a fair amount less than normal — but their signal had lingered in the background for so long that they’d become white noise, part of the scenery, and we’d almost forgotten about them. He’s just an old dog, we’d say wistfully to young kids who wanted to pet him when we’d take him to the vet or the pet store or on walks that grew shorter and shorter with time.

But then recently, on one of those Wisconsin days when you can feel summer turning to fall, we noticed that we could see Buckley’s entire rib cage for the first time. A few days later it was his spine we could see. Then his back legs began to sway out from behind him. At first it was only in the moments after he woke from a nap and he had to work the stiffness out of his arthritic joints, but eventually it happened any time he had to turn or walk in something other than a straight line. His backend would twist, then collapse a bit, like a slalom gate clipped by an alpine skier on their way down the mountain. In the last few weeks of his life, the veil that dementia lowers over memory — both short and long term — finally reached the floor. Buckley, who has been blind for several years and deaf for a few, lost his internal map of our kitchen, where he spent most of his day. He began bumping into furniture as if it were unfamiliar; he backed himself into corners; he smacked his snout against every possible surface before he found the one route that would get him back to his bed in the center of the kitchen floor.

When he wouldn’t stop wandering, when he couldn’t stop running into things, we grew concerned. When, earlier this week, he stopped wandering, and started spending more time in bed after meals or trips out into the yard…we knew. His time here was coming to an end.

Buckley was fifteen years old. Maybe fifteen and a half. Possibly even sixteen. We’re not sure. When we found him — or should I say, when he chose us — at an animal rescue outside Washington DC in August 2007, he was young, but he wasn’t puppy young. He already had a personality. His personality. There was no clumsy manic puppy energy. There was just sweetness, silliness and warmth. It is almost certainly what drew him and my wife to each other, and it is most definitely what kept them fiercely bonded to each other from the moment they met, through Thursday afternoon in our vet’s house on the western shore of Lake Michigan, and now in memory for all eternity.

Buckley is a beagle. My wife insists he is pure beagle, but I have always been sure there was something else mixed in there. Regardless, she is at least half right. He is pure. Of heart. Of spirit. Of purpose.

We share 82% of our DNA with dogs. They branched off from wolves at almost the exact same time in evolutionary history as humans became the sole surviving species of Homo. I have no idea if those two things are related. What I do know is that the things that make humans unique — consciousness, compassion, the soul — are intangible and ineffable to us, but physically and tangibly present in the dogs we can’t help but love and who choose to love us back in spite of ourselves.

Buckley was a 27-pound, floppy eared, tri-colored, velvet covered soul. He was the embodiment of compassion. He was conscious of the energy of everyone around him and he always found people in their moments of greatest need. If you were sick, sad, scared, nervous, anxious, worried, depressed. If you were in the same room as Buckley, he would find you. He might sit on your feet. If you were on a sofa, he’d jump up, sit down next to you and slowly slide down until he was curled up against your hip, with just enough room between him and the back of the sofa for you to put your arm around him. Which you would do, consciously or unconsciously. If you were in bed, he’d climb up and stretch out next to you until he was the length of your torso. Every time you moved he would take that opportunity to tuck himself that much further into you. If you were feeling really bad, he’d even scoot up and put his head on your shoulder or your pillow right next to your face so you could feel his warm breath as it began to sync up with your own.

I say “you”, but who I really mean is my wife, Jen. She’s been through a lot over the last fifteen years, and he was there for her at every turn, in every difficult moment. More often than I was. Better than I was. We saved Buckley once. He saved Jen more times than any of us can count or remember. As this final day crept closer, the pain of knowing she’d no longer have him there next to her was excruciating for Jen. Like a piece of her soul was being ripped out, right through her heart. The weight of it all was so heavy. Too heavy even for me to lift. It made breathing difficult. It made talking impossible. It made emotions overwhelming.

The tears engulfed our faces. The sobbing was silent.

Death is a part of life. The minute you are born you begin the process of dying. This is a literal truth, but it is cold comfort with little practical value beyond the Stoic admonition to memento mori — remember that you, too, will die one day, so focus on what you can control and live this day fully. That death is a part of life from the beginning also ignores all the growth that occurs in the years before the hill is crested, before entropy sets in, and then it all turns to atrophy.

We watched Buckley grow from a shy lost boy abandoned on the mean streets of Washington DC into a silly, wiggly, chicken-obsessed mama’s boy with a penchant for tearing up paper when no one was looking and for sneaking food off every low slung flat surface (including a bowl of queso on a coffee table at a Super Bowl party).

I watched Buckley and Jen grow together, like the roots of a Banyan tree. They were each distinct to themselves, but they were also inextricably one, joined together in strength, in mutual support, in mutual defense.

Buckley watched us grow, individually and as a couple, apart and then together — for a time at least. One afternoon, walking down the sidewalk toward a tailor shop, on a bright hot sunny summer day, Buckley slammed right into a cement planter box and bloodied his snout. I picked him up to examine his nose and wipe the blood away, and there for the first time staring back at me was the gauziness of early onset glaucoma.

I was flying out the next day on business. The day after, Jen took him to the vet. Progressive retinal atrophy. Not totally uncommon in beagles, and usually setting in around this age. He was 5 or 6. He’d be fully blind within three years. I got back from my trip two days later. Jen picked me up at the airport with Buckley in the backseat. I got in, looked back at him in his customary position behind the driver’s seat, and cried harder than I have ever cried in my entire life until about twenty four hours ago.

Jen soothed my pain just like Buckley had soothed hers so many times before. She pressed herself into me across the center console of her car. Right there outside baggage claim at General Mitchell International Airport. Going blind for a dog like Buckley, for a beagle, the vet told Jen, is like a human being going deaf. It’s not helpful, but their other senses are by far more important and now they’ll be even more heightened.

They were right. Buckley became even more attuned to Jen, to her mom and dad, to babysitters, to young kids who were afraid of dogs, to workmen and delivery people, to neighbors and their dogs and kids and friends. He couldn’t see you anymore, so he made sure he could feel you, and in turn you could feel him.

This sounds like squishy spiritual mumbo jumbo from someone looking for meaning in the inevitable arbitrariness of death, I know. But we’ve known this and talked about this for years. Before he got cancer in 2015 and beat it after 5 weeks of daily radiation. Before he blew a disc in his back in 2019 and had to have spinal surgery that rendered his back legs virtually inert for two months. We’ve known it because the people whose lives he touched won’t let us forget.

We’ve moved around the country a few times. Every veterinarian he’s ever had has contacted us years later just to check in on him. Every dog walker and pet sitter and daycare. Every person who’s taken his photo or seen one taken of him. Every neighbor. Every friend with a dog. They’ve all reached out, randomly, months and years after they’ve last previously seen him, just to say hi and see how their little guy was doing. He was all their little guy. They were all his people. I like to think they asked about how he was doing because they know they’re doing better because of him. That might not consciously be why, but it’s why.

Life will go on. The pain will fade. It will get easier. But it will never be the same. We will never be the same. We will be different, and better, for having somehow won the privilege to care for this little beagle boy the last 14.5 years and to have him fill our souls, heal our hearts and lick our wounds.

When it’s all over, our vet — a man fittingly named Noah, with a pure spirit not unlike Buckley’s — will cremate our little guy. He will give the ashes back to us in a few days time, in a beautiful wood box, but reserve some of those remains and take them to an animal sanctuary he started recently on the plot of land where he grew up as a boy. There, he will plant a tree in Buckley’s honor, places a plaque with his name at the foot of the sapling, and mix in that bit of reserved ashes with the soil. It’s a fitting and spiritually refueling tribute. A memorial.

I think I want to do the same thing with the ashes that come back to us, with a young tree planted at the very top of a knoll overlooking the pond at his very favorite place on this earth — Jen’s parents house. He was never more beagle, never more quintessentially Buckley, than when he was running around their property. Rolling in the grass, sneaking through gaps in boxwood hedges, loping through day lillies, running across the driveway every time we had to leave, bouncing like a bunny out into a grove of hemlock and spruce and pine that was as far away from our car as you could get and still be on the property. I want to mix his ashes completely with the loamy soil at the top of the knoll — Buckley’s knoll — and knead it into the dirt with my hands so that I know he is as close to the roots of the tree we plant as he was close to us while he was alive.

This last year or so, Buckley’s inimitable spirit, his pure searching soul, has been trapped inside his body by the onset of dementia. Dementia hasn’t stolen Buckley’s essential nature from us — his warmth and sweetness and silliness — it’s just hidden those things from our view and taken it’s toll on Buckley’s body as a result. I want to free his spirit from the body and the brain that have betrayed him.

I believe in the eternal nature of the soul. I believe that matter is neither created nor destroyed. I believe Buckley should neither be gone nor forgotten. So the last thing I want to do is trap him in a box. I want his spirit and his soul to spread far and wide across the skies and through the ether. I want what remains of his physical body to fuse with the earth and become part of something new and strong and full of life. Something like the tree that grows up and out while rooting itself deeper into the ground that will forever be its home. A tree that, one day, Jen and I might sit under with our son Will while we tell him stories about the greatest dog who ever lived.

We love you Buckley. Thank you for everything you have done and been for us. We’ll see you in the next life, sweet buddy. And god willing, you’ll finally get to see us again too.

Buckley (adopted 8/9/07 — 11/18/21)