This month is the 20th anniversary of losing my first beagle. Barney was a rescue, a stray I found on my doorstep in 1991 just after I started a new job as a morning field reporter on WISH-TV. Barney made his television debut in February of that year, and we did 2,800 shows together. Below are excerpts from my column published the week he passed:
I lost my best friend and business partner this week. Barney was 12 (or 13 or 14). I never knew his exact age. He wandered onto my doorstep looking for a better life. He found it. And I found the world’s greatest dog. But he was never a good dog — not ever.
When I walked down the street with him, everyone would say hello to the beagle by name. Many teased that they didn’t know my name. Maybe they weren’t kidding.
Strangers would joke that he looked like he hadn’t missed many meals. He was relentlessly in search of food he could steal. He ate everything: pickles, carrots, hot dog buns. And sometimes, when extremely desperate, he would eat his dog food.
When he saw anyone approach, he rolled over for a belly rub. If you stopped rubbing, he glared at you. “You’ve got some nerve,” he seemed to be saying.
He’d run away any time he had the chance. Not run away from me, of course, but on to a new adventure. He knew I’d find him. One Thanksgiving, he got through the invisible fence and found his way to a holiday dinner several miles away. He knew strangers were a softer touch at the dinner table.
He also knew television. Everything he did was either funny or heartwarming.
When a second-rate musician was playing his electric guitar on my show, Barney pulled the plug out of the wall with his teeth.
When an animal-training expert claimed he had taught him some manners, Barney dug up the rose bush at my front step in front of him. On live TV.
When I did a show with kids with Down syndrome, Barney jumped on the bed with all 15 toddlers and snuggled with them.
When the camera focused on Barney, I swear he looked right at the viewing audience.
Barney loved everyone. I don’t think he had an unhappy moment in his life. His final day was at the Indiana State Fair, filled with good food and adoring fans. That evening, he passed peacefully in his sleep.
Through the years, I have given out more than 5,000 photos of Barney, each inscribed by me with a silly facsimile of a paw print. If you have a picture of Barney with that paw print, please keep it in his memory. That would mean a lot to me.
And, I am sure, it would mean a lot to Barney.