It’s always a picture-perfect Christmas with dogs

Beverly and Fred have been gone for years now, but left behind a precious gift: my wife’s and my determination never to live without a basset hound.

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A 20-year-old Christmas photo Gene Lyons shares with his Facebook friends every December featuring his two basset hounds Beverly and Fred.

A 20-year-old Christmas photo Gene Lyons shares with his Facebook friends every December featuring his two basset hounds Beverly and Fred.

Facebook photo/Gene Lyons

Every December, I post the immortal Beverly and Fred Christmas photo for my Facebook friends. It’s a perfect snapshot taken almost 20 years ago, featuring our two basset hounds along with a patient, sweaty Santa Claus hired by the Humane Society.

A 70-pound lap dog, Beverly was only too happy to clamber into a costumed stranger’s lap, while an indignant Fred needed to be restrained from bolting. Even so, he was a photogenic rascal, and the picture turned out perfectly in one take — a small Christmas miracle.

Both dogs have been gone for years now, but left behind a precious gift: my wife’s and my determination never to live without a basset hound. It’s a vow we have kept. The contrast between their woebegone expressions and loving, perennially optimistic dispositions makes us laugh every day.

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Originally bred to track game, the basset’s stubbornness and resistance to instruction are legendary. Obedience training is futile. Basically, when their noses are on — which is pretty much always — their ears are off, or may as well be.

Also, you try keeping them off the furniture. We don’t bother.

We have a French friend who hunts wild boar with bassets. But France is a foreign country. Ours are best at preventing couches from levitating. We’ve never lost one since our hounds started holding them down.

Our current basset is a handsome 3-year-old named Hank, or sometimes “Henri” after Diane’s cousin in Baton Rouge. He came to us along with his inseparable friend, a “cowboy corgi” called Marley, who is a year older and acts as if Hank is her son. She certainly thinks she’s the boss, and he doesn’t argue.

Hank and Marley arrived in our lives thanks to a remarkable act of generosity and trust on the part of a younger couple with three small children moving somewhere they couldn’t safely keep them. (An old friend of Diane’s served as a go-between; her son transported them from Alabama to Arkansas.) Well-behaved and trusting, they soon filled the place in our hearts left empty by the sudden, untimely death of our previous basset, Daisy.

They were immediately welcomed by our big dog, Aspen, an 80-pound collie/Great Pyrenees mix who clearly thinks there can never be too many dogs at the party. I’m sure he’d been missing Daisy, who basically raised him.

To give you some idea of Aspen’s generous spirit, we feed all three dogs in the same supper dish and have never heard a growl. They take turns, smaller dogs first, because although extremely food-motivated — he snatched a corncob from Diane’s hand the other day and bolted it down before she could react — Aspen is essentially a pacifist.

He is also the Brad Pitt of the dog park, where we take the whole team every afternoon, rain or shine. Women in particular are constantly exclaiming about Aspen’s great beauty and asking about his parentage. Some imagine he must be part wolf, particularly when he points his muzzle at the sky and howls — most often because he hears his pal Dexter barking excitedly as his owner’s car approaches the park.

Aspen is, indeed, a handsome animal — alas, one with no more guarding instinct than a cat. What he loves, and has loved since the day he came to us three years ago from the Arkansas Paws in Prison program — a star pupil I’ve allowed to forget most of what his inmate-trainer taught him — is playing chase.

His first move when Dexter arrives is to bow and feint as if to say, “I’ll bet you can’t catch me.” And pretty much nobody can. Aspen runs like an oversized coyote, dodging and feinting to give other dogs hope before accelerating out of reach. Dexter, for one, has pretty much given up.

Hurley the Labrador hasn’t, but that’s because Aspen engages him in fierce play-fights in which you might fear serious bloodshed if you failed to notice that Hurley rarely drops his ball.

Arguably Aspen’s greatest day at the dog park came when some fool showed up with two hyper-aggressive uncut pit bulls — strictly contrary to city law. The pair set out to savage him. Aspen’s reaction was, “You can’t hurt me if you can’t catch me.” By the third lap around the four-acre enclosure — it was over 90 degrees — the would-be killers were staggering.

Somebody spoke with their owner. All three left and never came back. (Many perfectly civilized pits frequent the park with no problems.)

Since Hank the basset hound’s favorite game is “You run, I’ll chase,” he and Aspen made a perfect fit. Aspen lollygags and changes directions to keep Hank hooting and running.

Supervising both is Marley, half-corgi, half-Australian cattle dog and all attitude. Somewhat resembling a black bowling ball with short legs and pointy ears, she’s taken enthusiastically to the job of household security.

“Officer Marley,” I call her.

“Sir, I’m going to need to see some identification.”

Merry Christmas, y’all.

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