What beagles can teach us about how to run a business

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Is this a column about beagles or businesses? Perhaps both.

I ponder this after enduring what everyone who’s ever cared for a pet dreads: saying goodbye to an aged, but beloved companion. In my case, it was a beagle who’s official American Kennel Association title was Walnut Manor Isabella, but always seemed content to respond to the less ostentatious Izzy.

Afflicted with cancer, Izzy lost weight and finally was unwilling to eat or even drink. She was suffering. We made the humane decision to end that suffering. For selfish reasons, it was a heart-rending decision nonetheless. The vet made the process as comforting as possible. I was especially grateful for the opportunity to hold Izzy in my arms as she slipped away, hopeful she was aware at that moment just how much she was cherished.

I remain grateful as well for the nearly 15 years of joy Izzy brought to my life and the life of my family. Wow. Doesn’t 15 years go by in a blink?

We acquired Izzy from a breeder in Ohio. After successive rides on a commercial flight and charter that took the jet-setting Izzy from Cleveland to Denver to Grand Junction, we brought home a beautiful beagle puppy. Anyone who’s ever seen, much less held, a beagle puppy recognizes the redundancy in that description. Is there anything more adorable in all the world than a beagle puppy? We soon discovered Izzy was as sweet-natured as she was cute and tail-wagging happy regardless of the circumstances.

We obtained Izzy as a companion not only for us, but also our other beagle, Jester. He was named, by the way, for the peculiar yelps he made as a puppy that sounded as though he were laughing. We used to introduce our pets as Queen Isabella and her Jester. Izzy and Jester became something of an old married couple and were the parents over the years of no less than 19 puppies.

Izzy and Jester grew up with my family. And my family grew up with the hounds — not dogs, mind you, because beagles are scent hounds. My youngest son, Alex, had just started fifth grade at Tope Elementary School when Izzy came to live with us. In December, Alex earned his master’s degree in accounting from American University in Washington, D.C., and returned home to study for the series of exams he’ll have to pass to become a certified public accountant.

While I undoubtedly complained about it at the time, it was always my enjoyable chore to take the beagles for walks. That’s an interesting process because a beagle could best be described as an incredibly perceptive nose that happens to have a hound attached. I’ve read estimates that beagles benefit from a sense of smell 1,000 to 10,000 times more acute than a human. While that remarkable ability constitutes an advantage in chasing rabbits through the woods or detecting contraband produce at international airports, it can be problematic during what’s supposedly a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. For beagles, there’s so much to smell and so little time to smell it. Izzy was always searching for something to eat. Jester was more motivated to identify intrusions into what he considered his territory and mark his claim. I used to call my walks with the beagles the S&P 500 — as in they’d have to sniff and pee at least 500 times before they could be coaxed to head home.

What do beagles have to do with business? It’s been my experience they possess some illustrative traits bad and good.

While beagles are unusually well-mannered, they can be possessive on occasion. There’s a concept, in fact, I term beagle property law. Here are three precepts: What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is mine. Anything I can smell is definitely mine. Just try and take something away from a beagle. Now, count how many fingers you have left.

Businesses certainly have a right to defend their property. It’s a part, in fact, of the infrastructure of democracy. There’s a distinction, though, between rightfully defending your property and taking what belongs to someone else. Consider the incidents of intellectual property theft that have become increasingly frequent. Regardless of what the character Gordon Gecko proclaims in the movie “Wall Street,” greed is not good. Not for businesses. Not for beagles, were they willing to admit it.

At the same time, beagles remain unfailingly loyal. And they’re always happy to see you. Always.

In that respect, beagles offer an admirable example for business owners and managers. Want to engender loyalty in your employees and customers?  Expect in them the best, but also give them your best. Greet them with earnest appreciation when they come through the door. And never, ever, bite the hands that feed you.

Maybe beagles and businesses have something in common after all.

I’m fortunate to still enjoy the company of healthy and beloved beagle in Jester. He’s older and heavier than he used to be, but still gets around. A lot like me, I guess. But I’ll forever miss Izzy. She was loving and gracious, a giving and forgiving soul. Rest in peace, Walnut Manor Isabella.