I love it when someone asks a question about beagles, because it gives me an excuse to call W. S. "Doc" Furie, a veterinarian, farmer and short-story writer in Maryland who knows more about beagles than any other two-legged being on earth.
The only beagle question she can't answer quickly and knowledgeably is the first one I asked: How many beagles do you have?
"Now that's a tough question," she said when I called her the other day. "Let me count. There's two on the bed, another two JTC makes four, six, eight -- keep still, will you? -- 10, 13, 15, ah, about 15, I guess, but I have to keep revising it.
"Oh, wait, I forgot the puppies. Let's say 15 adult beagles, and seven puppies. Of course, that doesn't count the dogs that aren't beagles, the goats, the mule, the donkey or the chicken that lays white eggs one day and brown the next. . . . What was your question?"
"You answered it," I said, not really sure but not wanting her to start counting again. "Now, Doc, I've got a reader here who wants to know the difference between a 13-inch and a 15-inch beagle. Could you handle it?"
"Sure could," she said. "You know me, when I get to talking about beagles I can talk the leg off a chair. Why just the other day . . . "
"Doc," I said. "The difference?"
"Between a 13-inch and a 15-inch beagle?" she said. "Oh, about 2 inches, I'd say. Now let me tell you the one I heard the other day, about a beagle who . . . "
"Doc." I said. "Could you elaborate a bit?"
"Sure could." And she did, with the entire history of beagles, a story that included "pocket beagles," "singing beagles" and Queen Elizabeth I of England.
"Doc," I said. "What should I tell my reader?"
"You just tell 'em there's no better dog than a beagle," she said. "The beagles I have here run the spectrum of what beagles should be. On every one of these dogs I could give you a story. The dog sleeping on my bed right now came from the pound. Her name's Sally and . . . "
"Doc," I said. "Do they come in the same litters?"
"Of course they do," she said. "Wouldn't be beagles if they didn't. Oh! You're talking about 13- and 15-inch beagles. Thought I answered that! Yes, they do, too. Some of the 13-inch beagles tend to be stockier than the 15-inch. That's measured at the shoulder, by the way."
"That's it!" I said. "That's the answer! Now, how would a person go about getting a good one for a pet? And is there anything bad about beagles?"
"Bad? About beagles? Can't think of anything," she said. "It can be difficult to keep their attention because they're very scent-oriented. And some of them can be willful. But this is a dog whose instinct is not to do what I call 'stupid human tricks.' That just goes with the hound mind.
"Some of them are difficult to house-train, though I won't say impossible. Just takes a little time and patience."
"And if you were to get one," I asked, "where would you go?"
"I don't have to go anywhere," she said. "A lot of the ones I've got were castoffs for one reason or another. But if I were looking, I'd look into a private breeder, try to find one through breed matches or publications. Giving a hand to a beagle in a pound is not a bad idea, either. I've got three of those hard-luck beagles, and they've all worked out well.
"With a puppy, I like to get down on the floor with the litter," she said. "Avoid a puppy who is shy, overly aggressive or rambunctious. Look at the parents, see if they're nice dogs. I wouldn't take home a puppy younger than 8 to 10 weeks, and I'd ask about genetic defects, like glaucoma and epilepsy. Now, not too long ago I was looking at a litter and . . . "
"Doc," I said. "That just about covers it. How are the books doing?"
"Well, you know, I've got a fan here and there," she said. "Not many people reading them, so I guess you'd say I've got a little cult."
Count me in as a member. Doc Furie's latest self-published collection of dog tales -- with a cover she drew herself -- is "Doc Poe Says So." Copies are available for $7 plus $2 handling from the Honest Dog Bookshiller, 6006 Linganore Road, Frederick, Md. 21701.
For the record, she denies what she calls pervasive rumors that the stories are written by her Chihuahua.
"Those are simply not true," she said. "Tiny proofreads them, nothing more."
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.