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Thursday, December 18, 2014

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The Home Team / Caution! I brake for dog owners

Updated 5:37 pm, Thursday, May 29, 2014
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My son Greg and his fiancee, Kelly, gave each other a look. They'd seen this movie before. Just out of Jack's Coffee in Amagansett with our egg-and-cheese sandwiches and our java, they found me sitting on the wood bench, interviewing some guy about his cocker spaniel. This is something I've been doing pretty much constantly since I got over the intense-grieving stage for my Ricky the Beagle, who passed away last month. Ricky was my first and only dog, and I loved him like a son, but there were certain beagle characteristics that had always been ... difficult ... and I was trying to be open to a variety of different breeds.

I'd asked the 40-something dog owner why he thought the cocker spaniel, America's favorite dog for a long stretch when I was growing up, had dropped in popularity. As Greg and Kelly came out, he was telling me that for a time they'd been considered snappy and yappy, but now that had been bred out of them. "My dog is the most docile dog you've ever seen. You couldn't get him to bite you if you tried. Cockers are the best."

We finished our coffee, got on our bikes, and started to head back to the house but hadn't even made the first turn onto Indian Wells Highway when I jammed on the brakes and jumped to the sidewalk. Kelly had to swerve to avoid running into me. There was a couple walking a gorgeous dog that looked like a mini-German shepherd, and I had to stop and inquire. It had the shepherd's classic black-and-tan coloring, but was a good bit smaller. Turns out the dog was a mix, mostly border collie and Australian cattle dog, the owners told me. (They'd had a DNA test done.) They were madly in love with their mutt, who, according to the woman, was "smart, obedient -- the best dog we've ever had."

The three of us got back on our bikes, but when I stopped again -- on Bluff Road, this time -- Greg and Kelly waved, called out "See ya!" and kept on riding. They'd had enough of the dog interview process. Here was another couple walking a dog, and this time it was a bona fide German shepherd purebred, one of my favorite breeds. The woman, who was pregnant, said she'd grown up with shepherds, and that this one was her fourth. "They're unbelievably intelligent, loyal and great with kids," she told me. "I'd never get any other breed."

That evening, we parked our car in front of Cyril's Fish House. As we walked toward the front entrance, I spotted a guy with yet another great-looking dog. "A shelter dog from Puerto Rico," he told me. "Mostly husky." And, of course: "You couldn't ask for a better dog."

I don't confine my brake-and-interview routine to vacation weekends at the beach. I do exactly the same thing here, at home, in Westport. All the time. On one bike ride alone, on a recent sunny Saturday, I dismounted at the entrance to Compo Beach for a Westie, near Elvira's for a cavalier, and on Beachside for a golden. Not one owner had a negative thing to say about his or her dog.

I'm not sure where all this research is going to lead. To be honest, I'm probably more confused than I was when I started out. Although if I've learned anything, it's this: Every owner thinks his or her dog is "the best," and that his or her breed "is the only kind of dog I'd ever get."

Of course, quite a few of my blog followers have been wondering why I've even been bothering to conduct these interviews in the first place. They're convinced they already know which way the wind is blowing. As Jim B., one of this group, wrote, "You call yourself Beagle Man. The name kinda says it all, don't it?"

Hank Herman is a Westport writer. To reach Hank, email him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.