Where do I begin about the dog in this picture?

Better yet, where do I begin about the state I was in when I happened upon this dog?

I was sad in February, 2004 because I had to put down a dog that had been in my life for 14 years. I got lonely for canine company, so I started lurking in pet stores. That’s right. I was the lady who’d stare at the doggie in the window, then ask a staffer if I could just play with it for a second to see what I thought. A second would turn into…a while. And then the staffer would start gently suggesting that if I wanted to play with the dog for a good long time, I could up and buy the thing, you know. That way, I could have it forever.

I wasn’t ready for forever again.

But I kept looking just in case. One day my husband called me from work, and said he found an ad for beagle puppies that were at a veterinary clinic not too far from where we lived in Atlanta. Did I want to go check them out? You bet I did. And within hours the dog above, then a puppy, flew at me, licked my face, nibbled me and gassed me with her sweet dog breath.

Her name back then? Ginger. In those days, a black cap of fur covered her head and seeped between her eyes, making her look like a superhero, or perhaps some sort of canine villain. She was feisty and clumsy and too nippy for her own good, but she was a puppy and I would love her and she would be mine, so it would be fine.

We brought her home on Valentine’s Day.

For the record, she was no rebound hound. We rechristened her Daisy (short for Daisy Mae Beagle-Diecks), because it seemed like a good name for a sloppy North Georgia beagle. And it didn’t take long for Daisy to fall into step with the usual rhythms of the house, licking dinner guests to death, curling up on my neck in the middle of the night and chewing her fair share of rawhide bones as my husband watched football on Saturdays.

We bought that dog a fortune in rawhide, come to think of it.

Her head was unusually broad for a beagle. Her jaws were unnaturally strong. Dog toys did not last long. Either did some books or bookshelves. I don’t think I’m imagining this, but I could swear she shredded a chair from Ikea (Then again, it was a chair from Ikea. Most of their furniture only lasts a week). Fetch games were impossible if you used a tennis ball. After a few throws she’d bust the ball in half.

One day, I went on a quest to find her an indestructible toy and was pleased to come home with a miniature tire that was billed “impossible to destroy.” I handed it to Daisy, who stormed through the house shaking it for all it was worth. In the end, it was not worth much. I found slivers of rubber throughout the house mere minutes later and no tire at all.

This was no ordinary beagle. As a matter of fact, the veterinarian from whom we adopted her told us months later that she was part pit bull. That explained things, because her brothers and sisters didn’t look nearly as beagle-y as she did and wound up with tough new names like Onyx.

We got her some obedience training, but she carried on like an unruly teenager. I took her running, hoping it would take the edge off. One afternoon, I trotted with her down a tree-lined street near my house, when a guy got in an old pickup truck, which backfired and spooked her so much that she dragged me out into the street. I fell, trying to keep her from getting hit by a car and busted up my knee. As I headed to two months of physical therapy, she spent two weeks in a North Georgia puppy bootcamp, trying to learn how to obey. Two weeks later, my knee in a brace, we sat there and watched her happily sit and stay and heel. It was a miracle.

And then the trainer said: “I’m not going to lie. This is one of the hardest dogs I’ve ever had to train.”

She wasn’t perfect, Daisy, but she grew into our little protector, whose heart was in the right place as she charged the front door when people came to visit. Countless blinds were shattered, UPS men threw boxes on our doorstep as they fled, and surprise visitors were no longer a surprise. When our daughter was born, Daisy would come get us if we didn’t move fast enough when the little one woke up crying after a nap. When people were sad, she would lick their faces. When she woke up in the morning she would amble toward the door and wait to be let out, her sweet brown eyes grateful for whomever came to her rescue. She groaned and snored and barked and bayed. And because I loved her from the tips of her velveteen ears to rough reaches of her paws, I would always ALWAYS slide her table scraps, even though the vet told us she really needed to watch her weight.

I couldn’t resist that face. It made me smile. She was my cheer up beagle.

Yes, I’m speaking of her in the past tense. We had to put Daisy down today and it was a total shock.

I’ve been sitting here wondering about why certain dogs come into our life when they do. And I think that Daisy came into our lives to teach us how to embrace the unexpected, bad breath and all. The house is quiet now, even with a six-year-old girl in our midst. Daisy should be snoring in the corner of the living room, or shuffling over to me and putting her head on my lap in an all-too-obvious effort to hop up on the couch, which I forbid.

If she were here right now, I’d relax the rule, just to snuggle her one more time.