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Column: Is my new dog, who loves the TV but not the leash, a healthy addition or a home wrecker?

Philly is my new dog, who loves the TV but not the leash, a healthy addition or a home wrecker? (Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)
Steve Lopez's new lemon beagle, Philly, likes to chew on everything. (Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

If you believe all the hype, having a dog can contribute to healthy aging.

"They boost quality of life," according to an AARP article titled "10 reasons to get a dog when you're over 50."

“Dog ownership is associated with better cardiovascular health, decreased loneliness and lowered likelihood of depression,” Psychology Today says, and a study included in the National Library of Medicine database reached similar conclusions.

But none of these experts has tried to take my new beagle for a walk.

I should admit that my record with animals is not spotless. I once fostered a dog that ran away 10 minutes after I got him home, and a furious employee at the rescue agency called me an idiot.

For several years my garden was repeatedly torn up by raccoons, and I tried to drive them away with cayenne pepper, moth balls, motion-sensor sprinklers and coyote urine. When all of that failed, I hired an animal communicator who said she “connected” with the raccoons, who told her they wanted me to show them more respect. I was tempted, instead, to adopt a coyote.

We did luck out more than a decade ago when we rescued a lovable mutt named Dominic, who was good for occasional column material. When I heard that a lot of people in L.A. take their dogs to yoga or massage therapists, I figured that would make for a good story about what’s wrong with L.A. So I booked an appointment, and Dominic tried to bite the masseuse.

I loved that faithful, half-blind companion. We lost him to prostate cancer a little over a year ago.

Philly will sit defiantly whenever a leash is involved.
Philly will sit defiantly whenever a leash is involved. (Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

I wanted to get another dog right away, but my wife, Alison, insisted on a proper period of mourning. I kept pushing. A dog is good for your health, you know.

Alison finally gave in, reluctantly, with conditions. Not another male (Dominic lifted his leg every 10 feet or so on a walk). Not a puppy (too much mopping). And not a shedder (no hair coats for us).

Last summer I found a criminally cute hound dog who checked at least one of the boxes. She was a she, but only 3 months old. At the rescue, I was smitten, and began signing the papers. Then the dog peed on the floor, and I heard Alison's voice in my ear. Somehow, the volume of liquid was greater than the weight of the dog, who happily scampered through the lake of urine, jumped up on my lap, then splashed down into the pool and back up on my lap again.

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I went home alone, looking like I’d wet my pants.

Late last year, in what may be the shortest dog adoption on record, we brought home a 2-year-old female white shepherd mix who was advertised as being good on a leash and able to match her energy to that of her human caretakers. You mellow out, she mellows out.

This was a case of false advertising.

The dog tore through the house and yard and nearly pulled our shoulders out of their sockets on walks. Let’s be calm, Alison and I agreed. Maybe the dog will match our energy.

She didn’t.

It was as if we’d adopted a tornado, and we took her back less than 24 hours later. Keeping her might have destroyed the marriage, and I didn’t see that possibility mentioned in all the happy talk about healthy aging for pet owners.

In December I spotted a number of prospects online at Wagmor Pets Dog Rescue in Studio City. Alison and I went to have a look, and fell for a little white and tan guy with warm hazel eyes. He’s a lemon beagle, they said, a breed that was new to me. He had ears the size of shower curtains.

He was male, not female, but calm and friendly. He didn't pee a body of liquid the size of Lake Tahoe, and he didn't appear to be shedding much. And at 8 months, his puppy days should almost be over, right?

Alison gave a reluctant thumbs up and we brought him home. I wanted to name him Willie (Nelson, Mays, Wonka). But Alison, whom I met in Philadelphia, prevailed because I owed her. The beagle’s name is Philly. We love him to death, but we’re not sure that would be the case if he wasn’t so good looking.

He sheds, for one thing. A lot. We could make quilts.

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And he chews everything, of course. If you didn’t put up a fight, he would yank your sock off your foot, eat a good portion of it, and lick your toes.

Is the new dog Philly a healthy addition or a home wrecker?
Is Philly a healthy addition or a home wrecker? (Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

My blood pressure isn’t down, it’s up. And our freedom is gone, for the most part. We can’t just willy-nilly go to the beach for a day, or take an overnight trip up the coast. Heck, we can't even make a sandwich without one of us making sure he hasn't eaten another computer cord or a wad of dryer lint. We schedule every minute of each day, dividing dog duty.

Alison says she is doing way more work than I’m doing, and I'm not going to dispute that.

On Friday morning, when I rolled out of bed after she had been on dog duty, she asked what I was writing about for Sunday.

Philly, I said.

“Are you going to say that you got a dog, but you’re going to lose your wife?” she asked.

In truth, I think Alison loves Philly as much as I do. He’s quirky, lovable and entertaining. And he loves watching television, especially if dogs are involved. If you play a clip of beagles, it’s like he’s watching "Casablanca." He sits and stares, mesmerized, or stands on his hind legs for a better view, barking his approval (it gets annoying after a while).

Philly loves watching television, especially if dogs are involved.
Philly loves watching television, especially if dogs are involved. (Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

The biggest problem with Philly is that he hates being on a leash. If you take him to the park and let him run free, he’s fine. But leash him up for a walk around the neighborhood (he has to be on a leash because coyotes are everywhere), and he puts on the brakes.

Philly sits with demonstrative defiance, anchoring his beagle butt to the pavement, and gives you a stubborn stare. Then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, he’ll start moving again for half a block, then go back on strike to remind you who’s in charge.

Bribery has worked at times, but not always. And I’m tired of hunching down in front of him and walking backward, offering up bits of kibble to tempt him. One trainer told me to try high-value treats. Philly likes sniffing the barbecue grease pan, so ... maybe I can attach his leash to the grill and wheel it around the neighborhood.

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They say beagles are bred to hunt, and they’re more interested in following scents than following their owners. Maybe I’ll put on a rabbit suit, walk 10 feet ahead of him, and see what happens.

If you have ideas, send them my way.

I’m a half step away from calling the animal communicator.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.