A couple of weeks ago, our dog Scout was suddenly found to have a large tumor in his abdomen. One day he was racing around after a tennis ball and playing hide and seek with his feline pal, Ziggy; literally the next, he could barely rouse himself from his bed, and was disinterested in food and drink. A trip to two different vets confirmed that death was imminent.
The Angler and I were out of state at the time so I conferred with Jerry by telephone. The vets recommended euthanasia, but Jerry, especially, was having difficulty with this proposition. After a shot of vitamins and small nibbles of formerly forbidden delicacies (canned cat food!) Scout seemed to perk up, so I suggested that rather than hurrying the process, we just let nature take its course. Unfortunately, this was a short-lived respite, but at least gave everyone a little time to come to terms with the idea that we were losing him. About 10 days ago, he departed from us, and Jerry and The Rock Star gave him a quiet burial in one of his former haunts.
In our family, I’d been given the unflattering nickname of The Dog Nazi. I was the one who took Scout to Canine College, made him heel, taught him tricks, and at least attempted to enforce restrictions on where he (and his hair) were allowed in our house. Jerry was Number One Dog Pal – he usually walked Scout, fed him biscuits, lay alongside him on the (hair-covered) floor, and generally turned a blind eye to Scout’s incursions into forbidden territory. “He’s a dog,” Jerry would say to me by way of explanation. “They’re supposed to run around wherever they want.”
In answer, I started out in a similar vein, but went in a different direction. “He’s a dog – not a person – he needs us to be his pack leader.” But now I’m feeling just a little guilty about all the times I corralled him in the kitchen behind a gate, or bemoaned my slobber-and-hair-festooned clothing.
As a younger pup, Scout was a champ at barking, and indefatigable at ball sports. He’d tear off after a tennis ball until his tongue lolled and his paws bled. At a trot, his back legs canted slightly to the left, like a car whose rear end is out of alignment, but it gave him a jaunty look.
Our Scout was aptly named, at least in some respects – he was always eager to please, and masterful at learning tricks. He might take off if he knew there was a party in the neighborhood, but never once snuck food off the table or counter, raided the trash, or chewed furniture.
He must’ve had a guilty conscience from some transgression though, because like a felon trying to avoid the press, he always hid when cameras came out – if there were the slightest suspicion that you were trying to capture him on film, he would duck and cover (even holding a rock up in front of your face would elicit this reaction!). It’s a wonder we have any photos of him at all.
Scout was a wuss about rain. I always make fun of the sweaters and costumes in PetSmart, but if I had bought a doggie raincoat and boots, Scout probably would have been happy to wear them. If it was pouring out, he could go hours without a pee – he’d walk out the door, take a look around and then, unless we shooed him off the porch, walk meekly back into the house.
In contrast, snow was a reason for canine celebration. He would leap off the porch and make a mad dash around the property, crisscrossing it multiple times, cutting the corners like a champion barrel racer at a rodeo. You’d have to keep an eagle eye on him, however, or he was apt to forego the last corner and take off across Antioch campus on a romp that might last a few hours. On one of those occasions, we’d had a blizzard, and the snow was piled in drifts. I bundled up, yanked on my Sorels, and since the plows had not yet reached our street, resigned myself to cutting trail. Before I’d even reached the corner, Scout passed me from behind, racing beyond my trudging form like a bat out of hell and looking back with one of those goofy doggie grins. He didn’t stop, or even slow down, though – he was good, but not that good!
This past week, each time I put my key in the kitchen door lock, I was surprised anew not to see Scout’s expectant face and wagging tail on the other side of the glass. Several times, when I accidentally dropped bits of food on the floor as I prepped veggies for supper, I started to call out, “Here, Scout!” so that our canine vacuum could gobble them up. It’s been an adjustment for all of us, and the Angler and I felt a little traitorous as we bagged up his bed and bones (the toys are still lying around – I haven’t been able to bring myself to get rid of them).
There are some things I don’t miss about having a dog. There are no longer clouds of dog hair drifting around the kitchen floor or somehow finding their way onto the tablecloth and from there to someone’s dinner plate. I could fill up the vacuum canister with fur one day, and amazingly, gather the same amount 24 hours later. Scout outlived several vacuum cleaners, and I have yet to own one that is able to completely remove those long, wiry, Shepherd guard hairs from the carpet and furniture.
Thinking I’d discovered the ultimate pet hair solution, I invested in a gadget called a Furminator, and combed out vast quantities of hair – seemingly enough that if I spun it, I would’ve had an amount sufficient to knit several sweaters or a slipcover for the couch. Come to think of it, though, the couch is covered in dog hair – just not in any organized fashion! Ten days after Scout’s untimely demise, I am still untangling hairs from the upholstery and picking up downy tufts that have found their way under a chair or bookshelf, and I’m left with an unsettled feeling, wondering whether I should chuck them in the trash, or tuck them inside a book or locket like a keepsake.
Even our cat seems to be feeling the loss. During the days before Scout passed, Ziggy barely ate, and still is off her feed. At this point, no one is considering another dog and Ziggy is the unquestioning beneficiary of the need our hands have to reach out and pet someone. She’s being extra-affectionate, which helps all of us.
Sleep well, Scout. We miss you.
In honor of Scout, a few dog-themed haiku (not my own):
How do I love thee? The ways are numberless as My hairs on the rug. My owners' mood is Romantic. I lie near their Feet and fart a big one. The cat is not all Bad. She fills the litter box With Tootsie Rolls.