It has been almost 7 months since my best friend died in my arms. During that time, I’ve been walking the line between the need to write this piece so I don’t forget her, an intense fear that I will begin to forget her and a desire not to cry, again, which I know will happen as I write this. In the end, my desire to honor and preserve her memory in words won. I only hope it does her justice.
Everyone has one. Or, at least, I hope everyone has one. That dog that meant everything to you. That dog that was your sidekick, your shadow, your counterpart, your best friend.
Scout was mine.
On a random Wednesday night in 2004 I found myself on the way to a horse sale in Cleburne, TX with a dear friend of mine, Deana. Deana ran a refuge for forgotten older horses whose mission was to prove these horses still had worth and worked to find them loving homes. We had been to horse sales regularly but never to this one.
As we sat there waiting for our picks to make their way through to the ring, two young girls walked through the crowded bleachers holding tiny puppies. Blue heeler puppies. I was still in a somewhat rebellious-blaze-my-own-trail sort of phase and my mom had once suggested that a heeler may be a good choice for me should I ever decide to get a dog. Because of those words, I hesitated.
I hesitated for exactly 0.05 seconds before making my way over to the blue Rubbermaid tub containing 9 tiny, blue puppies. One by one, I picked each one up. There were boys and girls among the group most of whom had large black patches scattered throughout their little bodies.
Someone had told me once that you could tell if a puppy would turn out to be a good dog by whether they would let you hold them on their backs. As silly as it sounds, as I held each puppy, I gently turned them on their backs and watched them squirm and wiggle in silent requests to return to their upright position.
The last puppy out of the bin was the tiniest of the crew. Unlike her siblings, she had a single patch over her right eye. She sat quietly in the corner of the tub, taking in her surroundings and, when I picked her up, I immediately knew. Like the others, I gently turned her over and she remained quiet and put up no protest. She was the one.
They wanted $75 for the puppies and I had brought no significant cash with me to the auction that night. I went back to where Deana and I had been sitting, explained the situation and we took stock. We literally emptied our wallets, change purses, sifted through every pocket of our purses, I even went to the truck to troll through glove compartments and center consoles. At the end of it, we had $62.37.
They took it.
On the way home that night, she slept in my lap while I shared the news with my mom over the phone. To my surprise, my mom seemed truly happy and her only complaint was that she hadn’t been there to help pick her out. In her mind, the only logical reprise was to let her choose the name. Fair enough.
We both loved the book To Kill A Mockingbird and, though I still have no idea how this name came to her that night, she suggested Scout.
It was perfect.
From that day on, Scout was my constant companion. She went everywhere with me. She was happier sitting in my truck for hours on end vs. being confined to the house so that’s often where you’d find her. She was like velcro and stuck to me anywhere and everywhere we went; no question.
When I returned to school in Colorado, Scout happily followed suit. It didn’t matter where we were, so long as she was with me. She subsequently accompanied me to an internship in Kentucky, my first real job in west Texas, my second real job in Louisiana and then, finally, back to Colorado where she would live out her years.
Each move she embraced with tentative acceptance by carrying her prized toy or bone to each room as I moved about to pack our things…as if I would forget her or it.
Whatever the activity, Scout was up for it. I have no idea how many miles we went on horseback together but she was always there. We hiked, we climbed, we snowshoed and we even kayaked together. She had never sat on a kayak until she reached 7 years old but happily climbed on as soon as I asked and settled down between my legs. She trusted me beyond all doubt and never fully understood what I’d done to deserve that.
When she lost her sight at age 11, I was devastated. I thought that would be the end of our adventures but, boy, was I wrong. She continued to hike with me, learned to navigate the house, and managed to keep her velcro status despite not being able to see me. When we went kayaking, she just knew. I’d unload the boats, turn around for a second only to turn back and find her sitting in our boat, ready to hit the water.
The decision to end her suffering came after a long battle with a fast-growing nasal tumor. It was becoming increasingly hard for her to breathe and I could tell it was taking a toll on her, both cognitively and physically. She was losing track of me in the house and would become panicked trying to find me, her respiratory rate was always high, she struggled to take a deep breath, she was constantly sleeping; it was the toughest call I’d ever had to make.
The last night of her life was a sleepless one. I laid on the floor with her, I stroked her head, I constantly told her how much I loved her and what she meant to me. When morning came, we took a walk around the yard and laid in the sunshine together.
I am lucky to have the friends that I do and my friend Dora, who also happens to be a local vet, kindly came to our home that day so that she could go in peace, in her familiar surroundings. I don’t know that I have ever cried so hard.
Deana passed in 2013 and knowing that Scout has one of her very first friends to velcro to makes it a little easier to deal with both losses.
It’s hard to explain what a dog truly means to you, especially when she wasn’t just a dog; she was my best friend. So many of us have similar stories but it seems that no matter how hard we try to explain, the significance of that presence in our lives is lost on others. There will forever be a hole in my heart that only she will be able to fill, but I am so thankful for the almost 13 years that we had together.
She marked our trail,
Up the back bone ridge,
How many times can one dog pee,
She keeps me high as an eagle,
When i’m on the skids,
I guess you gotta come down eventually.
Buddy I coulda gone that extra mile,
For an extra bark or an extra smile,
‘Cause i never felt so free,
It was just my dog and me.
Then she gives me that look,
Like she’d lay down her life,
No doubt she would in a minute, man,
She’d face the bullet,
Oh she’d face the knife,
Just to keep my butt from the fryin’ pan.
Now she’s runnin’ up ahead to chase some deer,
Comes back to tell that coast is clear,
It’s a different world I see,
When it’s just my dog and me.
There’s a rabbit on the run,
Man and beast and sky and sun,
Who’s talking to the birds in the trees,
Why its just my dog and me,
Now it looks like we’ve been makin’ tracks,
From the crack of dawn,
To the end of the day,
So its nice and easy down the devil’s back,
She wouldn’t know,
Any other way.
So its over that ridge for one last mile,
‘Til we’re fast asleep by the fire side,
Dreamin’ these dreams for free,
Just my dog and me.
– John Hiatt