A friend on LiveJournal, a beautiful person whose opinion I respect, told me that the key to beauty is symmetry. But when my wife selected our lhasa amid a box full of puppies, she chose the dog with the asymmetrical look. She chose a white dog, with a golden patch over one ear, and another patch over one eye. She was not velveteen, though--she was a real puppy, full of play. She was beautiful in her misalignment and patchwork glory.
The year was 1990. My wife and I had gotten married that year, just a few months before, after a couple of years of a frequently-in-transit long distance relationship. I traveled a lot, and we wanted a pal. I never think of pets as children. I think of them as pals.
After we chose her, we had to wait. She would not be old enough to pick up until February 1991. We would go and visit her and the other puppies, and watch them play. Our chosen puppy was not the largest, but she was as playful and energetic as the others. She had personality, the family who bred their dog Muffin said, real personality.
We were at my brother's house that December, kicking around names. We went on a jag of names out of books. Somewhere the name "Boo Radley" popped into the conversation. This proved to be our prompt. We looked at each other, and simultaneously said "Scout!".
Scout came to live with us around February 16 of 1991. My wife installed a doggie door in the sliding door of our little Mesquite tract home. We put a board by the door so that Scout could climb up and down.
The first night, Scout had her own place in a cage/crate. Despite the things the books said to have on hand--a warm, wet towel, an alarm clock with a ticking sound, young Scout wailed most of the night. This stopped after just one night. Within a very few days, Scout was doggie-door trained. She figured out the purpose of house-training with little difficulty.
She played so well as a puppy. We took her to a city park with a huge grassy field, where we and Scout had the park to ourselves. I stood at one end. My wife stood at the other end. Scout would come, when called, running from one of us to the other. When we moved back to Texas, I always meant to take our dogs back to that park, about 45 minutes away. We never did.
Scout learned through obedience training to sit, lie down, and walk on a lead. We taught her phrases like "where's your toy?", which meant "go find your dog toy and bring it here, and we will play with you". She would not only learned to come when called, but also to come when I made a strange
bird-call-sounding noise lifted directly from the old TV program SCTV's "Great White North" segments. I taught her to walk up to me and throw her torso againt mine, cuddling for affection.
She learned to play "chokey dog", in which one of us would place our arms on her neck and simulate aggression in the form of choking or head-twisting.
She loved to growl and show teeth which she never bared or really used.
We would take her for leash walks in the neighborhood. One of the little local kids called her "Scooter/Scout/Scat cat!", which appealed to me, because I love to mangle names (I call her current vet Dr. Strangelove, not because he is like the movie,but because his surname starts with S.).Scout slept on the bed with us, on a pillow just over my wife's head.
When we moved to California, we lived in an apartment or two. Scout did not really enjoy this. Scout also proved allergic to all sorts of things.My wife would make her food, out of rabbit and rice stuff. We probably slightly underfed her at some points, because she barked too much when we left, until a trainer suggested feeding her more. Her allergies eventually faded. She did have pink dog freckles on her back, though. They did not fade.
We finally got a rental house and later an owned house in California. Scout loved to use the doggie door again. But at 5 or so, Scout seemed to have crossed into middle age. She still played with us, and came and sat on me in the morning sometimes. But she was not as playful.
Then my sister-in-law learned eight years ago that she was having the baby who turned into my wonderful KC niece (who, parenthetically, calls me "Uncle Bob-o", after a jokey form of speech I employed adding the letter "o" to every word). My wife's sibling had a lhasa named Teddy, a rambunction pal of 18 months. Teddy was a handful, and my sister-in-law did not think she had the full Shiva set of hands, with a baby on the way.
Teddy flew out to live with us. My wife and I had them meet at a nearby park.
They were friends at first sight. Soon Scout taught Teddy how to use the doggie door. Soon they were rough-housing with glee. Scout, a small 12 pound dog, swelled up like a sumo wrestler from all the play. Teddy, roughly twice Scout's weight, chose to let feisty Scout be the dominant dog, as Scout was born to live free or die.
Our dogs and I had great adventures. One day, I took them to Santa Fe Dam, a
great park where my wife and I biked. It is inland scrub, with a huge high dam. I did not realize it took miles to walk that dam rim to the park.
Scout and Teddy uncomplainingly came with me. When we arrived, in hot inland heat, they were exhausted and thirsty. I gave them cup after cup of water,
and then largely carried them to the car home. They did not whine or worry. They were total troupers despite my thoughtlessness and their notable lack of iditarod endurance. More modestly, I would walk them to the local town pocket park, Two Strike Park. They loved the walk, and they loved to explore the park.After a half an hour or so, they sat down on the pine straw and panted and enjoyed. I was used to the Great Danes of my childhood, lumbering hounds of reckless abandon. Lhasas were little temple guard dogs with a kind of curious humility and dignity.
Scout loved to spend Spring evenings on our covered back patio, sitting in our lawn furniture. Her favorite word was "treat?", the universal argot for dog biscuits. I loved those quite rare times when both dogs and my wife snored in unison.
When we moved back to Texas in June 2000, I drove Scout and Teddy, while my wife spent her time in Kansas City, where her mom was dying of colon cancer.
The dogs and I set out in my wife's Toyota Carolla on a Sunday night at 8 p.m. We began that time-honoured ritual of desert commuting--drive four hours, stop at roadside park,sleep 2 or 3 hours,then drive more. We feasted upon biscuits from McDonalds. I stopped to walk the dogs regularly. Curiously,Ted elected not to avail herself of the freedom of the desert from Los Angeles through west Texas,electing to find her personal release only when we reached the high desert grasslands of Texas. There are some choices that one must make because one must simply make them.
The dogs were heroes. They loved the trip, odd and new though it be. Dogs are usually creatures of habit, not suited to change,but they loved and trusted me. We stopped at Rockhounder's State Park in New Mexico, where one can pick up thunder-rocks and carve them into geodes. We were merely hiking the trail. The desert sun beat down, and soon the dogs pointed out to me the tremendous advantages of crawling into the shade under a picnic table. But they never complained.
About six months after was arrived in Texas, Scout, now 10, turned up a bit lame. We knew from early on she had a congenital defect, rendering this possible. A wonderful doctor recommended to us by our friend Dr. Amy, did
elaborate Six Million Dollar Man procedures which tied Scout's knees with 10 lb. test fishing line, and Scout was soon dashing again. Indeed,she cut quite a figure hobbling around in her cast.
Scout loves our home in Allen. She sometimes sleeps in the walk-in closet.
She sometimes sleeps on a fleece by me. She accepted with grace that eventually she could not climb up on the bed. She began to sleep on a chair.
Then she had to sleep on the floor. Teddy began to be frustrated,because Scout could no longer brawl and play. We had to begin feeding Scout wet food, as Scout did not seem to get her share of the dry anymore. Scout developed a benign tumour disease called Cushing's Disease, as well as other conditions, which require masses of medications. In the past year, Scout has become less attuned to us, although she still loves hanging out near us, and she loves wearing fleece-ish jackets in the winter. Her quality of life remained good.But we could see the signs.
Today we drove up from Arkansas, while I felt the grief within me from my mother's passing like a sheath or coating, a foil or wrapping. When we arrived at our house, it became clear that Scout's condition has materally worsened. My wife had mentioned she seemed worse when she left. Our neighbors who are so kind to us told us and checked on our dogs for us said that she seems as though she is almost gone. She had lost bodily controls, and she obviously is miserable. She's gone that next step down the hill. We watched her, helpless, as she winced on our back patio. Our vets Dr. Amy and Dr. S. and Dr. J. the fishing-line-arthroscopic arthropod had worked miracles for Scout. But the miracles in this life last for just a moment.
Scout and we have fought hard to give her the life she deserves. Now we must give her a passing without pain.
I am,perhaps not surprisingly, rather a repository of pent-up emotion already this week. When we spoke to each other,and then my wife called and spoke to the vet, it became obvious what we must do. Then I sat on our bed.
and convulsed with tears. My wife sat and hugged me, while our dog Teddy sat on the other side of me, trying to make things better with dog lick/kisses and eager, worried, playful expressions. Then my wife cried, too, while I told her it was all going to be all right.
I got down on the floor in our living room, where Scout huddled, hovering between pain and sleep. I leaned down and petted her and I cried into her fur and I kissed her and I told her that I loved her. Perhaps it helped. Scout began to snore. But we knew what we had to do. My wife called and made an appointment to have Scout euthanized tomorrow morning. I wish I could be there, but I am in Los Angeles, where I flew for a hearing I must attend tomorrow.
I expected when this year began to lose my mother and Scout this year. I never expected to lose them both this week.
I do not think that everyone gets a mother like my mother, or a dog like Scout. I certainly did not do anything to deserve either, but life has been far kinder to me than it is to so many people. This week has been hard and heart-breaking. But I would not change the joy I have experienced to avoid this inevitable set of endings.
Our dog Teddy still loves, even at a mature age, to run and play like a puppy. She would have nobody to play with, except that she has my wife and I. If you'll pardon my using my life as metaphor, a gooey and somewhat icky process which runs a high risk of moralizing, it seems to me that I can't change the cycle of life and death, but I can love my dog Teddy and take her for walks more rich than she has ever imagined.
I have a great wife, and a great dad who is still here, and wonderful siblings and nieces and nephews and and in-laws and friends. I am my mother's son, as well as my father's son, in so many ways. I have a place inside me where a white dog with a brown patch on her ear will always live. All these setbacks and losses which seem to be my part these last eighteen months teach me how important the simple things like making connection and showing love can be to get through the darker days. I am a person with a deeply pessimistic streak. Without the ability to love and be loved, I don't know how anyone survives, because so much of life is suffering.
When I think of Scout, I think not only of my sad pal, in pain. I think of a dog tearing away at a cloth animal, or playing chokey-dog, being mock-strangled with delight while rolling on her back, or the feel of a little white dog slouching against me as I watched television and scratched her stomach. I am going to miss Scout. She is perhaps the best dog I ever had, a feisty character with a lot of heart. Soon she will be gone. She will never leave me.