“God’s Finger Touched him, and he slept.”
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
At 4 am, I heard Scout barking. Now at a frail sixteen years of age his bark was soft and raspy, but I always had an ear open should he need me. He must need to go out, I thought. But wait, he’s gone. Just yesterday he crossed over the rainbow bridge. I lay there in bed in the dark in the awful silence with my eyes welling up. I felt that gut-wrenching feeling, my anguish still as raw as an exposed nerve. How could my mind play such a cruel trick? I took a deep breath, dried my tears, and closed my eyes. Never mind my sorrow–I wanted to hear his bark, just one more time, so I laid very still, hoping my mind would play that trick again.
He was a rescue from a puppy mill, the best family pet. We dabbled a little bit in various dog sports. Scout’s favorite part of agility was leaving. In obedience class he preferred to hide underneath of a table, and rather than herding sheep he gave it his all to befriend them. His job, as he saw it, was to remind me that it was time for the kids to come home from school. I would let him out the front door, he would wander to the end of our property, position himself at the top of our private road so when the bus pulled up he would meet the kids and escort them home.
He felt the need to be helpful with all children, not just my own.
He and I were down at the lake one day enjoying a hot and sunny day when he heard two very young girls screaming. He ran immediately to them. They were standing in the water up to their waist pointing towards a sandal that had floated out to the deep water. Scout spotted the sandal, swam out, and retrieved it. Once on land he dropped it out of his mouth, giving it back to the girls. They were so amused; they giggled and laughed, picked up the sandal and threw it back in the water for Scout to fetch again.
He never liked to be doted on; however, much to his chagrin, brushing and bathing was not always an option. He was low maintenance, no fuss, no muss, always content.
Scout was the mayor of the pack. He would be the first of my dogs to greet any rescue that I would bring home. He was an extremely good judge of character and helped me a great deal with guiding and training the foster dogs. I had just brought home a German shepherd mix from the shelter at the same time I let Scout go. Foxy, relinquished as a stray, would cower in the corner of her kennel, snarling everyone away. He would have adored her gentle nature but would have taught her that growling at visitors coming into my home was not appropriate.
I recently filled the dogs’ box with new toys. Tulley was convinced they were all for him. He would gather as many in he could into a nice neat pile and growl away any of the dogs that he thought might attempt to steal his treasures. Mirk got so frustrated with the constant tension he started to growl back at Tulley. The conflict escalated to a full-blown out-and-out knock-down, drag- out. Fortunately my husband and I were able to end the clash as quickly as it started with nothing more than bruised egos.
This episode would never have happened on Scout’s watch. He was the pack guardian; his motto, “Say No To Violence.” As soon as there was any discussion between the dogs that might possibility escalate, he would jump in between the two antagonists stand tall, growl, and order them to go lie down. Since I no longer had Scout to do the policing, I had to slip on my “trainer” hat and manage the problem.
I’m not sure I even realized what an essential role Scout played in both of our lives until I nearly lost him to a bout of pancreatitis nearly a year earlier, then a few months later to old-dog vestibular syndrome. The thought of Scout not being a part of my day to day was unfathomable. He took care of my family and I for so many years, life without him was not an option. With the pancreatitis he was so weak. I cooked chicken and rice, begged him to eat and willed him to live. He pulled through, I suspect in attempt to please me. The vestibular syndrome robbed him of his balance. His eyes bobbled back and forth like a pendulum in a clock. Again he could not walk, eat or drink on his own. Once again I was determined to save him. I carried him everywhere; hand fed him, and administered subcutaneous fluids. Friends and family gently planted the seed that it might be time to let him go. No, I wouldn’t hear of it! As before, I willed him back and so as not to disappoint me he came around.
He had become increasingly weak and tired. He had little strength left in his back end and most of the muscle on his body had wasted away. When round three came, this time I knew I couldn’t make better. The veterinarian prescribed a low dose of steroids, the beginning of the end, I knew, but it was nearly Christmas. Surely we could have one more holiday together, and so we did. January came and went and Scout was getting increasingly weaker. By February, I was carrying him up and down the steps, in and out, and he was only eating whatever I would cook special for him. Much to his displeasure I gave him more baths in a month than I think he had in nearly his entire lifetime.
I came home from work one day to find him off his bed, lying on the concrete floor in his own waste. He barely picked his head up to look at me as I scooped his feeble body off of the floor and gently placed him into the tub. As I washed and rinsed his old frail body, I knew he was tired. He had enough. Ironically I had just had a conversation with a friend the day before. She had to let her dog go and wondered if she had done the right thing.
“I’m not sure that letting Wallace go was the right thing to do,” Ellen sobbed. “He had no quality of life, his dignity was gone. Is that how you would have wanted to live?” I reassured Ellen that she had made the best decision she could for her beloved Wallace.
As I washed Scout off in the tub my own words spoken just the day before played through my mind over and over. “I would not want to live this way.”
The next morning I took Scout to our veterinarian, assured him I would be okay, and that it was all right to rest easy. I held him as he slipped away into his deep and peaceful sleep, all the while whispering in his ear what a good boy he was, how much I loved him, and that I would be fine. Once I knew he was gone I lay with him on the floor for a long time and sobbed completely inconsolable.