Everyone has a dog story. Books have been written about them, they've been featured in movies since the early days of cinema. Most of them make you cry.
But our Scout was just a dog. He wasn't particularly good at anything--he had no talents to speak of. But he was with us all the time. We brought him home from the pound in Omaha when he was about 6 months old. He was a cheerful puppy, didn't nip, jump, or bark at the four young kids when we were meeting him for the first time, and he had a large splotch of paint on his ear. A good match for our family.
He camped with us, traveled with us, romped wildly in the deep Nebraska snow, chased tennis balls, ate the kids' socks, and made the move with us back East, a full member of the family.
After we left the Marriott Marquis Hotel that we'd been living in for several weeks in Manhattan, we moved across the river to The Embassy Suites in New Jersey and lived there for several more weeks. This new facility offered a lot more elbow room for our family of six with Scout and Mittens the cat. We all appreciated the spaciousness of the two room suite, and though he had finally adjusted to the glass elevators at the Marriott, Scout seemed happier to bound up and down the stairs at The Embassy Suites when the kids would take him outside for his walks.
Like most hotels that cater to the business crowd, The Embassy hosted several conferences during each day. Some held in large banquet-type rooms, others in smaller empty rooms that were adjacent to guest suites. Frequently, during our stay, we'd pass by a meeting room that was filled with an attentive audience listening to a speaker standing at a podium or seated with several others at a head table.
Every room on the four floors had a door that opened to a balcony type corridor that overlooked the main courtyard. On one particular afternoon I stood waiting at our door for the kids to return with Scout from one of his outdoor runs. I saw them all on the opposite side of the courtyard parading single-file down the hallway: Justin leading Scout on his leash Olivia bringing up the rear. What a sweet picture they created.
Unfortunately, Scout's most recent efforts to relieve himself outside on the grass proved unsuccessful, and just as they all passed an on-going meeting of approximately 30 senior-citizen women he felt an urge and made the very recognizable squat directly in front of their open doorway. All the kids came to an abrupt stop, paralyzed.
"NO!" I hollered from across the entire courtyard, and Justin pulled on Scout's leash. Too late. One tidy, dry, round turd had been evacuated. The kids, then aged 5, 7, 9 and 11, looked over to me in embarrassed horror! I yelled across, "Get him out of there! NOW!!!!"
Justin pulled the leash harder, but poor constipated Scout firmly held his tell-tale stance and released several more as he was being dragged out of view of the meeting room. Like little chocolate Easter eggs he deposited one after another, scooting and shooting, straining and releasing until he was comfortable. I popped back into our room, and snatched several paper towels and dashed down the hallway to quickly remove the trail of evidence. Somehow, the entire scene was more interesting to old ladies than the topic of their meeting. They watched it all unfold. I'd be very curious to read the Secretary's report of the minutes from that meeting.
Eventually we found a home and settled down in New Jersey. We found a home in a suburban neighbourhood with only a partially fenced postage stamp yard so Scout had to be kept on a line when he spent time outside. Our street was quiet and safe, but the main streets just a few blocks away were busy thoroughfares. You can't be a pedestrian in New Jersey.
Sunday was Dunkin' Doughnut day. Stephen and Scout would walk down our neighbourhood street cross two blocks over and get a variety box full and bring them home. We'd spend a lazy morning over coffee and doughnuts and Scout would stay close often getting a bite, a munchkin', or if someone wasn't paying attention, he'd steal an entire doughnut. He was a big fan of the honey-glazed. It was a nice Sunday morning routine.
And then there was the day Scout was discovered missing. Panic! The back door was found open and he was no where around. He was no genius when it came to navigating traffic, and we feared the worst if he'd found his way to the busy streets.
The kids spread throughout the neighbourhood and called, whistled. We got in the car and drove around to search for him, with no results. What a helpless feeling of dread. We reassured the kids that he was a good, sweet dog and someone surely had taken him inside their home and would call the number on his tag.
And sure enough, not much later the phone rang. It was a friendly employee at Dunkin' Donuts on that treacherous corner of traffic just two blocks away. We were all well known there; and now Scout had found his way, alone. In the ten years we lived in that house, there were many occasions when Scout was discovered missing; we knew just where to find him every time; he just had a hankering for the honey-glazed doughnut.
In our adventures close to home and far away, Scout was usually our companion. When we replaced the 1964 Rambler with a brand new Dodge Grand Caravan, Scout had his spot in the rear and would readily hop in whenever the back was open.
On a Saturday, we'd all taken a day trip to the historic Canal System in New Jersey that had been made into a recreation and trail area. It was a great picnic spot and a good way to let Scout off his leash and throw his ball. He'd tirelessly run full out to fetch the tennis ball and bring it back. One toss landed in the Canal, however, and floated in a large area of duckweed. To Scout, this floating expanse of green appeared to be an extension of the grassy bank and he ran hard to retrieve his ball. But he sank. Fast. In an instant, he was gone.
Now this dog had very little experience with water. We stood watching, dumbstruck. And after a moment, I wondered if I was going to have to go in to find him and pull him out. After another moment, we approached the edge of the water concerned. Where was he? Startlingly, up burst Scout in a frenzy of sputtering water, flying duck weed, legs flailing, ears flopping. We all burst into laughter. He was gasping, snorting, slapping at the surface with his paws and we called and coaxed him over to the bank.
He pulled himself up the steep bank tearing into the soil with his strong claws and working his hind legs to hoist himself up. Stephen reached down to his collar and gave some assistance, and just as all sopping wet dogs do when they're on firm ground, he shook. Water and the attached duck weed was sent in a shower all around, and there Scout stood, dripping, heaving and snorting, completely bewildered. But he had his ball.
Even our pal, Paul, was fond of Scout. Well, not his shedding fur, or his alarming reactions to motorcycles, but generally they got along. During a visit, Paul joined Stephen and Scout for the Sunday doughnut run. They made the familiar trip down the street and passed a hearse and the accompanying black Lincoln Town Cars parked in front of the Catholic Church at the end of our street.
When the three made the return trip, with a full box of delicious baked goods, Scout's knack for inappropriate timing once again took hold, and he squatted. This time, just as the church doors opened, and the pall bearers, mourners, and grieving widow emerged from the funeral services and descended the steps down to the sidewalk. There stood Stephen and Paul, helpless, while Scout unloaded a soft, steaming, fragrant, pile. Prepared with nothing else, the fellows tore off the top of the doughnut box and used it dust-pan style to remove the offense from the sidewalk so the funeral party could pass. Scout did not get a honey-glazed that day.
We think we figured out his problem with motorcycles, but we can only piece it together. When he was still a puppy, Stephen was sitting on the couch, drinking a beer from the bottle. When Stephen got up and crossed the room, Scout quietly got up and skirted the room watching Stephen's every move. Stephen called attention to it and pointed toward Scout with the bottle and said, "What's wrong with you?" and poor Scout cowered. Whenever a beer bottle was in hand, Scout was wary.
Later when he reacted so fiercely to motorcycles (you may have read about it in a previous blog entry.) we put together the pieces of the troubled puppy life that he escaped. We figure that his first owner was a gruff, sloppy painter who had a mean nine-year old girl with long blond hair (he reacted badly to them, too.). The painter was a mean drunk and probably clobbered Scout a few times with a beer bottle. When it was time to booze it up for the weekend, our angry painter would hop on his Harley, and bring home a few cases tormenting the poor dog. It makes perfect sense.
As Scout got older he slowed, but kept his good-natured spirit through most experiences. Andrew spent a summer living at The Gazebo, an octagonal cottage in rural New Brunswick Canada, putting on siding and building a cold-water kitchen. Scout kept him company. The floor of the cottage was concrete slab that had been given a coating of linseed oil intended to be a sealant. The concrete didn't absorb the oil, but instead rendered it adhesive-like and damp. Every time Scout laid down on the floor, he would stick. When he stood, again, he left behind a light carpeting of dog hair, in a well defined dog shaped pattern. A good dog, he never complained.
Scout kept us company for nearly 15 years. He was the best dog we ever knew.