Last week I lost my best friend. He was a gorgeous Bernese mountain dog-border collie cross, turning eight next month. His name was Scout.
Scout has been with me almost from the very start. He was a constant fixture in my office: design assistant, foot warmer, all-ears therapist at times, aid in procrastination extraordinaire. The bain of my existence some days, the love of my life all days.
I thought about what to write my column on this week, and for the huge part of my life he’s been through thick and thin. This one’s for him.
We adopted Scout from the Winnipeg Pet Rescue in April of 2005. The talk of getting a dog had finally culminated in a trip into Winnipeg to check out the shelters and hopefully find our match. I had always wanted a Bernese, but after doing a bunch of research, found they’re prone to certain health problems — not to mention extremely expensive.
So we decided rescuing a dog into a loving home would be the next best thing. It’s funny how in hindsight, it turned out to be the first best thing — but more on that later.
At four months old, Scout had been flown in from a reserve up north with a bunch of brothers and sisters. They were a mix of gray, white, and black — Scout was tri coloured — an ‘almost’ Bernese mountain dog, and I was a goner.
He was 40 pounds of fluff and fur, and his head matched the top of mine while sitting on my lap the whole car ride home. Scared, unsure, and somewhat confused, this mushy little being had us wrapped around his paw instantly. They estimated he’d turn out to be around 65 pounds at maturity — just a tad off the mark. He actually turned into a 95-pound giant! But it didn’t matter; he was our dog.
If I could describe Scout’s personality, the most eloquent of analogies would have to include a mix of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in Grumpy Old Men, a dash of Scooby Doo, a pinch of Lassie, and a titch of Yoda.
He was an old soul from the very start; ornery, clever, clingy, suspicious, cuddly, and introspective. I’d never really come across another dog like him before — he could read your mind, your emotions, and your motives even before you made a move. I loved that about him — it made him pretty cool.
It also made him incredibly frustrating through obedience classes, training, and puppyhood in general. It wasn’t until he was about five years old that I noticed him mellowing out, and finding more of an accepted ‘groove’ in our pack (which by then had also included the addition of his adopted sister, a coyote-mix named Sadie).
Scout wasn’t good for white carpeting (just use your imagination). He wasn’t good for leather furniture, or shoes, expensive skate boots, grassy backyards, wool mittens, food left unattended, or — for a while there — almost anything left at floor level to be honest.
I remember the day my mom and I had gone out for lunch and came home to a howling dog atop the kitchen table. The poor guy had panicked at being alone, and had knocked all the kitchen chairs over until he could climb one to table level and see out the windows. I have the picture (taken through the front window) to prove it. That was Scout: he just wanted to know where you were, or be with you, and then he was OK.
Some of you might remember seeing Scout as the furry mascot at Roost, the furniture and decor store I owned downtown a few years ago. Ever my protector, and always a work in progress with manners, I apologize to the few people he managed to rush at the front door — his version of a welcome greeting.
Scout and Sadie came to work with me nearly every day. They’d rip through packing slips, chase one another from time to time, and — behind my back of course — test out some of the new cushions and chairs that came in. I likely got less done in a day when they were there, but it didn’t matter; having them with me made some of the really long days, and really trying times down there, more manageable.
The day Scout — who had been missing for two hours after getting loose on a walk across town — found his own way downtown to Roost and through the front door to me was the day I knew he had a little pocket of ‘incredible’ in him. He never showed it again in that fashion, but there were other, more subtle things I picked up on as time went on. He didn’t jump through hoops or climb up ladders, but he was my Super Dog.
About a year ago I noticed him fussing over his hind leg, not wanting to put weight on it and having a bit of difficulty managing the stairs on the deck. Thinking he’d pulled something on a walk or during a romp, I took him to the vet.
Months of different testing and medications hadn’t resolved the issue, and Scout was starting to change slightly from normal-grouchy, to restless and agitated-grouchy. It was hard to see this big, majestic animal focus more and more on his aches and pains, and less on the world around him.
A diagnosis of degenerative spine disease was finally made, and gave answer to the additional symptoms that had sadly come to light as well.
As much as his feistiness and spunk made him impossible, it also made him Scout. This last year he had turned more into an inwardly quiet and tired dog, and I was forced to realize — as we all do at certain points in our pets’ lives — our babies don’t live forever.
I will miss the dog hair, the muddy paws, the lump on the floor to trip over in the dark, the slobbery kisses, and the claimed pile of freshly washed laundry the most. He was by my side nearly every day as I worked in my office, and I’m sure he had a better design sense than even I did for it.
Thank you, Dr. Joe Gray and staff at Grand Valley Animal Clinic for your competent and compassionate care, and Joanne and Dr. Frank Nichols at The Paw Resort & Spa for a happy place for both him and Sadie this last week, and for your incredibly caring ways.
A girl’s best friend — Scout you were a gem.