Take Scout home, country roads
Columnist Steve Lange reflects on a dog's life, well lived.
At 8:50 a.m. on Friday, July 1, our vet – the same vet that had given Scout her first checkup when she was so small you could carry her in one hand – injected 8 milliliters of a pentobarbital sodium solution into the front leg of our Chocolate Lab and then quickly, respectfully, left the room.
Scout’s tail was wagging. She was lying on a gurney licking peanut butter from the jar.
Maybe 30 seconds later, Scout was gone.
We didn’t need any medical professional to verify that she was no longer with us. We knew it the second she stopped licking that peanut butter. We knew it the second her tail stopped wagging.
Scout was, after all, just a few weeks shy of her 14th birthday.
Two years ago, Scout was diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis, a neurological issue that affected both her throat and, eventually, her back legs.
The throat issue, which manifested itself like an asthma attack, was made worse by overexertion. Which meant no more hours – she would have stayed there all day if we let her – of letting her swim at Bear Creek.
A year ago, when her legs started to fail, when she started slipping on our floors, we covered every square inch with cheap rugs.
Six months ago, when Scout could no longer walk upstairs, Lindy and I basically moved into our basement.
Oh, we tried experimental drugs and chiropractors. We staggered vacations so someone could always be home with Scout.
But we knew we were doing it more for us than for her.
For almost 14 years, Scout made her mark on us through her hundreds of low-key examples.
The way she rested her head on the kids’ stomachs whenever they’d lie on the floor.
The way she seemed to smile – laugh even – when she would lie on her back and someone rubbed her belly.
The way her tail never seemed to stop wagging.
When 9-year-old Hadley needed a confidant, Scout would sit in her bedroom and listen.
When 8-year-old Henry recovered from a two-week infection, when he barely left his bed, Scout slept against his closed bedroom door every single night.
When 10-year-old Emma tried to turn our 8-year-old, 70-pound Lab into a blinged-out lap dog, Scout never complained. It was not unusual to walk into the living room and see Scout wearing a bedazzled headband.
Oh, Scout was not perfect. She had her issues. Lindy once sent me the following text: “Just a heads-up, the dog ate somewhere between 6 and 15 granola bars.”
But whenever you were sick, and you came out of your room at night, you would find Scout sleeping outside your door.
Then, late on that Thursday night at the end of June, Scout’s back legs gave out completely.
Lindy came out with blankets and pillows and we all slept in the family room. That night – like many nights – Scout’s legs twitched when she dreamed. I just know she was running in the water at Bear Creek.
When we woke up that morning, Scout hadn’t moved. She couldn’t. Her tail, though, wagged when she saw us next to her.
Lindy called the vet the minute they opened. When they answered, Lindy was crying too hard to speak. She handed the phone to me. They told us to bring Scout in right away.
We called our kids to let them know. Daughter Hadley, 23, FaceTimed in from work to say goodbye to Scout. Her sympathetic boss let her go home early.
Daughter Emma, 15, was in the middle of a stint at Camp Olson in northern Minnesota. When Lindy called, the director immediately got Emma. Let her borrow a phone to FaceTime in and say goodbye.
Son Henry, 20, and I carried Scout out to the Jeep. Laid her on the seat. Let her eat all the peanut butter she wanted.
Scout’s favorite song – and you just have to trust me here – is “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver. Halfway through the ride to the vet, Henry cued it up on his phone. Played it through the Jeep speakers.
“All my memories gather ‘round her. Miner’s lady, stranger to blue water. Dark and dusty, painted on the sky. Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye.”
Lindy, Henry, and I were all singing along, through tears. We let Scout listen to the end of the song before we told the vet we were there.
They had us pull the Jeep around to a side door. We loaded Scout onto that gurney and wheeled her into that room, which was clean and simple.
Then came the veterinarian and then came that injection and then Scout fell asleep, her legs twitching slightly, doing all the things she loved: eating peanut butter, getting her belly rubbed, and, I’m convinced, dreaming of running – forever – in Bear Creek.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.