Goodbye to my dog

The funny thing is…I never wanted the dog.

It was February 1999 and I was home sick from work in Jackson, Mississippi. My wife, then a producer at a television station, called me and begged me to turn the channel to the station for which she worked.

“Can I bring her home?” she asked. On the TV screen was a whisp of a red-brown dog, one that I was sure would be a yapper, one we certainly couldn’t afford to provide care.

For a very long time, I’d said I didn’t like dogs, and part of me believed it. The true story was that I’d sworn off pet ownership when I was in sixth grade. I stood in the middle of an open field and cried on my way to Hilldale Elementary School. I knew that by the time I arrived home from school, my dad would have put to sleep my diabetes-afflicted dog, Dragon. The pain was the only loss I knew when I was in sixth grade, and the most profound I’d know for some time. Even when I was in my mid-20s, I didn’t want to have to go through that again.

But if there was something that could overpower my desire to avoid pain and loss, it was the love for the woman who was then my fiancée. I knew then as I know today that I would give her whatever she wanted. If that want was for a scrawny little mutt of questionable pedigree, then so be it.

We were television news people then and our lives revolved around the search for the best news scoop. Before the dog had made it home to my one-bedroom apartment, she had a name. Scoop was officially our dog.

Just a few weeks later, my soon-to-be wife took a job in Greenville, SC. I planned to follow her a few weeks later. As we’d not yet found a place to live, Scoop stayed in Mississippi with me. In April, I put Scoop in my little Honda and drove all night down I-20 with the dog beside me. Although my wife would give constant love, care, and attention to Scoop, there was always a part of me that believed that on that long night in the drive across four states…Scoop became my dog.

* * *

What I’ve always found a little funnier than I would admit publicly? Few people actually liked Scoop. She was a jumper, a barker, and a biter. Make no mistake, she was trained. I taught her many, many tricks. Although just a few inches high and 12 pounds, Scoop could jump from the floor and grab a Milkbone out of my mouth. She would perform whenever I wanted her to. She would also bite anyone who tried to take her food, bark at invisible squirrels, and jump on everybody who walked into our house. The damned mutt refused to sleep alone. She was needy, paranoid, and, by many accounts, annoying.

But she was my dog. She slept beside me in bed every night, curled up between my legs when I worked, and brought me more joy than I thought an animal ever could. She loved walks, could catch a plastic football out of the air with her mouth, and couldn’t stand to be in the water. When I cooked in the kitchen, Scoop would sit beside me and wait for me to “accidentally” drop something she could eat. When I drove, she would put her hind legs on the back seat and her front paws on the center console. She’d stand erect, as if she were navigating. Never big enough to be a guard dog, she was what my friend Daly always called “an alarm dog.” I lost count of the number of my friends who ignored warnings to leave her alone and ended up bleeding as a result. I lost count of the number of times she licked my face while I was sleeping. When she was younger, she was quicker than you can imagine. Her legs moved faster than her body, and when she’d take off for a sprint, she looked like a drag racing funny car, one that would almost flip over backward because it was moving so fast. When she got excited, she would run around the perimeter of the room, sliding sideways on every turn, and baring as she passed. We called it her “drive-by.” As if she somehow understood, when my wife and I would turn on Sunday afternoon football, Scoop would go to her toy basket, retrieve her plastic football, and bring it to us for a game of fetch that could last for hours.

Scoop jumping for a ball, circa 2000

Scoop and my love for her pre-date my marriage, the last two jobs I’ve had, and both of my kids. To recall a time without her is to recall me as a different person. I don’t know what it’s like to be a husband, father, or–if I’m being honest–adult, without having Scoop in my life. Her life has affected mine more profoundly than I ever thought it would. For as much as that is true, I can’t help but think of my oldest son’s love for the dog. Scoop was five years old and in her prime when the boy was born. Scoop is, for all he knows at his age, his dog. Scoop may be a symbol of my adult life, but my kid has never lived without the dog. She is as much part of his life as any member of our family.

Scoop and my son on a lazy Sunday afternoon a few years ago

Scoop’s eyes had been going in the last couple of years. She’d developed cataracts and glaucoma. In May I took her to a specialist in Charlotte to see what could be done to improve her sight. I was planning to get her eye surgery after I got home from a work assignment I’m on. It was going to cost me a bundle, but she seemed healthy by all accounts and her vet thought she could live another four or five years. Even now as I sit here overlooking the mountains that surround Las Vegas, I smile at the thought of riding back from Charlotte and feeding Scoop french fries.

This morning at 7am Vegas time, my wife called me to tell me that Scoop was dying. Our vet, a man I would trust to care for my kids, said my dog’s liver was shutting down. Scoop probably wouldn’t live another few days, let alone until I got home from my work trip in a week and hald. Measures could be taken to keep her alive for a couple of days, but it would just be prolonging my dog’s suffering. This afternoon, the man who has kept my dog healthy and alive for the past 12 years put Scoop to sleep.

My heart is broken for my oldest son, a boy who hasn’t known life without Scoop in it. My heart is broken for my wife who had to see this happen and was forced to deal with the problem alone, as Scoop is just as much part of her life as mine. My heart is broken for my little dog who won’t be there to greet me when I come home as she has through most of my adult life. And I’m not ashamed to admit, despite the fact it’s just a dog, despite the fact I’ve learned about what it’s like to lose human friends and family, despite the fact this was the inevitable outcome of pet ownership, I’m sad for me, because Scoop made me a happier person.

Because my wife wanted Scoop, I took the dog into my life. When she was bad, I joked that Scoop was my wife’s pet. Really, though, I’ve never thought of Scoop as anything but mine. I’m so sad I couldn’t be there to tell her goodbye. In my heart, I know I should’ve been the one to take her to Dr. Gibson the last time. It’s a regret I’m sure I’ll carry for a long time.

I remember the day my dad put my childhood dog to sleep. Alone in that field off Collings Avenue, I cursed everything, I cried, and said I would never own another dog. The pain of loving something so much and knowing I’d see it die before I did seemed stupid and unfair. Why, I wondered for the many years after that, would anyone choose to fall in love with something so temporary? Why subject yourself to the pain of caring so much for something you will inevitably lose?

I’ve learned the answer over the past 12 years. You do it because a dog’s love is true and unconditional. You do it because it can fill your life with joy. You do it because, as silly as it sounds, a dog is your friend, and one can never have too many friends.

Thank you, Scoop, for bringing joy to me and my family.

Bye, girl. I’m going to miss you.

Scoop, January 1999 - July 8, 2010