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  • Writer's pictureRobert Swanson

Scout's Final Gift

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

We were married four weeks ago on September 1. Just a small affair. Justice of the Peace. At home in front of the climbing hydrangea. A beautiful Summer day. No witnesses, just a flower girl: Scout. A Golden Retriever I brought into this world nearly 13 1/2 years ago. She wore a statement collar of white roses, pale hydrangea blooms and green leaves. She wore it beautifully. She knew it was a special day. She knew she was special. There were 14 other Overlook Golden Retrievers watching from the windows, many of them her descendants, but only Scout was asked to be a part of this most important day. In less than 12 hours this happiest of days would be forever marked with sadness. Scout died in her sleep that night.

Scout was one of just five puppies Shiloh ever whelped. Shiloh was my first champion and my true heart dog. Her death at 15 1/2 is still one of the saddest memories I have in a lifetime of Golden moments. Does a day go by that I don't think about her, miss her, see her? No, I can say that honestly.

Scout was like her mother in so many ways. She adored people and never met a dog she didn't like. She was independent and incredibly smart. She opened gates both ways. If she couldn’t push the gate open, she would cup her paw under the gate and open it inward. When she wanted in or out, she went in or out. In her temperament testing at 7 weeks old, she was fearless. She didn't require any encouragement or soothing words to comfort her in a strange place, doing strange things with a stranger. To Scout, this was just another adventure complete with new sounds and smells and a chance to do as she pleased. She never changed.

Scout had one litter of puppies. Six boys, six girls. Six born before midnight, six after. So Scout. Her first puppy was born while I was putting the others up for the night. Opening the bedroom door, I saw a perfectly formed, minutes-old puppy crying on the floor. Scout was on the bed staring at this odd little thing she'd just whelped. Coaxing her off the bed to her whelping box wasn't easy and it was the beginning of a very long night.

Motherhood was something of a chore to Scout. She was a very good Mom, but grew bored with all the work of caring for 12 puppies. I could see it in her eyes. She wanted to be outside with the others. She always thought she was missing something. When I started to wean the “Overlook Dozen”, she never looked back. She was done! Scout never had another litter despite many attempts. I always thought Scout's attitude was "I did it. I'm done. Let somebody else do it". It's exactly how she would think.

Scout led a charmed life. Her world revolved around food and treats and food and treats and more food and treats. Typical Golden Retriever behavior, but Scout could spend countless hours staring at a tiny morsel of food that found its way under a cabinet, just out of reach. The only sign of life was her wagging tail as I tried to call her away from her fruitless endeavor. She inhaled her food and would stalk the others while they ate, just waiting for an errant crumb to manifest itself. She gorged herself on the bushels of apples that fell from the trees. She could be in the deepest of sleep, yet come fully awake when I closed the lights for the night. She would jump up and quickly climb the stairs to the bedroom. At the top of the stairs was a never-empty jar of biscuits and she never missed her bedtime treat. I could fool myself into thinking she wanted to sleep by my side, but I knew it was all about the treat.

At 4:00 pm, every single day, year in and year out, Scout would start to bark. In Scout’s world, it was time for dinner. Didn’t I know? She wouldn't stop until she saw me break out the bowls. If I played with the youngsters too long before making breakfast, she would start barking. You could never get angry with Scout. She had a smile that literally went from ear to ear and she wore it all the time. It was a look of pure innocence that always made me smile. I could never resist that face.

Scout was never sick a day in her life. But, in mid-August I sensed something was off. It was just a feeling. A couple of small things that didn’t seem right. An ultrasound confirmed a mass that would prove to be inoperable. Scout began a slow decline that manifested itself in erratic eating behavior. For a food-obsessed dog, this was painful to watch. But, true to her self, she still climbed those steep stairs every night. Every now and again I would carry her because she was growing weaker. But she always wanted to be upstairs. Maybe now it was to sleep by my side.

The day of our wedding, Scout was in glorious form. She ate an enormous amount of food and was up and about and so full of life. She was a different dog. She wore her beautiful collar with grace and posed for countless photographs. She was an incredible picture of happiness that made the day perfect. It was the last gift she would give us.

Late that night, it was obvious Scout wasn’t doing well. I hoped it was the craziness of the day, but knew in my heart we were losing her. The other dogs were very respectful and quiet. We spent a lot of time with her and knew when we kissed her goodnight, it was likely for the last time.

There are still 14 Golden Retrievers here at Overlook. They keep us very busy and highly entertained. But, there is a deep emptiness without Scout. She is terribly missed. We’ve raised many dogs over the years and each of them has given us scrapbooks of wonderful memories of joy as well as sadness. But, every now and again there is a very special dog whose loss is difficult to bear and very hard to define. That is Scout. She brought boundless joy to our lives. She gave us an incredible legacy in her offspring. And she trained me well. I still make dinner at 4:00pm and that makes me smile.

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