About a Dog

 

My daughter chose him. Of all the puppies at the shelter, he seemed the sweetest and kindest — big floppy ears, gangly legs, and big paws, covered in beautiful brindle fur. His shelter name was Garth, perhaps because he’d come from the South and someone who worked at the Humane Society was a country-music lover. He was a stray by the side of the road, picked up and put in the pipeline that takes dogs from areas that don’t have shelters to states where rescue dogs are in demand.

She named him Scout.

He was an exceptionally even-tempered little hound, and only ruined two pieces of furniture when he teethed. One of them was the sofa, and this gave my wife an excuse to get that new piece she’d been eyeing. The other was a sofa in the gazebo, where he would gnaw on the wood between springing up to chase rabbits. I worked at home a lot; he sat on the steps or the sofa or his bed, as if waiting for me to pick up the shootin’ iron and head into the woods to ping away at squirrels.

He ran away the first summer. He smelled something that needed chasing, and burrowed under the fence. We found him a few blocks away, and I filled in the hole. He made another, and ran off to harass rabbits on the waterpower hill. I pounded 120 galvanized iron spikes under the fence, spaced six inches apart all around the property — no weak spots except for one in the back under bushes. He found it.

If he got out, it was because SOMEONE, not me, left the gate ajar. I was always telling everyone to make sure the gate clicks. I could hear that click from my studio, even if the window was closed. If I didn’t hear it I’d run downstairs in a panic, only to find Scout on the sofa outside: what?

One night we couldn’t find him, and feared for the worst. After five hours he came home exhausted and dropped in the corner, having run his paw-pads ragged. Another night he didn’t come back at all. I slept family-room with the back door open. In the morning my wife found me balled up on the tiny sofa, door open, food dish outside, and Scout on the gazebo sofa, snoozing.

Eventually I made everyone in the house as paranoid about the gate as me. I’d hear daughter say “it has to click!” and know we were good. But I still always feared he’d gone off. In the evening he liked to sit in the cool recesses of the bushes at the back of the yard, and being a black dog, could not be seen. I’d rustle the Milk Bone box and exhale with relief when he trotted out from the shadows.

He had a conscience, inasmuch a dogs can. When he ate something off the table, and knew very well he shouldn’t, he would come up to my studio, sit, and put a paw on my leg. He would stand very still and his tail would move a little, and I would know he’d done something. So I’d go downstairs and see the pizza box tipped to the floor, and all I had to do was look at the box and look at him without changing my expression or posture, and he slunk away — only to come back and put out a paw. Sorry, boss. We good?

He loved to fight; he boxed well. For a while he was afraid of your hands if they moved under the bedsheets, but then he figured it out and pounced. Most of all he loved to run, and my wife took him to the woody off-leash park by the Mississippi where dozens of people and dogs every day and night cavort in the woods. A few times she told about some worrisome moments — he ran into the woods, and didn’t come back, right away.

But he always came back.

Until he didn’t. It was a warm night, early August. Twilight on the banks of the Mississippi. Across the shallows the woods thicken, and there are often deer in there. He ran. He didn’t come back.

When my wife called me to come to the park with flashlights I had the horrible feeling he was gone for good, lost in a place on the other side of town. But you have to look. So we headed into the woods, down to the water in the dark, and I can’t tell you how empty it felt: I couldn’t sense him. Sometimes you can; sometimes you know. There was this horrible vacancy.

What followed was three weeks of searching, aided by a volunteer organization that whips you into shape and sends you out with a mission. We gathered up stray dog sightings, set up Facebook pages, pinpointed where we thought he might be, and posted big neon-paper signs on streetcorners. These gathered leads, and we honed in on the neighborhood where it seemed he’d fled. A rather bad part of town. My wife and I had our anniversary dinner in a scruffy park — two pastrami sandwiches — waiting for the park to empty out so Scout might go to the food bowls.

We had positive sightings that turned out to be nothing. Pet psychics called. Two men tried to lure me to the area for a robbery under the guise of a reunion. Phone call: yeah, a homeless woman has him at Franklin and Cedar, on a chain. Phone call: yeah, I saw in by the train station this morning. Phone call: the homeless people who live in the apartment behind me ate him last night, I heard it. Sixty five signs spread across six neighborhoods in Minneapolis; daily trips to check their condition, swap out the pictures for the rain-ruined images, note which ones had been removed by vandals or city officials.

We had it covered.

My phone rang constantly. Sometimes it was someone who was sure they’d seen Scout, and that sent me racing to the spot, and while nothing ever came of it, he was alive in my mind again. We’d just missed him. More signs for that area, then. Fliers. Walk around, hand out pictures, see a crooked sign, run back to the car for the hammer.

Every sighting of every lost dog went to my phone, it seemed. Dog in the road on 55: go. Dog in the street in Uptown: GO! Someone saw a dog running down their street four days ago: they call me. The good leads seemed to shift back towards the place where he fled, and then one night a lady said she’d seen him in the dog park.

Our case worker said they do that. They circle back.

So the case worker drove over and we walked in the black woods for a few hours, tracing the area where he’d last been seen, leaving old clothing to remind him of the family scent, smearing Alpo on tree trunks, giving him a reason to hang around. Our case worker said two to five weeks was normal for them; the signs would get the sightings, the sightings would nail down the location, and then we’d put up the feeding stations and trail cams and remote-controlled cages.

And then, nothing.

And then, the call. The Department of Transportation had been cutting the grass by the highway, and they found him. Scant remains. A collar. In all likelihood he’d been hit the night he fled. We’d been chasing a ghost for three weeks. He’d never been anywhere. He’d always been there.

You reach for consolations. We had an end; we knew. As much as we’d said oh he’s having a fine time chasing squirrels, we knew the truth was otherwise if he was alive — cold, wet, alone. He didn’t go through that. He died on a night when our scent was still fresh on him, so in a way we were with him when he passed.

Scout could stand up and put his paws on your shoulder and give you lick hello, and I’ll miss that. He mostly did it to my wife:. I remember his paws around my shoulders when he was small and I took him upstairs the first month he was home, cradling him like a baby, wet nose on my neck. I thought that he would be around when Natalie came back from college, wagging his tail, a reminder of the home she’d left for the big world. But there are no guarantees. Ask any dog who’s run after a squirrel.

Can you blame them? You have to do what you’re born to do — to sniff, to stop, to brace yourself for a second, and then run.

He ran. He didn’t mean to leave us all behind when he caught the scent of the deer across the dark water. There was just so much joy in the moment he had to go.

There are 91 comments.

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  1. Member

    James Lileks: He died on a night when our scent was still fresh on him, so in a way we were with him when he passed.

    I managed to keep it together . . . right up until then.

    I’m so very sorry, James.

    • #1
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:27 pm
    • 33 likes
  2. Member

    So beautiful.

    • #2
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:28 pm
    • 8 likes
  3. Member

    That made me cry.

    Sorry, buddy. I feel for ya.

    • #3
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:31 pm
    • 11 likes
  4. Thatcher

    Damn James I’m so sorry to hear how this ended for you and your family. Sounds like the love was mutual between pet and owners. A good dog is hard to beat and never forgotten.

    • #4
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:33 pm
    • 17 likes
  5. Thatcher

    Oh, James. I’m so sorry. I can’t type anymore.

    • #5
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:38 pm
    • 9 likes
  6. Thatcher

    AWWWWW, James! I lost this one to a vehicle in front of the house four years ago: Prayers and a Panda Hug to share! Scout, we hardly knew ye…(Mine was a Rottie named Jazzy.)

    • #6
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:39 pm
    • 16 likes
  7. Chief

    I never met Scout but still miss him. Rest in peace, pup — and all our condolences, James.

    • #7
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:40 pm
    • 18 likes
  8. Inactive

    The heart breaks, I am so sorry.

    • #8
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:42 pm
    • 12 likes
  9. Member

    I’ve been following this since day one at the Bleat, and on Twitter. I’ve limited my comments at the Bleat, because, well, it just felt like we were waiting for news – and we didn’t know what the news might bring.

    As much as Jasper had filled your readers’ lives for so many years, Scout made a similar impact in a shorter time. So very sorry that the news wasn’t the positive result so many wanted.

    Much love, and the deepest condolences to the residents of Jasperwood.

    • #9
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:44 pm
    • 16 likes
  10. Contributor

    I’m so sorry, James. How agonizing the days and weeks must have been. Hoping, praying, waiting. And now the days ahead of seeing him out of the corner of your eye, hearing his padding footsteps, his panting, sensing his spirit. It’s so hard. I know.

    • #10
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:44 pm
    • 8 likes
  11. Member

    Sigh. I followed this journey on your Twitter feed. I’m so sorry James.

    Peace and grace,

    Jim

    • #11
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:47 pm
    • 6 likes
  12. Coolidge

    So very sorry.

    • #12
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:53 pm
    • 5 likes
  13. Admin

    When we record the Ricochet Podcast, we have a backstage chat between myself, James, Peter, and Rob. Mostly, the chat consists of “take the next question” or “let the guest go after this” type stuff. Utilitarian messages to keep the show on track. But at least once in almost every show, there’s a message like this:

    That was Scout, of course. Scout also made cameo appearances on several shows, barking in the background. James, ever the radio professional, frowned on this, but I like it — makes the show feel more personal. It was clear that the hosts were podcasting from their homes and not a nameless, sterile studio somewhere.

    I never got to meet Scout in person, but I felt like I knew him. And I know how much James and his family loved that dog.

    It’s heartbreaking to lose a pet — they’re members of the family, after all. And Scout was a member of the Ricochet family, just like Peter’s Crusoe, Rob’s Illy, and my Maggy.

    Rest in peace, Scout.

    • #13
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:56 pm
    • 45 likes
  14. Contributor

    One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes was to the effect that if Heaven went by merit, our dogs would get to go in before we do. May it ever be so. I’m so sorry, James.

    • #14
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:56 pm
    • 29 likes
  15. Member

    Ah – My condolences James. It’s a sad ending, but a happy ending was getting increasingly unlikely. I imagine there’s some relief that there’s finally an ending to search.

    • #15
    • August 29, 2017 at 4:57 pm
    • 4 likes
  16. Member

    Amen.

    We had an escape artist too; it cost her her life, but she was just being who she was made to be. Somehow the independent spirit made her even more precious to us.

    • #16
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm
    • 7 likes
  17. Member

    Beautiful tribute, James. I’m thinking that despite his untimely end, Scout was a lucky guy.

    • #17
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:04 pm
    • 8 likes
  18. Member

    Thank you James. This must have been very difficult to write. Thank you.

    • #18
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:13 pm
    • 9 likes
  19. Member

    I am so sorry for your family and you.

    When I have lost a pet, and I’ve had several over the years, for a while it became unbearable to be at home. It felt so empty.

    Our dogs are made of love, and only God can make something out of love alone, so I know the dogs (and cats) I’ve had are safe with Him. No more worries for them on this side of heaven.

    • #19
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:19 pm
    • 12 likes
  20. Thatcher

    Most sincere condolences. Hard as it is, it must be good to finally know.

    • #20
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:22 pm
    • 6 likes
  21. Member

    I’m very sorry to read this, James. It’s been hard to read your updates on the searches as the weeks went by. Nothing makes it easier. Your tribute really covers it from every angle. Scout was loved by his family and will be missed.

    I pet my dogs a bit extra thinking of your loss.

    • #21
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:23 pm
    • 7 likes
  22. Thatcher

    I am sorry to hear it, James.

    I miss mine more than is seemly, sometimes. The genius border collie, the semi-beagle, the demented poodle …

    The rabbits are slow where they are. That I know.

    • #22
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:26 pm
    • 13 likes
  23. Member

    I don’t know which makes me sadder – Scout’s fate, or the number of psychos that tried to take advantage of it or just got stupid thrills by torturing you (The guy that called on a Saturday to tell you he’d taken the dog to the shelter, but you couldn’t check until Monday deserves a special place in hell). And this is in Minnesota where people are nice

    • #23
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:28 pm
    • 12 likes
  24. Thatcher
    Sam

    I echo Susan. The times when you think, now I have to . . . and then, oh, no, and the hurt comes back around. I am sorry that you lost Scout when he was so young, but that of course is when our curious animals, and all of us really, are at our most impetuous and in danger of making a choice even in a moment of joy or instinct that can’t be recalled. My condolences to you, James, and to all of those who loved Scout. I am glad that you found him.

    • #24
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:29 pm
    • 7 likes
  25. Member

    Sorry. And yes, beautiful

    • #25
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:34 pm
    • 5 likes
  26. Thatcher

    Thank you for writing that James. Beautiful tribute to a wonderful best friend. I feel your loss, we lost our Holly in January, we were there, I can’t imagine what you went through. I will now always listen for the click so our Buddy stays home.

    • #26
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:41 pm
    • 5 likes
  27. Podcaster

    From someone who never grasped what on earth people see in dogs – and still doesn’t – my heart nevertheless aches for you James. Condolences.

    • #27
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:41 pm
    • 7 likes
  28. Member

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

    We are getting old, and we have had a lot of dogs. We mourn every time we lose one, and my husband says “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

    • #28
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:47 pm
    • 8 likes
  29. Member

    Dear Mr. Lileks,

    I have not had time to get on to Ricochet for months, but wanted to let you know others are thinking of you and your family at this time. Hope it spreads the hurt a little.

    • #29
    • August 29, 2017 at 5:55 pm
    • 5 likes
  30. Member

    Despite your sorrow you have written a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Warmest heartfelt wishes that you may find some solace in all your happy, funny and loving memories of Scout.

    • #30
    • August 29, 2017 at 6:00 pm
    • 6 likes
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