I have four babies. My eldest is going to be seven in April. She loves running in the fresh air and can quite easily eat a whole packet of biscuits in one go. She’s got huge dark trusting eyes set in the most beautiful face. I don’t give her as much attention as I should. Sometimes I get cross with her, shout at her and tell her to get of my way but she never complains, she just goes quietly to her bed. Sometimes I leave her in the car when I’m at the supermarket or at soft play. She gets so excited when I come back. I give her glossy coat a nuzzle, take in her warm comforting smell and promise her we’ll go out later, just her and me. She loves me no matter what. She is my childhood dream made a reality, my precious four legged friend. She is Scout, my very first baby.
I had always wanted a dog but my mum wasn’t so keen. Twice she nearly relented to my constant badgering taking us to see a litter of perfect Andrex puppy golden labradors and then bouncy liver and white springer spaniels. Both times she backed out, pacifying me with a ceramic figurine of a golden lab. It still sits on my dresser. For years it acted as a talisman giving me hope that one day it would happen, one day my dream would come true. Looking back now as a mum of three myself, I don’t blame her for backing out. A dog really is ‘not just for Christmas’. It’s a whole other living breathing creature to keep alive and if you’re not 100 per cent committed then you seriously shouldn’t bother.
My dream came true nearly seven years ago when Pete, my boyfriend and now husband, gave me an odd shaped parcel for my birthday. It had a dog toy inside. I could’t quite fathom it at first and thought it was for his late mum’s seventeen year old black lab Clover who we had recently taken over guardianship of. But no, it was for a dog of my very own. I cried, I laughed, I was speechless. I went straight to Google and typed in ‘Puppies for Sale’. An inconspicuous ad in the Scottish Farmer caught my eye – Lab X Collie Pups for Sale from a farm near Glasgow. I gave the number a call and it turned out they had a litter of 11, the result of an illicit liaison between the family pet, a beautiful golden lab, and their working dog, a spunky male border collie.
Two days later we travelled the hour and a half to the farm to make the choice between the two remaining girls – one pure black and one with a distinctive white T-bar on her tummy and a tiny fleck of white on her chin, a mark of her collie heritage. I knew immediately which one I wanted and when I saw her gorgeous two week old white furry T-barred belly tangled up with her siblings in the whelping box, it was love at first sight. The only problem was another family had arrived earlier than expected and were getting first dibs. They couldn’t make up their minds and resorted to EniMeaniMiniMo settling on my white T-barred puppy. NO! Not my puppy, please not my puppy. I had to actually bite my lip to stop me screaming out the injustice. But then they noticed her beautifully huge paws and strong wide head and decided that maybe she was too big and perhaps the plain black one might be a more sensible option. And in that moment I knew she was mine.
I called her Scout after my favourite character in my favourite book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. She has more than lived up to her name – strong, courageous, brave and more than a bit of tomboy. We brought her home six weeks later – she cried all the way, eventually exhausting herself and falling asleep. When we got back to the house we introduced her to 17 year old Clover. Her rheumy eyes looked at me in horror, ‘what have you done,’ they said but I felt confident that our quiet timid little puppy and her elderly friend would become the best of pals. Except that our puppy wasn’t actually so timid after all.
After an initial 24 hours of cowering under arm chairs and behind the sofa, she revealed her true wild self. Constantly hassling poor old Clover, hanging off her ears, pushing her over, eating her food. Then there was the chewing; books, chairs, the coffee table, my brand new Converse trainers…. Once I caught her on the kitchen table with her face buried deep in the sugar bowl, or the time she got her nose stuck in my wine glass. This childhood dream wasn’t quite shaping up as I’d thought and if it wasn’t for Pete, who’d had dogs all his life and knew the score, I would have sent her packing.
We took a road trip to Ullapool, on the North West Coast of Scotland, when she just three months old. Driving over 200 miles with not one but two incontinent dogs is not for the faint hearted. Clover was so old and decrepit she would quite literally fall out of the car when we opened the door for their hourly toilet stops. With no children at that point, we weren’t used to broken sleep so taking two dogs out every two hours during the night was like torture. Especially when I came back to bed, after yet another moonlit walk through the neighbouring arboretum, to find that Clover had pooed next to my pillow – I hadn’t been able to see the tell tale lifting of her tail in the dark.
But in amongst the chewing, bullying and constant pooing were moments of pure joy. Teaching her how to fetch a ball (beginning an unending obsession), watching her swim for the first time, snuggling into her infront of the TV at night. The excitement of a holiday dulled slightly in the knowledge that I would have to leave her with someone else.
By the time we came to say a final goodbye to our beloved Clover, her and Scout had become firm friends. Clover had found a new lease of life in her young upstart companion and Scout had found a calm and stoic mentor to cuddle up to at night. I’ll never forget her sniffing Clover’s lifeless body. Watching her chasing the vet’s car up the snow covered driveway desperate to retrieve her old pal who was wrapped in a towel on the back seat.
The following year saw Pete and me get married and not long after I noticed Scout acting strangely around me. My normally independent dog was now following my every move; sleeping on the floor next to my side of the bed at night, leaping to attention if I ever coughed or sneezed, lying on my feet when I was watching television. Her tummy became distended and she began to leak milk. But it wasn’t her that was pregnant, it was me. She knew there was a tiny new little person growing in my tummy. She knew I was changing but I don’t think she ever dreamed that that tiny little person would change her life so much.
Our eldest son Angus was dropped like a grenade into all our lives and poor Scout was knocked firmly off her perch. We laughed when an elderly friend gave her a towel she had embroidered saying ‘Now you’re second best’. But she was. As much as we loved her, we loved Angus more. He took all my time, all my energy. I was consumed with guilt for not being able to be with her. When I got any time alone, I would lie next to her on the kitchen floor curling into her, rubbing her tummy, telling her I still loved her and that I was sorry.
Ten months after Angus was born she started following me round the house again, lying on my feet and leaping to attention when I coughed. We were ecstatic at the thought of another little person in the house but I can’t help but think her heart broke just a little bit more. With a baby and a toddler in the house came constant noise and chaos. I would snap at her for getting under my feet, for making one of the children cry by wagging her tail in their face or for daring to want a walk when I barely had time to dress myself. When our third child came along, I was so distracted I forgot she was in the car and didn’t realise until my husband came home that evening and asked where she was. Some mornings I’m so busy dealing with the constant demands of small children that I can barely acknowledge her. Thankfully she goes out to work with Pete everyday and spends her days running wild, otherwise life wouldn’t be much fun.
If this all sounds a bit ‘Marley & Me’ that’s because it is. Just like Marley, Scout has been with us from the early days of our relationship. She has watched us become a family. She’s retreated to another room when we’ve argued, laid her head on my knee when I’ve cried, guarded the children as babies in their Moses basket, run miles through the fields with me when I’ve needed to clear my head and let our youngest son crawl all over her without so much as a whimper. On the rare occasion when we’re all together as a family without her, the house feels empty. I miss hearing her pad along the corridor, I miss her licking the dishes in the dishwasher, or nudging Pete religiously at 10pm for her bedtime constitution. I can’t bear to think of the day when she leaves us for ever.
I hope she knows how much I love her. I hope she knows that she was my first baby and even though I don’t get to be with her quite the way I used to, the bond between us is unbreakable.