On September 7th 2014, my Father walked into our living room, with his laptop in his hands and a great deal of excitement in his heart.
You see, excitement in our household is fairly common, especially during the August-September as well as December-January timeframe. My sister & I moved away from home at 17 to pursue our undergraduate degrees at McGill and the University of Waterloo, in 2010 and 2012, respectively. While both of us worked hard and passionately to achieve bigger and better things (with a strong sense of what we left behind), the best thing was and always will be that flight ticket home to reunite with our parents, once or twice a year.
Reunions, in every sense, are exciting but there was something different about the excitement my Father brought into the room that day. He sat us all down and said he had something to share. “We’re getting a dog and here are his pictures. His name is Scout and if we don’t make a decision quickly, we won’t be able to have him”, he said.
My Mother, Sister & I looked at Scout’s pictures, then each other and finally back at my Father with looks of disbelief, defiance and doubt (the ultimate Pillai triple threat!). Firstly, the three of us were petrified of dogs.
In 2008, I once flipped our table upside down at a Parisien family-run restaurant because the owner’s dog was under our table and I was clearly not prepared for it (I think my parents still haven’t forgiven me for the commotion I caused that day in Paris). If my sister and I had the slightest doubt that a dog or multiple dogs would be at an event, we would avoid it like the plague.
In the case we could not avoid it, we would spend the drive to the event strategically planning how we would make it out alive. We would avoid engaging in the age-old “don’t worry, he/she won’t hurt you” dialogue that happens with pet owners. It was the leash, crate, radius of safety or nothing, when it came to us co-existing with dogs. My Mother, on the other hand, was unable to tolerate a breadcrumb on the floor…yet alone a lab-retrievers golden hair, everywhere.
Despite how adorable Scout looked, it was a strong, loud and stubborn “no” from the three of us. That said, if there is one thing my Father knows, it is how to sell. After easily two hours of back and forth, my sister & I gave in, mostly because we felt we could use it as an opportunity to slowly but surely get over our fear and if all else fails, we could fly away from the responsibilities, literally. Personally, I figured an additional family member to keep my parents company wouldn’t be such a bad idea. My Mother was still not on #TeamScout but we were able to get her to a Switzerland state of mind. 10 minutes later, my Father had confirmed that Scout was officially ours.
2 months later, on November 6th 2014, our four-month old Scout came home. I was back in Waterloo then but thanks to Skype, I was able to witness the bundle of love and light that had entered our home.
He was so small, scared, loving and reliant on us, as complete strangers to him. One look at him through the lens of a low-resolution webcam (made even lower with the campus wifi connectivity) and I knew that even on the worst of days, he would never be the one to hurt or disappoint me. As humans, we’re capable of far worse.
The first few months were difficult. With my Father travelling a lot with work, my Mother was the primary caretaker. Scout had difficulties adjusting to Dubai (he made a big move from Hungary) and my Mother had difficulties adjusting to Scout. 2 weeks later, we all jumped on a four-way Skype call and my Mother mentioned that she was seriously considering passing Scout onto a new home.
My Father, however, didn’t give up on raising Scout so quickly (and I witnessed this right till the end). From that day on, I saw my Father pick up all the Scout-related responsibilities, until my Mother felt comfortable to participate.
Before we knew it, Scout became our 5th family member and easily the most loved(I still think the hand vacuum cleaner was the most loved, in my Mother’s eyes). I found myself fighting with him for my parents’ attention when I’d call home. Every call home would start with “How is Scout?! Tell me some Scout stories, Point the camera towards him”. Trust me, there were some adorable stories of his everyday shenanigans. Soon, he was able to identify my voice. It was so comforting to know that as much as he was reliant on my parents to look after him, he unknowingly was looking after my parents, in ways I couldn’t. I was so grateful for that. I truly saw him uplift their spirits.
Suddenly, so many of our family rituals/memories had Scout at the centre. All our friends and family would come home to visit us but mostly Scout. Furthermore, I witnessed all the boundaries my Mother had set dissolve; from Scout being restricted to his space on the 1st floor to being allowed up, in our bedrooms, on our couches and beds. He became her best friend.
My most precious memories were our evening walks as a family, where Scout would not proceed unless all of us were together, walking in the same line. Even if I wanted to run while my parents walked, he would bark relentlessly until I slowed down and walked with them. If I didn’t slow down, he would run towards me and bring me back.
He was so attached to all of us, regardless of how much time he spent with each of us individually. He was an anxious dog, so his trainer had recommended that we send him to a daycare every now and then, to socialize with other dogs. I’ll never forget how scared he was to leave us all, even for an hour. His glassy eyes wouldn’t leave us until we left the room. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of myself as a child. My heart would always feel so heavy every time we left him. I couldn’t believe how quickly I went from being scared of dogs to loving one so deeply.
On June 29th 2016, Scout turned two and we started to see fluctuations in his overall energy and health. After a few trips to his vet, we realized that Scout was born with Addison’s disease (a lower than normal production of hormones), which in dogs is fatal, if not treated correctly. Just as my Mother would have done for my Sister & I, she immediately took to the internet and read up on all things Addison’s disease. We took every precaution, found and purchased all the medicines Scout needed, daily, for the rest of his life. Most importantly, we were determined to do everything we could in our control, to keep him happy and alive.
The next two years were a series of highs and lows, trips to every possible doctor in the city for a second/third/fourth/nth opinion, creative ways of feeding Scout (as he had lost his appetite…surprisingly the famous South Indian dosa and idli were two of the few meals he could not refuse! My father would joke about us successfully turning his Hungarian self into a Malayali!), dealing with other health issues outside of Addison’s that we never knew Scout had…all amidst a turbulent two years in our own lives.
Scout could not have asked for better parents than mine. When I look at the time, money and patience they consistently invested, I don’t think anyone would have gone to the extent they went to, to save him. He was destined to come to our home. I am so proud of them for tackling the biggest of challenges, as a team, always finding room for laughs.
Through it all, Scout never stopped giving. He gave us many reasons to laugh. He gave us warmth and comfort. He even gave us time to mentally prepare for the worst-case scenario but it never got easier. My “tell me Scout stories” command on calls home weren’t the same. I was nervous about the response my command would elicit.
I’ll spare you the details but Scout was soon in tremendous pain, consistently and we had to make a decision on whether or not we wanted to selfishly keep him alive or set him free. We chose the latter. On November 15th 2018, I was on a work trip in New York and phoned home with the usual “How is Scout?”, only to find out that he was no more.
The most difficult part of living away from home is the amount of moments you miss out on, good and bad. You often have to process loss differently as well. In total, I probably spent a maximum of 6 months with Scout in-person, but he gave me a lifetime’s worth of memories and wisdom that will stay with me forever.
Scout taught me many lessons on being there for loved ones, staying calm, seeing humour in stressful situations, how limited our time on earth is and how great experiences will always have a place in our lives if we conquer our fear and stay open.
As humans, we tend to think we can learn the most from those with the most accomplishments, wealth or other flawed standards through which we measure success but the best and most powerful kind of success lies in acknowledging that there is something to learn from everyone.
As I get ready to wrap up the year and head home for my final stop of the year, I can’t help but think of how much I am going to miss my Scout’s presence, for a long time. I am going to miss the sound of his paws against the marble, finding him on his spot in the staircase, side-eyeing me while I eat (because he was always more interested about the food on my plate than I was!), his hugs and kisses, how he would be his happiest self right in the middle of all of us and our evening walks.
That said, I am looking forward to celebrating him, as a family, this year and every year moving forward by donating time and money to an animal shelter on the day he passed.
I wrote this post, selfishly for myself. I have a terrible memory and since Scout’s passing, I’ve been worried that I am going to forget him and all the moments we shared, as time passes. I want to work hard to keep all those memories alive and I’m starting with this.
Scout, I will always love you. If I could do it all over again, I would…and I would choose you. I’m sure our paths will cross again…perhaps when I bring home my own dog and name him Scout.
Sleep tight :)