Twenty-five years ago, or thereabouts, a dog died after crawling under the family Christmas tree and passing away in quiet seclusion. He was the beloved pet of a lonely boy; the result of years of begging and pleading and a moment’s weakness on the part of the boy’s mother. His death was a defining moment in the boy’s life; but that moment melted into another defining moment that echoes to this day.
The boy’s father brought him to the local animal shelter in search of a new friend and companion for the boy who had always surrounded himself with animals, from fish, to birds, to frogs…but who found a kinship in dogs, who found a cause in dogs. The boy’s eyes searched that shelter for a dog reminiscent of the one he had lost, desperately scanning the dirty chain link cages in the dank building for familiar eyes, familiar hair, or a welcoming tail wag.
He found one, visually evoking memories, but his father wisely turned the boys attention away from the dog that the boy would subconsciously burden with expectations set by his predecessor. Instead, his father suggested they focus on a small hound mix, an ethereal beauty with eyes that cried without tears, eyes that were a lesson in sadness. The boy glanced wistfully in the direction of the shaggy terrier that reminded him of his lost friend, but agreed to bring the sad-eyed lady home, given that she had scant hours before policy dictated she would be euthanized.
The boy named the dog Scout, in honor of a girl with an indomitable will, and a wise and resolute father existing in a story ostensibly about a mockingbird. Scout, of course, became fiercely loyal to her family, and quickly became the boy’s constant companion in the forests and at home, until an accident and injury revealed the extent of her past abuse; glistening white specks on the radiographs indicating the presence of shotgun pellets lacing her body, long since camouflaged by scar and fur, long since camouflaged by her smile and comfort around the boy and his family.
Scout died as result of those injuries, but her memory didn’t. The boy took that lesson, the one of pain and resilience, the one of trust well placed in the right people, the one of an injured, scared and ultimately sad eyed dog, recovering to play, and run through the woods, to smile in that way that dogs do…and the boy knew where his life was headed.
The boy took those lessons, lessons gleaned from an experience with a high-kill facility, and began to work here in Ulster County, resolute in his belief that all dogs have a right to a happily ever after. The boy honored Scout as he became a dog trainer, a shelter manager, a cruelty investigator and ultimately the Director of the UCSPCA. The boy, now a man, never lost sight of the idea that each adoption could mean the inspiration to another individual to pick up that same baton, and fight for the rights of our canine, feline, equine and other friends; that each adoption was important and vital to someone somewhere, but it was also vitally important to the animal that finds a home, finds trust and comfort, finds safety.
I was that boy, and Scout reminds me each day of the magnitude of the Cause, the leader of a pack of thousands I have saved or seen saved over the past 17 years here in Ulster County. Thank you all for contributing to a better world for out residents. Let’s continue the fight.
Ulster County SPCA