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Scout, Cowboy and Chief / Photo from Bill Stamps

I hope you won't mind me breaking from my format so that I can tell you about my love for our dog, Scout. He's on his last legs.

Just over 14 years ago, my wife, Jana, and I took delivery of two Australian shepherd puppies, blue merles. We picked them from a championship breeder out of Orange County, California. Two boys, Cowboy and Scout. They were born on the same day. They just came out different.

Scout was the runt of the litter. For most of his life, he's been a sport model. He actually has a sense of humor. He has one brown eye and the other eye is half-blue and half-brown. Every time I look over his way, he's staring at me with his little happy eyes.

Scout's pleased to meet anyone. He greets all people, men and women, the same way — the old nose in the crotch salutation.

Wait, there's more. When he's through with his frontal assault, he heads for the backsides of these poor people and does some more investigatory sniffing. It's hard to pull him away. Of course, the people always say not to worry about it. They say, "Don't worry about it. He's fine."

But, both of us know, not really. The longer Scout does that, the more difficult it is to carry on a conversation with the victim. I usually try to cut the conversation short and hope that I can get down the road before they notice the wet smudges. It's embarrassing. But in a little bitty way, it's embarrassingly funny.

Cowboy was a big boy, a head taller than Scout. He looked like a movie star. He was big and muscular and extremely loyal, especially to Jana. When he was full-speed running, he looked like a lion running down his prey. His "see deep into your soul" eyes were big and white blue. Wolf eyes. Cowboy was a lover.

A year later, we got one more pup from the same breeder. Same mom, different sire. He was a thinner version of Cowboy and kind of picky as to whom he let get close to him. We named him Chief. He couldn't get enough love. He'd jump up on the couch and lie right up next to me. If I dared stop rubbing his back, he'd stick his nose under my elbow and nudge it over and over until I pet him some more.

At night, all three of the boys slept around our bed. Cowboy on Jana's side, Chief at the foot of the bed and Scout on my side. To this day, Scout still sleeps right next to me on his special rug.

Once in a while, I wake up and check to make sure he's still breathing. He's a pretty sound sleeper. Just to make sure he's OK, I'll give him a little shake. He looks at me funny. Poor Scout could probably get more sleep in a hospital.

I know that any of you who have or have had a dog know just how much you end up loving them. When they go, it's like losing a close member of the family. I'm not sure why God doesn't let them live longer. One day, they're just fine, and the next day, they can't get up. It's heartbreaking.

We lost Chief a little over three years ago. He was 10 and still acting like a puppy. His passing caught us completely off-guard. Chief was fast as lightning and could jump high into the back of our Range Rover. He had that twisted-stomach thing. It was terribly sad. We were back to the original two. Cowboy and Scout.

Early one morning, a little over a year ago, Cowboy couldn't move. He tried. He lay there and just looked at me with those big, beautiful, blue eyes. I didn't realize at the time that it was his goodbye look. We rushed him to the vet. It was too late. Cancer. Within an hour, Cowboy was gone. Jana and I were devastated.

Scout is the last one standing. For at least a week, he was looking through the house and out in the yard for Cowboy. They hadn't missed a day being together since birth. It was desperately sad to see Scout trying to find his brother. The loss of love is so very painful.

Jana, the stronger of the two of us, got over it sooner than I. It's probably the Swiss in her. I was the one sitting up late and blubbering. I can deal with the sometime harshness of reality on almost any front. Not so well when it comes to the heart. Plus, I was feeling deep empathy for Jana. She so loved Cowboy. They had a special bond.

A few months ago, Scout had two seizures within 20 minutes of each other. Each of them lasted a minute or so. I've never witnessed a dog having a seizure. Scared me to death. Word to the wise: Give them ice cubes. When they come out of it, they need to cool down as quickly as possible.

Scout lost all of his hearing and some of his vision after the seizures. He has a hard time getting up and has a lump or two on his body. He moves a lot slower these days. He kind of reminds me of me. He doesn't appear to be in pain. So we're going to let him live out the rest of his remaining life with no operations.

Since his two brothers crossed the bridge, Scout receives all the attention. Some of the house rules have been relaxed. Used to be, the pups weren't allowed in the kitchen. All three of them would lie right at the doorway and watch Jana cook. That rule has flown out the window.

These days, Scout couldn't be any more under Jana's feet. He considers himself to be in a kitchen supervisory position. We don't care anymore. Scout has the run of the house and us wrapped around his little paw.

Scout and I are night owls. Plus, he knows that he can count on me for a midnight snack or two. He lives to eat. Some canine dietary purists may get after me, but Scout's already made it to old. I'm pretty sure if he could talk, he'd say, "Dad, don't give this balanced diet thing a second thought. Why don't we tippy-toe into the kitchen and heat up those enchiladas Mom put in the refrigerator? We'll split 'em."

As much as I love Scout and he loves me, I'm almost certain that if I was hanging from a cliff and needed him to bring me a rope, but there was a hamburger close by, I'd be a goner. He can't help himself when it comes to hamburgers. He's partial to Logan's.

We changed Scout's diet. Now, he eats like dogs that were owned by farming families back in the day. Leftovers. Jana separates the foods that aren't good for him. So now, our little boy chows down on vegetables, eggs, beef stew, steak bones and leftover grits. He can't get enough. At least, he'll leave this world happy.

My childhood dog, Prince, lived to be almost 16. Scout reminds me of him. Every morning, Prince was fed a can of Kennel Ration. Besides that, he climbed up in my lap and helped me with my morning cereal, lunchtime sandwiches and whatever was for supper. We both ate out of the same bowl or plate.

Sharing with those I love has always come naturally to me.

Scout turned 14 this past April. I know his time is limited. I don't know how I'm going to be able to take his departure. It's going to kill me. He has my heart. He's special to me. He started showing me extra love at a very low point in my life. I love Scout more than a lot of people I know. Maybe even most.

Chief and Cowboy have been added to my list of loved ones no longer with us that I think about every day and include in my nightly prayers. Happy thoughts and memories can turn to sad if I don't watch it. I'm not sure when I started getting so sappy. They say as you get older, you get more sentimental. That's probably it. In dog years, I'm 490.

Our pets deserve to be treated with love and respect. They live to make you happy and receive your praise. When you think about it, that's very powerful. Never take them for granted. They won't be around forever.

It seems like it wasn't that long ago that my grandmother, Miz Lena, told me, "Honey Baby, life don't stop and wait fer yuh." Grand Mom, you were so right. Please God, let our little Scout live a few more years. I'll gladly give up a few of mine, and we'll call it even.

some text Bill Stamps

Bill Stamps' books, "Miz Lena" and "Southern Folks," are available on Amazon. For signed copies, email bill_stamps@aol.com.

Southern Folks

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