Whole wheat that gives shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. Heavens, they’re tasty, and expeditious!—A Prairie Home Companion
The shy Scout-the-Labish is coming into his own. Although lately I’ve been calling our tawny little guy of unknown parentage a Goldapeake Retriever, hijacking the clever adverts an Australian animal shelter used to market its dogs (“Introducing Zoey, a rare and exotic, four-year-old Labranese Shepherd”). Chef David will read this, and roll his eyes and say, You wrote another post about Scout?
To which I shall reply, You are not the boss of my blog.
And anyway, this story is not only about Scout’s emerging self—a triumph in its own right—but also about two humans and their dog settling comfortably into a life together.
Last weekend a small group of creative folks I’ve known for several years gathered in our little Vermont town in what’s become an annual event, a reunion of sorts. Some are from this area, but a couple of them had to travel quite a ways to get here. Last I saw them was back in May, for Verdi’s Requiem (three sang in the chorus), but one is practically a neighbor and so we bump into her on occasion. Knowing they were all here last weekend, but unable to join them for some scheduled fun, the wheels in my noggin got to turning, and then I mentioned to the Chef last Saturday morning how nice it would be to have everybody over for nibbles and drinks—our first gig as hosts in our new-old Vermont home, at least beyond the scope of hosting our own families.
Okay, he said. I contacted the group and they said, heck yeah, see you in a few, so in short order we finished our coffee and started organizing: I’d get to the store, pick up the fixings for charcuterie (or shark cooties, as we like to call them), and of course the hooch, and David would stay home and start picking up the house and yanking the kitchen into shape. A truth I’ve discovered about the Chef: when he says ‘simple’ food, this actually means he’s planning to do something impressive like bake fabulous oatmeal rolls from scratch and prepare a crudités plate with food presented as art (this involves things like plunging the bulb ends of green onions into an ice bath which somehow miraculously turns them into a beautiful little garnish that looks like a white flower—the kind of thing one assumes they must teach you in culinary school. Food Art & You 101, I betcha).
While green onions that look like white flowers are miraculous, the more miraculous piece of this story is Scout—the dog who’s never been crazy about company, or about straying too far from my side—finding himself instead so much at ease in a houseful of people, making the rounds to see who’d offer him a little morsel of something here, or a chin scratch there, or even an indulgent belly rub. At one point I actually had to fuss at him when he had the audacity to poke a guest in the arm with his paw, asking, nay demanding, what she had in her hand.
It is possible we have created a monster. When Scout first arrived in Vermont from his erstwhile home state of Texas in December of 2016, a bewildered dog stepping off a transport—as it happened, on the coldest day of the year to date—he was so unsure of himself, so painfully shy, and probably a tad traumatized, if we’re being honest. No cooing or sweet talking was getting through to this fella, especially from the Chef. Instead we used food to try to entice him out of his shell, and often—what else can one do in this situation, after all? Scout might cower in the presence of a tall man in chef’s whites, even a soft spoken one, but he began to realize delectable things were often clutched in his outstretched hand: a bit of crisped salmon skin, a tender piece of chicken, maybe a small bite of pork or bacon. In short, that hand was worth investigating.
Two years later and he’s still a cagey dog, one who startles at the least provocation. He will never be the warm and effusive Lab with the tongue hanging sideways out of his mouth—it’s not in the elusive Goldapeake Retriever’s nature. But Scout now understands he’s more likely than not to be offered a treat, in most situations where there is food. He tests this theory when he’s at the office with me, day to day, for example. When I leave my desk to go meet with a colleague in another part of the building, or even for a quick trip to the loo, Scout is right on my heels. Lately I’ve noticed he’s not always there when I get back to my desk because he decided to make a detour to another person’s desk to beg for a snack. One of my coworkers calls it ‘going trick or treating.’ Another recently observed that the drawer where she keeps his treats is also the one where she keeps her own peanuts. Which now taste like dog treats. Still, I like to think Scout is a welcome diversion at work, mainly. And this is huge progress—huge—for this particular dog.
Meanwhile at home I’ve discovered Scoutie loves my great grandmother’s biscuits, which I make at least once a week, and lately with buttermilk. Clunk! he goes when jumps off our bed upstairs, in the room right over the kitchen. Down the steps he thunders when he smells biscuits in the oven. After I cut out the last biscuit, I form the leftover dough into a little biscuit for Scout—something silly like the letter ‘S’ or even a biscuit shaped like a dog bone. So maybe Gracie’s recipe in fact has given this shy dog the strength to get up and do what needs to be done—even if that means nothing more than going in search of the next greasy bit of something-or-other. But it also means the courage to seek out the Chef’s company on the sofa, where Scout happens to be hunkered down at this precise moment, rather than sprawled on the rug in front of the crackling fireplace at the opposite end of the room as he was earlier, where I am curled up in a chair and writing this now.
What we humans do for our canines. But, after all: what they do for us.