STORY CONTEST: The Sooner Scout

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story won first prize in the recent Vinyl Café story contest]

by Lucy Carleton

collieA favourite childhood story of mine was in an old grade-school reader for young children. It was the story of the sooner hound, one of those familiar “girl meets dog” stories that were so common in books for kids in the 50’s. This dog would sooner run than stay home; a dog with attitude. He was a droopy-eared hound that could outrun race horses, pickup trucks and even steam engines, like the ones that rolled along the railways of my childhood.

I can still see the illustration of the townsfolk, standing at the side of the station, leaning forward, their hands shielding their eyes as they witnessed the sooner hound dog rocketing past them, outpacing the train by a country mile. It wasn’t until last winter that I discovered that I had a sooner dog of my own.

My sister Shirley was visiting from Europe, and we decided one morning to take a trip to Ottawa. We were getting ready to leave the house, and Shirley held our front door open wide, for just a moment. To our border collie, Scout, a wide open door was an invitation to adventure land. No calls, shouts or whistles could bring him back as he bolted out and down the middle of the street, with only a cursory backward glance to see if we were coming along. I grabbed the keys and followed in my car, leaving a bewildered Shirley still standing with her hand on the open door, yelling “Sorry about that. I didn’t know he could go so fast!”

Now, Almonte can be quite a sleepy town after the early morning commuter rush. Things slow down on our two main streets. Traffic usually consists of regulars heading to “the Soup” for breakfast, mommies and babies in strollers, or seniors getting the mail at the post office. Cars often travel under the speed limit, to allow time for locals to wave or call to each other.

I knew exactly where Scout was headed this day – down Country Street and over to Potvin’s trail, where all the dog walkers meet every morning so their pooches can have an off-leash romp. This was a regular routine for us too. Scout would stand up all the way there on the back seat of the car, watching every movement I made with his characteristic, hypnotic border collie eye. On this morning his mental map led him directly down Queen Street, across the bridge and up the hill towards Blackburn’s Garage. Scout never was a great sidewalk walker. This time he ran as if he was finally in the driver’s seat, right down the middle of the road!

I followed with my windows rolled down, shouting “Scouter, come back. Come back, boy”. Around me cars slowed or pulled over, some stopping willy-nilly on the street, red brake-lights pumping in all directions. A young woman with a nose ring, her long hair tied in a ponytail, drove beside me and called “Do you need help? I love dogs. I can catch your dog for you.” I thanked her and continued to inch my way up the street, watching as my dog raced away, oblivious to the dangers of all the cars stopping around him.

Karen, the director of our local daycare, pulled up next, rolled down her window and asked if that was my dog. She quickly offered to go back to the centre to get a hot dog to catch him. David, our local car mechanic, came out of his garage, hands on hips, quietly observing all the commotion. I watched in terror as Scout approached the stoplights at the intersection. Would he make it across on the green? He seemed to know where he was going — straight to the dog trail.

Somehow, Scout’s canine navigation system must have had a technical malfunction, because instead of going straight, he turned right at the corner — the only moving thing in the intersection. At that moment, a dump truck filled with gravel came barreling down the opposite way, with Scout heading directly into his path. I pulled over, my 4-ways flashing, frozen with fear.

From out of nowhere, a half-ton pickup, the kind used for small construction jobs, inched its way on the sidewalk beside me. The smiling lad driving it called out through his open window.  “Don’t worry lady. We’ll get your dog”. I watched in disbelief as he and his buddy continued to drive past all the stopped vehicles, the dump truck included, choosing to ride with two wheels tipped up on the sidewalk. He calmly maneuvered through the gridlock of cars to the front of the line. Behind him came Karen, scrambling excitedly along the sidewalk, with a hotdog in her outstretched hand.

Up ahead, I could see the flashing of some lights. It was the ambulance from our local hospital. They had sized up this potentially dangerous situation, threaded their way through the confusion of cars, and angled their vehicle directly across the highway, in an effort to stop all on-coming traffic. Two uniformed attendants were just getting out when I spotted Scout sitting quietly at the side of the road. He was munching on the hot dog and the pretty girl with the nose ring was kneeling beside him. One of the construction fellows was holding his collar. The ambulance attendants were directing traffic. My sooner dog looked like he was ready to go home.

I quietly leashed him, thanked everyone for their help and headed back to my vehicle. When I got home, I met my sister Shirley, standing in the driveway, anxiously watching for our return. Her look of disbelief quickly turned into a smile as I retold the tale. As she reached down to pet him, she laughed and said “What a friendly town.”