McKean Minute: A Dog Named Sue

I recently wrote in this space about the untimely passing of my best friend. I may have mentioned Scott’s incomparable personality, an infectious mixture of mischief and malarkey sprinkled with equal parts responsibility and get-er-doneness. Scott was the person in my life most likely to show up unannounced with a six-pack, and also to write my own mother on her birthday.

I was asked to say a few words at Scott’s memorial service earlier this month, and I regret to say that my remarks were hurried and unformed, partly out of grief, partly out of my inability to believe that he was really dead, such a vibrant person undeservedly plucked from the living.

I started my remarks talking, as I often do, about my dog. Her name is now Nellie, but for the first couple weeks in our house, she didn’t have a name. We were trying to define her personality, and would hang a name on her only after we got a sense of her dogness. I didn’t tell my family at the time, but I nearly named her Scott.

The first reason was high irony. Scott’s favorite song, and one he belted out at the top of his voice on long road trips with me, was “A Boy Named Sue,” the Johnny Cash version. He would gravel his voice for the part about “the mud and the blood and the beer.” I thought how funny it would be to name my own female dog “Scott” as a sort of homage to Johnny’s Sue.

The more I considered the name, the more it fit. Our dog is a charming, maddening, delightful, aggravating mix of rascality, loyalty, spontaneity, and surprise. While she’s unlikely to ever write my mother on any occasion, she otherwise is a pretty good incarnation of Scott. I mentioned all this at the funeral service, but I may have overly stressed the more unfortunate traits of my dog. She’s a delinquent and an opportunistic petty criminal, more likely to retrieve a rotting deer leg than the stick I just threw her, and incapable of walking away from something putrid, the more stinky and skanky the more likely she is to roll in it.

But Nellie also has the keenest senses of smell and humor of any dog I’ve encountered. Everything for her is potential fun, whether it’s a sock or a log larger than she is, she’s going to find a way to bring it to me and then make a game out of it. That’s Scott. He could find fun in the most mundane, stultifying, and tedious task, and turn it into an opportunity for mirth and mayhem. I mentioned all of that, to the knowing nods of Scott’s friends and family, at the service.

What I didn’t mention, though, is the absolute tenacious loyalty that both Nellie and Scott possess. Nellie simply won’t give up, whether it’s in pursuit of a downed rooster or a thrown ball. She’ll keep searching until I call her off or she finds it. Scott was the same way. He’d do anything for a friend, and keep on the task until it was finished or forgotten by everyone but him. Nellie is loyal to a fault. She’ll have fun with fellow dogs and visitors, but at the end of the day, she’s by my side, ready to hunt them up or hook up for the next adventure. Scott was the same way. There was no one in my life with a fiercer sense of commitment or loyalty to a friend or a mission.

So, you’ll excuse me if sometimes when I send Nellie for a long retrieve, I slip up and say “Go gettum, Scott….” Or if, when she comes back with some putrid find and looks up at me expecting praise and a pat on the head, I shake my own head and say, “Scott, yer a dumbass.” I say it all with the greatest affection and the grievous knowledge that best friends, like good dogs, don’t live nearly long enough.

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