Dogged Determination: Scout Shares a Healing Message
Five years ago, a chow-retriever mix named Scout was a Hanukkah gift for the Sawyer family.
This holiday season, it is nothing short of a miracle that Scout is still alive, let alone thriving as a family pet and resuming work as a therapy dog.
Scout, who now walks with a noticeable limp, is 14 months removed from being struck by a car near the family home in Seven Lakes. The life-threatening accident crushed her pelvis and had veterinarians advising the family to put her down or risk surgery that, even if successful, would still likely mean the dog losing her right rear leg.
But every dog has its day, and Scout has had hers. Her owners, the Sawyer family of Seven Lakes, did everything they could to see her through a trying ordeal.
Amy Sawyer documented everything — from surgeries, to rehabilitation, to saving every medical bill and itemizing each pill and pain-killing patch.
She did it all because she knew Scout was special and felt that if she could help Scout, the dog could help so many others.
Scout's Amazing Journey to Healing
Five years ago, a chow-retriever mix named Scout was a Hanukkah gift for the Sawyer family. This holiday season, it is nothing short of a miracle that Scout is still alive, let alone thriving as a family pet and resuming work as a therapy dog. Scout, who now walks with a noticeable limp, is 14 months removed from being struck by a car near the family home in Seven Lakes. The life-threatening accident crushed her pelvis and had veterinarians advising the family to put her down or risk surgery that, even if successful, would still likely mean the dog losing her right rear leg. But every dog has its day, and Scout has had hers. Her owners, the Sawyer family of Seven Lakes, did everything they could to see her through a trying ordeal. Amy Sawyer documented everything — from surgeries, to rehabilitation, to saving every medical bill and itemizing each pill and pain-killing patch. She did it all because she knew Scout was special and felt that if she could help Scout, the dog could help so many others.
“I had big plans for Scout,” Sawyer said. “Through me, her story would motivate others. I envisioned us as motivational speakers … letting everyone know they too could overcome great obstacles.”
Scout’s life and that of the Sawyers — Amy, her husband, Lee, and their three children, Rebecca, Lily and Chad — changed drastically on the first Saturday in October 2011.
It was still warm at 7 p.m. as the family set up tents in the backyard of their West End home for a family camp-out.
It was calm, even peaceful. Then the idyllic evening careened into chaos. For some reason, Scout charged past the family, broke through the electronic fence and bolted for the fields on the other side of the road that runs past the Sawyer home.
Amy Sawyer saw the car and screamed.
The car never slowed, striking Scout at full speed, crushing her pelvis and mangling her rear legs.
The family scooped Scout from the pine straw, loaded her in the back of the family SUV, and raced to Vass and the emergency vet hospital.
Unsure of where she was going, and on the verge of breaking down emotionally, Amy Sawyer repeated one phrase over and over: “Today is not the day, today is not the day.”
That expression would become a mantra to get her through many dark days ahead.
This fall, when Amy Sawyer and Scout visited Dana Wyckoff’s fourth-grade class at Cameron Elementary, the two had a little secret. For the first four weeks of the six-week pet responsibility class, everyone thought Scout was a regular dog. Nobody noticed her slight limp.
Then Amy surprised them all, when she began to tell the story of Scout’s ordeal.
Tears flowed openly as the students listened, Wyckoff said.
“We didn’t know,” Wyckoff said. “It is just an amazing story.”
Wyckoff said the message of responsible pet ownership reached her class, thanks to Amy and Scout.
“Any time the kids can have a hands-on, real-life experience, I think they internalize it and then they are truly learning,” she said.
Betsy Ficarro has worked in classrooms with Amy and Scout for several years. She calls Scout a phenomenal dog, who, along with Amy, commands a classroom like no other.
“The students see the connection and they get it,” Ficarro said. “They know right then what it means to have that companion in your life, and what it means to take care of it.”
Scout, Ficarro said, is born to do what she does.
“I have never seen a dog that children can crawl all over and she is not fazed one bit by it,” Ficarro said. “She is so well-behaved and such a sweet, sweet dog with a courageous spirit. She is a miracle dog.”
Doctors at the emergency clinic in Vass described Scout’s injuries as “catastrophic,” and “horrendous.”
In addition to a crushed pelvis and extensive damage to her legs, Scout had suffered head trauma, and needed a breathing tube because she couldn’t get air into her lungs on her own.
Three-and-a-half hours after the Sawyer family had raced to the vet, the doctor uttered words that Sawyer said would keep her up for many nights to come.
“He said to my girls, ‘Say goodbye to your dog,’” Sawyer said. “He meant to say ‘say goodnight,’ but he misspoke.”
But that day was not the day.
After making it through the night, the family, with the help of friends, took Scout to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Cary. It was the first step in a long journey to recovery.
The story was much the same in Cary. Sawyer remembers asking one of the veterinarians there what he would do if Scout were his dog. His answer floored her, but only served to steel her resolve.
“He reluctantly said he would have to put her to sleep, both for the financial reasons and for the grueling rehabilitation she would face,” Sawyer said.
Amy Sawyer wasn’t about to give up on Scout. She knew the animal was special, that it had a magical way of putting children at ease and bringing joy to everyone she met. So that day was not the day.
Alison Hunsinger is a special education teacher at Robbins Elementary. She works with students in grades kindergarten through fifth who have special physical and emotional or developmental challenges.
Amy and Scout started coming to her classroom twice a month beginning this past September.
“The energy and excitement level goes up when Scout comes through that door,” Hunsinger said.
And the children are responding remarkably. She cited many examples, including one of a girl who is nonverbal and rarely smiles.
“She was very nervous and timid around Scout the first time, but by the time Scout was ready to leave, she was feeding her dog biscuits and laughing and smiling,” Hunsinger said. “I mean, smiling! So you could see her teeth! We realized that day that we had never seen her teeth. Now she smiles all the time.
“That day was a real breakthrough.”
Another girl in the class has motor skill problems, making it hard for her to grasp things and work small clasps and clamps, or tie her shoes.
“She was determined not to let Scout leave without putting the leash on her,” Hunsinger said. “It was incredible to watch.
“A lot of times she gets stubborn and gives up easily, but this time she sat there until she got the collar hooked into that leash.”
Hunsinger said Scout and Amy — she calls them “the Dynamic Duo” — have inspired the children in her class.
“It is amazing to watch what (time with Scout) brings out in each child,” Hunsinger said. “She has really changed my kids in a positive way. I wish more people could see the effects she has had on these kids.”
And while some would be afraid to have a 60-pound dog in a classroom of special-needs children, Hunsinger is not.
“It is like Scout understands their different level of needs, and she can go to another level of gentleness,” Hunsinger said. “She really seams to understand the differences in all the children.”
That 60-pound chow mix was a baby ball of fur at the Moore County Animal Center in December 2007. The 8-week-old gold, blond and red puppy had the face of a chow and the temperament of a golden retriever.
Amy Sawyer knew then there was something special about the dog. She and her husband adopted her and named her Scout, after the Jean Louise “Scout” Finch character in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The Sawyers’ newest family member grew into a beautiful dog with a calm demeanor and great tolerance for children, especially the three Sawyer children, who at the time of Scout’s adoption were 7, 5 and 3.
It was that gentle nature with people, especially children, that led Amy Sawyer to pursue therapy dog certification with Scout.
Scout excelled, and at the age of 1, found herself by Amy’s side working in a variety of therapy roles. For two-plus years, Scout and Amy helped with the Alzheimer’s patients at St. Joseph of the Pines and worked with reading programs for children in schools. They also took part in a class to teach students about responsible pet ownership.
“She was always working,” Sawyer said. “She makes everybody she is with calm and happy. You get nothing but joy from seeing her interact with other people.”
Scout’s recovery was slow. The internal bleeding had healed. She had begun to breathe on her own, and now doctors sent her for a CT scan to evaluate her injuries and plan a course of action.
It was awful. The injuries were extensive: multiple fractures of the pelvis, damaged and dislocated femurs, multiple other bone fractures. The right rear leg had suffered so much nerve damage that doctors told Sawyer it likely would have to be amputated.
That day was not the day.
Five days after the accident, doctors operated on Scout for nine hours. They repaired damage to her left leg and pelvis, but opted not to remove the right leg at the time, feeling they would need it in the future to help stabilize and repair the left leg.
The day after the first surgery, Sawyer visited Scout. Her fur had been shaved, and her entire body from mid-torso back was a purple, scarred mess.
Battered and bruised, Scout was not beaten. Later that day she would begin to move her right leg, and doctors ultimately decided not to amputate it.
The movement, however slight, was a ray of light for Scout. She began getting better and, on Oct. 19, less than three weeks after the accident, Scout was allowed to come home.
Recovery was long. Scout was home unable to sit, stand or walk.
But that day was not the day.
“She couldn’t walk for six months; we had to carry her everywhere,” Sawyer said.
Family members took turns sleeping on the floor with Scout, comforting her, and being comforted by her presence.
“Each one of my kids slept on the floor with her, and I spent two months on the floor with her,” Sawyer said. “I didn’t know how she was going to pull through, but I knew somehow she would.”
Five days later, in an attempt to ease Scout’s pain and stabilize her back legs, doctors inserted a metal plate in her pelvis. To this day, if you place your hands on Scout’s hips you can feel the rods connecting the plate to her pelvis. It is something Amy lets the children do when she speaks to classes.
By mid-November 2011, Scout began water therapy in the lakes near the Sawyer family home. By March of this year, she had started limping noticeably, and doctors operated on her left rear leg to repair her knee. Following surgery, she was in a cast for three months. All the water therapy she had done previously had been undone by inactivity; the leg muscles had atrophied again.
This day was not the day.
July 5 was the day.
After months of daily therapy, Scout was able to walk completely unaided. In August, Amy and Scout resumed their therapy work. In November, Scout walked the one-mile fun run at the Turkey Trot in Pinehurst. In early December, she ran the 5K at the Reindeer Fun Run in Aberdeen.
Sawyer says Scout’s story helps inspire the children they work with.
“I tell them if she can live through this, then you can do anything,” she says. “It is a really good lesson.”
Scout keeps right on going. Earlier this month, she and Sawyer visited Cassie Hamilton’s third grade class at Westmoore Elementary. Hamilton said the children were “amazed” by Scout and her story.
“I think it showed them the strength of unconditional love and that it proved that anything is possible,” she said.
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story