Beyond Best Friends: Remembering Boomer

I have to be honest — as much as I’ve always loved both my Grampy, Jim Scott Sr., and my father, Jim Jr., sharing a name with both has brought a bit of pressure.

No one ever told me I needed to accomplish big things, but seeing my family’s tremendous work ethic in action made me want to follow suit. Beginning in 1961 with the Old Mother Hubbard biscuit company, then becoming the WellPet group of animal nutrition brands, and now as the team behind RAWZ Natural Pet Food, my family has a long history focused on premium food for pets. So it’s no wonder I’d understand the powerful connection between people and their four-legged family members.

For my family, the connection we shared with our yellow lab Boomer felt like a magical bond and was an incredible blessing to experience.

Given my family’s long involvement with the pet nutrition business, one might assume that I naturally grew up with cats or dogs. Truth be told, with all three children involved in various extracurricular activities and my parents working like crazy to support us, it wasn’t until I was about 12 that we got our first dog. My mom probably thought that as young adults we would help out with some of the responsibilities that come with being a pet parent; but I admit she truly shouldered the load. 

Boomer was born on April 5, 1996. After hearing the word, my brother Andy, sister Aimee, parents and I climbed into the family minivan and made the three-hour drive to meet the yellow lab puppy who would become the fourth Scott child. I’ll never forget the excitement of that ride: us kids bursting with anticipation, sitting with a six-square-foot cardboard box lined with the blanket that would become forever Boomer’s. After reading a lengthy book about integrating a puppy into the family, Mom had carefully followed the prescribed protocols, personal blanket and all.

About halfway home and with us kids growing restless and hungry, my parents stopped at a rest area for some lunch. Once the smell of french fries permeated the van, an entirely new side of Boomer’s personality emerged as he began his quest to steal some golden fries. Being a yellow lab, and therefore true to the rascally nature of the infamous star of “Marley & Me,” Boomer quickly earned a reputation as an amazing dog who lost all control around food. It probably didn’t help his progress in training that, because he was so adorable, Boomer escaped any admonishment, no matter how many times he was caught with his snout in a fries container! The joy and fun of that first day lasted through many years while my siblings and I grew up alongside Boomer.

Boomer remained very healthy and puppy-like as he aged, although he ultimately had multiple joint problems in his legs, a common problem for Labrador Retrievers. But I’ll never forget the phone call I received as a freshman in college: my parents telling me of Boomer’s cancer diagnosis. Boomer was eight years old at the time, and we hoped he’d have at least a few good years left.

Fortunately, my parents were able to secure aggressive treatment for Boomer’s cancer. He underwent successful chemotherapy and emerged with his amazing spirit intact, going on to live to his 14th birthday — and never once losing his voracious appetite. All through his rehabilitation from surgeries and battle with cancer, Boomer remained a sweet, integral part of our family. The years following his treatment were an absolute gift, but the blessings that Boomer brought us need some further explanation.

During a single 15-month period from 2005-06, both my brother Andy and I sustained severe life-altering injuries: Andy became a paraplegic after falling from a third-story balcony, and I sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a horrific car crash. Our lives were changed forever, but the comfort and joy Boomer brought to us both reaffirmed the spiritual power of the human-animal bond, which grew even stronger between Boomer, Andy and me.

Andy and I each spent months in different medical hospitals followed by stints in Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, where Boomer was a frequent visitor. I remember he brought joy and a sense of normalcy not only to me, but to the other patients as well; I tried not to be jealous that Boomer was more popular than his human.

As amazing as having our dog visit us in the hospital was, it was only after we returned home — and started a totally new incarnation of life — that Boomer’s companionship became truly instrumental to our learning to live with life-changing disability. The support and encouragement both Andy and I received from our friends and family were phenomenal, but our four-legged brother gave us additional unconditional love and acceptance. It was almost as if Boomer had a PhD in Neurology and was assisting in both of our recoveries!

Andy was in a wheelchair after his discharge and would often use his lap as a tray table for snacks or casual meals. As food-crazed as he was, Boomer never once took advantage of this situation to steal from Andy. In fact, it was quite common to see Boomer adopting a statuesque pose next to Andy as he ate, my brother slowly enjoying his tasty food while a puddle of drool formed on the floor in front of Boomer.  

I lived with my parents for about two and a half years following my discharge from the hospital. During this time, I was in a rehab day program at Portsmouth Regional Hospital from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., four days a week. While in the program I made incredible physical progress: transitioning from a wheelchair to using a cane, then just wearing a brace, to ultimately walking on my own. This meant I could start walking Boomer unassisted. It had been a goal of mine to take Boomer out on my own, but because of limited function in my left arm and leg, I had to be accompanied on walks by one of my parents. What a victory it was just to grab Boomer’s leash and go for a walk! 

Andy and I have been blessed in our recoveries and now live independently. When I first moved out to live on my own without Boomer, I felt like something was missing. The loss of identity and social activities brought on by my TBI was daunting. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take care of Boomer on my own, but after a few trial runs, my parents and I worked out a “custody arrangement.” Although I was struggling with my own losses and subsequent depression, my commitment to caring for Boomer as he aged proved invaluable. Just the structure provided by his feeding schedule helped me stay organized. Remembering his needs and schedule bolstered my cognition, while our daily walks served as additional physical therapy.   

We had immense difficulty in saying goodbye. Boomer’s back legs eventually failed him, to the point where even getting up off the ground became a challenge. I lived with Boomer for six years, through some of my darkest emotional times post-TBI. Although saying goodbye meant losing a psycho/physical therapist; the ultimate teacher of unconditional love; a roommate and third sibling, I felt an immense peaceful gratitude.

As his final gift, Boomer had taught me that the journey to healing from deep emotional loss and grief is eased by the recognition of and gratitude for the blessing that hurts so much to lose.