“The love of a dog is a pure thing. He gives you a trust, which is total. You must not betray it.”—Michel Houellebecq
“No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does.”—Christopher Morley
He was a good boy with an old soul. Simple as that. He wasn’t the prettiest. He certainly wasn’t the most active. He wasn’t graceful, adorable, lively, cute, or any other word often used to describe dogs. Instead, he was loyal, friendly, and intelligent. Furthermore, he was smelly (had to mention that one), protective, “fluffy” (not fat), and most importantly, a faithful friend.
My daughter, Madelyn, ultimately named him Rusty because that was the color of his fur the day she, along with my husband, John, discovered him. According to them, they pulled into our driveway one long ago day; and, there he was . . . sitting in our front side yard under a tree near our garage as if he were waiting for us to come home. Maddie was initially afraid, because he possessed some pit bull features, was rather large, and, well frankly, was not the most attractive dog. In fact, with his snaggle-tooth sticking out, his face cut up, ribs showing (in spite of his barrel-shaped chest), patches of fur missing, and the skin of his nose gone; he appeared, at first glance, to be rather menacing. In spite of his intimidating appearance, of which he was clearly not aware, he kept his eyes fixed upon them, and John noticed a hint of tail wag.
John stepped out of the truck first. His tail began to swish rapidly, but Rusty remained planted on the ground. John called to him, and slowly, in the humble walk we would come to recognize as his classic-way of winning people over, he lowered his head, wiggled/twisted his butt while simultaneously wagging his tail, and cautiously moved towards John. I am fairly certain he won John’s heart in that instant.
Once he came close enough for John to pet him, it became clear that this dog was not a threat; and furthermore, had been mistreated/abused. In fact, we would later come to learn that he had a fear of men with facial hair, and we would often wonder if his previous owner had been a man. It would take us years to help him overcome his fear of men with beards and mustaches.
Needless to say, by the time I got home, Maddie was no longer afraid of the dog, and had already settled on his name. My daughter, along with Rusty, greeted me as soon as I stepped out of my car. Maddie was already chattering, in the rapid-fire pattern of high-powered weapon, begging to keep the dog. “Look how sweet he is, Mom?” “Do you see how thin he is?” “Can you see how he’s been hurt?”
Of course, somebody had to play the role of pragmatist. “We already have one dog and two cats.” “Pets are expensive.” “Where are we going to get more money to care of another animal?” “He smells.” “He’s shedding.” “No, I do not want to pet him.” “No, you absolutely cannot feed him, because he will never go away if you start to feed him.” “No, you cannot bring him into the house.” “Fine, you can play with him outside, but he’s absolutely not coming in. Hopefully, by morning, he’ll be gone.”
Fast forward eight years later, and I am alone in my classroom. The student I was tutoring left ten or so minutes ago. The weight of all John’s texts, sent to my phone while I was tutoring, hit me as I begin to I cry. I cry, not only for the loss of Rusty’s life, but also because I will truly miss him. He was a good boy—an ol’ soul—who won my anti-dog heart over.
While I recognize that Rusty was a mature adult dog when he came to “own” our family, eight years spent as part of our family seems so short. That said, in those eight years with us, he lived a life full of love and free from abuse.
Maddie was ten when he first arrived. She was in elementary school. During her younger years, Maddie would widely swing open the back door and give a cock-a-doodle-do shout to the neighbor kids as she headed out to play. Rusty would suddenly realize she was heading outside, begin to bark like a mad-dog, heeding her call-of-the-wild, and take off running after her.
John and I would laugh watching Rusty chase after Maddie with his undersized legs flying, but he was short winded. Within seconds, Rusty would slow to a trot, and collapse in a huffing heap looking in her direction. Then, as if it was planned, he would roll around in the grass for a minute, spin round in a circle five or six time, then flop down—back legs splayed, front paws extended, head regally lifted towards the sun, and still panting from the exertion. We referred to this as Rusty’s, I’m-just-gonna-sit-here-in-the-sun-and-work-on-highlighting-my-fur-look while you play with your buddies.
Anytime John would leave, Rusty would run—okay, quickly walk–to the bay window in our family room, directly in front of where John parks his truck, place his front paws on the window, and cry for John’s return. The few times John was gone for an extended period, Rusty would periodically walk to that window, look out of it, and whimper for John.
When Rusty heard me opening the refrigerator, he would come galloping into the kitchen, usually sliding on the tile, and stand beside me in the hopes of broccoli, baby carrots, and/or apple slices. Heaven help, if I wasn’t getting out any of those food items. He would stand there and look at me, with his imploring, old soul eyes, pleading for produce. In fact, one of my former coworkers who dog-sat him, loved to tell the story about how she gave him a piece of bologna one time, and he wouldn’t eat it. “Of course he won’t eat bologna, because Stephanie only feeds him healthy food. He probably thought I was trying to poison him!”
In spite of his disdain for bologna, Rusty did love those packaged dog-treats and was your friend for life if you fed him one. However, one day we learned, after an exceptionally high electric bill, that the electric company would not come into our yard to read our meter because of our “vicious” dog’s bark. This brought our entire family to tears of laughter, because if they had only offered Rusty a dog treat, they could have not only read our meter correctly, but also could have stolen anything from our house!
Rusty tolerated our cats, played with them, and raided their litter box for “treats.” He drooled watching us eat, and his dog hair coated us. He roamed from room to room while we slept, seemingly checking on each of us, while guarding the house. Rusty listened with ear-twitching intensity when we talked to him, wagged his tail of approval at our appearance, and did the best head-down-wiggle-walk when he was really trying to win someone over. He was the, “best boy ever.” If there is a canine heaven, I know he’s there . . .working on his highlights, noshing on broccoli and pizza crusts, and looking deeply into our eyes from afar conveying his eternal dog love through the twinkling of the stars and the warmth of sun’s caresses. Rest in peace, good boy, rest in peace. You will be missed.