On Wednesday 13th February, 2013 after 13 years of being a part of our lives (number 13 there really living up to its unfortunate association with bad luck), Rusty was put to sleep after a short but painful struggle with hip dysplasia.
It shocked me because Rusty had always been a lively, spritely and energetic dog even in his later years. It was hard to consider how old he was because until recently you could easily knock five years off him he was that youthful and vivacious. He had a healthy fur coat (a bit too healthy my Mom would say; I’m sure we’ve got shares in Dyson the amount of vacuums we got through and the fur we collected over 13 years could have provided clothing and bedding for a generation of Inuit’s). He was bursting with energy and was as difficult as ever to get back on his lead after a good run around the park chasing the birds, sniffing every inch of the ground (his nickname was Sherlock) and pissing on everything else. He could sleep like the best of them but most often whenever you walked in he was up and out of his bed, jumping up and often smacking his paws right into my balls (if I can’t have kids I’m going to blame him). You only had to say variations of the word ‘lead’ or ‘walk’ and his head would cock to the side slightly, his ears perked up and his pupils big and bright with excitement. We would often say ‘bead’, ‘need’, ‘pork’ or ‘cork’ to him (cruel in hindsight and I bet the ghost of him is pissing on my leg as I write this in revenge) and you could see in his little doggy face that the pleasures those words offered him were all he needed in his life. Well, that and his stinky meaty dog food and doggy biscuits.
I remember vividly the first day my Dad brought him home. I can’t remember exactly why the family had decided to get a dog but one Saturday my Dad went with my older brother to the dog’s home. It was a blind visit; they were going to choose a dog that day with no idea what type they wanted to get. My Dad’s words of how he chose Rusty will stay with me for the rest of my life and they sum up perfectly the type of selfless, loving dog he was: The home had the dogs in their kennels and as most dogs do when surrounded by other canines and an influx of humans with the promise of a new life and home, they were barking like mad and jumping up the kennel gates. But there was Rusty, sat in his kennel looking out, not a bark or whimper coming from him; just a face that had given up on pleading. My Dad immediately connected with him, and after choosing him he was informed that it was Rusty’s last day before they were due to ‘let him go’. I think that’s why there was always such a strong bond between my Dad and Rusty: even though he was a family dog, they shared something more between them that only their first encounter could create. I remember being in the living room looking out the window as my Dad brought Rusty out of the car and lead him down the drive. His nose was straight to the floor sniffing out his new home and his tail was wagging with excitement – he approved. It was a Saturday in May 2000 and I remember it vividly because it was the weekend before my Year 9 SATS and my friends were round the house revising with me (I was so hardcore as a teenager it’s a surprise I’m still alive today). It was a warm day and Rusty was out in the garden with us, chewing on a bone and surveying his new home. I’m pretty sure the spot he camped up in that day was the spot he lay in for the rest of his life whenever the sun was out – just by the path so he could rest his head for a bit on the hot stone then roll on to the cool grass and lie there like the complete sun-loving tart that he was. At the time we had Rusty we also had a rabbit called ‘Pinky’ that we unfortunately had to give away because young Rusty couldn’t handle having another pet in the garden and was forever running around the rabbit run chasing after him. Even when we took Rusty to have his balls cut off in the hopes that it would calm him down it didn’t so we had to say goodbye to Pinky (thinking about it: does having your balls cut off calm you down though? Because I don’t think I would be calm if I woke up and I had no balls).
Since the day he came home and for 13 years thereafter he was a staple part of our family. When my Dad used to work in a wholesale warehouse he used to take Rusty to work with him now and again, and he loved nothing more than to do a couple of laps of the warehouse when he got there before settling in the office for a bit, only to find himself wondering if he’d sniffed everything in there so he would run off for another lap. His travelling etiquette was true to a dog’s form: he wanted his head right out of that window no matter how fast my Dad was going. It was hilarious to watch, you just needed to make sure you weren’t in the firing line of any snotty dribble that he sprayed as he brought his head in briefly for an almighty sneeze. A dog’s nose is a powerful instrument and you could tell that he loved every smell that was travelling past him as we bolted along at 40mph. His nostrils twitched, his mouth peeled back as if he was laughing making him and my Dad look like Dick Dastardly and Mutley in the front seat of the little red van we had, and his head would bob up and down in quick succession trying to compensate for the fact that he couldn’t breathe in any quicker. It was a sight to behold but there was nothing funny about cleaning the passenger window after he’d been in there with the window up – it was like the scene in Titanic with the hand print except it was various dot-to-dots of his squashed nose imprinted on there.
In his earlier years he hated anything that could fly. Birds were an enemy as they invaded his territory but flies were a particular bug bear (excuse the pun). Whenever one would fly in to the kitchen on a hot summers’ day when the doors were open he would be driven mental trying to catch it, snapping his jaw at the air in a desperate attempt to grab it. I remember when he got hold of a wasp once – he soon regretted that! I was pretty sure I was going to witness a scene from The Thing when he swallowed it – he lay on his back rubbing all four paws on his stomach in a desperate attempt to get it out. Luckily he puked it out before it could burst out of him and invade us all. He also regretted chasing after the bonfire embers one bonfire night – he caught one thinking it was a fly but soon spat that back out.
They say dogs are a man’s best friend and for me, Rusty was living proof of this. All he wanted, like any creature wants, was to have a warm bed, food and love. In return for that he gave love so unconditional it is almost impossible to comprehend. On the days where life got to us as individuals or as a family, he would always be there for us, giving the same affection that he did the day before and would do everyday thereafter. Even when we told him to get in his bed and leave us alone, he didn’t love us any less for that. He probably didn’t understand why, but he didn’t change the way he felt. He’d just look at you: When you’re ready, I’m here. I can’t think of any other creature or pet that has love so unconditional and a bond so strong as a dog does with its owners. Every day that my Dad came in from work Rusty would go mental, jumping up and down, whining and pining for him. He was like that whenever any of us came home, but it was stronger with my Dad – it was that connection they made that first day in the dog’s home that was unbreakable. He made a huge impact on us all and has definitely left a void that will be impossible to replace. He was my Rusty, my ginger fur ball, my Wuddy Woo (we had various nicknames for him that no doubt confused him), my dog and my friend. He was there through thick and thin, good times and bad. He had a lot of love to give and he made everyone that met him instantly love him. A loveable dog, a family pet and a little legend we will never forget. I know it’s kind of silly to say but I honestly think that if he could say one thing to us, it would be: ‘Thank you’. And probably, ‘Why did you cut my balls off?!’.
RIP Rusty, gonna miss you little buddy x