Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On fur... and love

Rule #9 - Do not fear emotion

June 5, 2012 - a day that will tear at my heart forever.

     It’s incredible how you remember specific days. I can tell you exactly what I was doing the day President Kennedy was shot. My recollections of 9/11 are still clear as anything. June 5 is another day that will stay with me, because that’s the day we lost our 18 year old dog, Rusty. I will always remember that day, and the few days that lead up to that one. Emotions of those days are still raw and spill out in tears every now and then. The rawness will heal, I’m sure. Until then,......

    This dog was a real family member. I can remember my son and I trolling our Animal Control shelter looking for a dog for my husband as a Father’s Day gift in 1994. We argued about the size of the dog. He wanted big dogs, so they could intimidate anyone who would dare hurt his parents. I wanted a medium-sized dog that looked a bit like our previous hound. I won. After all, his dad and I weren’t getting any younger. A big dog took more space and energy than I was ready to give up. Plus, my son was in college and leaving home for good soon. It was the parents’ dog, not his. He could get his own dog… which he did.

     As we walked into the dog area, I saw those eyes staring back from his cage. He was only 6 months old at the time. He looked so scared and sad. We passed by and gave the other dogs a chance to melt my heart, but we ended back with Rusty. He was called Timber then. His previous family gave him up and left him tied to the fence at Animal Control with his blue blanket. The workers at the shelter found him waiting for them on Monday morning. No one claimed him or wanted him, and he was one day away from that “last shot”. Guess where he ended up?

     We gave my husband a picture of him for Father’s Day. My husband got teary eyed when we told him what we did. Later that week, after his starter shots and a good “fixin’”, our “stallion” came home to our house.

     It was a tenuous start. Rusty wanted to be in charge. Guess his last owner wasn’t too big into pooch discipline. Russ also thought every concave article was his personal food bowl. He helped himself to trash from the trash can, ½ pound of raw bacon from a bowl on the counter (he was fast, too), and some candy from a candy dish on the coffee table. He learned very quickly that his new home was shared with humans and they were in charge, not him. He definitely liked to play, but not really rough. Rusty’s predecessor loved to wrestle. Not Rusty. No bites but he made his displeasure at my son’s pinning him very clear.

     He was also a bit of a drama king. If you accidentally stepped on his paw, he would yelp as you would expect. Then he would limp around and whimper until he got more attention and sympathetic loving.  Once his attention needs were met, he was fine.

     He chose his “alpha” and that was me, for the most part. When my husband and I would cuddle up on the couch, he was right there. When we would hug, he was right there at my feet. He would try to nuzzle in and we would all “group hug”. He was fine with that, as long as he was part of it all. My daughter was still in high school at the time Rusty arrived and the two of them bonded immediately. Rusty made it quite clear that any fellow she dated had to pass the Rusty test. Even if he passed, when they would sit together, the dog wormed his way between them both. No one was going to take his sister from him.

     As the years went by, Rusty proved his worth as a guard dog. His bark was loud and forceful. He did have a tendency to bark at everything, including rolling beer cans. But our neighbors loved the fact that he was alert, loud and intimidating with his bark. His was not a nuisance bark. It was a “Hey, I see something and you have to tell me if it’s friend or foe” type of bark. Usually the neighbors would yell, “Hey Rusty” and he would stop barking. He knew voices too. The only bane of his existence was little kids. He did not like any little crumb snatcher horning in on his territory. He looked at them like they were prey, or a side-dish. We kept him away from little kids. But he loved being around adults!

     Our first inkling that he was going downhill was at 14 years old. Rusty was running like his normal goofy self, chasing this squirrel that drove him crazy. We heard a yelp and he fell down. Then he got up and was limping while he continued to chase the squirrel. Our dog managed to tear his ACL. Well, he was running pass routes like an offensive back, wasn‘t he? But, who thought of knee trouble? His surgery fixed the problem and stunned the vet when he recovered. Dr. Mike couldn’t believe that he made such a great recovery at 14 years old. Rusty was 15 ½ when his popped his other ACL. At that point, surgery was not recommended because of his age. Rusty still defied the odds when he recovered and went on to keep squirrels and blue jays in his sights, chasing them as far as possible. I swore one day we would find him stuck to a tree trunk, because he thought he could climb the tree after the squirrel.

     It was about that time, too, that he started with demadectic mange. We spent the better part of 2 years clearing that issue up once and for all. Again, we also had amazed vets! How could this guy go “Timex” on them? He took lickins and kept on tickin’. Our fuzz-guy was a fighter for sure.

     He was just about to turn 17 when he had his first episode of adult dog vestibular disease. Those symptoms mimic a stroke with seizure. Rusty walked around after the episode listing to the port side and shaking his head. When we took him to the vet for this problem, we all decided it was time for poochie hospice -time for care and comfort for whatever time he had left. Many dogs don’t shake out of the seizure, but Rusty bounced back. It took him about 2 weeks, but he was up and around. That was Christmas 2010. The next year as his 18th birthday hit, you could see deterioration a bit more. But he was still eating, drinking, peeing and pooping at the correct times and in the correct places. He would have another seizure or two but always come back.

     We knew in March it wouldn’t be too much longer that he was with us. His decline was steady and he started with occasional accidents. By May, he was having a hard time walking. We stopped getting him upstairs at night and started to sleep downstairs with him. Yes, he went back to having to go out in the middle of the night. Neither my husband nor I wanted to make the call. But circumstances forced our hand.

     When Dr. Mike walked in that last house call visit, he looked at a fighter who was just plain tired. He checked him out and said that, even if we didn’t call, he would not have lasted more than a week or two. Mike was glad we called and asked for him. Then he explained the process…

     Rusty was laying on the blue blanket that he brought with him from the pound 18 years ago. He sat up, and looked at Mike, my husband and I. Then he knew what was going to happen and laid down on his blanket. Mike gave him the sedative and Rusty started snoring. Then the last shot… no sound, no drama, just peace and quiet in his favorite sleeping spot next to the couch. And tears, from me, my husband and Dr. Mike. Rusty was ready.

     My husband picked up his cremains today. Rusty now rests in a gorgeous box and sits on our picture window sill. It’s the same window he would stand at when he knew it was time for me to come home from work. He would check every knock at the door and every car sound from the driveway from that spot at the window. Now he can keep doing what he did best from his favorite spot - guarding and welcoming us and all who enter.

     Like I said before, my emotions are still raw. I’m crying as I type. I know, as a bereavement minister and former health teacher, that I need to experience all the emotions of grief. Lord knows I cried for about 3 days before his passing. I’m surprised I have any more tears left to shed. But sometimes the best writing comes from raw emotion. I’m not sure if this is my best writing or not. But I hope you got a chance to know Rusty from this piece. And I hope you will also be able to experience the fantastic joy a pet can bring to your life.

    We both miss Rusty so much. The day after his death, we ran errands, and on our way home, we passed Animal Control. It took all our efforts not to turn in. But, we need to honor Rusty by grieving for him. Perhaps at a later date, we will get another dog. We’ve already had 3 and each one had their own personalities. Even our late cat, Duffy, had his own goofy personality. 

     I keep remembering a line from the Muppet Christmas Carol. “Life is a series of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” It’s a line spoken by one of my favorite animals, Kermit the Frog. And it’s true… you can’t have the happy days without the sad. This is one of the sad parts of life that we just have to experience and cope with the best we can.

     Good bye, sweet Fuzz. We will meet again, I know it.


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