For the past 11 years, I have had the honor of sharing a household with the most amazing dog. He didn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound or learn to speak Portuguese in a weekend or anything like that, although he was hands down the most athletic dog I’ve had in my 45 years of dog ownership. However, what made Rusty special among the many dogs I’ve owned and met was his startling ability to read the human situation.
Rusty saw our family through divorce, new love, marriage, blending households, death of friends and family members, work layoffs, illnesses, graduations, and – up until this weekend – an unprecedented lockdown due to a global pandemic. It is not hyperbole to say that he knew what you needed. He could read a face better than most humans I’ve met. He knew when we needed love sometimes before we did.
On Thursday evening of this week, Rusty went to jump onto our bed and he seemed a bit stiff. No big deal I thought. He’s eleven. On Friday, he stiffened up a bit more; Hopping on his back legs rather than trotting. Again, I’ve seen this before. A few years ago, he had a tight back for a few days. He came out of it in less than a week and was back to his full athletic prowess. I called the vet and told them the situation. With his reduced mobility and the lockdown, they agreed to prescribe the same meds as the last time. This time, things would not fare so well.
By late Friday afternoon, Rusty was hobbling. It was as bad as things had gotten the last time. Something felt wrong, but he was still moving, eating and drinking. I sat with him until 10 PM. He was stable, so I went to bed. At about 1 AM, I woke up to thumps and dragging noises. I rushed downstairs to find that Rusty had gone to the bathroom on the floor and was nervously dragging his back half around the room. He was panicked, looking to me for help. It was heartbreaking. I stayed up with him the rest of the night and carried him outside every couple of hours, petting him to keep him still in between. He had lost control of his bladder and bowels. I knew it was dire. Before the vet opened, I put him in the truck and we took him for his last car ride.
It took the vet about an hour and a half to call me and tell me what I already knew. My old friend wasn’t going to make it. I’m crying as I write this. The vet’s best guess is that he had a spinal blood clot that caused the shockingly fast paralysis.
Like me, Rusty was a runner. Actually, Rusty was a real runner and I’m just a plodding middle-aged trotter. I have plenty of videos of him running happily in the dog park. Just this past weekend, we were on a trail run with an old friend and his dog. I’ve never seen Rusty happier. The trail was full of mud and standing water. He and I were filthy by the end. His post-run glow and doggie smile were perfect. He came home and got an unwanted shower. He was a boy’s dog all the way. As I replay these memories in my mind, it is difficult for me to resolve that he’s gone.
The thing with dogs is that they touch us so completely but are comparatively short-lived. Our co-existence sets us up for this agony. I always knew he wouldn’t live forever. But with Rusty, he sort of made you forget about that. He retained his youthful exuberance up until his final 24 hours. I guess from that perspective we were lucky to have such incredible healthy and loving companion for 11 straight years. It still hurts.
Rest easy old friend. We love you.