From 'Marley and Me' to 'Rusty and Us'
10/4/98 - 7/5/14
The movie Marley and Me pulls at the heart strings and depicts very well how much a family pet is involved in the life of a family. For our family, Rusty was that dog, he was with me through two marriages and six children, joining the family after my fourth child turned one. Now as that same child turns 17, we farewell our old mate Rusty. When an animal spends 16 years as part your life, as a constant, there is most definitely a hole left when they are gone. However, animals do come and they go, they enjoy life and affection from us and we get companionship from them. Our family farewelled our first dog, Boxer who lived for 15 years, several years before and now it was time to farewell Rusty.
In our family we treat dogs like dogs, not confusing them as human, yet part of our family they certainly are; there through all of the growing years and life changing moments. Our little Rusty had the body and temperament of a Jack Russell and the crazy curly long hair of a Cocker Spaniel. He lived outside all his life, enjoying digging a network of tunnels under our deck, where he slept for many years. We nick named him troll as he grew older, appearing only for meals and special occasions.
Just like Marley, in the movie, Rusty was terrified of storms. If he did manage to find his way inside the house, or up on the deck during a storm, frightened and cornered he was quick to nip anyone that dared to move him. Wary of being nipped again we learnt not to try and pick him up for a cuddle, despite the fact he looked just like a puppy until the day he died. Catching him, washing him and giving his matted coat a trim was always a big drama. Even though he pretended to hate it, the ordeal was worthwhile just to see that look on his face; to see him bounding off probably half a kilo lighter, clean and fresh, only to watch him roll straight back in the dirt again.
He wasn't a pampered pooch with his own bed, quilt and fitted jacket; he was a dog, a hunter who stalked and killed many mice over the years, thoroughly enjoying the freedom to race around the yard with the other dogs. As he aged, unfortunately our other two dogs, both Boxers, began to pick on him and eat his food. No longer part of the pack, we rescued him and he spent the last year of his life separated from the other dogs, enjoying a quieter but safer life,well fed on his own private side of the house. It was too late to change him to an inside dog, it didn't suit him, besides his stumpy old legs could barely lift his frail body high enough to get up the steps by that stage. Instead, he allowed us to trim back his knotted fur, removing the burrs and caked on dirt with a fresh bath, giving him a new but shortened lease on life.
When summer arrived, bringing with it 46 degree temperatures, another upgrade was called for. Rusty enjoyed his final few months living like a king on top of the deck, shaded and protected from the heat, safely looking down on the Boxers from his elevated position. He spent his summer there, gradually weakening and succumbing to the joint aches and old bones failing him. Eating right up to the end, even though I'm sure he couldn't see his bowl anymore, he hung in and he hung in and he hung in. His nightly cries of sadness and pain, no longer eased by a full belly, told me over and over it was time. I had wished he would just quietly slip away through the night, instead he hung on, until the bitter cold nights of autumn were too much. On his last morning he took his final long slow shuffle along the deck to find his bit of sun, however, the warmth of the sun was no longer enough. The pain of that walk and inability to cope through another bitter night was the final straw, he finally made me accept that it was time. It was his time.
For a dog that had never allowed me to pick him up, there was no struggle; wrapped in his blanket like a baby, his long slow howling cries changed to whimpers of relief. During the short car trip to the vet the blanket and warmth of my body enveloped him, his trembling eased and whimpers changed to silence. With a long last look, he quietly thanked me for caring.
He quietly slipped away, still wrapped in his blanket, patted and surrounded by all who meant him well. He trembled one last time, his body relaxing with unmistakable relief, quietly and peacefully letting go. It was both a sad and proud moment to be a part of that, a privilege. After, coming home and cleaning up the deck for the last time, removing his things, I could feel nothing but joy and happiness as his spirit twirled around me with bounding energy, thanking me for letting him go. Now I can only imagine him running like the wind, forever chasing those mice with what I'm sure was a smile on his cheeky little face. Farewell Rusty, RIP old friend...