Remembering Rusty

From the age of nine until I was 25, I was lucky enough to be the proud companion of the best dog who ever lived.

This is a grand title, but I’m not one to use hyperbole lightly (that would literally be the worst thing someone could do). Most dog-owners will proclaim their animal to be the best. That’s cute but soz you’re wrong.

I met my little friend at the RSPCA in Burwood one weekend. My mum and I went “just to look”, as we were in the area. Why anyone would go to a shelter to window-shop is beyond me, unless they were really into crying and the smell of sad urine.

We strolled down the grey concrete path, looking into each gated stall with gentle smiles.

We saw a huge bison/dog described on its cage as a ‘gentle giant’. I wanted to take him home and sleep in his belly fluff.

We saw many greyhounds, a sad reminder of the disposable way some people see animals. As a source of income and nothing more.

We saw a beautiful beagle, with soft floppy ears and a shiny red ribbon on its collar.

And then, we saw a tiny, shivering terrier cross. A long black snout highlighted his dripping nose, and his entire ribcage was visible. He was clearly not eating and in poor health. His sign simply read ‘must be welcomed indoors’.

I asked if I could meet him.

The lovely staff member at the RSPCA unlocked the large gate and placed a collar on his neck. She added that he had not received a lot of attention and would likely be placed on Death Row next week.

I slowly walked him up and down the grey path, and the little dog plodded along. The clip-clop clip-clop of his tiny feet echoed down the hall. I wanted to look after him.

Mum asked if I could pick him up. I did, and felt his bones, and his dry fur. He coughed.

“Please, Mum…” And it was done.

We proceeded back to the office to complete the paperwork, and I was over the moon. I HAVE A DOG!

We waited in the queue with little shaking pooch in tow. A couple saw our little trio and said “Oh… but did you see the beagle?”

When my sister first met him, she described him as a “sewer rat”.

I named him Rusty.

Rusty clearly had a history of trauma (so he fit right in with my family!) and for months would urinate and cringe if you bent down to give him a pat.

It broke my heart to imagine someone hurting him.

Rusty soon realised his days of abuse were behind him and that now he was a pampered prince. He ruled the house from his stumpy little legs. Being a Jack Russell cross, he was small, but managed to slowly push you off the couch if he felt he needed more space.

Rusty enjoyed the simple things in life: stealing food, burrowing under blankets and ignoring us when we called him to come inside.

Unlike other male dogs, he never showed much of an ‘animal instinct’, until my auntie adopted a male dog with a fluffy tail and Rusty was VERY enamoured. He was the first homosexual in my family and would desperately cling on to the big brushy tail, awkwardly thrusting into the air.

Rusty was my constant in life. He saw me grow up.

Before I was diagnosed as depressed, and would sometimes cry in a state of confusion, I would hear a clip-clop of tiny feet and there he’d be, curling up in my lap like a tiny stinky dog pretzel.

Leaving home as a young adult is never easy, but saying goodbye to Rusty was remarkably difficult.

He began turning grey and developed a very distinguished set of eyebrows.

As his hearing and eyesight faded, he walked slower and the clip-clops became quieter.

Rusty continued to enjoy walks, even when his arthritis was evident. Mum and I would carry him once it began hurting. He was so light and small we’d scoop him up and carry him like a baby. A stinky, long-nosed baby.

Mum rang one day after Rusty had taken a sudden turn following his regular vaccinations. He was barely moving, and showing little interest in food.

I was not ready to say goodbye.

I thought he’d always be there, that he would be the dog to defy medical science and live to be 100.

I had the chance to have a nice long cuddle with Rusty, to hold him greatly, to pat his grey head and tell him he was a good boy. The best, I whispered.

The vet was terse and lacking in social skills. I sat in a plastic chair and Rusty was placed on my lap. I kissed his head.

We said goodbye.

The nurse injected the lime green fluid. He lowered his head, his body drooped, and he was gone.

As a last hurrah, his bladder emptied and my lap was wet.

My tears felt endless.

We wrapped him up in blankets and carefully buried him in Mum’s backyard.

Mum and I held hands, looking at the mound.

Sometimes in the early morning hours I think I hear the familiar clip-clop, clip-clop.

Originally published at