On June 16th, 2014 I lost my best friend. I still remember the day we went to pick him up. It was June 1999, and we were in SC visiting family. I was 11 years old and had been begging my parents for a dog all my own for years. I specifically remembered my brother playing with a little white and tan female and wanting me to get her…but then I saw him. You might say it was love at first sight, but there he was…running away and hiding behind some bushes. OF COURSE I picked the timid runt of the litter.
After being a hellion as a puppy, he became the most patient, loving, loyal, smart, and well-behaved dog. Other than the occasional trash can diving (who can deny perfectly delicious smelling leftovers being thrown away at nose level?) he straightened up at about 2 years old. My parents would tell me every night that I stayed out that he would wait for me and sleep in my bed, or if my door was closed he would lay by my door. Unfaltering loyalty. Rusty saw me through my darkest days, and at times I felt he was my only friend. He could predict me and, as crazy as it sounds, I think he understood me. At 12 years old, I could have never imagined the friend I would have in him.
I also never imagined that he would ever get old. Albeit inevitable, it’s just not something you consider to be possible when you love someone so much. In December 2010, I found out that he had some degeneration in his cervical spine and some spondylosis and I was told that eventually he would probably become neurological and not be able to walk properly. He was 11 years old at the time and was already on some medications for arthritis. We put him on some muscle relaxers and additional pain medications and he was right as rain soon enough. This was the first of many incidents, but fortunately, he went years without a problem after that. We even did acupuncture many, many times over the last year which definitely helped him live pain free for a very long time.
Over the past 6 months, though, I saw my friend’s neurological symptoms begin to worsen. On his walks that he loved so much, he would tire quickly and start tripping over his back legs and scrape them on the pavement. The last month or so, he began to get increasingly uncoordinated when he walked…his back legs often twisting or giving out. Even indoors he was still having trouble getting around. I could see the frustration on his face when he would slip and fall then couldn’t get up. I couldn’t put him through this anymore and made the decision because I didn’t want to look back and say that I waited too long. I can only take comfort in the fact that I spent the entire weekend with him doing the things he LOVED to do: take walks, eat, sleep, dog park, eat, sleep, eat more, and then I bought him a feast of a last meal. Things that he never got to eat….3 cheeseburgers, a chicken sandwich, and ice cream. Rusty was truly the dog of a lifetime, and I’m so thankful God gave me the privilege to care for him and give back to him only fraction of what he did for me. Thank you, old friend. I will see you again.