When I was 13 years old, a week before Christmas, my parents finally gave in to the only present I had ever asked for at Christmas-time and for my birthday – a dog. We were always dog people, but we already had a dog, a wicked smart, and therefore sometimes tough to handle Brittany Spaniel named Rita. When they finally relented, we went on a family trip to Operation Kindness, the local no-kill shelter in Dallas, and they gave me the following parameters: the dog I chose had to be over one year old, female, smaller than Rita (so under 45-ish pounds,) and house-broken. Walking around the shelter I spotted a handsome fluff-ball and asked to see him. The staff brought him into a small room to see how he interacted with us. He came straight for me, got up on his back legs and gently leaned forwards towards me. I caught his front two paws in my hands and fell in love immediately.
By the way, he fit none of the parameters that were laid out. Pretty soon we found out he was not house-broken, and while at the time he was around the same size as Rita, after growing a little more (and fattening up a bit) we discovered that he was probably only around 10 months old when we took him home and ended up around 60-65 pounds when fully grown. (He was young enough that we were able to change his name from Skipper to Rusty, after discovering that he liked to lay down while he ate we decided “Skipper” was too energetic of a name for him, even if he did look like he was skipping when he got excited.)
I got Rusty when I was in the middle of 7th grade, formative and emotional years that he helped me get through just by being there. Friendships forming and dissipating, relationships gone well and gone wrong, emotional family times, family history uncovered, school plays, sports teams, music tastes both good and bad. He remained by my side into high school where most of that intensified and my direction in life became either more muddled or clearer with each day. Rusty was my constant companion through it all. Knowing I wanted to get out of the place I grew up, even out of the entire state of Texas, was made harder by knowing that I would have to leave him behind. I moved to Boston for Tufts University when I was 18 years old and I never lived at home again with the exception of parts of a couple of summers. Whenever I flew back to Dallas, he was my first priority. Even though I have a big family and several friends that I visit whenever I’m in town, they can all talk to me on the phone or online. He was someone that I had to be present for. Among the many things he taught me, one of the most important is the value of being in the moment, especially with those we love.
These are some more of the many things that he taught me either through his actions or through our caretaking of him:
- That laying in the grass is a worthwhile pastime.
- Furry pillows are the best.
- Cold floors like the tile in bathrooms or in front of the fireplace are a great place to cool off.
- Sitting or standing while eating is overrated.
- Going on walks or taking a trip to the park is an adventure you can have every single day. It never gets old.
- You can still look extremely handsome as you age.
- The best medicine when you’re upset is burying your face in his fur or kissing his wet squishy nose.
- It’s okay to go to bed early, even if the rest of the family is still awake.
- The invigoration of going outside on a cool or cold morning.
- Which patches of grass are best of rolling around in to scratch your back.
- How many different smells can come wafting through the wind as long as you have a good vantage point to smell them (like the top of a hill or outside on the deck.)
- The joy of frolicking in the snow.
- Never biting the hand that feeds you, kissing it instead.
- Seating at dinner is crucial, being able to take advantage of scraps of food that might drop from the table while also getting tummy rubs is key.
- One can never run out of nicknames – Fluffy butt, Squishy Beak, Stoner Dog, Rust Butt, Rust Man, Crusty, Slow Poke, Old Man, etc.
- There is regal elegance to sitting on a hill in the breeze.
- The laziest dog can transform to having boundless energy with the sound of a leash.
- How to have a short term memory of anyone’s poor mood.
- How to live stoically with a tumor, still finding joy in a good walk, cold air, and fine food even with cancer metastasizing in your body.
- That slowing down is okay, you can see and smell more that way.
- How to love unconditionally.
- And finally, how to positively impact all the people you encounter in life through love and kindness.
Rusty, you lived over 15 long and loved years, over 14 of those in the company of our family. You were far and away the best gift I have ever received, the gift that always gave more to all of us. In the end I have decided that we didn’t choose you at the shelter, but you chose us, and we are all the better because of it.
Rusty Sager: 2/14/2002 – 5/22/17