In Memory of a Dog

After some 14 years on this earth, my parents’ dog, Rusty, passed away last Friday morning.  He was the closest animal the kids had to a pet of their own.

This is the most recent picture that I found of him, and it’s from December 2010.  The picture is actually of Auntie playing with Rerun, but Rusty walked into the shot, curious about the giggling baby.  So I cropped it down to show just the two of them.

He was adopted as a young dog by Grandma and Gichan after I had moved out of the house, so I never lived with him.  He had been found by neighbors of my parents, and their best guess was that he had either been lost or abandoned.  Grandma and Gichan took him in, and he is the dog that met each of my kids as newborns as they visited Grandma and Gichan’s house for the first time. I have a great picture of Rusty sniffing a baby Ane, but it’s a film picture, not a digital one, so I’ll have to dig up the photo album and have the Webmaster scan it.

As I said, our best guess was that Rusty was about 14 years old.  Over the last couple of years, his age had really started to show.  His eyes were cloudy and he was stiff and arthritic.  One of the saddest things to see was Tad trying to throw a ball with him this last summer – Tad was trying so hard to play with him, and Rusty simply didn’t have the energy left to chase a ball anymore.  A little over a week ago, his appetite began to fail.  Grandma and I began to break the news to Tad that Rusty was very tired and sick, and to break the news to Ane that Rusty was most likely dying.  Tad was concerned that Rusty was sick, but Ane fell apart at the idea that Rusty was dying.

On Friday morning, after a week of watching and waiting, my parents called a vet in, who agreed that Rusty was indeed at the end.  And so Rusty was put to sleep, never to wake up again.

I had the unhappy task of telling the kids when they got home from their half day of school on Friday.  Ane instantly burst into tears, and sobbed her heart out.  I simply told her that Rusty had died, but that Grandma and Gichan had been with him, and if she still wanted to, they were going to bury him that afternoon.  She had expressed a desire to be there to bury him before, and she still wanted to go.  As soon as Tad got home, we drove straight over to my parents’ house.

Ane was crying when she walked in the door, and cried harder when she saw him.  The vet had encouraged my parents to let the kids see him and pet him one last time in the house before burial, but he was already getting cold and stiff.  This bothered Tad, who was still trying to process that Rusty was not waking up.  Rerun, being only two and a half, was cheerfully oblivious to the whole event, and petted the dog only because everyone else was.

Finally, the older two helped Grandma and Gichan carry Rusty on his blanket outside to his grave, which Auntie had dug the previous weekend, knowing that this day was coming soon.  Gichan laid him in, and the kids helped shovel dirt onto him.  This made a connection for Tad that nothing else had up to that point.  When the first shovel of dirt fell on Rusty, Tad exclaimed, “No!” in a surprised undertone.  I can’t count the number of times Tad or Rerun had dumped dirt on Rusty, but when they did, Rusty would get up and walk away.  And this time, he wasn’t walking away.  Once the grave was filled, Tad broke down in tears.  I think part of him was responding to everyone else’s emotions, but I think another part of him was coming to grips with the loss of his furry friend.  It’s always hard to tell with him, because he can’t express his emotions in words.

Later, he asked if he could go outside and “look for Rusty.”  I told him he could, not sure what he would do.  Ane followed him out. Tad went straight back to the grave.  I saw them collecting fallen leaves, and Grandma later confirmed that the kids had put bouquets of fallen leaves on the plywood that was marking the grave.

We have ordered a little statuette of a German Shepherd online, and hopefully it is as advertised, and will use it to mark Rusty’s grave.  Ane is still sad, but has come to terms with his death.  Rerun is, as I said, blissfully oblivious.  Tad, however, is taking this hard.  This is his first real experience with death in terms he can understand.  He was carrying around a German Shepherd stuffed animal around on Friday evening and Saturday and calling it “Rusty.”  He kept asking me if Rusty had “turned to stone” – I thought he was talking about the statuette on order, but then he asked me if Rusty “turned to ice,” so I think he’s actually referring to the fact that rigor mortis had set in by the time he was buried.  I keep telling Tad that Rusty has gone to heaven and is chasing squirrels there.  Don’t question the theology – if there’s at least one horse in heaven, why can’t there be dogs?

And Tad’s sorrow keeps popping out at different times.  When we got to church yesterday morning and sat down with Auntie, JW, Obachan, Grandma and Gichan, Tad instantly shut down.  His face looked so sad, that I asked him if he was okay.  When he said “yes,”  I asked him if he was sad.  “Yes,” he said.

“Why are you sad?”  I asked.

“Rusty, he die, Mama.”

I told him to go hug Grandma and Gichan, sure that simply seeing them had triggered his memory.

I am sure that being over there today (Ane has her parent-teacher conference this afternoon and Grandma will be keeping the boys for me), will trigger more sadness and “looking” and questions.  This is a sad, but healthy, part of his emotional development, and we just have to let it play out, as we would for any other child.  But in the meantime, there are two kids here who miss the dog that loved them and that they loved, and one mother’s heart that aches with them and for them.

Rest in peace, Rusty, you stinky old marshmallow of a dog.  You were loved.

4 Responses to “In Memory of a Dog”

  1. Friend
    November 19th, 2012 10:43

    Now I’m crying too. Thanks a lot. 🙂

    So sad for you guys.

  2. Oddball
    November 19th, 2012 18:07

    Our kiddos took it hard too. Cowgirl has been singing a song for Rusty and Little Cousin has said in prayer “I wish Rusty wasn’t dead.” He was a good dog for a lot of years.

  3. Deanna's Corner » Blog Archive » Cookies Mean Love
    January 30th, 2013 23:06

    […] heart.  Ane’s entire experience with death has been with great-grandparents passing away, or Rusty, who was an elderly dog.  Her understanding of leukemia is framed by Little Mo’s experience, […]

  4. Deanna's Corner » Blog Archive » Flashback Friday
    August 17th, 2013 07:37

    […] Cousin had just turned three, and Rusty was still in pretty good health.  He passed away last November, and both Little Cousin and Little Cowgirl were very sad about his […]