From the bottom of my heart, I believe some people come into our lives for a reason. I'm starting to realize I believe this about animals, as well.
Last week, my family not only lost a trusted and faithful companion, but what we truly lost was one of our own. Rusty, our 15 year old golden retriever, left us on a beautiful, warm day on a blanket out on the lawn with my mother and a very kind vet by his side. It was something that had been coming for a very long time and yet, when my mom told me over the phone, it took my breath away. You see, Rusty wasn't just a dog, wasn't even just my furry brother, he was one of us. Rusty came into our lives and transformed us with love.
Let me start at the beginning. I have said this before, but I am not what someone would describe as a dog person. It's not that I don't like them, in fact I love many of them including my own little canine man, but I don't adore all dogs. I just don't. Nothing to be done about it. However, when our family collie, Sugar, passed away, there was always something missing. Fast forward a few years and my sisters and I convinced my parents they needed a golden retriever puppy. I fought especially hard for this. After some investigation on my sister Monica's part, Rusty was found. (He was three years old, but - trust me - he was a puppy and he remained one until he was at least nine.) I'll never forget the day I met him. He came bounding into my sister's house with an energy I had never, ever seen before and, in a flash, was up on the bed, up the stairs, down the stairs, on the couch, off the couch, circling the dining table and outside. All while wagging his tail, smiling and barking, as if he was saying, "I knew it! I knew you were my family!" Now, let me tell you, Rusty was a handful those first few years. No two ways about it. There was a very small amount of time when my parents wondered if they were up to the challenge of raising Rusty, but to know this redheaded boy was to love him and in a matter of weeks, my parents' hearts melted. As much as they both loved him (we all did), however, he was truly my dad's best friend. Everywhere my dad went, Rusty could be found trailing close behind him.
Two years later, my father died and Rusty became the man of the house. I realize how ridiculous that sounds (and it does), but I think my dad's closeness to Rusty made us all feel closer to the person we had lost. Just a few days after his death, my father came to me in a dream (and like most therapists, I take dreams pretty seriously). I was sitting in the living room and looked over and noticed my dad sitting on the floor petting Rusty. I said, "Dad, what are you doing here?!" and he looked at me and said with a smile, "Honey, where else could I possibly be?"
In the years that followed, Rusty provided a kind of comfort and joy that helped all of my family, but especially my mom. He came into our lives at a time when we couldn't have needed him more and I can honestly say I can't imagine there was ever a better companion.
A few days ago, I woke to an email from my lovely mother. In it, she wrote about a dream she had the night before. These are her words: "It was about a little dog who had been rescued by a couple. He had some kind of health problem, but he was so endearing. From somewhere, music began to play and this little creature began to wiggle across the floor, doing dance movements that were absolutely filled with joy. There were all of us, standing and watching, wildly clapping and laughing to see his joy. I think that must have been Rusty letting us know he's now able to dance again and telling us he is joyful in the place he is."
I couldn't love my mother anymore than I do. Not even the tiniest bit more.
And, Rusty, my sweet, sweet boy, I couldn't have loved you anymore than I did - none of us could have. You were the best dog I have ever known and I can never thank you enough for taking care of Mom the way you did. I wouldn't have my own puppy now if it hadn't been for you and, like you did before him, Samson has changed me with his unconditional love. A dog trainer once called you "a scholar and a gentleman" and it was true. Thank you for bringing in the paper every single night and never forgetting to bring me my shoes (even if you wouldn't always let go of them). I hope you are playing ball with my dad up in heaven now, but I also know that you'll find a way to be with us, too. Because, really, where else would you be?
You will be loved forever, Rusty.