Saturday, August 27, 2011
Our history together began in February of 1997. I had seen a feature on our local news about adopting dogs from the local Humane Society shelter, and I suddenly felt I simply HAD to have a dog. But I had criteria that I wanted specifically: 1.) Must be small, but not a poodle. 2.) Preferably male, but spayed female would be fine. 3.) Older. Not a puppy. Perhaps a dog who's owner had gotten ill or old and could no longer care for him. So I called the shelter and explained what I was looking for. There apparently were no "small dogs" on the waiting list at the time. However the worker mentioned that they did have a list of foster dogs that she'd check, and perhaps there would be something I'd like to look at there. She came back on the line in a few minutes and said there was a small dog on the list, "...but (and I could practically see her cringing) it's a miniature poodle!" Now I knew that my husband had a dim view of poodles since his mother's little dog had tormented him as a child. I hesitated, then told the worker that I wanted to check the dog out anyway, and to please give me the contact information.
Charlie is used to my sudden obsessions and impulses. When he got home from work I promptly pounced, and started talking up a storm about how we NEEDED a dog. How I'd found one...a nice small one...that we could go check out and adopt for free, if we wanted it. I dodged the issue that it was a miniature poodle. Poor Charlie. He makes feeble attempts, at times, but never can really say "no" to me. So, weary as he was, we hopped in the car and headed out into the countryside south of Middleburg..
The farm where Dusty was being fostered had a low-lying, sprawling house, and far flung fields and trees. We saw numerous horses. We parked out by the gate, as we weren't sure it was okay to drive onto the property, and slogged our way across the large yard to the house. We were met some 50 feet from the door by the farmer's wife, who greeted us and made us feel welcome. She pointed to a window in the house and said "There he is! That's Dusty!" We saw a small white creature, ears flopping wildly, bouncing up and down , with a small boy peering out the window next to him. I'll never forget that sight. The sheer exuberance of the little dog was infectious. But suddenly I was worried. The small boy. What about him? Was this going to turn into a scene?
In the warm and welcoming kitchen, introductions were passed around. Besides the farmer's wife and Dusty, we met her husband, the boy, and two other dogs. One was a poodle and the other appeared to be of the pit-bull persuasion. Dusty ran right up to us, yipping and jumping up...plainly thrilled to make our acquaintance. I sneaked some side-long looks to see Charlie's reaction to the breed. He didn't seem repulsed. In fact, he was grinning and petting the little dog! First hurdle crossed. The farmer's wife proceeded to tell Dusty's story.
It seems he was found in a Toys R Us parking lot in Jacksonville. He was just wandering around, and it was impossible to tell who might own him. The woman theorized he must have jumped from a car window while parked, and for whatever reason, the owner didn't realize he was gone when they drove away. He was obviously a pure-blood miniature poodle. Light apricot/white in color. Around 9 months old. They tried to find his people: putting ads in the paper, posting signs, and notifying local shelters and the City Pound, but no one ever came forward. The family already had 2 dogs, so they were somewhat on the fence about keeping Dusty. They went ahead and had him neutered, got him his shots, and bought his collar and tags and food bowls, anyway. They loved him. The personable little guy would crawl under the covers of their bed to sleep, and was fully house trained and agreeable. EXCEPT. The other dogs hated him. Dusty did not play well with other dogs. He wasn't aggressive, simply disdainful and contemptuous. For all his life this would be a characteristic of his, and one that would shape both his and our future. We used to joke that he thought he was human, so why would he muck about with mere canines? At any rate, his inability (or refusal) to win over the other two dogs in the household sealed his fate, and he was put on the adoption list. Even the little boy saw that it had to be that way. Within 30 minutes we carried him, with his leash, out to our car.
Dusty was, in general, a well behaved dog. The first few weeks were a bit rocky, because he was a little confused over what had happened to him. He pulled out quite a bit of hair on his back legs, and had a few accidents. But, relatively quickly, he settled. down. We discovered right away that he had two major food weaknesses: pizza and fried chicken. We never gave him more than a bite of anything like that...but he got resourceful and would raid the trash can while we slept. Particularly if there were chicken bones in there! I can't count how many mornings over the years that we would get up to find what looked like a bomb had gone off in the kitchen and den. We finally caught on that chicken bones must be wrapped and taken outside promptly. (Of course, that opened another can of worms with the stray cats outside...but that's another story.)
We found that he was a sponge when it came to learning to understand what we said. There were many times when we had to resort to spelling out words like "cookie" and "out" and "pizza". Eventually, he learned that, too. He also had a uncanny knack for knowing when I was feeling moody or was sick. I used to call him "Doctor Dusty" because he would go above and beyond to try to help me feel better. He understood so much of the human world that surrounded him. He had his own Christmas stocking and he knew exactly what it was, and what it was for (goodies and toys, of course!) But he also knew he had to wait for Christmas Day. He never did try to raid the stocking like he did the trash, but when The Day arrived, he was all a-tremble with excitement! He'd patiently wait his turn for his stocking...then sit, leaning against me, as I'd pull the presents, one by one, from the stocking. Oh, the joy! The glee! But just like a small child...he'd get so wired he'd eventually get overwrought and tired, and become quite grumpy as the day wore on. It didn't take much to persuade him to go to bed early on Christmas night!
Dusty never really shed his tendency to wander, as he had in the Toys R Us parking lot. He decided to take a tour of the neighborhood the first week we moved to our new house. Someone found him about 3 blocks away and called us to come get him. One Easter, while the kids were running in and out the front door, he decided he was tired of waiting for the leg of lamb to finish cooking, and thought he'd take a little stroll. In the hubbub and confusion of our Easter dinner and celebrations, we didn't realize he was gone until it was already dark out. The feeling of panic and despair was crushing when we knew he was gone. I have an active imagination, and had terrible visions of what might happen to a small, recently groomed, expensive looking little dog who'd never met a human he didn't like. The time he was missing was the longest 26 hours of my life. Luckily a neighbor about a block away had found him and brought him inside. The next day she saw one of the posters we'd been frantically posting all over the area, and called us. I was so relieved, I cried like a baby. The last time he did one of his little explorations away from home was when he was 12, and we were having our house remodeled. The workers had left the door open...and out he went. The lady across the street found him and brought him home, commenting that he was just sitting in the middle of the road. The poor guy had arthritis, and cataracts and he'd gotten to where he didn't always have a lot of sense. I guess he'd decided he'd better just sit down until someone came and got him. After that, we had him stay in one of the kid's rooms with the door shut while the workers were there.
I could go on and on with stories about our boy, Dusty. The last year or two of his life, we knew that his time with us was growing short. He was quite stiff, nearly blind, and was stone deaf. But he didn't seem to be in pain, and continued eating and going out for his business until the day he died. On June 1, 2011, Dusty departed for the Rainbow Bridge. He slipped away peacefully in his sleep, while he napped in our bedroom...always his favorite room. He was 2 weeks shy of when we would have celebrated his 15th birthday.
I feel his absence every single day. There hasn't been a day I haven't shed tears, or remembered some funny incident. We all miss him so much...but I think I miss him most of all. It was Dusty who awakened in me a genuine love and respect for dogs. He was my companion and confidante. There will never be another Dusty. We have three dogs still here, and they are dearly loved There may be more in the future. There won't be another Dusty, however. I've heard it said that there can only be one truly great dog in a person's life. Dusty was mine.