This is a very unique dog story. First, I want to say there were two dogs called Rusty. A friend of Daddy’s gave them to us, not at the same time, of course. I do not remember his name and he did not live in Estancia. I recall that he worked for the railroad. He raised, bred, and showed these Irish Water Spaniels. This particular breed is not common at all, even to this day. They are a waterfowl retriever, always liver-colored, curly-coated with a topknot, rat-tailed, and with webbed feet that enables them to swim better. I think we came by these two Rustys because they were females and the runts of the litters. Many times breeders would destroy the “unacceptables” and this person apparently did not like to do that. Thank goodness! We had never owned a dog before and she was so loved by our family. One day when I came home from school I found her dead close to the front door. I went screaming and crying to Aunt Elizabeth’s where Mother was playing bridge. It was apparent that she had been run over and, to this day, I still cannot figure how when there could not have been more than twenty cars in the whole town. Daddy and my brother, Bobby, buried her in the back yard while we all stood by and wept. Some time had passed and we were presented with another Rusty. Here is where the story really begins.
Rusty was born October 26, 1931. It was as though the two Rusty’s spirits had blended to produce this delightful dog. She went through the normal things as a young puppy; as that it was much easier to go outside than mess in the house. I cannot say that she was ever taught or trained to do tricks. Most of the things she did she invented herself. Right here, I should point out that in my life-time I have seen, heard of, read, and watched movies and television about dogs doing all sorts of heroic deeds such as saving children and adults from snakes, drownings, fires, etc. Then, look at all the dogs that help the blind, deaf, and disabled. Or, the military dogs even serving during wartime and the police dogs that help catch criminals, sniff out narcotics. Rusty was never in that class but still.
Rusty was soon to show her talents. Zoe, my sister, Bobby, and I would play hide and seek in the house. She probably thought, “This is fun. I can do that!” So we made her “it”. One would cross her long ears over her eyes. She would try to peek while the others hid. This did not take long as our rented house had four fairly large rooms and sparsely furnished. “Go seek, Rusty!” She would rush through the house and when she found them, would jump on them with her two front paws. Then she would “bring them in”.
Sometime, a little later, Rusty developed the dreaded distemper. Mr. Thomas who lived on the road in back of us was probably the closest thing to being a veterinarian. He treated horses, cows, and such. He told Mother to paint the inside of Rusty’s mouth with Mercurochrome. I am sure Rusty survived because Mother kept a constant vigil over her. Many times you would see Mother rocking her as you would a baby in front of the pot-bellied stove in the living room. It took a long time but she eventually recuperated with no after effects at all.
Daddy had gotten us an old upright piano. Mother played. Zoe started music lessons and later I started. We coaxed Rusty to get on the piano bench and placed her front paws on the keyboard and, while still holding her paws, go plunk, plunk on the keys. In no time at all, you could say, “Go play the piano, Rusty.” and she would perform. This was not, however, one of her favorite things to do. As if to say, “Awe shucks, do I really hafta? Well, okay.” She would go plunk, plunk three or four times and then get down quickly.
Rusty, on her own, developed a passion for rocks. We finally caught on that she wanted to retrieve them. You never had to go find a rock. She always had one handy. You threw; she fetched, and dropped it at your feet. Soon I discovered that if I backed away and said, “Closer.” she would push it with her two front paws. This little process could be repeated several times. Many times, I would put a rock in my hand, put my arms behind my back, and switch the rock in my fists. Then I would bring my arms forward, extend both fists, and say, “Which fist?” She would smell and place her paw on the fist that held the rock. Everything was just simply a big game to her. Perhaps in her little doggy mind, we were the performers and she was in charge. No way would she fetch a stick or a rubber ball. Ever!
Across the road from our front door was a park; if you could call it a park. It was fenced in with barbed wire to keep cattle and horses out. Over the top of the barbed wire were 2×4’s the full extent of the so-called park. There were several wooden stile entrances. Huge cottonwood trees lined the full length of the park. Behind the natural pond was a road that led to the community center and swimming pool. One day, while we were at the swimming pool, Rusty showed up. The crowd had thinned down. Someone threw a rock into the deep end and after she went, clear down to the bottom. She did this several times. It must have been Bobby who then coaxed her to follow him up the ladder and toss her rock off the diving board. This happened again and again to everyone’s delight. Mostly Rusty’s delight I would imagine. She was simply doing the thing this breed of dog was meant to do – instead of a duck – a rock.
Mother would tell a cute story. Rusty really loved that old rocking chair in front of the pot-bellied stove. If Mother were sitting in it, she would go to the front door in the pretense she wanted outside. When Mother would get up to let her out, Rusty would rush back to rob her seat.
When I was nine years old we moved to Albuquerque. Our house was across the street from Mayor Tingley. Next to him were the Balcomb’s with Dr. Bebber on the other side. They owned an American Water Spaniel. I cannot remember his name. He was black with semi-long hair. In our Book of Knowledge both Rusty and he were pictured with small write ups along with most of the pedigreed dogs known at that time. I mention this here, as he was to sire Rusty’s first litter of puppies. I think it is worthwhile to mention that in my lifetime I have only seen one other Irish Water Spaniel. This dog I just happened to see a few times riding past the house where he probably lived in Albuquerque. Until recently I thought perhaps the breed had become extinct but to my surprise one was being shown on television during the National Dog Show this year (1992)!
Much to my chagrin, Rusty was not to be allowed to sleep in our new house. There was a large screened-in front porch, a detachable garage, and full sized basement. I guess it was not so bad. If I had had my way though, she would have slept with me!
So we were the new kids in the neighborhood with a very strange looking dog. “What kinda dog is THAT?” That was always a nice opening to meet new friends, kids, and adults.
Rusty loved a bath, next to her beloved rocks. Getting in a washtub was no problem. Before we sudsed her, we would drop a rock in the tub a few times to get her head wet. She loved the towel drying and brushing afterwards. Sometimes I would “borrow” Zoe’s metal curlers and roll up her topknot. Then take her for a walk with her leash on. I must say she created an amusing reaction as we strolled down the sidewalks. A very different looking dog with curlers on her head no less!
I remember once going to the playground at my grade school with Rusty. There was a slide, swings, and a seesaw. She went up the ladder of the slide and slid down. Somehow I figured she really did not like this and we did not pursue it for long. The fact was she could do it and would do it, but enough was enough!
There was a children’s swimming pool in the public park several long blocks from our house. One time I had taken Rusty with me along with my towel and bathing cap. We sat and watched on the lawn surrounding the pool for a time. Finally, I decided to go in and threw my towel over Rusty’s back. “Stay Rusty.” She did…for a while. What utter torment that must have been for her. I glanced back several times and she had not moved. Then suddenly, she was right behind me with my wet towel still draped over her back. I soon realized that I might be reprimanded so we reluctantly got out and went home.
Parents seldom told their children much, if anything, about the facts of life. So I did not know anything until Rusty’s puppies were born. On this eventful day, I met Bobby coming out of the garage. As we passed, he simply said, “You’d better go see Rusty.” There was no smile or expression on his face. I immediately thought, “She’s been hurt or she’s sick.” I peeked in the door and there she was in the far corner of the garage. I stood there frozen. Our eyes were locked. Suddenly, she reached down and picked up one of her puppies to show me. Still, I do not think I realized what I was seeing until I walked closer to the corner of the garage where Daddy had made a whelping box filled with straw. There they were. All ten of them. Five liver-color and five blacks. Five females and five males. All too soon they were to be adopted. I am sure they all went to good homes but I never saw any of them again.
A boy in my class gave me two white rats along with a neat cage he had made. I named them Billy and Hildy. I could not understand why my family did not exactly like my new pets but Rusty did. She let them crawl all over her and licked and cleaned them just like she did her puppies. Sometimes we would go to the drug store with Billy and Hildy clinging to Rusty’s collar. I would usually buy a couple of ice creams or candy bars and the clerk would put my purchase in a small paper sack. Rusty had to wait outside with her charges. Once, I decided to see if Rusty would carry the paper sack home in her mouth. She did and created a sight to see. Proudly she would walk right beside me with the rats on her back holding on to her collar and my purchase in her mouth. This little scenario would be repeated many times during Rusty’s lifetime.
A bachelor friend of Daddy’s asked to take Rusty on a duck-hunting trip. When they returned, the hunter said that she had performed like a pro. It is a shame, but to my knowledge, she was never to go hunting again. Perhaps, the hunter did not want the responsibility of something happening to her.
In less than two years we moved again to another rented house down in the lowlands. The layout was great, especially for Rusty. In the rear of the two-car garage were three built-in kennels with doors for each one. Three other doors led to a nice sized back yard with a high adobe wall and a couple of shade trees. From the kitchen screened-in porch was a little courtyard that led to the garage with two gates, one to the kennel yard and the other to the outside. There were not any other houses around our house. To the south, perhaps six or eight blocks, was the city zoo. Rusty and I would go there many times. The very last time was a learning experience for both Rusty and me. It was a beautiful, early Saturday morning. For some reason I decided to dress up as a boy. That was not an unusual thing for girls to do in those days. So off we went but not before I took a bath towel and told Rusty to get her collar and leash that was kept attached in a place she well knew. Soon we came to the outskirts of the zoo where they kept the grazing animals. We stopped first to see the deer. They would stay back in their enclosure except for one that would come right up to Rusty and me. The deer and Rusty would smell and touch noses like the friends they had become. We stayed a little while and walked past the camels, giraffes, the bison, and zebras. From there, we walked past the caged animals to the picnic grounds. On the other side of the picnic area was a reservoir and almost immediately Rusty took her plunge. She swam for a while then came out and shook the water off and I rubbed her with the towel. From the time we left home there was not a single person around, not even a passing car. We walked to the entrance of the zoo where the caged animals were kept. There were no signs on the entrance gate and we decided to go in. We first stopped to see the lions, then the bears. I suddenly realized Rusty did not like the odor or the sight of these large beasts so we left as we had entered. From there, we walked past the zoo and came to a bushy area close to the road. Suddenly, a policeman on his motorcycle drove up and said, “Mary Juana is in there.” I said, “Who? Oh.” as it dawned on me he meant marijuana. We had studied in the sixth grade about the Chinese using heroin and I guess I knew a little about this drug at age ten. I thanked the officer. Neither Rusty nor I ever went back. I went back only with other people much later.
It was about a year later that our parents bought a home at 323 North 14th Street. Our mother suffered a massive paralytic stroke before the move. She spent five and a half months in the hospital. The day she was released my father carried her in to a newly furnished and custom styled home. It was so wonderful to have our mother home. Rusty was so happy to see her mistress again. There are many more stories about Rusty that I have not mentioned. Mother died April 2, 1939. I was fifteen years old. When school let out I went to visit my aunt and uncle who had lived in Denver, Wyoming, and South Dakota. While visiting Aunt Verona in South Dakota, I received a letter from Zoe telling me of Rusty’s death. I think that her heart was broken with my mother’s death and my not being there. I grieved for Mother and Rusty for a long time. It was a learning experience at a young age to cope with the loss of my 39-year-old mother and a remarkable dog within such a short period.
In my adult life after I married, we had several dogs and cats. Our two children grew up loving animals, learning responsibility with tenderness and patience. I firmly believe pets are a great asset to any likable human behavior. And, perhaps make the better parents. I want to say I never compared any dog I had to my beloved Rusty. They all had their own personality, as well as, our cats.
Eight years have passed since I first started this manuscript. I am 76 years old now and live alone since my husband’s death in 1987. I am not really alone, however. I have my Bootsie, an adorable female, spayed, of course, black and white cat. We have been together for over ten years.