Sometimes, doing the right thing also means doing the hardest thing.
It has been about three weeks since The Hubster and I surrendered Rusty—aka The Rust, Rustinator and Rust Person—the beautiful but damaged Aussie shepherd we took into our hearts a couple of years ago.
Despite being a gorgeous pure-bred, with a magnificent red and white coat, as well as one blue eye and one brown eye, he had been dealt a bad deck of cards from the start.
First, Rusty was born in a puppy mill. Second, the owners of the mill took him from his mother and litter mates a full four weeks early because a family had seen his beautiful colors online—and was willing to pay nearly $1,000 to have him “delivered” earlier. It saddens me to say that these folks are related to us, and that they also convinced Rusty’s breeders to bring him to them. So, he was separated, probably terrified and so not ready to be wrenched from his mother, who was now several hundred miles away, on Thanksgiving Day of 2013.
It was an awful match from the get-go.
Bred to herd, Aussies need a lot of space to exercise, and because they are also super-smart, should have a job to do. But the family lived in a small townhouse with no yard; on top of that, they were gone most of the day. And because they didn’t want a puppy tearing apart said residence, Rusty was crated nearly all of the time.
Nine months later, the family decided they couldn’t be bothered with him.
So, when I saw that one member was advertising Rusty on social media, we decided to step up to the plate. We didn’t know how long we would keep him, but we knew we had to try to give him the love and security he had never had.
Meeting at a park halfway between our towns, The Hubster still remembers how it went down.
“I’d only met Rusty once,” he says. “But as soon as I opened the van, he immediately jumped in. The look on his face was, ‘Let’s get out of here. Now.’”
We can’t prove it because we weren’t there, but his behaviors upon bringing him home indicated that he had also been starved as punishment, and frequently smacked across his hindquarters as well. (Our groomer and vet thought so, too. Another vet familiar with Rusty told us, “It’s pretty hard to screw up an Aussie. But they did.”)
But ultimately, while our household was absolutely a few steps up—a big back yard; our two other dogs, Hank and Sadie, to hang with, and a whole lot of snuggling from us—the right fit wasn’t here either.
For starters, we knew Rusty was an anxious guy. What we didn’t realize is that it was much more serious—in fact, he suffered from acute post-traumatic stress disorder. And even if we showered him with a zillion kisses every single day, that condition wasn’t going to go away. And who could blame him? Being snatched from his mom and brothers and sisters way too early, then boxed up, hit and denied food, he was, quite simply, a hot mess.
Thus, we noticed odd behaviors, such as snatching any food he could reach; barking incessantly at our feet during dinner, and not allowing us to brush his back legs. He also took to growling and barking right in Sadie’s face. Thankfully, she ignored him.
Maybe this conduct would have lessened had The Teenage Daughter kept her promise.
Before we got Rusty, she had solemnly vowed that he would be “my dog,” and to that end, she would be responsible for everything that entailed. But she neither walked nor brushed him (tasks left to me); refused to let him share her bed (“He sheds!”), and wouldn’t even feed him. So the poor guy would settle next to her closed door every night, while Sadie and Hank slept with us. And because Rusty was a super smart dog, he had to have felt, once again, like the odd man out.
Still, we probably would have dribbled along except for one very big thing.
Late last year, Sadie and Rusty got into an epic dog fight.
Sadie had been patient for such a long time, and that day, Rusty got in her face one too many times. Blood was drawn on both sides, not to mention floors and walls. The Hubster and I literally had to tear the two dogs apart; we were sure that one would have been killed if we hadn’t been home.
Still, we assumed the fight was an anomaly.
But then the brawls increased, first every few months, then every month, and finally, every few weeks. They always began when Rusty sauntered over to Sadie, then snapped at her, inches from her muzzle. We learned to pull the dogs away by their hind legs, which resulted in Rusty biting me hard on the hand once, and The Hubster receiving more than his share of injuries as well.
The last fight, which nearly cost Sadie an eye, was the determining factor.
After consulting with our vet, who agreed that surrender was the best option, I took Rusty to our local humane society. A terrific non-profit with a re-homing rate of 97 percent, Rusty still had to go in for a doggie interview to make sure the place could likely find him a home.
Upon seeing him, they praised his gorgeous colors and said that with his pure-bed status, Rusty was a “hot commodity” and would probably be adopted within the week. He would also be checked out by a vet (as it turned out, he had several deep bites from Sadie, and had to be sedated and sutured), as well as walked five times a day, with a trainer also spending bunches of daily time with him. I also made sure to let these folks know that Rusty needed to be the only dog in his new family. I added that if at all possible, he should live on a ranch, where he could work and run and be loved, loved, loved from sunrise to sunset.
As two employees, one on each side, walked him away, Rusty turned and gave me a quizzical look. He seemed to be saying, “What are you doing?”
I made myself wait a week before calling the society, which is when I heard about Rusty’s wounds. A day later, a worker contacted us to ask if we could bring in any dog food, as he was refusing to eat their kibble. Staffers had been feeding Rusty baby food to get him to eat.
The Hubster and I delivered a large bag of Rusty’s familiar grub within 30 minutes of that call. We didn’t ask to see him and they didn’t offer. I think we both knew that a visit would confuse Rusty and undoubtedly cause more heartache—on both sides.
But once there, we were also told that it looked like Rusty was likely going to be adopted the very next day! The potential forever family didn’t have any other dogs! And they lived on a ranch!
I checked the society’s web site a little while ago, and Rusty is no longer on the adopt-a-pet link.
I should feel good about all of this, and I guess I do. But I’m also sad because I really miss Rusty. Of course, I also love him, and I always will.
Most of all, I hope that Rusty now has the life he has always deserved.
Have you ever rescued and/or surrendered a pet? I look forward to your comments and stories.