It's been a little over a year since one of my best friends died. Yeah, one of my best friends was a dog. But if you ever spent some quality time with Dusty, you'll probably agree, he was hands down the greatest dog that ever lived. Not that I don't love my current slate of dogs with every ounce of my body, but Dusty was more than a dog. Really, trust me on this one.
Dusty wasn't only my best friend, but he was the best friend of everyone in our household. He had a special bond with each of us in the family and we were all devastated when he died last summer. Even though we knew he was ancient (19 years old!) and that he was in a lot of pain, it was still shocking to see him vanish from our lives. For months after he died I would expect him to come trotting up to me when I'd go and visit my dad. And every time it was painful to remember that he wasn't there anymore.
Dusty lived a really remarkable life. I guess when you live to be as old as him you really have a chance to experience a lot, even though I think he experienced some things that were highly unusual.
Dusty started out his life on the wrong foot. Our old neighborhood was a nice and quiet neighborhood except for this white trash disgusting family that lived caddy-corner to the back of our house. The Franks were like a family you'd see portrayed in a sit-com, but worse. Wild kids, trashy house with crap all over the place and a witchy mom and always drunk dad screaming out the door. They were dreadful. They also had a habit of collecting and neglecting animals. Right after we first moved in one of their dogs got into some poision and ended up crying in pain right outside of our back next door neighbor's bedroom. They rushed the poor thing to the emergency vet but it was too late and the dog died. They soon replaced it with a beautiful golden haired pup that they decided to shelter from poisioning by locking up in a travel crate 24 hours a day with little food or water and leaving him to sit in his own shit and pee for days at a time.
I don't remember who's idea it was to steal the golden pup but we did. Snatched him right up out of there, brought him home gave him a bath, were horrified at how sickly skinny he was, fed him lots of nom noms, loved him and named him Dusty. For the next month or so we covertly brought him outside to pee by sneaking him around the side of the house where the Franks couldn't see. Yep, Dusty was a stolen dog and we were all complicit in covering up our crime.
Well one day when we were at school Mrs. Frank caught my mom red-handed. They apparently got into a bit of a tiff, but my mom didn't want it to turn into some huge redneck screaming fest so she handed Dusty over and nervously waited to see what would happen. Luckily, probably for the first time in her life, Mrs. Frank had a change of heart. About an hour later she came back over and threw Dusty over the fence at my mom and told her we could keep him because her kids didn't like him anyway. Yay, no more hiding! Dusty was legitimately ours and we didn't have to hide anymore. We could run and play with him in the yard all we wanted! The Franks moved away shortly there after. Thank God for that.
We always had so much fun with Dusty (or Dustball as we sometimes liked to call him). He let us do makeovers on him, dress him up, lay on him, chase him, tickle him, hug him, kiss him, play hide and go seek with him, just about anything we could think up we could get him to do. He loved following us around and we loved having him around.
Dusty was a bit of a playboy. He figured out ways to get out of the yard just as fast as we could try and block them. He loved to roam the neighborhood looking for the ladies. Sadly, it was his escaping that got him into one of the worst situations in his life.
One day we were hanging around the house doing not much of anything when we heard a knock at the door. The little girl from about 5 houses down was standing there and said "I think there's something wrong with Dusty. He was laying in my yard and wouldn't get up. But I got him to walk down here." I went out in the yard and and he was laying in the grass near the end of the driveway. I said "Hey buddy, what's the matter?" and he barely even looked at me. When I got to him I could see blood all over his underbelly. My mom was right behind me and we both were like "Uh oh, this is NOT good." I thought maybe he'd been hit by a car or something. So I scooped him up in my arms (at his heaviest he probably weighed between 35-40 lbs.) and brought him inside. When I put him down in the kitchen my shirt was covered in blood. I ran and grabbed some towels while my mom called the vet's office to see if they were open. I came out and wrapped him up good and we jumped in the car with Hilary to rush him to the emergency vet. After many x-rays and waiting the doctor brought us back to talk. Apparently someone had shot Dusty in the leg with a high caliber rifle and it had shattered his leg from hip to knee. The x-ray was a disaster. There were a few large bone pieces, but most just bone and bullet shards left. They had him sedated and were running an IV on him and trying to stop the bleeding. They said we'd have to leave him overnight and then we could make some decisions in the morning if he made it. We went home and cried and cried. The vet finally called that evening with some news. Dusty was doing better but he was going to need some major surgery to be really better. There are two dog orthopedic surgeons in the state and one could take Dusty in two days but it was going to cost about $1200. The other option would be to put him to sleep, or try and amputate the leg and see if he made it. We begged our parents to help our dog live. And even if they couldn't really afford it, they agreed to visit the specialist and spend the money.
The orthopedic surgeon was able to piece together his bones with a metal plate and lots of wiring and Dusty was able to keep his leg. This is how he became the Bionic Dog. After it healed you would hardly know he had a bionic leg. He walked pretty normally, maybe a shade of a limp, but you couldn't really tell unless you knew about it. And when he ran he just pulled that leg up like a kick-stand and tri-poded it. He got so good at the tripod running that he was eventually able to figure out how to run down the slope in our backyard and the point that he needed to jump in order to hit the top of the fence and go over. All with three working legs! Of course as he got older he got really bad arthritis, but when you're 133 in dog years everything gets a little stiff. I don't think he really minded that much.
In 2002 we moved from our childhood home where we'd lived for 13 years to a brand new house that my dad and stepmom built. Although we can't say for sure we think that all the new carpet must have had some reaction on Dusty. There is a lot of formaldehyde in carpet and I think it must have reacted in his poor little head. From the time we moved into that house until he died he had terrible sinus issues that first started as a really runny gross nose to eventually caving in part of his eye socket (sick I know). Through it all he was still as happy as could be. We brought him to the doctor and even a specialist but they couldn't really say what exactly was going on in his head and therefore couldn't really recommend anything that would help. He just putzed along like normal. In the past year or so of his life his arthritis got really bad. We knew it would happen in his bionic leg, but in addition the rest of his body just started getting really stiff. First he couldn't jump on the couch anymore, then he couldn't get up the stairs very well, although until the very end he would hobble up the steps to the second floor, mostly because that is where my sister's room was and as she was the only girl left he had become her shadow.
One of the saddest things I ever saw was the last year that she moved back to school before he died. He hadn't been upstairs in a while. He had fallen down the stairs a month or so back and he kind of took that as a sign to just be a downstairs dog. Hilary had just moved back to school after Christmas break and I had stopped by the house to see my dad. I was looking for Dusty and couldn't find him anywhere. I went upstairs and he was up there standing in her doorway just looking around like he wasn't quite sure where she was, but he was hoping maybe he would find her if he could just get up there and check. It was so sweet and heart-breaking all at the same time. I picked him up and carried him back downstairs and I don't think he ever went back up after that.
The last few months of his life were pretty rough on all of us. Frankly, he was getting pretty crusty and stinky. He was moving really slow, but dammit if that dog wasn't the happiest dog you've ever met. He never cried or whined, he just would slowly putz along and was always over the moon whenever he would see one of us. My dad spent many nights sleeping downstairs with him since he couldn't make it upstairs anymore and was having trouble making it through the night without going out to potty.
The rest of my family finally decided it was time for him to be put to sleep. We really thought that he would just keep going just because he loved us so much he didn't want to leave us, regardless of how much pain he really may have been in. The whole thing was just so painful for me I couldn't really handle participating in the whole thing. The day before he was scheduled to be put to sleep I went to visit him one last time. I hugged him and told him how much I loved him but I don't think I've ever cried so hard in my entire life. I literally was heaving with sobs. It was literally the saddest moment of my life. Luckily my sisters are both stronger than me and they took responsibility for making sure his last moments were comfortable. Leslie was going to pick him up from my dad's and take him to the vet (where Hilary was working) and the two of them were going to be with him through the end. At the last minute my dad decided to go, because like me, he was so devastated by the whole thing he didn't think he could make it through. He went to the vet's but had to step out of the room before the end because he was crying so hard and just was completely overwhelmed. Hilary and Leslie stayed with him through his last moments, for which I will be eternally grateful. I know when it comes time to say goodbye to my dogs that I have know I will have to do the same, but I just couldn't do it then. It was just too much for me and I knew that my sisters would be there. The first few times I went to my dad's after that I was brought to tears just knowing that Dusty wouldn't be there to greet me. It slowly got better but I still think about him sometimes when I'm there. We had Dusty cremated and his ashes sprinkled at a pet cemetery in Northern Indiana. We thought it would be nice and also not creepy having to keep his ashes. We loved him, but we didn't need some ashes to be toting around forever. His memory will always live on with us and I will always think of him as one of my best friends and definitely the greatest dog that ever lived.