By Rick Houser –
During the years when I was growing up on the farm it was very rare that a farmer didn’t possess a dog. Also rare was a farmer’s dog was purebred or registered. The title “Heinz dog” moniker was given more times than not, Heinz standing for the canned product that contained 57 varieties. Sure there was a collie or a German Shepard here and there, but mostly just border collies. I guess that was why I was kind of proud that we were given a rust -colored mostly Cocker Spaniel shortly after the loss of my very first dog Spot. I was approximately nine years old and I named this dog Rusty. (I was very creative with names.)
A farmer’s dog almost always had a purpose, anywhere from protection to rounding up the cattle. In the case of Rusty, his greatest talent was catching moles. We had large and old pine trees in our front yard and they attracted moles by the dozens. When moles get in your yard the ridges they cause, which are called mole runs, were everywhere. When Rusty would see the runs, he would settle down and watch intensely and if the earth moved a fraction on a run he would pounce on it and dig swiftly. Many times he would remove a mole and dispose of him. This was greatly enjoyed by my Dad and he would say that Rusty was earning his keep. But as many times as he would catch one, he also would miss and just leave a deeper hole in the yard. It wasn’t long before the front yard was a danger to walk across as a person could break an ankle in one of his holes. I guess this was the price you paid for a good mole-catcher.
When not digging up the front yard, Rusty was at my side as I traveled around the farm or the neighborhood. He and I became close and were almost always together. The next two years things on our farm ran very smooth for Rusty and I other than the front yard looking like it had been dug up to put a new highway through, but all this was to end suddenly.
One Sunday morning as I was entering the kitchen for breakfast I overheard Ben talking with Dad about Rusty. Since Ben was talking in a low voice, I stopped so I could hear more clearly what Ben was saying. He said the evening before as he was headed to Moscow for his big Saturday night he found Rusty lying on the edge of the road where he had been run over by a car and was dead. This was close to two miles from our house so he said he drug Rusty to the ditch so he couldn’t be hit by any more cars. With this news I burst into the kitchen, crying my hardest and screaming that Ben was wrong. It wasn’t Rusty. He took a long deep breath and said, “I don’t want it to be but it was Rusty. I’m certain.” I was devastated and the scene must have been bad as my parents thought about letting me stay home from church but in the end it was decided I should go to church in honor of Rusty. I went and that did seem to help the feeling of losing a constant companion.
I moped around Monday and Tuesday was the first day of school. On Tuesday morning I got ready and since Mom taught at Moscow I rode to school with her. (The ride with mom momentarily took my mind off of Rusty just as her driving took your mind off of all other things.) Back then the first day was only a half-day so when school let out at noon I found Mom and we headed for home, talking about the first day of school on the drive home. When we turned down our driveway I heard Mom say ”Oh my goodness!”
I asked her what was wrong and she pointed to the side yard by the back steps. I couldn’t believe my eyes as there lying in the grass was Rusty. He wasn’t moving but before the car came to a complete stop, I was out and at Rusty’s side. I called his name but he didn’t move and barely looked like he was breathing. By this time Mom was there to look the situation over.
She told me to go get his dish from the back door and she headed to the garden hose to fill the dish. As she was hurrying she told me to look in the house and see if I could get something soft that he might be able to chew. In the kitchen I looked around and on the running board of the sink was my half eaten bowl of oatmeal that I really hadn’t wanted. I grabbed it and ran to Rusty’s side. He still wasn’t moving and I asked Mom if he was now dead. She said he was dehydrated as he hadn’t had a thing to drink since that Saturday evening and it was a miracle he was alive, much less able to drag himself back home.
I scooped a bunch of oatmeal on to my finger and put it to his mouth, but still no movement. Just as I was about to give up, I saw his nose sniff and his tongue appear and lick my finger. After a few more bites, Rusty opened his eyes and moved a little. Again I was crying, but this time for joy. It was just like an episode from the show “Lassie”, except this time it was Rusty coming home.
Dad called Doc Rudd, the vet for our neighborhood, and he looked at the dog and pronounced that his back right hip was broken and in a place where he couldn’t splint or brace it. He said it would heal but Rusty would always walk with a limp. I figured Rusty would be glad to limp as he was still alive.
During his recovery period he had limped over to the barn and found a spot in the hay where he wouldn’t be bothered. Our neighbors had a big dog named Major, part collie and part sheperd. While Rusty lay in the barn, Major would get scraps and take them to him to eat. A year later Major got a back paw caught in a trap and lost his foot. He went to our barn to recover in about the same place Rusty did and Rusty brought Major scraps to eat.
I have always been amazed and impressed by that to this day. After they healed, they ran together all the time and even though both limped, they enjoyed the balance of their lives. It just showed me what a real friend would do for a real friend. I enjoyed having Rusty, but in the end he taught me much, but more importantly, not eating my oatmeal played a huge part in saving his life. A wise move on my part to not eat it.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.