Rusty was Ricky’s dog, just in case you were wondering. When I say Ricky’s dog it is with great emphasis, because in that dog’s world there really was no one else. Let me say here that I fed him almost twice as often as my brother did, and it was me who played fetch with him in the back yard when Ricky didn’t take him along. But that didn’t matter. He was never going to be my dog.
I don’t think there has been nearly enough study done on the relationship between young boys and their dogs. Who can really explain blind obedience with nary a word of discipline? Rusty would go to the ends of the earth for Ricky, and just for fun, my brother would often test that out, being the little shit that he was.
You couldn’t call it cruelty. Ricky was never that. I would describe it more as benign neglect mixed in generously with a mutual need for companionship. After all, what dog could possibly enjoy being tossed into the icy water of the river off a fifteen-foot high bridge or run full out for miles while Ricky and his pals leisurely peddled their bikes at a speed about one mile an hour faster that the poor dog could run? In a nutshell, my brother and his little cocker spaniel (I use that description interchangeably with mutt) were simply inseparable and, in spite of what might have appeared to be one-sided affection, it was love.
That love affair seemed to have started from day one. Rusty had come into our family quite by accident. We were taking one of our weekend family car rides over to B.C. on a summer afternoon. It wasn’t the nicest of days, as I recall. It had rained a bit. As we rounded a corner on the highway we could see something running toward us on the other side of the road, about a half a mile ahead. Dad pulled over and stopped the car and as it got closer we realized it was a dog.
Everyone just sat there looking but not Ricky. As the dog approached the car he opened the back door on his side and the little pooch veered across the road and just jumped right in; dirty, stinky, paws covered in mud and panting with the most revolting dog breath imaginable. He was all over my brother, wiggling wildly, and his little docked tail wagging uncontrollably. And he was licking my brother’s face to everyone’s disgust. I’d already squeezed myself as far as possible to the far side of the back seat in hopes of avoiding any of the unexpected affection.
“Eww,” I cringed, “he stinks”.
Our guest was past being a puppy, but he wasn’t very old, either. Under the muck you could see that he had a beautiful, russet coat. But “he”, as we discovered quickly as he rolled around on the seat, back legs spread wide, had no identifying collar or tags
“Well, he belongs to somebody,” our dad finally said. “He’s obviously lost and we can’t just put him back out on the road. We’ll have to see if we can find the owners.”
The problem was we were miles away from the nearest town.
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving up and down the highway, checking out the few possible campgrounds and turnouts. Unfortunately for the dog, we found no one to claim him. Unfortunately for mom and dad, the afternoon also provided the time for my brother and Rusty, as he’d already named him, to bond. He barely got off his lap, and though the whole car reeked of wet dog, Ricky was oblivious to it.
What else could we do? We took Rusty home. Dad made what we all knew was a less than earnest effort to find the owners; a small classified ad in the local paper that appeared just once a week and a half later. In the meantime, Rusty had been all cleaned up and had settled comfortably into his new home with his new best friend. He was sweet and quite handsome, if I do say so myself. He’d also been trained, which was an added bonus.
“If we’re going to keep him, you’re going to have to feed him, give him water and take care of him,” our mom admonished my brother when we knew for sure he was going to stay with us. That, as it turned out, was to be more of an admission that Rusty was Ricky’s than it was a serious assignment of responsibility.
He became a part of the Callaghan family—for the next ten years.