I was, well still am, the youngest of three daughters. Although there is only 4 years between my eldest sister and I, I’ve always been called the baby, my dad still calls me bubs. We grew up in the northern suburbs of Sydney and back in the summers of the late 60’s early 70’s much of our life was spent outside making up games, finding other kids to play with and the odd trip to the beach. When I was around 8 or 9; Rusty turned up to our place without notice. Rusty was a German Shepherd about 3 years old my dad said although we never really knew her real age. We’d never had a dog; my mum was scared of dogs and we’d only brought up the idea of having a dog once or twice and were quickly told it wouldn’t be happening so that was the end of that.
Rusty was a stray and would come around our house and just sit on the front lawn of our suburban brick home. We’d put the sprinkler on and take her out some water and few scraps from the fridge. Dad said she didn’t look like she was starving or unhealthy, but she had no collar and we never saw or heard anybody coming to look for her. Mum was nervous of her and didn’t like us taking her any food. She was worried the dog was getting used to us feeding her and would never leave. My sisters and I were always hoping she wouldn’t leave and often we’d sneak food out to her whilst mum wasn’t paying attention. We would sit around her on the grass, take turns in patting her, it was akin to having another kin.
Eventually Rusty was accepted as a full member of family. Mum bending to democracy and constant whinging and disobedience from her daughters. Time seemed to pass in a perpetual motion back in those days, school came and went, school holidays, boyfriends and growing up quickly without really knowing it. Rusty was always there. She was so entrenched in our life it felt like she’d always been with us from the day we were born. She knew our moods, knew when we needed her and what for. She could pick which sister was the most in need. By the time I was well and truly a teenager close to entering adult life; Rusty would have been around 11 or 12 years old. She was getting old for a dog of her breed and was showing signs of age. Mum would make passing comments each day about her. Reminding us that Rusty was getting old and would probably like to spend a bit of time with us. We thought mum was a bit of sick of her or she wanted to go out and it was her way of letting us know we needed to feed or wash or walk Rusty, we never picked up on her true intent.
It is imbedded in my mind forever. I got off the school bus and walked home. The street seemed extra quiet and everything just felt a bit off. I stood in front of our house. All the blinds were down, which was strange and dad’s car was in the driveway, he was never home at this time of day and I’d never known him to have a day off during the week for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t figure out what I was feeling or what I was seeing. I was so used to Rusty greeting me on the front porch I never noticed she wasn’t there. I went inside, the house was darker than normal with the blinds down, only one or two inside lights were on making the family room a low orange colour. Mum was sitting on the couch with dad next her, his arm around her, she had her head buried in his chest. I could see she’d been crying. She looked up at me; I think it was the first time I’d seen my mum so sad.
Rusty had passed away that day. The bond between mum and Rusty had been lost on me and my sisters. She loved that dog. It was mum who really looked after her. Prepared her food, took her for walks, spent the hours between school and home time with her, washed her and watched her grow. The two had been in each other’s constant company for years and a deep and loving bond had been created. Later that week Dad told me how mum and Rusty would sit together at night until she went to bed. How mum would plan our holidays to ensure Rusty could come. How mum would make extra trips to the shops to make sure Rusty had the right foods for her. Rusty and Mum were best mates.
I realised just how much joy a dog will and does bring to a family home. Rusty was awesome for my sisters and I, and even more important for my mum who started out being scared of dogs. Now 30 years later we all have families including dogs. Mum visits and spends as much time with the dogs as she does with her grandchildren. Rusty picked our family all those years ago for a reason.