Dusty

Dusty came to me through sad, but all too common circumstances. Dusty lived with a family for the first nine years of his life, well trained and taken hillwalking, he was a beloved family member, until one of the daughters of the family became pregnant. It was decided then that Dusty should become an outdoor dog as they didn’t want him around the baby. He then went to live in the back garden. Being a brighter than average dog, he let himself out of the garden, and took to the streets of the village where he became a common sight, until one day ending up in my mum’s back garden. She tracked down his owners, and was told simply that he was not really wanted anymore and she could just have him.

My parents were not in a situation to keep a dog themselves, and this is the point where normally the SSPCA or the Dogs Trust become involved, however, I was more than willing to take on a dog myself. Dusty lived with me from there on.

Dusty was a calm, intelligent dog with a heart big enough to love the world. On one of his early walks, he met a small child, who promptly yanked on his tail… Dusty merely watched the child until it let go, then moved away to a safe distance. Dusty loved to play faceball (which is LIKE football, but played with one’s face), and actually learned to evade and dribble the ball.

He could see very well, and would often spend hours watching TV, I would leave the TV on during the day when I went to work, set to the Animal Planet channel. Dusty often wouldn’t have moved an inch from the front of the television by the time I got home! He also quite enjoyed cartoons. He also enjoyed chasing the laser-pen dot around, and up the wall!

His only real failing was mirrors. He was clearly aware it was himself in the mirror, he was able to pass the mirror-test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_test#Method), which is unusual in dogs. But he never quite grasped how they worked. He would actually run around to the other side of the wall the mirror was on in order to check for items he could see sitting behind him IN the mirror.

When I adopted a small female rat named Pixie, Dusty not only tolerated her presence, but allowed her to climb him, trim his nails, inspect his ears, and otherwise torment him. He loved meeting new people, but never overpowered anyone, he was as gentle as possible with smaller creatures, and mothered rats as if they were his own puppies. When I met Gayle, it was Dusty that helped Gayle to realize that not all dogs were slobbering morons that just wanted to hump everything.

In his later years, Dusty developed a condition known as ‘Canine Vestibular Syndrome’, which looks very much like a stroke. It’s debilitating, but with early treatment, can be recovered from. He had already suffered one attack by the time I met Gayle, and was never his best after that first event, so sadly Gayle missed his youthful exuberance and love of football.

Despite this however, he remained a spookily intelligent dog, and had a developed sense of humor. He was prone to sneaking up on people and giving them ‘Surprise!’ nudges with his nose, he took a joy in bumping bottles and glasses to make them wobble, to the horror of anyone who cared about the carpets. When Sansa joined us, Dusty was already very infirm, but his ‘jokes’ extended even to winding her up, if she left a toy (especially her beloved puppy!) lying, he would take it, and move it to another room, then return to watch her hunt around for it.

He also formed a close bond with one of our rats, Magic. She would inspect his teeth and clamber all over him while he sat and watched her. He was always extremely careful not to do anything more than give her a gentle nudge with his nose.

“For ma next trick, ah will stick ma heid in the doggy’s moof!

He had always been a fighter, making multiple recoveries from the effects of his vestibular disease, and to the day he died, he had no real health problems – his vestibular issues led to him getting bruised and bumped, simply due to the enforced clumsiness, but his kidneys and lover functions were as good as a dog half his age.

But the condition did grow worse, with very obvious senility creeping in. He would forget to drink, or eat, and sleep 23/7. It took several hours a day to ensure he got enough water and food. He was still himself, but was slipping away, and eventually suffered a final vestibular attack, from which he refused to fight back from. He had reached his end, and although it would have been possible to drip-feed him and force drugs into his system to keep him going, Dusty himself was making it clear, it was his time. We took him to the vet the following morning, and said goodbye. He was 19.