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Homage to a Difficult Dog

By T. Rutter

Watson, a scruffy terrier and I, came into each other’s lives as broken beings.

Watson as a victim of animal abuse, and me as a fresh and hurting divorcee.

I knew Watson was the dog for me when, during our first shelter “meet and greet” he leaned up against me, looked at me with melty brown eyes and chomped down on my left hand.

What can I say? We were a mess.

I’ll never know what horrible things happened to Watson before he was found, stick thin and matted in South Central Los Angeles. In addition to being wildly under socialized, he was terrified of balloons, human feet, people running, loud noises and most of all, men.

Watson may not have known it at the time, but he was going home with a forty something year old woman at the tail end of some epically bad life choices. My divorce had been messy.

I was a runner.

Adopted from a foster home as an infant, my adoptive parents, touting the wisdom of the day had made of point of drumming into my head the words,

“Your real mother loved you so much, she gave you away.”

While that may very well have been true, the takeaway in my kid brain ran more along the lines of, "when someone loves you, they ditch you".

Love means leave.

My solution? Get the hell out first.

The first inkling of change and I ran straight into the arms of the “next best thing” which resulted in a downward spiral of relationships topped by a treacherous reputation as a “heart breaker”.

When my ex-husband had insisted our shared pooch move in with him, I discovered an ache for the smell of dog and the sound of doggie feet, which led me to the Internet and finally to that fateful day when Watson and I stumbled and chomped our way into each other’s lives, two grownups in desperate need of a fresh start.

Within weeks of coming home with me Watson annihilated every one of my fantasies about being a single pet parent. Not for us the relaxing afternoon on a local coffee house patio, oh no, Watson terrorized every single server unfortunate enough to approach us by lunging out from under the table in full attack mode, snarling like Kujo.

An afternoon at a home improvement store ended in disaster when Watson took advantage of my distraction over hardware to launch a terrifying attack on fellow shopper, nothing happened but rattled nerves, but it was the last time Watson was allowed in a place of business.

Watson was stubborn in the extreme. No power on earth could re-route him from his chosen direction on any given walk. A favorite trick was to slowly amble his way further and further from home, get as far away as possible then freeze and dig in, refusing to head back.

Watson’s lists of “hates” was monumental, tennis balls, groomers, loud noises, being picked up, puppies, bedsheets, TV shows, firetrucks, rain, heat, flies, wind, sand, sun.

Of course, he ate like a garbage truck, cleaning the ground like a vacuum and noshing on stray cat turds.

Despite our mutual “hard luck” stories we grew into fast friends, present for each other through rough and smooth. Watson was the last “person” to see my 83-year-old father before he passed away. Watson visited my mother in her dementia care facility and changed addresses from California to Texas and back again. Watson was the buddy I trusted most to vet prospective boyfriends. I knew my current husband was a keeper, when he managed to win Watson over after sustaining a bite that sent him to urgent care.

As years rolled by, Watson mellowed. Never the healthiest of dogs, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur, developed pancreatitis (may have been the cat turds), arthritis, a flea allergy, skin condition, sight problems , hearing loss and cushing's disease

I’ve been changing too, as one year turned to five, then ten, I’ve been learning what it means to care, deeply, for another living being. I still clearly remember the first time I turned down an invitation to go out in order to stay home with Watson.

It’s a heady thing to have one creature look to you above all others. Even as Watson’s eyesight dimmed, he sought me out, his soulful, cloudy eyes locking on me as I moved about the house. I was his touch stone, his mantra, if I was around things were OK.

For my part, Watson has run through the past 14 years of my life like a steady heartbeat. His face the first thing I see when I walk through the door, the partner I trust with all my secrets.

I loved Watson (AKA Watstacks, Rupert Pupkin and Bumkins), deeply and profoundly, I loved his fur, the sound his toenails made on a hardwood floor, the way he demanded attention, his ability to let me know when he just wanted to be alone in a quiet, safe space.

We came close to losing him on more than one occasion, but every time, he managed to stubbornly wander back from the brink, making every second I spent with him a miracle.

This is the true gift given to me by this stinky, snarling, adorable little monster. A message I desperately needed to be given and one I hope, in my imperfect way, I returned to its messenger.

At the end of the day, love never leaves.

(Watson, my Soul Dog, passed in peace, surrounded by his adoring family on July 17, 2021)

Thyra Rutter is the founder of Arte for Elephants a philanthropic art and travel business which has raised over $60,000 for elephant and chimp rescue.


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