Karen Wilson watched as a little tyke came running from the group of golden retriever puppies as fast as his little legs would carry him. Wearing a red ribbon, he was the most adorable bundle of golden softness she had ever seen. As soon as he reached her and she picked him up, he settled in her arms and immediately captured her heart. There was no question that she was his mama and he was her baby dolly. In a poignant retelling of the unconditional love between a dog and his owner, Wilson details how Rusty, at five weeks old, warmed her heart and eased doubts and pain as he quickly acclimated to his new life in her home. He turned out to be a gentle-natured puppy known to elevate the spirits of all who met him. Wilson recalls Rusty?s comical adventures as he grew by leaps and bounds; made friends with her collie, Chester; had fun with a rope swing, a bucket, and leaf piles; caught snowballs in his mouth; and discovered that a cow can be a guardian angel. Dakota Gold shares the true story of a tail-wagging, mischievous dog as he is adopted by his new family, embraces the fun in life, and learns from his best friend that love is the key to happiness.
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By Karen Wilson
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Karen Wilson
All rights reserved.
With breakfast eaten and the dishes done, I bundled up for my morning walk with Rusty. It was still winter, but the sun poured its warmth across the frozen land, slowly melting the snow. Before long, it would become a very muddy walk! For now, though, Rusty and I broke a path through the deep snow to the stand of oak, aspen, poplar, pine, and cedar trees. Holly bushes were scattered here and about, the berries nestled on pillows of snow and the deep-green leaves beautifully etched in white. All the leafless branches on the trees had snow sleeves and stood in stark contrast to the clear blue sky. Covered in snow, the branches no longer reminded me of a bag of bones—funny how nature can change mental pictures from one to another. Along our walk, numerous tracks and pathways presented themselves. The black bear that roamed our area had been there sometime during the night and had left muddy rubbings and bits of fur and clawing marks on the bark of the bigger trees. I could still see rubs left on the trees by the buck deer from the earlier rutting season. Faint paw prints from the bobcat tracked across the snow, heading to a destination that it only knew.
Only the faint swishing of cascading snow from overloaded boughs and the crunch of snow underfoot broke the silence of this morning. I could see patches of sky visible beyond the towering trees—not a cloud in sight and not even a whisper of wind. Maybe this was really the end of the storm. If history was a good measure, we soon could expect weeks of fine spring-like temperatures, in spite of its being late winter.
As Rusty and I walked from the rolling pasture to our wooded pathway, I noticed that the air was warm enough that I could no longer see our breath—no mist burst from our mouths, making us look like laboring steamboats. The sunshine, the chirping birds, the clean smell of pine needles—they were all good signs.
Rusty soon found a distraction—a rabbit. His nose wriggled as he sniffed the air, stopping in his tracks. I knew he was remembering the baby bunny he had found when he was younger. Suddenly, with a spurt of energy, he bounded off, eagerly yet gracefully. With legs reaching out, he quickly covered ground in the melting snow. I saw that the rabbit was too wise to stay in place, for he scooted away. The white cottontail disappeared deeper into the woods, outside our fenced property line. Rusty never went beyond the fencing. He stopped at the line, looked to where the rabbit had disappeared, and then looked back to me, his tail wagging excitedly. He began prancing about, smelling the air, and sniffing at the rabbit's tracks. He returned to the fence, looked around, and then paced again, going back to sniff the trail and then back to the fence once more.
"I'm sorry, boy!" I called to him. "You know you can't go there. Come on. Let's finish our walk."
Obediently, he came, but he looked over his shoulder wistfully. Almost. I am sure he was thinking. I almost got that rabbit.
When we returned to the house nearly an hour later, we were both slightly muddy, and towels were required to clean up before going indoors. Rusty would have liked to play tug-of-war with those towels, but I tossed them in the washing machine. Even as I did, Rusty jumped up and down, his jaws reaching up, trying to clamp down on the towels.CHAPTER 2
Rusty was twelve and a half years old on September 10, 2009. I was filled with overwhelming grief as I clutched my big boy, my love. It was time to say good-bye. He'd had an enlarged heart and had battled cancer, but now, he'd suffered a stroke. His loving, trusting eyes gazed at me once more. I always told him, "I will never have another dog in this house"—and I meant it with all my heart and soul. Now, endless tears flowed unchecked down my cheeks, and choking sobs ripped from my throat. Memories flooded back to me as I held him.
We all go through this at one time or another—losing someone dear to us. It is never easy, but it is the process of life. I knew I needed to somehow let my heart be warmed, even as he was crossing over this side of fall. I remembered the times we walked lazily across the pastures, where a light cast of snow had fallen that morning, sugaring the pine boughs and the dull beige stubble where corn and wheat had grown earlier in the year. I remembered the gentleness, warmth, love, and trust of our life together that always was between us.
I looked over the land that now seemed lifeless and useless, and I remembered only how my spirit elevated when Rusty and I were together here. I think Rusty's spirit did too, as his behind would wag about, his great flagging tail waving in the breeze that ruffled burnished red, yellow, and gold fur of this boy I loved so deeply.
I don't want to think about the bare appearance of the pastures before me. I want to only remember the glory of our moments, our times together.CHAPTER 3
I met Rusty's father, Dakota, at the Seven Pines hunting camp in Ivor, Virginia. My husband, Billy, cared for the dogs there, and Dakota was a loving, mischievous wonder. Immediately upon meeting him, I took to him as much as he took to me. He lived half a mile down the road. His owner, Paige Pulley, farmed over a thousand acres of corn, cotton, and peanuts on a homestead that had been passed down from one generation of family to the next since 1736. Sometimes, Dakota met us with his shaggy fur dripping wet from his swim in the pond, but that never mattered to me. I gave him my hugs anyway, and he licked my face with his warm, wet pink tongue. His eyes, which looked as if black eyeliner surrounded them, happily gazed at me, and his mouth always looked as if he was smiling. His coloring was that of the fall leaves—golden red—and when the sun shone on him, he glistened. His head stood regally from his thick, bibbed neck, and he pranced about proudly.
I didn't realize that Billy often watched me with Dakota. And I didn't know—until later—that he'd asked Paige's son, Cory, who raised golden retrievers, when Dakota was going to be mated with Lady Cheyanne, a light golden, or that he'd asked for a pup—a male closest to Dakota's appearance and nature.
On May 25, 1997, Billy said that he needed to meet with Paige, and he asked if I wanted to go along with him. I readily agreed, knowing I would see Dakota. My time with Dakota would give me joy, and I needed that. I'd had two major surgeries that left me in much pain, as well as anxiety and depression. I knew that Dakota would diffuse all that for me. I could not get to Ivor fast enough.
An hour and a half later, we drove up the long gravel driveway to the house, but I didn't see Dakota anywhere. I got out of the truck, my eyes searching for him. Before I could find Dakota, I saw something else—puppies! They were beautiful golden retriever puppies, frolicking together and tugging on each other's colored as they toppled about. A few looked our way; one stared. "Who's that? Oh! Wow! There she is!" he seemed to say. "He said she was coming today—my new mama! I'm coming, Mama! I'm coming!"
I watched as this little tyke came running from the group of puppies as fast as his little legs would carry him. He was wearing a red ribbon and was the most adorable bundle of golden softness I had ever seen—and he was running directly to me! When he reached me, he tried to jump up. "It's me! It's me, Mama!" Of course, I picked him up. The puppy settled into my arms and looked me straight in the eyes.
Dakota had black-rimmed eyes, and so did this little one. Puppy breath wafted to my nose. I loved that smell! I thought I glimpsed a spark in the puppy's eyes, and suddenly, he burst up. his paws reaching up and out to my shoulders and then to my face. With his face into mine, the little tongue licked my neck and face with vigor—and oh so thoroughly! I laughed the whole time, enjoying every moment. Evidently, he did too. I nuzzled him and was nuzzled back.
I heard a door open and close behind me, and I turned to see Cory standing there with a huge smile on his face. "I see you found your puppy," he said.
I blinked at him and then looked down at the puppy in my arms. I blinked again. I think my heart skipped a beat. "Wh-what?" I said in disbelief.
"I see you found your puppy," he repeated.
I turned from Cory to Billy. He too had a big smile. Then Billy said, "That's right. That little puppy is yours. I wanted to surprise you. Looks like I did too. You see, I've watched you and Dakota, so I asked Cory when Dakota and Lady Cheyanne would be mated. He told me when it would be, and then I waited. Finally, he called me to say that the litter was healthy and full of energy. Cory carefully determined which pup had Dakota's nature—it was this one particular puppy. That is why he's wearing the red ribbon. He's the prize, just for you!"
My jaw dropped open, and my eyes filled with tears. He was mine! A little Dakota! Happy tears dropped onto the puppy. "Aw, don't cry!" he seemed to say. In a blink, he lapped the tears from my face until I began to laugh. My mind still whirled in disbelief, but then Cory said, "He's yours, all right. He's going to be another Dakota, just for you."
I hugged that little puppy to my breast and whispered, "You are mine, all mine. And you chose me before I even knew myself." I hugged the puppy as I thanked Cory, and then I gave Billy a kiss and softly said, "Thank you."
Before we left, I thanked Cory one more time. We both smiled, although I think my smile was a lot bigger than Cory's was. This little puppy—calm now in my arms and with eyes slowly drooping and drowsy—was all mine, and the glory of it all burst my heart wide open. I was his mama, and he was my baby dolly.CHAPTER 4
When we got home, I carried the puppy into the house, walking into every room and talking the whole time. I wanted him to hear my voice and let it soothe and comfort him. I knew he was going to miss his brothers and sisters.
"What are you doing?" Billy asked.
"He has to know he is safe here," I answered.
"Well, if anyone would hear you talking to a dog and giving him a tour of the house, they really would wonder about you, that's all."
When I was finished with the tour, I placed the puppy on the kitchen floor.
"Whoa! Don't put me down," he seemed to say, as he stood stock still.
Shamus, our cat, had been following us and now had come up to check out this new addition to his domain. "Ah! Mom! What is this furry thing?"
I could see trepidation in both of them and only hoped Shamus would behave. I watched as they both sat. Shamus slowly lifted his left paw. "Hi there!"
Their image was reflected in the black glass of the oven door—it was perfection. It was an adorable sight. I grabbed my camera and snapped this pose. I guess Shamus had made his judgment call, for he got up and sauntered off to lie in the light and warmth of the sunlight streaming through the window.
"That went well," I said to Billy.
"Well, I guess we're friends then," the puppy seemed to say. "Mama, I'm hungry. Can I eat now?"
We had stopped at the store on the way home to buy puppy food, so now I opened the bag and poured a small amount into the new bowl, which had a cartoon dog painted on the bottom. I set the bowl down and sat next to it to watch this little guy eat. After he ate and then had a drink, I carried him outside to go potty.
He was such an energetic bundle of eagerness. He was already so ready to share. The mornings would become more glorious to me, for he was in my life now. And this was a glorious day—my first day with baby dolly!
Four-year-old Chester, our collie, was always a gentle, easy going dog. I wondered if he would show jealousy with this new addition to the family, because he had always needed closeness and affection. "I guess I'll find out real soon," I told myself. When I brought Chester into the house to meet the puppy, I noticed an immediate acceptance from him as he approached this puppy. I knew then that everything was going to be okay. "Hi! Are you going to be my friend too?" the puppy must have said. I think Chester adopted the puppy right then, seeing him as a new father would see his new born child. "Hi there, little guy. I'm Chester. I see you met Shamus!"
Before long, this puppy had a constant companion—Chester never let him out of sight. They seemed to meet each other's need for animal affection and companionship. I soon saw that these two had bonded, and Shamus also seemed to develop an attachment as he watched them together.CHAPTER 5
The crimson blush of sunrise burned off the last of the night's clouds. It was our first morning together. The coolness of this May morning would quickly give way to another extremely warm day—the sky a cloudless clear blue, a halfhearted breeze only faintly stirring the air.
Lesson number one was about to begin. A pattern would develop—learning what was important and understanding what I wanted of him. I would make these processes fun and consistent—that was very important! Not following this teaching would be a mistake for both of us. I told myself I would not fail in this endeavor. I would not fail him! "Shamus?" I called. "Come on. It's time to take this puppy out. Let's get Chester."
Every two hours, Chester and Shamus followed as I went to the pasture, carrying my puppy so he would not get used to using the lawn—not ever! He was going to learn a very important lesson today. And he was a fast learner as the days and weeks passed. Soon, he became used to this routine and romped right to the pasture. The first time he took himself to the pasture and did his business, he looked up at me as if to say, "I did it right! Look, Mama!" I praised him and hugged his little neck after I picked him up off the ground. I whispered into his ear, "I knew you would do it. Oh, you are so smart. I just love you to pieces!" With continued consistency and effort, he learned quite quickly, and pride swelled within me.
I gave him his first ball, a blue one, just right for his little jaws to grasp. He took to it readily and walked away with it. "Oh, I like this! Whoops!" He dropped the ball and then picked it up again. I began the lesson of fetch and catch. "Hah! I like this! Throw it some more!" Wherever he went after that, the ball went with him. If I had to go into the house for a few minutes, I would always know where he had been playing with his ball, for it was never in the same place.
He needed a name, but what should his name be? Burnished red-gold glistened in his fur, just like his father. And he definitely had his daddy's appearance. There it was! I'd name him after his father. And so his AKC (American Kennel Club)-registered name was Dakota Gold Shadow Rustler—Dakota Gold, after his father; Shadow, because he was the image of Dakota's puppy pictures; and Rustler, because he "rustled" his way into my heart. I called him Rusty,
One afternoon, Rusty noticed something hanging from a tree branch—the rope ladder hanging from our huge oak tree. I was holding him, but he began wriggling to get down. Once he was on the ground, he romped toward the tree, dropped his ball, and got down to serious business. Our picnic table was a short distance from where he was playing, so I sat there to watch him, to be sure he would be okay and not get twisted in the rope. As I watched, I could almost guess what he was thinking as he looked at this strange hanging thing. "What is this? It might be fun. How am I going to do this?" His head cocked from side to side, eyeing it. I wondered how he was going to attack this rope, and I watched as he cautiously walked toward it, sniffed, and gingerly took the end of the rope into his tiny jaws. With his teeth secure on this strange thing, he began to tug and pull and stretch that rope as far as he could. "Why can't I get it like I do my ball? I pick it up like this and walk away, but this thing won't let me carry it!" He gave it a shake and tried to pull it even more taut than it already was. It would not loosen and fall, and he couldn't stretch it any more. "Well, maybe if I do this ..." He grabbed the rope and twisted and shook it even more. Little growls came from his tiny chest. He seemed determined to win this tug-of-war! Then he lost hold of the rope and tumbled. "Oh! What happened? Okay, let me try this again. I put my teeth right here on this thing and hold on—tight. Don't let go this time!"
Rusty's persistence eventually won—he finally found the right technique to hold on to the rope, but what now? I read his expression as he looked at me. "What should I do, Mama? I want to know. Tell me!" He kept trying and trying again to take the rope with him. I was watching a comedy show, right here in my backyard. Whoops! He lost hold of the rope and flipped over. He rolled over on his side and then righted himself again to stand and stare at where he had been. "What am I doing wrong now? Let's try this again!" His grasp was secure, and with a shaking head that increased by the moment, so did the growls of persistence. Again and again, his attempts to carry the rope resulted in his flopping on his left side or his right. He even went head over tail, but that didn't stop him. So what if he rolled backward and rolled over? It did nothing to stop his game of playing insistently with that rope ladder. When tugging didn't work, he placed his paws on the first rung and looked as if he was going to try to climb it. But no—unbalanced, he toppled head over tail again. It seemed to me that he was having a ball, but it wasn't just a game; it was a job—to learn about the rope ladder and conquer it!
Excerpted from Dakota Gold by Karen Wilson. Copyright © 2014 Karen Wilson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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