RudySteps

[There’s absolutely nothing professional about the following post, but who cares: ]

It’s a very sad day for the Mattern family. Today we said goodbye to Rudy, our springer spaniel, who brought us immense joy (…and mild frustration, but primarily amusement, and so many other good things) for 15 years. With his passing he leaves a huge hole in our hearts.

RudyMy mom and I found Rudy on an Amish farm road on a cold and soggy Thanksgiving Day in 1999. We were en route to our family’s cabin in the Seven Mountains of Central Pennsylvania, where the extended family had always celebrated the holiday. Rounding a bend, we found a wet, dirty, shivering-cold puppy along the side of the road. As is my inclination, I stopped and picked him up (I have a habit of designating myself caretaker of seemingly-lost dogs). We checked with a few of the local farmers to see if anyone could identify the little guy, but no one could — so we took him with us to camp. To this day, the Matterns love retelling the story of Rudy’s First Thanksgiving: rescued from waterlogged un-belonging and solitude and transported to a warm cabin amidst a dozen dog-lovers, who dried him off and made a place for him on the couch near the wood stove, where he lay all afternoon on his back, waiting for belly-rubs, sighing deep sighs of contentment. We had no dog food with us that day, so he shared our Thanksgiving dinner. Utopia.

We placed ads in the local papers and on the radio station, trying to find his home — but to no avail. So, lucky us, we got to keep him. The vet estimated that he was roughly six months old, so we decided to set his honorary birthdate on April 1, 1999.

Caught in the rain after one of his treks

Caught in the rain after one of his treks

For the next few years, during his adolescence, Rudy brought a new, uh… verve to the household. I was already living in New York at the time, so I had the pleasure of experiencing his joie de vivre only on my trips home — but he never failed to put on a show when I was in town. We’d return home from errands to find magazines ripped up and deposited in shreds throughout the house. He’d pulverize his stuffed animals and leave their entrails strewn about, too. And he had quite an adventurous palate: he ate, on different occasions, a whole box of hot chocolate, a pack of razors, and several rolls of toilet paper — and I recall him chewing a few of my multi-packs of gum, then depositing the chewed-up wads on my bedspread.

But in exchange for all the inconveniences he caused, he kept us safe. Especially from birds. If any bird dared swoop low in his vicinity, Rudy would leap high into the air — his long, floppy ears flying and squat legs flailing — and snap at the airborne creature, typically missing by at least 20 feet. Hey, it was the effort that counted.

His love for food was served well by his keen sense of hearing: anytime anyone ventured into the kitchen — even in the middle of the night, even if Rudy happened to be taking a nap in a far corner of the house — within five seconds of the cracking of the refrigerator’s seal, Rudy would magically appear behind the door, waiting for a piece of cheese.

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Roxy and Rudy, doing what they do best

It was through his stomach — and his nose — that he experienced, and took immense pleasure in, the world. When the dogs were outside, we’d frequently find Rudy perched at the top of the backyard bank, his head held high, cute brown nose in the air, nostrils flaring, sniffing in the glory of his domain. He’d often trace the trails of deer, perhaps long since passed through the area, deep into the woods behind our house, where we’d find him an hour or so later, sunning himself on a bank, covered in burrs.

He also had a charming attachment to his dog bed. Whenever the humans decided to congregate in a particular area of the house, Rudy would disappear for a few minutes, then return, dragging his dog bed behind him. He’d position the bed in the middle of the action, and plop down to soak in the conviviality. Even in his older years, when the bed-dragging became too much of a burden, he still followed my mom around everywhere; wherever she was, he was.

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Rudy and Dugan as a puppy

Rudy and Dugan as a puppy

He shared that collegiality with his pet siblings, too. When we brought Dugan, our border collie, home in 2000, Rudy stood up from where he had been lying beside the new puppy, retreated into the bedroom, and returned with a stuffed animal, which he set before Dugan, in what we like to regard as a “housewarming” gift (I know — crazy anthropomorphizing).

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After many, many good years, he developed cataracts a few years ago. Then some mysterious misfortune befell him on one of his solo treks into the woods, from which he returned one day with missing teeth — and, tragically, a complete loss of hearing. Then, over the past year or so, his back legs stopped synchronizing with the front ones. Stairs became a challenge — and, eventually, simply walking around became quite a chore. Over the past couple months, he’s lost half his body weight, that mischievous spark has left his cloudy eyes, and his beautiful brown button nose — my favorite feature — has dried up, serving as an unmistakable emblem of his irreversible, incontestable decline.

My parents have done yeoman’s work to keep him happy and comfortable. But early this week the vet informed us that it’s time. So I went home.

Our beloved Rudy passed from this world — went gently into that good night — at 11:30 this morning. We stood around him, fighting back tears, trying to ease his transition, knowing that seeing us unhappy would make him unhappy, as it always has. And we wanted him to slip away seeing our smiling faces, knowing he’s brought much goodness into our lives, not afraid of what lay before him.

Yet now he’s gone. And I’m so terribly sad. And I simply can’t believe it. And I’m crying as I type this.

Goodbye, little buddy. Thank you for all the love and joy and loyalty you brought into our lives. We’ll miss you terribly, and we’ll love you forever.

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