This has nothing to do with growing up in a small town. We live in the 'burbs, now. Have since 1978. But dogs, and the children that love them, are universal, whether or not you live in the smallest city or the biggest village.
So here's the story of Rusty, the Wonderdog. No one knows how Rusty got his nickname. He never pulled Timmy from a well, barked until all the children fled the burning house, or crawled 1600 miles across the tundra to rejoin his family after being left for lost at a truck stop in North Platte.
He did, one Saturday morning, come get me out of bed when Jo, fetching the paper, slipped and fell on the ice and lay flat on her back on the cold driveway in her nightgown and twisted ankle. But that was long after he had the nickname.
Rusty was a found dog, which is the best of breeds. I was away on business one summer's day when the kids coaxed him out from under their cousin's porch over in DeSoto. I called home to tell Jo that I was going to find a motel in Rossville because the project was running a little long. The kids, then 7, 5, and 3, all shouted into the phone, "Can we keep him?"
Now, I had a cat or two when I was growing up. My wife had a dachshund named Cindy all through school. So, as grown-ups, we were at loggerheads over larger pets. (Much like the Methodist-Lutheran thing until that got resolved). But a found dog is a gift to children not to be trifled with.
When I got home from Rossville, the dog was still at our cousin's. I told the kids it was alright by me if they wanted to keep him. "We've named him Rusty, " they said. "That's good," I said, "because I had a dream last night about a dog named Rusty. "So we checked with the local vet in DeSoto and put up a flyer at the Post Office and grocery store. No one was missing a brown and white mutt.
He was just a puppy when we found him, grew up with the kids, and watched them all turn the corner into adulthood. Never much trouble, didn't bark much, didn't run away much, Rusty was not very social with other dogs but loved his family totally. Rusty's chief duty was to put each of the children to bed, staying with them until they were asleep and then moving off to the next staggered bedtime, finally at the end of the day, crawling under our bed and putting us to sleep.
I don't think that Rusty ever caught a squirrel or a rabbit. He certainly thrilled for the chase, up to the very end, when he was too arthritic to leave the porch. He had given up, some years ago, chasing the birds from the backyard when the crows retaliated with a dive-bombing campaign.
We cried at the end, as all good families should. Dogs are part of God's perfect creation. Rusty's loyalty and devotion, his unconditional love, was a revelation of that truth to us.