Pat and Rug’s excellent adventure
By Pat Goodwin, July 2011

Rug (left) and Mat

When sweet Rug died after six months of diagnostic testing, surgery and two aggressive cancers, I sent an obituary to his friends:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Dog Perfect Rug passed from his earthly life. Born in September 1997 and found and rescued at age six weeks by a Good Samaritan whose two little girls nurtured him, he chose Pat to be his life’s companion/pack mate two weeks later. A soft, fuzzy puppy, whose coat elicited his name, Rug grew into a 55-pound shaggy black adult with a commanding presence and a curling tail. Rug made friends wherever he went and never met a child he didn’t like. The only mammal he hesitated to meet was Yellowstone’s buffalo—just stared and growled from within the safety of the car.

Rug attended three increasingly difficult schools and was graduated with a Canine Good Citizen Certificate. With a Service Dog letter and seldom-worn vest, he traveled the western half of the United States visiting rivers, streams, lakes, Oregon Trail, Yellowstone Park, Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark’s trails and Pacific camp, redwoods, Grand Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument, and national, state, and local parks and campgrounds, hotels, motels, restaurants and museums, making it possible for Pat to visit those as well. But for his harness, he would have been washed away by the swift Pecos River in New Mexico. He loved to swim but scared Pat by jumping precipitously into unknown waters.

The Best Dog in the World will be greatly, immensely, never-to-be-forgotten missed and loved. A horribly aggressive set of cancers may have broken his body but never his spirit. Rug lives on in my heart, brain, soul. Being allowed to be his person was one of my life’s best experiences and added joy, love and companionship to my life. He may have been  “only a dog” as some say but became the center of expanding my world. He was loving, loyal and loved road trips.

When after months of thinking about getting a dog and how to do a good job raising him, I went to the local pound with the “virtuous” intention of rescuing an older female. The two adult females weren’t adoptable so I began looking at the mound of wriggling bodies that was the puppy pen. At the bottom of the pile were a little black nose and two black velvet ears and I pointed and said, “That one.” The pound person had quite a time getting “that one” and when she did, we stood him on the floor and I ran one finger down his back. His tail went to one side and back, no trembling, no peeing on the floor, just calm reaction. His fur was soft and his tongue pink. My dog. 

Found out he was so calm because had only been there two hours. He apparently was petrified and when I got him home and he began growing rapidly in size and confidence, his true puppy self was one who destroyed one each of three pairs of shoes in one day. I’d go to work and declare, “I’m taking him back” every day. Many thought he was a giant Schnauzer mix from a local puppy mill dumping site and he did have that look. Whatever he was, kids fell all over him and were thrilled to get him to sit and stay as long as I gave them a treat to give him. Adults loved him too but his size and very deep bark made strangers hesitate; not a bad thing.

When we hit the road, for about 25,000 miles, his place was beside me on the passenger seat. Friends and strangers would be either amazed or dismayed that I went camping alone. My response? I’m not alone; Rug is here. After Rug joined me, I became a safer driver for fear of injuring him in an accident and after years of cyclical depression, never seriously considered suicide again. I had to be here for Rug. 

Other than a flea allergy aggravated by hot weather, he generally was healthy until he turned twelve and the tumors began. As I became more desperate to find a way to help him and took him to the university veterinary specialty clinics, his condition only became more dire. Soon he was on increasingly strong pain medication given to him in a slice of roast beef or ham until one day, he refused to eat or drink. Without pain medication, the cancers were excruciating. It was time. 

Writing about the horror of that last hour in the vet’s office is beyond me other than to say that after the first sedating injection was given him, he visibly relaxed, looked at me and opened his mouth. I leaned down and he gently licked my cheek and then was asleep. He wasn’t in pain.

The next few days and weeks were a blur of crying and depression and looking around at every sound. Is it Rug? The lack of the big shaggy dog was palpable. When I began looking at dog rescue sites online, it was a serious search for relief. One day, there was a black shaggy face. Mat (smaller than Rug) has been with me for almost a year, so now is probably about two years old.

When I first brought him home, all his vertebrae and ribs stood out individually, he was shaved due to matting, and he had heartworms. All that is resolved, his thick coat is shiny black and wavy, his tail is a long plume and he is heartworm negative. After the first month of not allowing me to touch his head or face, one day he came up to me and put his mouth and nose to my cheek and that was it. He had decided I was okay. 

No, he isn’t Rug and I don’t pretend he is or ever will be but he is a great goofy dog who never got a chance to really grow into his huge feet and long legs. He will happily roll around on the floor or on grass with mouth wide open—no reason, just being alive. Yes, he likes to wander—all that time on the streets, I think. He has lots of fears but his confidence is growing. I love him. Last week, he went on his first camping trip (and my first since Rug’s death) and discovered wading in lakes and scaring geese. 

Perhaps we don’t “save” the dogs in the pounds and shelters; more often the dogs save us.

Pat Goodwin lives in Alexandria, La., with Mat and Annie in a tiny old house with a huge yard. She expresses a thank you to Annie, a rat terrier adult-rescue who taught Mat how to open a door, that the yard is this way, where the food bowls are, and to come when called. Without her, the adjustment for Mat, who apparently had never been inside a house and was afraid of people, and for Pat would have been MUCH more difficult.

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