The hardest part of sharing our lives with dogs is that they simply do not live long enough. This weekend, the boy and I said good bye to a very special canine in our lives: Rambo.
Rambo joined our family 11 years ago from a local rescue group. We weren’t looking for another dog. We certainly weren’t looking for an Australian Cattle Dog. We had terriers after all. Terriers were our thing.
I first saw Rambo while attending a training class at a local training facility. Rambo was curled up in a tight ball in the far back corner of a run, peeking at me over hip. There was something about him, an intelligence and sensitivity perhaps. The little blue dog obviously belonged to someone. Why else would he be here?
For the next week, I wondered about him. I even talked to the boy about him. At least a half dozen times I started to dial the facility’s number to find out who he was. Though I was certain he belonged to someone else I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something very special about him.
Another week passed and my phone rang. It was the owner of the facility. She had this dog I needed to meet. He was a very special rescue dog who would need a very special type of home. She thought, however, that he was the perfect dog for the boy. Though the boy and I were quite content with our two terrier household, my curiosity got the better of me. This woman knew us so well so if she thought this dog was perfect for the boy she really meant it.
When I returned to the facility later that week I was surprised to learn it was the little blue cattle dog mix. His name was Rambunctious, or Rambo for short. Without hesitation I said I would take him. NOW.
He had been caught as a feral dog and was a three time loser at the pound. There had been a parvo outbreak at the shelter and when she had gone to take another type of dog into rescue she had seen him. There was something about his eyes, she insisted. She couldn’t leave him behind. I understood completely what she meant.
She regaled me with tails of his escapades which including a unique talent for escaping any enclosure, his propensity for eating garbage and the fact that he was obsessed with balls. He didn’t connect easily with others. By easily, she meant that it took him about 5 weeks before he even started acknowledging that people even existed. He was nervous, shy…okay, downright terrified. He wasn’t exactly suitable for regular foster care. He was a half wild, half starved Tasmanian devil.
I didn’t care. All I knew is that she was right. This was THE dog.
It took about twenty minutes to slip a lead over Rambo’s head. It took me twenty more minutes to walk 100 feet to the car. Once in the car, he immediately pressed himself into the farthest corner away from me, trembling. It took another 15 minutes to get him out of the car, 10 minutes to walk him into the entry way. He pulled backward. He spun and thrashed. He wanted nothing more to just get away.
I was told he knew how to do one thing very well: Hold a sit stay.
So I asked him to sit in the entry way and he immediately plunked his bony rear end on the tile, staring at me with suspicion and terror. And then I called to the boy, “Come here and meet your new dog!”
The boy grumbled all the way down the hallway that we didn’t NEED another dog. He didn’t WANT another dog. I needed to take the dog back. Then it happened.
I am not exaggerating. I am not romanticizing this part of the story. This is exactly what happened. I had never seen anything like this. I still haven’t. It still gives me goose bumps and brings tears to my eyes.
The boy rounded the corner and stopped. Dog and boy regarded each other for a moment. The boy opened his arms without saying a word and Rambo leapt into his arms and started licking his face.
And that was that. Rambo was the boy’s and the boy was Rambo’s.
Rambo went on to have an incredible career in dog sports. He took exactly 15 minutes to learn to play flyball, a sport where most dogs train for 6-12 months before they even think of competing. He was exceptional in that he could run under 4 seconds. He also could run for anyone in any position. He lived to play. He also was a speedy agility dog-though he personally is responsible for several near heart attacks of judges and exhibitors (and me!) for his terrifying death defying teeter performances. He packed for hundreds of miles with me on the trail, jumped off the dock anytime, anywhere, regardless of weather. He was great in obedience and disc dog. He even did some herding and was a therapy dog.
Rambo trained dozens of handlers in sport after sport. Had a new handler? No problem! Give them Rambo. Didn’t have a handler at all? No problem. Just give Rambo instructions, he’ll handle himself.
Life wasn’t always easy with Rambo. True to what we had been told, he was a talented escaped artist. He also lacked social skills with humans and dogs. Humans were able to win him over with a ball. Other dogs? Not so much. It wasn’t that he was overtly aggressive. He wasn’t. He was just fine in a pack but if another dog approached him to play or say hi or heaven forbid sniff, they would be greeted with puffed up, pissed off cattle dog. He didn’t need dogs. He didn’t even really need me. He just needed the boy. He also had some other shall we say “unique” traits, such as a propensity for den digging and this very non-domesticated dog gait… The running joke became that someone’s working ranch dog got knocked up by a coyote. In fact, nearly everyone who met him, particularly in his youth immediately said, “Wow, he looks like a blue coyote!” Yes, yes he did. So much so that when hiking I had to put a big bell on him because ranchers periodically would turn up, rifle in hand to shoe him off.
We estimate that Rambo was probably around 18-24 months when we came to our home and we assigned his birthday as 8/4/1999. Other than a few assorted injuries over the years, Rambo had never been ill a day in his life. He was still running strong and competing like a dog half his age up until four weeks ago when he suddenly started skipping meals here and there. It wasn’t terribly concerning as he had done this here and there over the years. But then I saw it: a slight peach tone creeping into his gums and ears. I knew immediately it was his liver.
We have an incredible veterinary team and though it did indeed appear to be the first signs of liver failure, we were all confident that with the right management Rambo would continue to enjoy his life. After all, he was a strong and healthy dog who wasn’t exhibiting nearly half the symptoms other dogs in his condition did. But over the last two weeks, things changed very quickly. It is a terrible thing to see a dog who has always been so strong, so healthy and so full of life waste away before your eyes. But every day, he would get up, totter himself out to potty then bring us his ball. And we played. A lot. And then he slept a lot. We had amazing days and horrible days.
The last day was a good one. He woke up in the morning and played and played. He slept while I packed up the car to go to a tournament. We knew it was probably his last one and had decided to take him with us. He was so excited to get in the truck, but he was so tired. I stopped every 30 minutes or so and then we would get out and do our little walk. I talked to him and while he never had much to say, he was content. He seemed entirely at peace, but he was so very tired and we knew he was very close to leaving us.
He passed away peacefully in his sleep curled up in his bed in the early hours of Saturday morning, surrounded by his favorite toys and those who loved him in a place that had always brought him so much joy.
Our hearts are broken but we were so very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend 11 wonderful years with him. We are grateful that he did not suffer and that he left us on his own terms. The outpouring of love and support from all who knew him and even those who only knew of him has been so very wonderful. The boy and I both are so very thankful for our friends and family, teammates, fellow competitors and our spectacular veterinary team. Most of all, we are thankful to have had Rambo in our lives. He will never be forgotten and will always live on in our hearts.