Rushmore

 

The Beginning
I had just moved back home from graduating art college in San Francisco. It was summer of 1999. Dad said there was a black puppy at his office who was left behind by his owners. Apparently the puppy and his sister (who was all white) were brought into to his practice by a couple. The puppies were infested with ticks. Dad was tasked with cleaning them up and healing them back to health. The white sister passed away from anemia. Dad called the owners to tell them that the white puppy had died, but the black one had made it. They never came back. Mom and I entered Dad’s indoor kennels at his practice. It was the evening and we were there checking on her cockapoo, Bib that had fallen ill. Dad was at a vet meeting, I think. An insatiable, raspy pup-bark was coming from one of the middle cages. Mom said, “That’s him, right there”. All I could see were his teeth moving in sync with each yelp. He was in a play-bow and clearly yearning for attention. I opened the cage and picked him up, holding him in my arms. He was some strange concoction of Scottish Terrier, Corgy and miniature Schnauzer all rolled up in a jet black Toto suit. His coat was wiring and I could swear it was going to be coarser than a wild horse’s mane. Hold the phones, it was as soft as fleece. A trademark that many people commented on over the years. He immediately went silent as he started licking my face with his black striped tongue. There was no question. No doubts. No second thoughts. We were going to be friends. For a long time. Our first impressions were to be cut short as Mom’s eyes started to water. Bib had passed on. Mom and I talked later about the unfortunate circumstance of this greeting between the black pup and me. Bib was mom’s dog since sometime in the 80’s and I could tell that she wanted to be happy for me, but was sad about her own loss. At the same time, I was sad for Mom’s loss, but so happy for my first dog as an adult.

The Name
The new pup and I travelled over to the new Petsmart to get provisions. New bowl, collar, dog food. I was borrowing mom’s teal Ford pickup. I had been going over in my head names that I was going to call this little guy. I’m a bit of a movie buff and had recently seen what was to become my favorite movie for a while, “Rushmore” by Wes Anderson. It popped in my head after going over movie character personalities. I remember asking him if he liked the name while scratching his ear as he rode shotgun in that teal Ford truck. He was looking at me and his tail began to wag. And that was that. From now on he was to be known as Rushmore. Modifications of course popped up over the years. Rush, Rushy, Rushyman, Rushypoo, Rushmenksi, Mount Rushmore, Stinker and a host of other names that didn’t phonetically resemble anything remotely “Rushmore” and were used according to the situation. But “Rushmore” was his name and was used in all situations.

Smarter Than the Average Dog
As we didn’t have a fence at my parents house, we kept him in a pen when we weren’t home for a short amount of time while I got adjusted to living back in my hometown. I had found a job as a graphic designer within days of graduating at the local arts council. I even got to bring him to work sometimes. One time while I was at work, Rush had gotten out of his pen to smell and urinate on every living plant in my parents’ backyard. Mom had come home and wasn’t able to get him back in the pen. She been using food as a bribe by putting it inside the pen and then closing the pen door after he had gone inside to feast. After only a few times, he had gotten wise to this trick. If there was food in the pen and Mom was around he would refuse to even come close to getting inside the pen. Mom had set food in the pen and rigged a piece of string to the door so that once he went inside, she could close the pen door remotely. She was hiding around the garage but could see him (unbeknownst to him) She observed as he cautiously walked up to the pen, hot on a scent of the food placed inside. He got to the opening of the pen and stopped. He looked at the door then looked at the top as if to notice the string attached. He then slowly followed the string all the way back to Mom. Realizing the trap, he immediately took off running in the other direction to go mark the rest of the back yard.

Or maybe not…
Every summer at the Arts Council they had summer art camp for the kids in the community. Art and crafts supplies were abound at the office. Elmer’s glue, feathers, paint, sequins, glitter, etc were available at anyones disposal. After a day at the office in which Rushmore had joined me, I let him off leash to take care of business. I was observing from the kitchen window as he did his usual urinating on every last bush, flower, weed, tree and blade of grass in the backyard. Next he caught a scent and started his circle walk. The pre-poop ritual, that is. He took care of business and ran to the back door, giving a few paw scratches. I let him in and praised him. While pouring a glass of water I looked out the window and suddenly noticed a shining star of some sort in the backyard. My eyes tried to make sense of what it was as I whispered to myself, “What the hell is that?”. I decided to take a look at this shining object glistening in the afternoon sun. As I got closer I saw that this exuberant object emanating rays of light was nothing more than a few sequins embedded in a freshly laid pile of excrement by none-other than Rushmore. It took me a second to put it together, but realized that while we were at work, he must of sneaked off at some point and gotten into some of the art supplies. He had passed the sequins safely. Rushmore had an iron stomach for a long time. It seemed he could pass anything. One time I had inadvertently left my palette of oil paint in reach of Rush. I had caught him just licking away at my painting palette, engulfing oil paint (thank god I had stopped using turpentines and paint thinner). When I caught him, I called his name. He looked up and had bright cadmium red all over his black lips and nose. But nothing could stop him. Oil paint, cardboard, sticks, fabric and trash passed through him. I constantly found the polyfil stuffing from soft toys and pillows crapped out in the yard.

Everywhere
Rushmore went with me everywhere. I don’t mean just to the store or the bars. He travelled with me to Charleston, SC, Nashville, TN and to Athens, GA. He would come with me every time I visited my parents in North Carolina. He came with me to all family get-togethers. To the cabins near Asheville at the holidays. He was with me on family beach trips to Tybee Island, Topsail Island and even the Outer Banks. Rushmore always rode shotgun. Always. If someone was with me, he would ride in their lap. When I had my 1990 Volvo wagon, there was a perfect middle console that he could lay on like superman flying. Like most any dog, he loved putting his head out the window. While riding, I’d roll my window down. The power windows would make a sound and Rush would start to whine a bit as if to say, “hey man, could you roll down mine too?” He eventually somehow made the connection to me pressing the button on my side and the window would come down. When he wanted the window down (even in the winter) he would look at the button on his side and start whining until I rolled his window down. Then promptly stick his muzzle out the window. I don’t know how he figured this out, but I swear I’m not making it up. There are permanent toenail marks on the interior of the passenger’s side door from Rush propping himself up to hang his head out the window. He liked to get as close the front as possible. Sometimes I could see his nose from the front windshield he was so far forward.

He used to hang out in my Volvo at my dad’s garage while I worked on my Buick back in ’03. I parked in the shade and rolled the windows down with a bowl of water in the floor board. I’d take a break and we’d go out to get some food, usually fast food. I would always share my french fries with him. He loved those so much. He liked just about any food. Cucumbers, carrots, bread, peanut butter, but french fries were always his favorite.

I brought him on a canoe trip one time. I was in the front and Rushmore was in front of me like a bowsprit. He was sniffing the wind and then started to notice either the fish or just the passing water. Abruptly he jumped shipped going completely under. My canoe partner in the back grabbed him by his collar and dropped him in the boat in one swoop. We made sure he was okay and he just shook out the water in his coat while slightly panting. This was his first run-in with water. Amazingly this didn’t scare him of water. Later, when we moved to Charleston, SC, he learned to swim. I frequently took him to the beach and would bring him into the ocean with me. He was a natural, although I don’t think he enjoyed swimming that much and hated baths. He frequented me in the studio, although he never plopped down next to me while I was working. He’d mostly come out to pee and then swing by the studio to sniff around my supplies and check on me. I’d immediately stop what I was doing to give him a good scratch on his head or chest. He’d wag his tale and sniff around some more before heading back into the house. Two reasons come to mind, I rarely sit still in the studio. I’m always getting up and looking at my work from a far. But I think main reason is that couch with Marie in the living room was a lot more comfortable for him than the hard plywood of the studio.

Crash
On the ride back to Nashville after visiting my folks in North Carolina, Rushmore and I were involved in a car crash. Rushmore was riding his usual shotgun. It started to rain a bit and then increasingly got very bad on the curvy stretch of 40 outside of Asheville. Visibility was very low so I had slowed down quite a bit. There were a few cars of traffic and a tractor trailer coming from behind. I noticed 2 cars in single file pulled over on the left shoulder. As we approached, Rushmore uncharacteristically woke up and proceeded to get into the back seats. The storm was getting much worse and visibility was decreasing as well. I slowed down quite a bit more and was deciding to pull over on the left shoulder behind the two cars. When out of nowhere the tractor trailer crashed into the right side of my car and pinning it to the guard rail. Horns everywhere were going off while glass from the driver’s side door spewed all over the driver’s side area. Everything came to a stop and the first thing I yelled was “RUSHMORE!” while checking the backseat. Rush was looking at me nervously with his beady eyes and licking his nose as dogs sometimes do when they are anxious. I grabbed him up and set him in my lap calmly stroking his ears like wolfmothers do for their pups. I never even checked myself to see if I was okay, but no one was hurt in the wreck. There was total of 5 cars and the tractor trailer involved in the crash. Turns out the driver of the tractor trailer was driving way too fast and recklessly. After talking with the state troopers, nighttime set in and the rain moved out. Rushmore and I waited on the side of the road until the tow truck from AAA showed. I had Rush in one arm and my suitcase in the other. I remember asking if it was okay if my dog came with (otherwise we’d foot it to the nearest motel and AAA would be hearing from me) But the tow truck driver, said “Of course! Dogs are family!”

Belly
Rushmore never ever got on his back. He never let me rub his belly. Until about 2006. I read somewhere that terrier types take a while to fully trust others. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I feel like our relationship was sealed even further when he eventually rolled on his back and allowed me to scratch his belly, propping his front legs up like a praying mantis. I honestly can’t remember the exact day, but I remember him stretching out and was doing the sideways seesaw back scratch. I gently rubbed his belly and he didn’t even flench. Eventually I found a two tickle spots on the lower sides of his rib cage. If I scratched there his back leg on that side would fire up and start scratching in unison.

You trying to pick me up?
Although a small dog, Rushmore hated being picked up. He never liked it and I tortured him when I would pick him up anyway. I really only picked him up on occasion, either out of necessity or when I wanted to selfishly throw my own affection on him and just could resist picking him up. He wouldn’t squirm or yelp, he would just freeze and lick his nose. He didn’t liked to be smothered. Not a loner, but he definitely did not like to be crushed with hugs. He enjoyed a good gentle and slow scratch or pet on his head and ears. He absolutely loved a deep chest scratch. I think this may have been his favorite although for me I loved rubbing his lamb’s ear-ish ears and kissing the indention between his eyes.

Endless
Rushmore used to have endless energy. He used to love a good quick “digging to China” (as my Dad would say) session. He had a spring in his step at times. A skip, if you will. After a good poop he’d sometimes be so excited and loved to jump from the ground to the next step of a stoop or stairs. He wasn’t clumsy, but more times than not his perception misguided him and he’d start the jump from way too far back and knock his chin on the edge of the step. He wasn’t energetic as say a Jack Russell, but you could get him riled up with a blink of an eye. He loved horse play in the house. He and I used to chase each other through the house. We’d go in circles and then I’d stop and hide. He’d stop on the other side. I’d slowly start tip-toeing the other way and he’d catch me from that angle and start barking and then start chasing me back. He got wise to my trickery really fast. Once he figured it out, I would get down on one knee and he’d prance up to me with his head hanging down a bit, wagging his nub tail. I would praise him profusely every time he came to me.

Paper
Paper was his favorite. Any kind, it didn’t really matter. He’d go nuts for it. All you had to do was take an envelope from junk mail or a piece of cardboard from the recent mac n cheese dinner box and give it to him. He was full attention like a U.S. Marine when hovering a paper product over him. He would sit politely, looking up. If you gave it to him he would run off just a bit and shake the bejesus out of it. Toss it up in the air sometimes. He loved dirty socks too. With dirty socks, it was best to give them to him balled up. He loved to grab a balled up sock and shake the crap out of it until it came undone. Then he would start silently mouthing it gently with his butt in the air. You could get him riled up again if you grabbed the sock and threw it in the air again. He would get in the play-bow position and slide side to side while barking that… Rushmore bark. Cardboard or paper you could give him and he’d hold it on the ground with one paw while he shredded the other end into a thousand pieces. I sometimes gave him any important documents that I wanted shredded from time to time. He did a bang up job.

360º
He stopped doing the 360s a few years ago. My Dad loved these and so did I. When Rushmore could still hear, you could say his name to him and he would give you a quick bark, turn around completely in about a quarter of a second. He could do it over and over. You could give him just a quick stomp on the ground and he’d do a 360º and then bark, sliding side to side. He’d sometimes take off running and come back with another 360º.

Hump Day
Rush humped. He tried humping Beth’s dog June (a yellow lab). He tried humping our dog, Lola (a Black Lab) and our dog Leeloo (a Great Dane). Yes, he seemed to have a thing for bigger dogs. He sometimes tried to hump dogs at the park to no avail. Upon greeting any new animal, his cropped tail would wiggle back and forth about 100 clicks per second. He loved other animals. Although he tried humping other animals, his favorite was either my or my Dad’s leg. But only if it was stretched out. If my leg wasn’t stretched out he would grab the pant leg by the cuff with his mouth and tug at it to pull the leg out straight and then try to mount. He did this his entire life. We joked about getting a fake leg mounted to a wall in the house. Marie also pointed out that she thinks he passed on a Wednesday (Hump Day) as a last laugh.

I’m so tired
Rush followed me everywhere. If he was awake, he wanted to know and be where I was. He’d follow me to the studio, down the hall to the bathroom (sometimes playfully nipping at my ankles) and of course to the bedroom. When we got up to go to bed, Rushmore would perk up. I used to call him and he’d come tearing down the hall. After he went deaf, I could motion my hand and he’d jump off the couch and follow suit. Early on, just about anything woke him up. He was terrified of the vacuum cleaner and thunderstorms until he went deaf. After he lost his hearing, Rushy could easily fall asleep. He’d usually smack his gums for a while (drove Marie crazy) but he’d pass out pretty soon. And I mean PASS OUT. He loved getting on top of the back cushions of our couch. He’d swiftly fall asleep and then hours later you’d wonder where he was and realize he had slowly seeped in between the cushion and the back of the couch, face and paws up. Happened all the time.

Rushmore had two favorite spots to sleep in the bed. One was at the foot of the bed and the other was next to me on Marie’s pillow. I managed to get him to nestle his chin on the area between my shoulder and pectoral while laying on my back. The last time this happened, I wasn’t quite settle in yet, but Rush was already snoring. I loved him sleeping there so much that I forfeited my arm/shoulder comfortability as to not disturb him and have him move to a different spot on the bed or onto the floor. Many times Rush would prefer sleeping on the floor in a pile of my dirty clothes. It’s apparent now looking back, how tired he had gotten in the last year or so. He managed to muster up energy to greet me when I came home from work or the occasional light horse play, but he’d quickly lay down somewhere and take naps. I did the best that I could for him up until the end. He was the first dog in the pack that I petted in the morning and the last dog I petted at night. On Wednesday, June 18, 2014 around 5:30 p.m. I had to say goodbye to my best friend of 15 years. He was a constant, my baby boy and my best friend. He was with me through thick and thin. I love him and although he is still with me in spirit, I miss him dearly every single day. I’m adjusting to this next chapter in my life, and as hard as it has been, I wouldn’t trade our time together for anything in the universe. There is nothing in this world like the friendship between a human and animal companion. I am truly grateful for whatever forces are out there that brought Rushmore and I together and allowed us to be such good friends for such a long time. He taught me a lot about myself and about life. Good night sweet Rushmore, you will always be my main man.