Rusty, our Australian Red Heeler

To everyone who has ever spent time with a dog, this true story is for you.

Rusty with new blue collar

Rusty was Graham’s Dad’s dog, a small-sized, male Australian Red Heeler Cattle Dog collected from the back of a truck from Roxby Downs, outback South Australia.  Fiercely loyal and very much a ‘man’s dog’, Rusty was Dad’s trusted and super protective companion especially in the last years of his life when Dad lost the ability to walk.  We got to know Rusty over time on returning to SA with Graham’s regular daily visits checking in on Dad, sharing a cuppa, giving Dad the latest news around Blewitt Springs, taking Rust on work trips in his Ute during the week and, on weekends, both of us walking him across the home farm with dips in the dams (Rusty not us!) for fun.

Graham grew up in Blewitt Springs which is a unique part of the Fleurieu Peninsula Wine Region and we lived in our own property next door to Dad before travelling and living in Queensland for a number of years then returning home in 2019.

On our return home, Dad made it clear to be careful around Rusty as he had a reputation for attacking people if he thought Dad was at risk … we found Rust was a clever observer of people and picked up tricky body language resulting in frontal attack leaping in the air or he’d sneak in, jump up and bite from behind so ‘Rusty, Rusty, we no trusty’.  To be fair, Dad quite clearly enjoyed Rust having a go at someone he didn’t like so Rust developed into an SAS scary Ninja.

Red Heeler’s DNA is part Dingo which is an indigenous, ancient, outback native dog and we saw Rust fearlessly pursue anything moving with special skills killing snakes, lizards, birds, Aussie flies jumping up catching them mid-air and bees – ouch!  Rusty loved berries, fruits and fresh long grass.

Graham connected with Rusty very quickly … he’s a magnet for dogs and birds – they sense his genuine, fun, kind nature.  They became firm friends and playmates, chewed his shoes – sometimes missed and got his ankle, played chasey and hide and seek even in the house.  Dad said he wasn’t sure who was a bigger kid, Graham or Rusty!  Plus Rusty snuck Dad’s chocolate off the shelf over the fireplace going psycho bug-eyed and would jump in Dad’s bed, pull back the blanket, lie down with his head on the pillow and nap when Dad was napping in the kitchen.  Graham let Rust know when Dad woke up.  Bad boys together!

When Dad left home and went into care, Rusty clearly missed him.  Graham took him to work most days and Rusty accepted Graham’s place in his life instead of Dad being there.  Dad was at peace when Graham promised he would look after Rusty when he ‘went’.

Dad passed and for a couple of months the estate was being sorted so we couldn’t see Rusty only drive past calling out hello as he was tied up on a chain out front which was super difficult for us.  We felt he thought we had abandoned him:  losing Dad now his buddy.  Thankfully, the day came we picked him up and he was ours permanently.   He was 11 years and his health wasn’t good so we poured love, good food, fun and lots of rest into his life for the next 3 months… we thought we’d have longer 🙁

We learned his ways … Rust sat by the fridge asking for fresh ham Graham gave him for breakfast!  Liked his food divided up on his dinner plate please.  Didn’t like warm oats, loved honey off a spoon, loved and became a master at chasing the leftover lasagne tray around the backyard eventually cornering it (vhilarious), loved a bit of chockie donut … he was a bit psycho scary eyes after eating it … bit like us?!!

Rusty’s bad reputation in the area – a result of his overly protective ninja qualities around Dad – changed as Graham taught him to be off-duty, relax – be chill.  His quick instincts to protect his boss meant we kept him on a lead outside of home.  Friends of Graham who were afraid of dogs, became good friends with Rusty.  People couldn’t believe he was the same dog.

The indigenous dingo  meant he was a tricky, formidable opponent to get his own way with an amazing grasp of words and body language.  He and I had a couple of moments as he was pack dog, assumed he was number 1 in Graham’s life and had to learn we were the parents who together set boundaries and he was the dog child so to speak.  He would jump in the front seat of our car sitting on me indicating I should get in the back.  It was an ongoing battle to shift him in the back and he demanded Graham pay attention to him when we were talking.  One night after a ‘discussion’ about Rusty’s behaviour, I went outside where he was lying in his bed and told him if it came down to me or him it would be him (with appropriate hand signals and words) out the door not me!  He sulked for a couple of days then came to me with his head down, like sorry Mum and I hugged my little boy and he was fine after that, jumped into the back seat of the Ute and was respectful to both of us so peace reigned.

We spoiled him and he deserved it.  I bought him a new blue collar and matching lead and lots of new rugs telling him they were Rusty’s rugs, loved his pink/grey rug best wrapping himself in it with pure joy.  He had 2 doggie castle beds and a new cover for his trampoline.  Winter set in and I talked Graham into letting me get his very first aqua/grey doggie coats to keep his back warm and he embraced being a fashionista after being a farm dog jumping up on the dashboard in the Ute talking loudly to all the dogs along the main street of McLaren Flat.  I called him Sir Lancelot aka Princey boy!  Next came a tan/black paws warm night jacket – pure happiness!

Rusty wearing his Paws Tan Jacket

Rust had a history avoiding water hoses, running taps, water troughs and he liked to be clean but would only carefully wade into the dam or Graham sneakily chucked him in the dam.  He was very stinky after a month of not being near a dam so I solved the washing problem.  I understood his fear of water and he was sensitive around his ears so I filled a bucket with warm water, put in some aloe vera/chamomile handwash, tied him on a short lead to the pole outside then talked to him quietly telling him he could trust me, I would never hurt him and then I used a wet car wash mitt stroking on the warm soapy water being careful around his ears and gently talking to him.  When I finished, I took off his collar and he leapt into the air with excited joy then ran around the back yard so happy being super clean shaking off and rolling in the fresh grass – it was wonderful and from then it was easy to hot wash him.  We took him to the beach for the first time and he was amazed at all the water and didn’t hesitate walking with me into the ocean.  He still didn’t let trickster Graham come near him with the hose though!

Rusty at Moana Beach
Rusty at Moana Beach

We bought him a glamping tent and Graham and I had a ‘discussion’ trying to put it together.  Rusty was a loyal, Velcro dog to 1 person so we couldn’t work out why he started barking loudly ‘shouting at us’ and running around until we realised he couldn’t decide who he liked best – Graham who gave him ham and trips to work or Bev who gave him hot washes and hugs so he was barking for us to stop arguing… it was vfunny!

He was used to and had spent his whole life tied up on a chain at night as there were no fences around Dad’s house so we kept him on a chain at night secured in our backyard so he didn’t get out.  Our backyard became his safe haven with only a stray cat getting into trouble dropping into his ninja zone.  One night – Graham and I talked about it – I took off the chain and he was free to roam in the backyard for the rest of his days … his life at peace was complete… his only job was regularly trotting around the yard checking fence lines like Graham had taught him… with a grrrrrrr at the ginger cat across the road (… he once put it up a tree in about 3 seconds … whew, that was close!)

As a treat, Graham went to a fav hilltop so Rusty could bark at the rabbits!  One time Graham left Rust in the Ute, walked over to talk to two blokes about the shed site job on that property and after about 10 minutes they heard this loud, continuous, beep, beep, beep beep and looked over and there was Rusty – legs backed against the driver’s seat, head sticking up over the steering wheel, both paws firmly planted on the car horn and jumping on it … ‘though he be little, he be fierce’ … clearly saying let me out!

His health deteriorated and on his last day with us I gave him an extra hot bath and his eyes spoke the words:  WoW this is sooo good and I smell so fresh and clean.  He knew it was time to leave us and we had to be unselfish and help him.  He sat in the car unusually quiet; I kept crying and at the Vet Clinic he sat down quietly, lowered his head while they gave him the farewell injection.  We know what it feels like and understand so many others have been through this too.  Rust’s last request was for us to be there stroking him with kindness, telling him he is a wonderful, good boy.

Rusty was a blessing in our lives for those 3 months and as he soaked up our unconditional love, kindness and fun, he was also a wonderful focus for us at a challenging time after Dad’s passing.  Where love is sincere and true, there is peace and tranquillity for all….Thanks Rusty 🙂

Rusty wearing his Sir Lancelot Jacket
Rusty wearing his Sir Lancelot Jacket

Enjoy reading this treasure box filled with entertaining and inspiring stories on living life, loving and having fun times. Let us know what makes you “tick” and inspires and encourages you. We trust these true stories make you laugh and also touch your heart and Graham’s “a moment in time” photos give you an inside view of how he sees life through his “lens” and captures the beauty and magic around us every day which makes life worth living.