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Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

This month is Rusty’s birthday; at least I think it is. I’m not sure when she was born. The early months of her life are a mystery.

Rusty and I teamed up in 1995. I was home in Southern California for a short stay when I crossed paths with a veterinarian friend of mine. He, too, had an RV and traveled with his 130-pound English mastiff.

“Traveling alone, a dog is great company,” he said, “if you don’t mind all the time stumbling over ’em.”

Then he mentioned a female pup that was being fussed over by the staff at his clinic. A young girl who works for him had rescued her from a busy city intersection. “She said the pup was traumatized by the traffic, too scared to move, which probably saved her life. To get the dog’s mind off her trauma, they took her to McDonald’s for lunch … Can’t speak for her early days,” he said, “but her last few have been pretty good.”

Advertising for her owner had not surfaced one. “You need a dog,” he said. “Take her for the weekend. See how you two hit it off.” Believe me, unless you have a heart of iron, never test-drive a dog.

We’ve been traveling together ever since. She has adapted to my lifestyle and I have adjusted to hers. She knows the signals to give me if special needs come up, and I know how to read them.

I have developed a soft, through-the-teeth whistle I use to get her to do things. I am seldom aware that I am doing it anymore. I guess she reads my body language, combined with a whistle, and figures out what I want her to do. It’s as if she is reading my mind.

Her perception of things shows up here from time to time. Were I better at figuring them out, you would hear more. Actually, after all these years, we are together on our views of the world and our vision of life. She is as anxious to see what is over the next hill as I am.

A few January’s ago Rusty and I were dry camped with a bunch of ham radio folks in the desert near Quartzsite, Arizona. Quartzsite, on Interstate 10, becomes the third largest city in Arizona during the winter, when snowbirds from all over North America move in with thousands of RVs.

I had left my motorhome and was headed for the campfire where morning coffee was brewing. A young couple stopped me and introduced themselves. They said that they were new to RVing and had read some of my Outback pieces. They asked about Rusty. I pointed over my shoulder and said that she is sitting by the motorhome.

They looked. “I don’t see her,” one said.

“She has probably crawled underneath,” I replied. “She likes that. It’s cool under there.”

They looked at each other; a puzzled look I thought. Then apparently it dawned on both of them at the same time. At least together their expressions lightened up.

The obvious hit me: They thought that Rusty was my wife.

“No, no, Rusty is my dog,” I said.

But the point was well made. Many readers of this column are like players at a casino poker game, new ones coming in all the time. I just can’t write about Rusty – asleep on the seat next to me with her ears drooping down to the engine cover – without explaining that she is a 60-pound dog, mostly Labrador and totally lovable.

Happy Birthday, Rusty.

Bill’s e-mail address: [email protected]

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