Our special boy

It was a cool autumn evening, and Terry and I were speaking on the phone. She was outside at the time, in the backyard with Molly and Gus. Well… more accurately in this case… with Gus.

While talking to me, she was trying to get his attention and get him moving toward the door. But according to her, he was just standing near the fence, staring off into the distance. She kept calling him. He wouldn’t move.

“Can you see anything?” I asked. “Maybe he’s protecting you.”

And, with that thought barely expressed, Gus barked… offering one of his deep, attention seeking woofs… and Terry saw the dark form of a deer jump into the brush and off into the woods.

He was indeed protecting his family.

The remarkable part of this story has nothing to do with what I’ve shared or attempted to interpret to this point. Instead, it can be found in what Gus was going through at the time. Over the summer, he had torn a ligament that limited him to three legs, and he had recently been diagnosed with bone cancer. And there he was, front and center, standing between Terry, Molly and his home, and the stranger he spied standing still at the edge of the trees.

Today, he lost his battle… and we’ve lost a tremendous part of our family.

It was the spring of 2009, and we could tell Molly was feeling lonely. She had joined us with Lady and Travis around, and for a few months had been on her own. Some searching led us to New Hampshire, where a litter of St. Bernard puppies were looking for homes. And on a sunny, wonderful afternoon in May, Terry, Ellen, Richard and I drove to pick up a fuzzy bundle of perfection.

He was, from the moment we first saw him, amazing. In his own, special way, he was plodding, methodical, and thoughtful. He had a way of being undeniably, and ever so simply, Gus. He was there… and in your face… and always looking to be a part of the group. And was he ever a St. Bernard.

To say drool flew around our home wouldn’t begin to describe the setting. We placed towels around the house… affectionately referred to as drool rags… so that they would always be handy. We covered visitors in blankets to prepare them for their encounters with Gus.

Once, Terry and I were cleaning the house… a really good, deep cleaning that involved moving furniture and all sorts of vacuum cleaners, brooms, stepstools and other equipment for reaching every corner and crevice. We had finished… taken that deep breath of satisfaction in a job well done… and were settling in for the night. That’s when I walked into the kitchen, turned on a light, and spotted it -- drool, that we hadn’t seen, on the ceiling.

He had the cheeks of a champion… cheeks that looked like Niagara Falls for several minutes after he finished taking a good drink. And he had drool that could have been marketed as the greatest industrial strength adhesive ever created.

His favorite place to be was the next place with all the action. He was forever following Molly or one of us around the house, but even as he settled in with you he would be gazing across the room -- just to be certain he wasn’t missing out on something that might be a bit better than where he was at that moment. He was a fun-loving, easily-distracted, charmer.

Gus would climb onto a chair and find a way to rest on top of me with his head on my shoulder. Sometimes he would soon be snoring… peacefully enjoying a nap at my expense. Other times he would see Molly getting her ears scratched… and he would get up and cross the room to make sure Terry knew he thought his ears could use some ear scratching as well.

Sam came to visit with us for some time a few years back… and the pair quickly became the best of friends. Molly used it as an excuse to get some rest, when she could, by following Ellen around and trying to roll her eyes at the boys. Sam though, well, he was a force of nature… a whirlwind of hyper. But Gus had a solution for that. Gus would just sit… watching and waiting. Sam could fly around the room, over and over again. And then, suddenly, Mr. Slow And Methodical would lift his paw and swat. Splat -- Sam was on the floor under a huge paw.

And that was Gus… observing things around him, with a long and amazingly funny stare.

He had no concept of personal space. And I mean just that… absolutely no understanding at all of boundaries. He would get next to you, slowly move in, and eventually there was a giant face, nose to nose with yours. (Get your drool rag ready… quickly.)

Gus was famous for standing still and taking in everything around him. He could be standing in the living room… the yard… the back seat of a car… he was carefully watching the world.

He provided the greatest of support, and rarely sought the prime spotlight. Of course, if you watched him romping around the back yard with Molly, that support was kind of funny. Molly would be sprinting from corner to corner, and circle the yard several times. Gus would join her for a bit, maybe a full lap, and then slow down… offering his “you keep going, I’m just going to stand here and watch” approach.

He never enjoyed slick floors or climbing stairs. Our house had pathways of carpets and runners stretched out to lead him around from room to room. And he was forever getting halfway into trouble before getting caught.

When you have two St. Bernards, you tend to get a bit protective of things like the bed. Or, more specifically, you know if you don’t keep them off, you won’t be able to get on your bed. So… Terry and I set up our bedroom with laundry hampers and a sitting bench blocking some of the access routes. Once, I turned to look in the bedroom and found Gus… stuck… one paw on the ground, one paw on the bed… another paw on the bench and the last paw in the laundry basket. And when he turned toward me, he had a pure look of innocence on his face that defies a true explanation.

And that was our Gus… innocent and fun, and somehow always in a predicament of sorts. He never wanted to be first or make decisions. He just wanted to be included in the adventure and be with the gang. He was completely unaware of the impossible… climbing on your lap… nudging you with his gigantic paw… resting his head on your leg or shoulder… and forever not learning from the experiences. If being clumsy and awkward and in the way got him some attention, then clumsy and awkward and in the way it would be the next day.

Gus had this look, often shared when he was halfway onto the bed and stuck. It offered a combination of thoughts -- we’ve decided they were “I was… uh… I… I was just going to get up here”… “I’m stuck”… and “hi” -- and it expressed an easy-going approach to life. He wanted to be comfortable, he didn’t mind looking foolish, and he loved being with you. Wherever he happened to be was exactly where he wanted to be, so long as you were there to share it with him. And sharing things with him made every moment memorable… every moment special.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com