Smiley Gus

Just about everything most people told us about him was wrong.

Gus, our mascot, came into rescue at seven months old, taken off the chain where he had been living without shelter since he was six weeks old. He went immediately to Connolly Animal Clinic, where he spent the next ten days in intensive care with Parvo. Dr. Connolly later told us that he had never before seen a dog so sick recover. “The good news,” he said, “is that this is a lot of dog, and he will not give up.” He paused, grinned, and added, “And the bad news is, this is a lot of dog, and he will not give up.” He was right.

Fortunately, that iron will was accompanied by a heart of pure gold. Most people saw only half the equation. Looking at that massive head, those crocodile jaws, the boisterous energy, the power, the determination, they gave us not so much advice as dire predictions, all of which turned out to be wrong. “He’s going to be hard to housetrain,” they warned us. The first night home, Gus slept until dawn, woke us by barking, and ran for the grass as soon as he was outside. That was it. In fourteen years, he never made a mistake. “You can’t let him around other dogs, especially little dogs.” His best friend was a twenty-pound cattle dog mix named Pepper. When they played tug of war, ninety-pound Gus stood still, holding onto one end of the rope toy, occasionally taking a step to let Pepper pull him around. “Don’t let him near the cats.” He lived with four of them, his worst offense being the occasional nose boost from behind. “He’s so hyper and so stubborn you’ll never get him to focus.” While Gus could not be forced to do anything, he could be persuaded, and he loved to please. As the mascot of St. Francis Rescue Nacogdoches he was our calendar model two years in a row, sitting rock still to balance a mortarboard on his head for a graduation shot. He seemed to understand the spirit of each photograph: we put a fedora on his head and he channeled Sinatra. “He’ll be suspicious of strangers.” Gus, as they say, never met a stranger; everyone was his friend, and even those who had warned us about him in the beginning became his biggest fans.

There was one prediction that did prove to be true, coming from a trainer who worked with Gus early on. As we finished the session she scratched Gus behind the ear, looked at me and said, “This is the dog that’s going to teach you everything.” So he did, and not just about dog handling, but about love, and loyalty, and bravery. He was the most courageous dog I have ever known. When he was a puppy so weak that he couldn’t raise his head, he still wagged his tail at his veterinarian. In his last year, as the neuropathy that finally left him unable to stand grew worse, he still loved his walks. We consulted specialists and did therapy and gave medication and rebuilt stairs so that he could manage them on his own, but in the end, it was his will and his extraordinary heart that kept him moving, kept him with us. Those qualities are his legacy to his family, as we mourn his loss; and to all of us at St. Francis Rescue as we continue.

We wish to thank Dr. Michael Connolly and Dr. Kelly Koinm for their compassionate care.