My brother and his wife have been through their share of illness this year, and while both are on the mend, I’ve been helping out by walking my brother’s dog Rusty.

You gotta love this dog. He’s a medium-size mutt mix with long reddish brown hair. He has a small face and little triangular ears. However, Rusty doesn’t love everybody. We think he was abused somewhere along the line, but we don’t know exactly what triggers a vicious reaction to some folks. But if Rusty happens to likes you, he’s a great walking companion.

Rusty loves his walks, and he’s off the porch like a shot. I’ve learned to be prepared for the sudden snap on the walking leash and to brace myself like a musher before his Iditarod team takes off.

It’s been a real education for me to find out what Rusty finds interesting.

As we head down a long paved driveway, he “marks” specific trees and shrubs along the way. We reach the paper box at the end. Rusty sniffs it, marks it, then alternately digs his back paws into the dirt around it. If he’s lucky, a car goes by. He lunges toward the road, barks furiously and lets it know who’s boss.

He turns back, snorts with satisfaction and heads me toward a creek bank that leads back to the house.

Weeds fascinate Rusty, and he plunges into them with reckless abandon, yanking me along with him. This troubles me. Weeds, especially those along a creek bank where there’s lots of rotten wood, can be home to a variety of snakes. Rusty would love nothing better to encounter one, or better still, one of the big turtles that inhabit the bank. I’d be OK with the turtle. The snakes I can do without.

Anything in the grass fascinates him. He looks at it, smells it, paws at it, and if he’s not certain he’s seen it before, he pees on it.

Rusty believes it’s his sworn duty to go up and check on some kittens at my niece’s house. He’s not aggressive with them, but I think that’s only because he’s not really sure if they’re potential friends or foes. Yesterday, the softball-size babies fuzzed up, stretched to their full 6-inch heights, and pounced on all fours toward him, hissing and spitting. Rusty stared curiously, still wagging his tail. I saw the potential for trouble in paradise, yanked hard on the leash and directed the puzzled pooch to a patch of clover where he loves to roll on his back and mutter contentedly.

On the way back to the porch, Rusty stops by to say hello and get a pat or two from his owners. Back at his dog house, he guzzles half a container of water and settles in until our next adventure.

In addition to giving me some great exercise, Rusty has literally made me slow down and look more closely at things I would most likely miss. Honeybees on clover blooms, a humming bird jetting toward a feeder, oddly shaped mushrooms and weeds with stunning blooms on them have all been pleasant surprises.

Rusty lives in the moment and appreciates every second of that walk. He explores everything and takes nothing for granted. He finds sheer joy in being a dog.

I’m glad Rusty likes me. He’s making me savor the moments, open doors for new relationships, appreciate the ability to walk in the sunshine and relax in the shade and to enjoy the sheer wonder of being part of God’s glorious panorama of life.

As far as my pet affections go, Rusty is running a close second to my bunny.

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