Rufus, My 15-year-old Best Friend American Eskimo Dog

by Jennifer
(Raleigh, NC)

My sweet Rufus

My sweet Rufus

My sweet Rufus
Me with Rufus
Rufus as a Puppy
Rufus at 15, a couple months before his death

Rufus became my best friend in mid-May of 2003. He was a willful and playful puppy. I was by myself and through my first year of graduate school.

The first night I had him, he peed on my head. The second night I tried to put him in a crate, and his crying sounded like a baby crying (no, really) and neighbors in my building (apartment complex) and the building beside us were all walking outside in the middle of the night wondering if a child was being abused. None of this is an exaggeration.

He was willful, but he was sweet. I was 23 and fairly clueless as to what I had gotten myself into.

As he grew older, he had extreme separation anxiety. He got to the point where he would bark and nip at my shoes (without any teeth) when I tried to leave. Then he would cry. He was extremely protective.

There was a hit and run in my parking lot at age 1, and they hit him going fairly fast. We heard him yelp (he was always by my side, and I had taken him off the leash for a SECOND. I turned my head, and he was gone). We got him to a vet, and his back leg was shattered. It was reconstructed with a metal rod. His recovery was remarkable. He jumped on it and ran on it as if nothing had ever happened.

I did not socialize him as well as I should have after he reached about two since I was always working or there with him (and friends came and went in the apartment) so he became more attached to me and less trusting of other people. I tried training. When I tried training, the trainer threw (yes, threw) him into a submissive pose on his back and Rufus turned into Cujo. The woman told me I needed to put him down immediately. I performed the same submissive pose with him (placing him on his back), and he was perfectly nice. That ended pet training.

If they aren't socialized properly, these dogs do not get along as well with people. He was very gentle around small children and seemed to understand how to interact with them. The same with the elderly. He loved playing with dogs and cats (until cats started attacking him).

People my age, however, took a while to get adjusted. He had a special caution with men. He was wary of them, and if I had a date, he sat in between us. He bonded with one boyfriend but not to the point where the boyfriend felt completely comfortable with him without me there.

I got another dog to keep him company. I got a 2-pound chihuahua (full size). While they weren't close friends, they became dependent on one another. Until Rufus became very food aggressive in his middle age, they interacted well all the time.

I met my future husband when Rufus was 5, and it took a while for him to adjust. He was relegated to the floor at night (after we had become engaged) and Rufus didn't prefer that. I had let him stay on the bed, but he ate the sheets- he LIKED the taste of sheets. I tolerated holes, but my fiancee did not. Rufus loyally slept by my side on the floor until a couple of months before he died.

Rufus had a lot of quirks. If someone swept their foot in front of him, he tried to bite. I found out later this is something that can seem like a kick. My mother-in-law did this and thought he was dangerous after that.

He was incredibly food aggressive as he got older and I begged people NEVER to feed him, people, food. My sister-in-law fed him french fries one time, and he bit the tip of her finger. She thought he was dangerous too. I feel like both of these situations did not reflect on the dog as much as knowing how to interact with the dog.

I was told he would be terrible with my daughter when I had a child and that I should keep him far away. Rufus was my first child. I loved him deeply. I slowly introduced them. I have videos, and their relationship was quite beautiful. He viewed her as an extension of me. He slept by her while she slept. She learned to be very kind, calm, light-handed and soft-voiced. I proved those people wrong. She has mourned his death.

He had retinal atrophy. That was difficult. About a year ago, his eyes started getting cloudy, and they said it was worse than your normal sight loss. He never had hip problems. He got local prostate cancer and was diagnosed in September of 2017. It was small but inoperable. We did radiation and chemo, and he responded well, but still, it spread to the lungs. He went downhill slowly but started experiencing seizures and passed away in my arms on June 4, 2018.

I explain all of this because he was a temperamental, pretty stereotypical American Eskimo. It took knowledgeable groomers (familiar with the coat AND temperament of the breed), vets that understood the breed and respected the quirks, but ABOVE ALL, an owner that learned (or already knew) the responsibilities of an American Eskimo dog and what special characteristics to watch for him and other people.

He was not everyone's cup of tea, and if he had been better socialized, he might have been more social and friendly. I know that now. He would have been protective just the same. I did not express enough dominance.

Still, he made the past 15 years EVERYTHING. The house feels empty without him. These dogs change your life. He never let me go into a room without following me. If I got sick, he was right beside me. When he got sick, I was more than happy to return the favor.

They are a huge commitment, but the rewards far exceed the work. If I could have kept him here, I would have done just about anything.

Make sure you do your research if you're thinking of getting one, but also realize it's a long commitment. I wanted that commitment, and I'll want it again. I know it won't be Rufus, but he wasn't a jealous dog. He knew he was my "person" and was secure in that. I'm getting his ashes blown into some glass to wear as a necklace.

You'll find that most owners have stories like mine and are as obsessed with their Eskimos as I am with mine.

They are love.



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