Kindness lifted Rusty Rodas out of a life of fear and abuse. When he and his “mom” started paying that kindness forward, their mission went viral and garnered the lovable golden nearly a hundred thousand fans.
Looking at recent photos of Rusty Rodas, it’s hard to believe the strikingly handsome golden retriever had a rough start to life. Often seen on Instagram wearing the latest in human fashion, playing outside, or posing with his adoptive “mom”, Kelsey Rodas, this happy, loving pooch always has a positive message for his fans. But Rusty’s journey back to physical and emotional health was an uphill battle that took a lot of patience, and a great deal of love.
His happy ending began in the summer of 2010. One-year-old Rusty was found wandering around Rooster Rock State Park in Oregon, frightened and reluctant to approach humans. When reinforcements arrived from the Washington County Animal Shelter, the concerned staff estimated he’d been on the loose for a couple of weeks. Noticing signs of malnourishment, they set up a crate with food inside, and eventually managed to coax him to safety. Soon after, the dog was on his way back to the shelter to look for his forever home.
Kelsey spotted Rusty there a few weeks later. She recognized the extent of his trauma within moments. “He wanted nothing to do with people, treats or toys,” she says. “We took him out to play and he stood there just shaking, hunched over like he was trying to disappear. A dog in the area next to us ran into the fence, making a loud but playful sound, and Rusty dropped to his stomach in pure terror.”
Despite Rusty’s fear – or perhaps because of it – Kelsey wanted to take him home. But as a purebred golden retriever, he was in high demand with potential adopters. “They already had a waitlist of three families,” Kelsey says. However, Rusty’s “non-traditional” personality caused all three of those families to back out. A minor delay resulted in Kelsey being placed on yet another waitlist, but when the fourth family decided Rusty wasn’t right for them, she finally got her chance. “I begged the shelter to not take any other applications,” she says. “I rushed across town, we signed some paperwork, and they handed me his leash.” Kelsey and Rusty had passed their first hurdle.
The second hurdle came just moment later. As they approached Kelsey’s car, Rusty froze, too afraid to get in. “I didn’t want to force or rush him,” says Kelsey. “This was our first real interaction and my goal was to win his trust, not scare him even more. I attempted to coax him with treats, a hot dog, verbal praise – he didn’t want any of it. He just stood there, back legs shaking. But I was patient.” Kelsey sat in the backseat of the car holding Rusty’s leash and ignoring him. “I had my parents with me for moral support; we all sat there and waited for what seemed like forever.”
Eventually, Rusty jumped in. Knowing she had to give him space, Kelsey made brief eye contact with him to let him know he was safe, then looked away. When she did this a second time, Rusty quickly scurried to her side. “He snuggled up super close to me, put his head on my shoulder and his paw on my arm, and fell asleep,” says Kelsey. “Just like that, we were family.”
Over the following months, Kelsey and Rusty continued to overcome every challenge as a team. “He stuck to me like my shadow because he was afraid of everything else,” she says. “He would drop to his stomach and crawl through doorways as if the door was going to collapse on him. When I took him on walks he would pull away and stop walking anytime we passed a garbage can or mailbox.” But those first moments before the car ride home from the shelter gave Kelsey hope that Rusty could learn to trust again. She hung onto that feeling for years, knowing he just needed time.
“He snuggled up super close to me, put his head on my shoulder and his paw on my arm, and fell asleep. Just like that, we were family.”
Seven years and countless challenges later, Rusty has undergone a complete transformation, thanks to Kelsey’s love and patience. He has gone from being frightened of life, to using the lessons he’s learned about kindness to help other animals in need. For example, he volunteers with Northwest Animal Companions of Oregon, supporting other dogs and cats through their own rehabilitation process. “Even from day one, he was never afraid of other animals,” says Kelsey, who recognized this promising trait early on. “He is gentle with smaller dogs, and roughly playful with big strong dogs. He approaches slowly if the other dog is nervous, as if in an effort to earn his or her trust.”
Rusty’s ability to inspire others, both human and animal, motivated Kelsey to start featuring him on Instagram. When they began gaining followers, Kelsey decided to use his social media presence for a purpose. “Rusty is kind and gentle, so I decided to make his feed all about encouraging kindness.” Along with stunning images of Rusty posing in a variety of situations and costumes, his account includes sponsored posts encouraging people to donate to various rescues. His website, meanwhile, features more images, a blog, and a line of notecards featuring photos of Rusty. “We believe kindness is contagious, and one way to spread the bug is sending love via snail mail.”
Rusty Rodas has also been a poster dog for several brands, including Patagonia and TOMS, and has been featured in multiple publications including Good Housekeeping Magazine and Brazil’s Oh My Dog Magazine. His hard work, of course, doesn’t go unrewarded. “We feed him a human-grade food delivered fresh to our door,” says Kelsey. “He deserves the best.”
Thanks to Kelsey’s constant care and devotion, Rusty is now enjoying a fear-free life. “He still has nervous and anxious tendencies, but you would think he was a completely different dog from the one I met at the shelter,” says Kelsey. “He is loyal, smart, and adds so much joy to my life. Some might say he’s lucky that he survived the first year of his life, but truthfully, I consider myself the lucky one by far.”
Find Rusty Rodas online