By on October 20, 2013


It was Sunday. Sunday was coffee day.

Gus knew some things, not everything, but he knew enough. He knew that the passenger seat in the old Malibu was his. He knew that when it rained his hips ached, and that in the hot months the floor of the kitchen felt good against his stomach. He knew that he was safe, loved and he knew Sunday was coffee day.

During the week, Stefanie usually brewed a small pot at home before work, but after she had gotten the old Chevy roadworthy, she had made a habit of driving to the diner on Sundays to get a cup of coffee. It kept the car from sitting and Gus loved it.

Stef would get up, attend to her morning routine, and then she would back the red ’66 out of the garage and let it warm up. While it idled, she would slip back inside, grab her purse and call for Gus. He would trot to the passenger side and wait for the door. Stef would let him in, roll down the passenger window, and hop in the driver’s seat.

Once at the diner, Stef would go inside for her coffee. She would speak to the regulars, occasionally engaging in an extended conversation about the unrestored ‘Boo, and more often than not, Gus would get a small slice of bacon or another treat from the woman behind the counter. Another nap on the way home and he would spend the rest of the day in the corner of the living room on a dog bed that was as old as he was.


Gus had no words for the old red car, its owner, or the days of the week. Like humans, he thought in pictures.  It didn’t matter; he was fed in the morning and again in the evening. In the afternoon he laid next to the couch on his old bed and at night he slept on a flannel pillow in the bedroom.  It had been so long ago, he had almost forgotten the pound. He was housed, fed and loved. And, for the last 10 of his nearly 15 years, Sunday was coffee day.

Today was no different. He dozed as he heard the small block fire and the car back out of the garage. While it warmed he heard Stephanie come back inside, grab her purse and call his name.

Winter was coming, so his hips hurt. The half of an aspirin ground into his food hadn’t kicked in yet, so he struggled slightly. But by the time he walked through the garage to the passenger door and looked at Stef expectantly, his tail wagged in a steady motion. Had he been human, he would have been smiling. Stef was smiling as she opened the long door. When Gus only placed his front paws in the car, she lifted his rear haunches and placed him delicately in the seat.

His seat.

As they idled out of the subdivision, Gus’ nose confirmed all was right in his territory. He settled and curled into a ball, snoozing during the ride to the diner. It was chilly so Stef leaned across at a stop sign and rolled the window back up. Gus was grateful when she adjusted the heat controls to warm the cabin. He inhaled deeply and let out a contented sigh.

This was as it should be; his seat, his day. He was still asleep when Stefanie eased the Malibu in front of the diner and popped inside. She returned quickly and he didn’t notice she had left until she placed the bacon near him. His tail thumped sleepily on the dark red velour as he slowly chewed the crispy treat. When it was finished he returned to slumber, asleep before Stef even secured her coffee between her legs and backed the Malibu out of the parking space.

It was a perfect day. When they got back, he knew he would find his spot on the floor and Stefanie would spend the rest of the day on the couch, typing on her laptop and occasionally rubbing his head. It might even be cold enough to start a fire. Gus thought of the fire and how the waves of warmth would ease the throb in his hips. There in his seat, contented, safe and loved; he dreamed of that evening, of bacon, and of slender fingers gently patting his head as he slipped away.

When the Chevy made the right into the driveway the shocks creaked, making the old car bounce slow and lazy. Stefanie parked and shut the engine off just outside of the garage. Gus was still motionless in his seat, and Stef went to gently rouse him as she had many times before. This time, there was no response, no matter how long she shook him, until she stopped and collapsed forward against the wheel.

The tears started flowing as Stefanie looked for the shovel, and kept flowing while she dug an over sized hole next to the deck in the backyard. By the time she was finished, it was almost sunset. She wiped her eyes with a dirty glove and returned the shovel to its spot on the wall. Then she went to the toolbox and grabbed two wrenches.

She carefully unbolted the passenger seat and broke it loose. It was awkward and heavy, and her friend was still curled there, his eyes closed, his breath stopped. She lifted the entire seat carried them both to the back yard.

It was after all, Gus’s seat.



W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, including the one pictured above. Her name is Shady Ray and she is quite healthy at the time of publication

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27 Comments on “Sunday Stories: “Gus’s Seat” by W. Christian Ward...”

  • avatar

    Nice story. Rare these days our friends go quietly, content and in peace.

    Would recommend correctly the punctuation error (Gus’ -> Gus’s) as it is a moderate distraction.

  • avatar

    Wonderful! Thanks so much.

  • avatar

    Lovely, but sad. Dogs are wonderful creatures whose time with us is all too short.

  • avatar

    Our dog loved the drive-thru at the bank – it meant a milk bone.

  • avatar

    Very nice story. Thank you.

  • avatar

    Thank you for the story. Sadly I can relate.

  • avatar

    Thanks for that, W, Reminds me of my loss a few years ago.

    Buddy died quietly with friends in the city where he lived. I built a casket and I took him and buried him at The Farm, where he loved to romp, chasing Rabbits, squirrels, and Ground Hogs.

    I buried him where I would like to be buried, in a small grove of Oregon Oaks, overlooking one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my well traveled days, looking East over the Columbia River Gorge.

    Sitting on a bench overlooking the view and the lands he loved, I still see him full of unrelenting joyous energy, chasing the wild critters. Or after a day of chase, laying by my side as I sat on the bench looking at the view as the late afternoon light waned, quietly bringing evening to the Gorge.

    I marked his grave with a large columnar chunk of local basalt, engraved upon it are the words … ‘Here Lies Buddy_ A Great Friend & Not A Bad Dog, Either’

  • avatar

    poor lad,he went happy though,i love dogs and will never be without one,thanks for the story,sad but i enjoyed it,xx.

  • avatar

    I have never had tears run down my face while using a computer till now. I buried my previous Golden many years ago, and made a bed in her grave of all the tennis balls she snatched from the neighbors’ tennis courts. My present dog (avatar) is just past 10. A rescue, so only four years together so far. I dread going through that again, though I won’t be alone this time. Don’t know whether I want to say thank you for the story or not….

  • avatar

    _Thank_you_ ~ .

    I too have rescue pups , I hope they never remember the bad people who mistreated them and caused them to almost be put down .

    Dogs give so much and ask nothing in return .

    My Pups are getting elderly (nearly 17 my Sire) and for them , the tool box or garage opening is like Christmas because it means a long time to lay there as I’m working and of course , the occasional belly rub .

    So far all my various rescue pups have been terrific and lived well into their teens (TIP : smaller dogs live longer)

    I go to tears every time one dies of old age .


  • avatar

    Nice story. My Gus was almost as old as Gus in the story was when he went, the second of my four dogs born on December 23. I have no idea what the odds of having four dogs born on the same day is, but they must be as high as hitting the lottery, even stranger is my other dogs were all born on the 23rd of the month too.

    Farfel: 4/23/65 Giant Beagle from hell.
    Blackie: 10/23/1976 Farfel’s pup.
    Joe: 12/23/1976. Yellow Lab
    Gus: 12/23/1985 Pit Bull/??
    King: 12/23/99 Doberman/Lab/Husky?
    Molly 12/23/99 King and Molly were littermates, and died a month and a day apart.

    Gus had two things he lived for, the first one was to chew. He loved rawhide strips, and ate thousands of them over his 14+ years. The second thing was to ride in the car, especially late at night, as he knew that usually meant train watching, time in the passenger seat, and almost always something to eat. Telling him, “No, you have to stay home!” was the worst thing you could say to him. He would give you a look of total disgust, sigh loudly, and then refuse to look at you for a while. If you tried to pet him or just talk to him, he plainly showed you that he wanted nothing to do with you. All was forgiven when you came home though, he would love you again. Almost nobody knew he was a Pit mix until a couple of weeks before the end. A lot of people were shocked that the dog they had been smootching for 14 years was one of those evil Pits.

  • avatar

    What a way to start my morning. As a family that has rescued too many pups to count, we know that their time with us is all too short, yet it reminds us to love all the stronger because of that. It is right and proper how Gus left to go to the Bridge, safe, secure and in the place he loved…all too many animals never get that chance.

    …for if there are no dogs in Heaven, I’m not sure I want to go…

  • avatar

    Everyday is “Coffee Day” for my dogs. I take them to work with me and we have a blast. I property manage and drive a service truck. Most work sites are dog friendly and many businesses. If not, that’s not our problem. But we usually take in an early morning hike, when weather/time permits.

    Here’s the rascals now.

    It doesn’t feel like “work” when your best friends are part of the crew.

    • 0 avatar

      You are a lucky guy!

    • 0 avatar

      I took King to work for a long time, it was fun, and he made the time pass quickly. As he became old, he got a little bit too intense about guarding his “goodie drawer”, and one day he decided the cellphone a visitor to work had in his hand was something to eat, and he tried to grab it out of his hand as he passed my cubicle. No more King at work. He just didn’t understand why he couldn’t go anymore. I felt bad about it, but there was nothing I could do. Now, all I have is cats… I miss my dogs, but I can’t really walk very well since I got hurt and it’s not fair to a dog if I got one.

  • avatar

    This was really great, Christian.

  • avatar

    Dog stories are almost always touching, as we tend to humanize our pets, and it’s difficult to see them get old and either have to be put down or have them slip away as yours did. I believe I’d rather have them slip away in peace than go through the agonizing process of taking them to the vet… agonizing for US, not the dog.

    Our dog is almost 11, and has been a good friend, including being my “nurse” 10 years ago when going through my eye ordeal with all those retinal detachments.

    • 0 avatar

      I have found a wonderful vet who will do house calls when the time comes. My favorite partner in crime had to have her dog put down recently, and being able to do it right at home with the dog relaxed and comfortable was a godsend.

      I have cats, but they are just like dogs, except for abject hatred of going anywhere near a car. Taking the last one I had to have put down for her last ride was traumatizing for both of us. I lost one last year who slipped away in her sleep in her heated cat bed at 26(!!), and have a 21yo who is doing “ok” for now – kind of like Gus, a bit stiff and arthritic at this point, and deaf as a post, but she is still getting around fine.

  • avatar
    The Soul of Wit

    I disagree with one detail of this story…..Dogs DO smile!

    Why is it that Dog stories and Car stories seem to go together?

    and finally:

    I believe (but I could be wrong) that no one will ever write a story about a CAT and a car…..

    • 0 avatar

      Ok, I will tell a true story.

      When I was a kid, we had a cat who absolutely LOVED to ride in the car. She would jump right in, and sit in the back window watching the world go by. Sometimes curl up and sleep there in the sunshine. No A/C in the car in those days, so plenty toasty back there. That cat would also swim in our pool! My Mom had another cat who would jump in and swim too.

      All the cats I have had as an adult have absolutely HATED being in the car. The yowling starts as soon as the doors shut, and doesn’t cease until they are out of their pet carriers. No pool anymore, so no idea on that one, but I had one who loved to sit on the edge of the tub while I was taking a shower, until she fell in one day. :-)

      • 0 avatar

        My ex GF has a cat about 20 years old that loves to ride in the car and usually ends up on the rear deck in the sun. He’s one of the most laid back cats I’ve ever seen. Nothing seems to rattle him much.

        My old cat, Orville, who was about 25 pounds, was a total wreck in the car. If you put him in a carrier, he would be a snarling psycho by the time you got him to the vet’s parking lot. Inside, he was so out of control, even the vet couldn’t handle his constant screaming. I began to carry him in a pillow case, and he would wait until the vet would actually touch him before going off the deep end. Usually, by the time we left, everyone who got near him was bleeding from a bite or two. At home, he was in charge of the house, until the last of my older dogs died, and King arrived. He was only like half Orville’s weight at the start, but was totally fearless, and spent his first year herding a screaming Orville around. Orville’s eyes about popped out of his head when King, who was about the same size as he was, climbed up on the counter and decided to share Orville’s dinner. I think it was when Orville realized that King was now more than able to handle him. One of the funniest things King would do is crawl under the bed and pull Orville out by the back of his neck. Orville was totally enraged, but had no ability to prevent King from doing what he wanted. He would scream and holler, and King was highly amused by all his yelling. About the time Orville figured out King was playing with him, and wasn’t trying to kill him, he had to be put down. He was almost 17, so he had a decent lifespan.

  • avatar

    Nicely written. All our pets should be so loved and have such a peaceful passing.

    I lost my doggie girl to cancer just over a year ago, and the pain is still there. She was my first dog; I got her to keep me company when my son went off to college. She was confined to a concrete cell in a kill shelter, and her time there was running out. I had found her profile online, and the shelter employee would not let me stop and look at any other dogs. At about 7 years old, and a bit shy in temperament, many people had overlooked her. She jumped in the back of my wagon joyfully the day I took her home, and until her arthritis got bad, she was ready to hop in anytime. All I had to say was “wanna go ride?” and she was at the door. She was very smart and loyal to me. I am glad we had seven good years together, before a couple of terrible months at the end.

    Now my cat is elderly and struggling quite a bit. I won’t try to “save” her life, just prevent her suffering. But a car ride has never appealed to her.

  • avatar

    I just about cried. Ku my 13 year old dutch shep’s last ride was in the Peugeot 505. He went from Denver to Austin, thanks to school bus hour, poor Pug AC when sitting still, soccer moms that ..

    (Do not even get me started. Lets just say I just about lost the car to over heating because soccer moms waiting for there iphone toting larva will never move a INCH even if the car behind them is rolling white smoke out of the exhaust, from under the hood and honking it’s horn and flashing it’s lights to get over to the shoulder to cool the thing off)

    Would not move. 20 minutes after I made it to my destination.. even with a ice bath, saline, and O2. I lost him to heat stroke. And all because 1 person in 1 black Audi SUV would not roll forward 3 feet (and they had a open 1/4 of a mile in front of them) so I could get over to the shoulder get around the bloody mess and get the car moving to get the engine cool, AC cool and the dog cool.

    Needless to say.. I -hate- Roundrock (Upper Austin).

    I wish Ku would have passed more peacefully like in the story. He did not go peacefully unfortunately.

    But a great story, and now I am a bit in tears.

  • avatar

    Thank you for this! We have a shelter dog who is now 8 years old (had him for 7 of them). He’s my first dog ever. I didn’t know what to think of him when he was first brought home but I’ve become attached to him and vice versa. He’s a good dog overall. He loves us and we love him back and all is right in his world. He knows when my wife is home due to her noisy old TDI and he sings for her every time she returns because he remembers that she’s the one that rescued him from the shelter after 18 days. Sometimes he’s as dumb as a bag of hammers, but it can be pretty funny when he barks at nothing. He’ll be missed when it is his time, but we hope that he sticks around for a while.

    For anyone that has dogs with joint problems, we use “Missing Link Hip and Joint Supplement” from Amazon. It appears to have eased his pain some.

  • avatar

    I don’t have any of my own dogs, but I sit regularly for Comet and for Zorba, and Molly lives downstairs with my tenants, but spends most of workdays with me, as her humans go off to work and I work out of the house. I used to take them to the coffee house with me, and just about everybody loved them. But–major bummer–they recently stopped allowing dogs.

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