By Karen Middleton
For The News Courier
For three years, Rusty “Buddy” Wilkinson roamed the streets, surviving on handouts and from brushes with the law.
But since last Friday, Rusty — sometimes known as Buddy — has been hospitalized in Decatur with a broken jaw and a fractured leg. His doctors were concerned about brain swelling and excess air around his lungs, according to friends.
Tuesday, a doctor at Veterinarian Regional Referral Hospital in Decatur said that because of privacy policies he could not give an update on his patient, who was admitted under the name “Buddy.”
According to Melinda Underwood, planning manager for Rock Tenn, in Elm Street Industrial Park, the dog Rock Tenn employees call Rusty was dropped off on Wilkinson Street with his two brothers three years ago.
“One of our truck drivers took one and an employee took the other, but no one could get close to Rusty,” said Underwood.
However, in time, Rock Tenn employees found the way to Rusty’s heart was through his stomach.
“The employees started giving him their lunch,” she said. “If we ordered Steak-Out, he got steak. What he really likes is double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s. He doesn’t like Krystal chicken sandwiches and he doesn’t like French fries, but man he will chase a hush puppy.
“He’s made friends with our vending machine man, Nick. When Nick changes out the sandwiches in the machines every day or two, he opens the old sandwiches back at the truck and Rusty comes running.
“But he is just so picky about what he’ll eat.”
Rusty could afford to be picky. According to Holly Hollman, grant coordinator for the city of Athens, Rusty was known as “Wilkinson” by city hall and utility employees at the end of the street and “Buddy” by Custom Polymer employees.
The eating was good at all three places and he didn’t appear to care what name they called him.
But Rusty’s life on the street — which included three failed attempts by animal control to lure him into a cage with dog food — came to a screeching end a week ago.
Hollman said she was driving out of the park on Wilkinson drive Nov. 20 when she heard a “thump.”
“I so hate I hit him,” said Hollman, whose own 6-year-old Lab, Belle, was killed by neighborhood dogs a few months ago. “He must have run out as I passed because my back wheel is what got him. I immediately turned around and was running into Rock Tenn for help.
“I saw an employee pull in and head out to him. Then, Fire Chief Tony Kirk stopped and then a man from Custom Polymers. I gave them a blanket I had in my car, and they gently picked him up and got him in the bed of a pickup truck.
“The guy from Custom Polymers, who said he would take him home, rode in the back of the truck with Rusty to Dr. (Robert) Pitman’s office. Rusty was then transferred to Decatur.”
Hollman said that Rusty had surgery for his broken jaw, but doctors fear he might have lost sight in one eye.
Meanwhile, Rusty Buddy Wilkinson’s friends up and down the industrial park have been pitching in a few bucks for his medical expenses. Underwood said because Rusty has been on pain medication and is being tube fed because of his broken jaw, as well as the surgeries he has had, his expenses are mounting.
“We’ve collected a little less than $400,” said Underwood. “Right now, his bill is $3,000 and he’s not getting out for a day or two.”
Underwood identified the man who said he was adopting the dog he calls “Buddy” as Colt Kube. The doctor at Veterinarian Regional Referral Hospital said Kube admitted Buddy and said he was his owner and was responsible for him.
Kube said the dog is up and moving around. He said he’s known the dog a long time because he had also nearly hit him a few years ago.
He also said his wife was making fried egg sandwiches for breakfast for the dog.
Kube said the dog had a collapsed lung and doctors didn’t give him much hope, at first.
“Today, he’s up and moving around and alert,” Kube said. “A lot of people may think I’m crazy for taking this dog on, but the way everything has come together, I think it was made to be.”