August 28, 2010

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday


"All his life he tried to be a good person.
Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog.
(Snoopy, at his typewriter)"

It wasn't exactly planned yesterday, but I ended up having to say goodbye to a really good friend.

Ruby has been in our family's lives about as long as my little brother. When I was ten or eleven years old, making my brother Andy around seven and my brother Matthew a newborn, the whole Smith family took a trip to the humane society. We probably looked at several dogs before her- specifically, I remember a golden retriever. At some point, we got to a cage with a beagle, approximately one year old. I don't remember the exact moment, but she must have been wagging her tale and baying those loud beagle sounds. Our family finally had a dog.

Of course, the most important thing was a name. She had been given the temporary name of "Sandra", which is quite possibly the worst name ever for a dog. We sat around the living room and discussed it, prompting me to get out a baby name book. Someone suggested "Myrtle", and someone else seconded it. My tender, ten or eleven year old heart couldn't take it, and I burst into tears, explaining we couldn't yell "Myrtle" out the back door- how embarrassing! (And yes, I am still teased about this.) I landed on a page of Rs and saw "Ruby". "Ruby Myrtle Smith"- the best compromise.

So we all grew up with her. I kept an old blue and green blanket at the end of my bed for her to sleep on so Mom wouldn't get upset for her being on a homemade quilt. She'd curl up there at night, as close to the edge as she could without crossing onto the quilt. She would lie on the stairs and soak up the sun, and oftentimes I would sit there with her and tell her my secrets or pout to her. Andy and I would take her on walks, and she would practically drag us along when all the scents around her got too interesting to ignore. She would nearly mow all of our visitors down with her excited jumps and barks.

In fact, she had even outdone my father when it came to not knowing a stranger. We lived on a small airport, so it meant all the maintenance workers, rental car washers, and other firefighters were fair game to be great friends, and she visited them all regularly when she'd slip out the back door. Eventually, most of the airport workers knew her- possibly even the control tower crew, since she had, one several occasions, ended up prancing on the runway. One night, she had gotten loose and hadn't been home for hours. Dad drove around in the car, calling her name. He ended up finding her at a nearby apartment complex at a loud college party. She was enjoying the spotlight and mingling. She loved being around people.

Her favorite food was pizza. We knew that any time we made anything Italian for dinner, the table scraps would end up all over the kitchen floor after she'd tip over the trashcan in a mad scramble to hunt down the smell. This infuriated all of us, but probably my parents the most. We joked that some of the Italian heritage in our family was also present in our puppy.

When my parents split up, I was 16, and living with my mom meant I didn't see Ruby much, who was still with my dad. Then, I moved out of state for a few years. Sometimes I would visit out of homesickness, and sometimes because life just wasn't going very well. I would spontaneously decide to spend the weekend at my dad's, drive the 4 hour trip, and always be welcomed back by those excited barks and squeals. When I first moved, I had a fear that Ruby would forget about me or forget who I was- she didn't. And a couple times during those visits, I helped her up onto my bed, and we talked like old times. She had a harder time jumping up there, but everything else was exactly the same.

Just last week, I was marveling how we had gotten her when I was a little kid, and now, 16 years later, I had my own daughter and Ruby was still alive. She wasn't the same, of course- there were a few bumps under her skin from tumors, her hair had long ago faded from the vivid reddish brown and deep black to a speckled white, and she walked much slower and barked less. She lost her hearing and probably some of her sight, so we didn't get the excited greetings we were used to. Instead, we would walk into the room she was in and stand in front of her for her to see us, and her tail would begin to wag.

During the past couple weeks, she hadn't been eating. I suggested my dad try some canned dog food, and that worked very well- for one meal. She vomited whatever she ate. About a week ago, I dropped something off at Dad's and he asked me to let her out. I saw her gingerly walk down the back steps, and she couldn't quite figure out how to walk back up. I felt my stomach harden.

And yesterday afternoon, I got the call I had thought about getting for years, really. They had done some tests at the vet- there was cancer in some of her bumps, her white blood cell count was through the roof, etc. My dad talked about the extreme lengths he could go, but she made it to 16 years old- what more could we ask from our dog? He was taking her in to the vet at 5:30, so I had time to say goodbye.

My brother Andy was already there when I arrived. I patted her, rubbed her ears the way she loved, and sat down on the floor with her. She tried to sit next to me, but her back legs couldn't hold up, and she started sliding backwards. It broke my heart seeing her like that. When we had to leave, Dad clipped the leash to her and started to lead her out the back door. She looked down at the stairs. She looked tired. I scooped her up and carried her outside. I leaned down one more time and told her goodbye.

A lot of people probably wouldn't understand if they saw my tears right now. Yes, she was a dog, and yes, she was old. She lived longer than anyone ever thought she could- I had nicknamed her 'old faithful' the last couple years. Maybe that's it, though- 16 years is long enough for anyone to become family. And I miss her already.

4 kind comments from you:

Goodnight moon said...

Ahh...that makes me so sad for you! I'm so sorry!!!! I love the name Ruby! Love Love Love it! She was a family member, and I know the pain is real and hurts just as if you lost a real person. Losing a pet is such a saddness. Sending you lots of hugs!!!!!!

annoyed army wife said...

I understand perfectly, tears are rolling down my cheeks just thinking about all the furry family members I've lost. Oh this is so sad, but at least she's not suffering. And I'm sure one day way, way down the road when you see her again you'll get greeted with loud barks and excited jumps.

Kaylee said...

Oh dear. I understand too. It's hard to lose a family member, albeit a family pet member. Thinking of you!

Dolli-Mama said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

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