A Tribute to a Very Special Dog
The Early Days
My wife Margaret and I didn’t choose Ruby: that was the result of youngest son Christopher deciding on having his own doggie companion to join him in the flat he shared with his work college and friend and his pup! When Chris viewed a litter of puppies, only one – the runt – came to him. They made friends instantly! This turned out to be the essential pattern of Ruby’s caring life: she made the effort to make friends with every living being she met.
We first saw Ruby when Chris came with her, as a young pup, to visit and then, while still a pup, they arrived together with a very young puppy, the last of a litter she had just weaned. It was Boxing Day, Chris and his flatmate were going away and Chris wanted us to look after Ruby and the puppy as he knew that we would make a fuss of them. He also wanted to make a gift of the puppy to Margaret. Although Margaret refused the gift, as she did not want a puppy, she agreed to look after them while the lads were away.
It was only a matter of time before Chris came home. Chris arrived on our doorstep, with Ruby, to announce that he was moving back home! When Margaret and I married, we moved into our own home in 1986 with my dog Sully. After Sully passed, we resolved never to have another dog although, as the boys grew up, we were persuaded to keep a succession of rabbits! When Margaret had first seen Ruby it was love at first sight but I had not been as pleased. Margaret got her way, Chris moved back and Ruby joined the family.
When we were alone in the house, Ruby took to lying at my feet! As stated, we had a succession of rabbits and, at the time of Ruby’s arrival, we had one in the garden in a run. Upon opening the patio door and letting Ruby out onto the patio, she went into stealth mode! After taking several extra-slow-mow steps towards the run she stopped motionless with a paw raised in the air for several seconds before repeating the stealthy advance until reaching the run. Once Ruby had reached the run, Jess (Jessica Rabbit) took flight into her hutch and Ruby began to circle the run! Despite trying to discourage Ruby from trying to round up Jess, Ruby’s instinct was to herd, as was Jess’s instinct to flee. They did, eventually, warm somewhat to each other, with Ruby always wanting to be Jess’s friend.
Ruby the Herder
We could never allow Ruby and Jess their freedom of the lawn together: each time Jess decided to hop across the grass Ruby thought it her job to round her up; her herding instinct was just too strongly bred into her! When out walking with Ruby, she always led the way, finding paths we had followed on previous visits or seeking out ways to get to the water’s edge!
If I dropped back to take photos, Ruby would stick initially with Margaret, who had the ball and thrower. But, once she had glanced behind to see where I was, it was not long before she came to shepherd me forward! She wanted everything to be neatly contained in groups – people; ducks; hens and, of course, sheep! Although she had a good recall, we used to put her on a leash when passing close to sheep, cows or horses. She just accepted it and never strained against the lead.
On many an occasion, I would come across Ruby standing like a statue! Baby bird, frog, hedgehog, cat staring down from atop a fence; she would never touch her discovery but was always curious to see what they would do – if they moved she would follow, if they stayed still so did she! I once found her on the stairs – rear feet on one step and front feet two steps lower. She was transfixed and I had to climb up to her to see that it was a spider that had drawn her attention!
Eager to make friends
. . . what is it, what does it do, will it play with me?
Yes, like many dogs, Ruby’s purpose in life was to share her friendship with every being she encountered!
Just after this photo was taken, Ruby dropped her ball at the feet of the iron man hoping he would throw it for her! I wish I had been shooting a video instead of taking snaps!!
Meeting up for a post parkrun coffee with Margaret and Ruby, I was amazed to find Ruby in the centre of a circle of people. She was happily passing her ball, using her nose, to each of the surrounding people, in turn, to make sure that they all got a turn!
Would barge into the middle of picnics!
“Come and sit down and have your photo taken Ruby.” So Ruby duly obliged and sat on the blanket in the middle of the picnic!! Unfortunately, the request had not been directed at Ruby but rather by a father to his daughter Ruby!!! A quick explanation from us and the family was soon making a fuss of Ruby. There was something about a group of people sitting around a picnic that drew Ruby to a point of ignoring being called to heel (she had better re-call among sheep!). It was so bad that, if we spotted a picnic before Ruby did, we put her on the lead to avoid her annoying people – and embarrassment for ourselves! With regard to photos, they were just another way for Ruby to be the focus of attention! Here she is in a selfie!
Loved to chase and retrieve a ball
On walks with Ruby, the ball thrower always accompanied us. As well as providing additional power to the arm, it gave protection against the water and mud collected by the ball! After an initial sniff around, Ruby would run ahead and then lay in wait for the ball to be thrown.
Loved water – and loved to swim
Exploring her surroundings and chasing balls were placed in the background once Ruby sensed flowing water nearby. Her attention switched to finding a way to the water’s edge where she would wait for the ball to be thrown into the water for her to ‘rescue’.
Made up her own games
As she matured and recognised that she no longer had the energy levels of a pup, Ruby began to lose enthusiasm for repeated ball retrievals. She would retrieve the ball until she began to tire and then set off, with her ball, towards her next favourite spot. Her next strategy for reducing her time spent chasing the ball was to introduce her own ball launching and retrieval sequence!
She Loved Pubs and Pub Gardens
Ruby enjoyed a car ride as it led to a walk, usually with a river and often with a pub! If a pub was on offer, then so were people to make a fuss, or other dogs to befriend. There was also a chance of pub food! Depending on the time of day and appetite, we may choose either something lite like a turkey barm cake or a proper meal. Ruby’s favourites were Lamb Henry or Steak!
The Last Days
It was a hot Sunday, Ruby was panting and sulking, so we took her to Cuerden Valley Park for some fresh air and a swim to cheer her up. After walking a few yards from the car park to the River Lostock, Margaret threw the ball in the water so that Ruby could cool down before we walked further into the park. Ruby retrieved the ball but showed no desire for it to be thrown again. We decided to move on to Ruby’s favourite ‘beach’. Instead of running ahead, as usual, Ruby lagged behind and, upon reaching her ‘beach’, would not go near the water! We returned to the car with Ruby plodding behind us like a very old dog. Once home, we let Ruby onto the back garden where she lay panting with her head on her front paws. The following morning, she was still panting and stood still in the garden for a good while before she lay down. As she appeared to be having difficulty breathing and was in discomfort, Chris called the vet and booked an appointment for later in the day.
A valve had failed in Ruby’s heart and the vet advised that it would not be viable to operate in view of her age and condition. She prescribed medication to disperse blood that had leaked from the valve and to remove the water that was causing difficulty in breathing. The plan was to return in seven days to see if Ruby’s condition and prognosis had improved. However, it was not to be: Ruby deteriorated and wanted to spend her entire day in the garden; I’m sure she was just waiting to die. On Wednesday, Chris booked another appointment which he attended together with Margaret. The vet was shocked by Ruby’s change. She was not the same dog, never would be and, had a life ahead of her that would be dominated by pain and the misery of not being able to do any of the things she loved. In a scene reminiscent of the closing sequence of Marley and Me, Chris and Margaret said goodbye to Ruby.
I have hundreds of photos that stream on my computer screensaver. A high proportion of them includes Ruby. I also have many video memories. I hope you have enjoyed the selection that I have chosen for this blog post. I have chosen these last two to close with. Chris said that, if Ruby had died at home, he would have buried her under her favourite tree – a spot where she would seek shade or lie unnoticed whilst being able to observe what was going on around her. The first photo has her laying in front of the tree in happier times. The final photo is literally the last photo I took of Ruby on that final Sunday as she laboured towards her ‘beach’.