Goodbye to Ruby

Within the larger community of Benicia there are many smaller communities. One of them is the community of people who have dogs and love them.

Every day we would see a neighbor of ours walking on our street with his black lab named Nigel. He and Nigel were as regular as the sunrise. They walked two, even three times a day.

Then one morning I saw him and his wife passing by our house. But no Nigel.

When I asked about him their faces transformed into portraits of grief. “We had to put him down,” they said, unburdening themselves with the story of Nigel’s illness and sudden passing.

Our family knows how they feel. We recently had to put down our 12-year-old rescue dog, a skinny black whippet-lab with white markings. When my wife relayed the news of Ruby’s death on Facebook, it drew more comments than practically anything she has ever posted. 

People know. Dog people know. When a Ruby or Nigel goes, a piece of your heart goes with them.

Death, as it so often does, struck fast. On Wednesday her belly had mysteriously swollen; on Friday my wife took her to the vet and could not believe what she was being told: Ruby’s condition was so dire there was no need to even run tests. Her stomach was likely filled with blood, due to cancer. The best thing to do, the only thing to do really, was end her life. 

My wife was in shock when she called me. She broke into tears, as did I. When I called my daughter in Los Angeles I could barely get the words out. “Manly men aren’t supposed to cry,” I stammered. She responded, wisely, “That’s what manly men do. They cry sometimes.” Our two sons, both manly enough to cry, shed tears when they heard the news. But we put the phone up to Ruby’s ear and they were able to say their goodbyes to a companion they had grown up with.

There is a special room at our vet’s office reserved for families to spend their last minutes with their beloved animal. My wife rubbed Ruby’s back and caressed her ears as she had so many times before. We told her what a good dog she was, and that she was deeply loved. A sedative helped her to relax, and then the vet injected a greenish liquid into a vein in her leg. And sweet, skinny Ruby passed away dreaming, I hope, of running across the hills the way she did when she was young.

Losing a dog is bad enough.

What has also happened, though, is that we have lost touch with the community of dog lovers and dog walkers that we saw regularly when Ruby was part of our daily schedule. It’s another aspect of the loss you feel, a different kind of mourning.

Without Nigel needing his daily constitutional, his dog dad seldom walks by our house anymore. It’s the same with us. While my wife and I continue to exercise and walk, our schedules have changed now that Ruby is gone.

She was our pet, and I once thought her life revolved around us. But now I realize that our lives revolved around her. 

I still run into fellow dog lovers from time to time. Often I don’t know the person’s name, only their dog’s: Mia, Rocky, Bogart, Ferris. Buddy is a friendly little 15-year-old white poodle, and I see him walking in the neighborhood with his devoted dog mama. 

When I told her what happened to Ruby she reacted with real feeling. “Oh no,” she said. “I’m so sorry.” She knew. People know. They know what it means to love and be loved by a dog, and how wonderful it is when your life revolves around one.