It was just before the Sydney Olympics when we made the trip to Sydney’s South-West to be interviewed by the breeder to see if we would qualify for one of her precious puppies. A few weeks earlier a litter had been born and now they were almost old enough to be adopted.
A very beautiful but nervous (and probably exhausted), first-time mother was in an enclosure with four enthusiastic and very playful puppies leaping around her. The puppies were unbelievably cute and I fell in love with all of them, instantly. I wanted to take them all.
We passed our ‘interview’ and were handed a female puppy. I saw the size of her very large paws and thought she might have been a bloke but no, she was just going to be a big, strong girl.
A few weeks later she was old enough to leave the life she had known and come to live with us, 90-minutes away on the coast. Throughout the journey home I held our dear little Ruby in my hands and talked to her ceaselessly as she began to whimper for all that had once been familiar.
While we were already very much in love with our new addition, Ruby was miserable and fretting terribly. A couple of days later and with little improvement I was in tears. I called the breeder and said, ‘She’s miserable and I think she hates us.’
‘She’ll be fine’, said the breeder, ‘give her time’.
By the end of the first week Ruby had reluctantly adjusted to her new life and we settled in to ‘bringing her up’. I took her to puppy classes and while she loved the contact of the other dogs and the very shy dingo, she wasn’t terribly interested at being in school. Ruby had a mind of her own and didn’t care to follow human rules. I thought that was terrific and loved her fighting spirit and strong personality.
I always thought it would be nice for Ruby to have a litter of puppies. When she was about 18-months old I arranged for her to have a weekend back where she was born with a well-chosen suitor, Big Red. When we arrived Ruby remembered her old surroundings; she hesitated and didn’t want to go inside. When I left, she tried to follow me back to the car.
I collected her two days later. The homestead was situated in the middle of an acre with a perimeter fence. As soon as Ruby saw me she knew I’d come back to collect her. She was so excited she ran around the perimeter fence at top speed. That was when I knew, Ruby hadn’t resigned herself to living with us, she loved being a part of our family.
Ruby had an excellent pregnancy. A week before her due date I took her to my vet who, like a prophet of doom, said, ‘She’s only having three, she’ll probably go into labour in the middle of the night and I’m sure she’ll need a caesarian’.
Drew made her a whelping box and we set it up in a room for her to give birth. She went into labour on her due date. The puppies were born in the afternoon, she gave birth naturally and she was carrying six puppies, not three. I was the over-excited midwife and I did all I could to comfort her. Ruby knew she could trust me and allowed me to handle her puppies but for everyone else, they were off-limits.
Ruby was a completely natural and amazing mother. She looked after all six puppies brilliantly. There were three boys and three girls; two were black and tan, two were red and two were shaded cream. Helping Ruby raise her puppies was one of the happiest periods of my life. I took on the task as a full-time job and there was nothing more wonderful than watching those puppies grow.
But then came the time when we needed to sell them. I wanted to keep them all but Drew reluctantly only agreed to let me keep one. While it was an incredibly difficult decision, we decided to keep the runt of the litter; the little girl who looked so defenceless and needy. I thought she’d miss her mum too much if we didn’t keep her.
I had to advertise the remaining puppies for sale. It was the hardest day of my life when the time came for them to be taken to new homes. And it was long overdue; the puppies were now over 12 weeks of age, Ruby had done her job and was keen for her life to return to normal, and I was becoming far too attached to them.
Farewelling Ruby’s puppies was extremely difficult and I cried every time I had to part with one of them. Ruby, however, wasn’t sad at all. She had brought them up and now it was time for them to be on their way. I’m sure there was also an element of jealousy with all the attention we were showering on the puppies.
And then it was just Ruby and her runt, Rosie. Ruby would often look at me as if to ask, ‘When is this one going?’ Initially she didn’t seem pleased that she had to share us with Rosie but as time ticked by and as she understood Rosie was here to stay, she and her puppy developed a very unique, close and very strong bond.
She and Rosie loved to play with each other and they invented what I called, ‘The Silly Games’. They would bark at each other at full volume and run and chase each other, scampering about and playfully biting and pouncing on each other. It was a joy to watch.
Ruby was an excellent hunter. This is not something we taught her, it was pure instinct. And we certainly didn’t encourage her nocturnal hunts. We had quite a big backyard and just before we would go to bed I’d put the girls outside to do their business and then they’d come back into the house to sleep. But not always. Sometimes I’d be calling and calling Ruby but she wouldn’t come and so I’d be out there with a torch trying to find her. She was also good at hiding.
So I’d go to bed and Ruby would be out there having the time of her life chasing possums, cats, bandicoots, rodents and anything else unlucky enough to be paying us a visit. At about 3am I’d be woken by loud barking. I’d get up to let her in and she’d be puffing and panting with her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth and a huge grin letting me know she’d really enjoyed herself.
She also chased the postie and took a particular dislike to Thai takeaway delivery men. One of the men was so scared he wouldn’t come to the front door and instead would ring us from his car to let us know he was outside the house. Although the delivery boys believed otherwise, she seriously meant them no harm.
She loved to chew. As a puppy she re-fashioned the legs of our dining room table and chewed a number of other precious things all belonging to Drew. I don’t know why but everything she ‘re-fashioned’ seemed to be something of his. He’d be seething. So I used to buy her pigs’ ears. While good at sharing, pigs’ ears were off-limits and if you ever came near her stash of pigs’ ears she manifested into a ferocious, possessive, attacking beast. We loved her for it.
Ruby and Rosie weren’t just pets, they were important family members and as such, as much as possible, we took them with us wherever we went. They came on holidays to the beach or to our friends’ farm, we bought baskets for our bikes so they could sit in the baskets while we cycled, we took them out on our boat where Ruby loved to dive off and swim but Rosie preferred to stay dry, we took them to outdoor Christmas carol events, to all of Archie’s rugby matches and rowing regattas, for walks on the beach late at night when the Rangers had gone home and to all extended family events.
As she aged, Ruby no longer went on her hunts, she could no longer run at such a breathtaking speed, The Silly Games lessened in frequency and intensity, her once acute hearing faded and her knee joints gave her trouble. But her loveliness only increased and the value we placed on her intensified as the realisation struck that she was ageing faster than we were.
In her later years Ruby remained adorable and loving and couldn’t get enough of us. Instead of going on hunts she preferred to be inside and lie in the sun, or curl up on my pile of clean washing, make a nest on a valuable item of clothing someone left on the floor, or sit by the heater and nap. She adored being in our arms, she loved cuddling up to all our visitors and demanding tummy rubs, (and if you stopped you were given a nudge to keep going), she enjoyed being taken for a ride in the car, and a favourite weekend treat was to spend some time with me on my bed.
It’s ridiculous to think your dog will be with you forever and while we saw signs that let us know she was in the winter of her life, I did hope she would die from nothing worse than old age. It was devastating to hear she had an Ruby that gave her no hope. It made her final weeks so challenging for her and she didn’t deserve to have her life end that way.
Ruby coped with the Ruby Has Rallied in her jaw bravely and stoically. Despite all the medication I was giving her, I’m sure she was in a lot of discomfort; she couldn’t yawn or bark and eating and drinking was a complete challenge. Her favourite meal was BBQ chicken and so I’d buy her a hot chicken, bring it home and take off the softer parts of the meat and chop it until it was almost powder. I’d put it in front of her and where once she attacked her food heartily and with great vigour, now she hesitated. I would sit on the floor and pat her head and encourage her to try and eat.
As the amount of medication I was giving her had to increase and as her weight was dropping and as she was spending more and more time motionless and just cuddling up with me on the couch and sleeping, I knew, that even though Ruby wanted to live on, we had to intervene.
When we took her in the car to drive off to the vet she was excited to be going on an outing. She was sitting up and looking out the windows. When we arrived at the vet she sniffed all the new smells. It was unbearable and I so wish she’d given up the will to live but she was too strong-willed and courageous.
It was the great betrayal. I hated how premeditated it was and how unsuspecting she was.
Of course the vet told us we were making the best choice for Ruby; that the tumour was hideous and that as strong and willing as Ruby was, it was unfair to ask her to cope with increased suffering. I know we did the right thing but I’ve never felt so mean.
I read something a while ago that said, ‘A dog is with you for a part of your life but for a dog, you are their whole life’. And I did try to give her, her best possible life.
Ruby: 13-05-2000 – 29-04-2015