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  • Writer's pictureKristina Atkins

The Ruby-Shaped Hole in my Heart

On June 1st, around 3 pm, I noticed my dog, Ruby, trembling on the floor. I knelt down, and while it was clear she was aware of me, she didn’t move. I offered her a treat. She wasn’t interested, and that’s when I knew: Ruby was dying.

She improved slightly, hobbling around the house with a stiff back and pained expression on her face. But she wandered from room to room, seeming confused. The next morning things hadn’t improved, so I took her to the vet. At first the vet was optimistic. Her vitals all looked good, she said, probably just a slipped disc. But to be sure, they kept Ruby for an hour to run some blood work.

I’d just gotten home when the vet called. “Do you have a minute to talk?” she asked, and the breath caught in my chest. Those are seven words you never want to hear from a medical professional. Ruby’s liver was completely shot, and her gallbladder was bordering on medical emergency. Ruby was in a lot of pain. “Euthanasia is a very kind option,” the vet said. Either that or drop a thousand bucks to find out it was cancer, then put a 12-year-old dog through chemotherapy when the prognosis wasn’t good. The choice was clear, and it was heartbreaking.

We got sweet Ruby in May of 2010. My coworker told me her friend was moving to Texas and didn’t want to bring their shiba to such a hot place (since shibas originated in northern Japan). They wanted to give her to someone familiar with the quirky, sometimes difficult breed. I immediately jumped on the opportunity. It didn’t take long to fall in love with the red sesame, sassy little girl. They’d called her Little Bear. We named her Ruby, and she easily assimilated into our family. Our other shiba, Swift, became her frenemy, and after years of fights, I surrendered him to a shelter in 2015 so he could be an only dog like he needed. Ruby really blossomed, since she was the sole recipient of our love, and her life improved drastically without Swift to fight her when she tried to eat his food.

Ruby was a typical shiba in so many ways. They’re escape artists and door bolters. I chased her down the street more times than I can count, when some unwitting visitor left the door open too wide for too long. As my family sat with her on the vet’s floor, comforting her in her final moments of life, I told the boys about the time she escaped shortly after we got her. Kurt and I were both out of town, and she stayed with someone in our neighborhood for four nights. She was returned when a friend put up fliers for us around the neighborhood. Another time she and Swift got out. I found Swift right away, but Ruby got picked up by animal control and spent a night in the big house. You’d think she would’ve learned her lesson, but not so.

One morning I came downstairs and couldn’t find her. When I searched the backyard, I discovered the gate hadn’t been locked the night before. We have a dog door so Ruby could come and go as she pleased. She’d escaped sometime in the night. I took the boys and drove the main streets, convinced she’d gotten hit by a car. Kurt searched the neighborhood and found her happily walking with a woman. She’d wandered into the lady’s backyard around 11 the night before, attracted by the deck lights. The woman took her in, then took her for a walk the next morning in the hopes her owners would see her. Ruby had a collar with a tag, but we took it off at night so we didn’t hear the jangle when she shook her head. Which was a lot–shibas are famous for their “shiba shake.” After that, we got an embroidered collar with my number on it. We all laughed as we remembered years of hunting Ruby down, she always thinking it was a game and us swearing up a storm.

Ruby was a bit of a curmudgeon, especially with little kids. She never bit anyone, and I never expected her to, but she’d growl and let them know she was annoyed. But once the boys were asleep, she’d lay outside their doors. She was always underfoot, dozing at the base of whatever couch or chair we were sitting on. She laid in the office as I wrote book after book. She wasn’t a lapdog, but she loved her people.

The day after she passed, Kurt and I both mentioned how we missed the click clack of her nails on our laminate bedroom floor at night. Something that used to annoy me became a dear memory. It had been an awful, quiet night without her wandering the house. There was no sound of her drinking water, no snap of the dog door opening and closing. Just silence.

Ruby shed like crazy, like any shiba, puffs of fur that floated in the air like dandelion wisps. I cleaned most up in that first week as I went about my daily chores, but every now and then I find one more tuft hiding in a corner. One last piece of Ruby. After she passed, I kept expecting her to sit up and lick my hand. I knew she was dead, and yet that hope was there. Death is a strange thing. I still think she’s going to walk around the corner, or I’ll find her sleeping on her bed in the kitchen. There’s food on my floor after every meal and I’ve forgotten how to clean it up. Ruby ingrained herself into our lives for nine years, and now I need to learn how to live without her.

My comfort is that I believe I’ll see her again. Members of the LDS church (aka Mormons) believe that animals go to heaven and will be resurrected one day. I thought about resurrection a lot when my grandpa passed 11 years ago, but I hadn’t considered it much when it came to pets. I was honestly unprepared for how heartbroken I was at her passing. But I was able to comfort Turbo on the drive home. He’d sobbed as the vet put in the lethal dose of anesthesia. I held him as he cried, and his tears were worse than anything I’d experienced. But I miss her the most. I was her favorite, and she was my sweet Ruby Roo. But as Nugget said, Ruby gets to hang with Jesus now. He reminded us when we got home that she’s Jesus’s dog. Thank goodness for the sweet, humorous faith of little children. Nugget kept us laughing during the process, providing much needed comedic relief even as we mourned, and reminded us this isn’t the end. Not really.

So goodbye for now, Ruby, aka Ruby Roo, aka Booboo. You’ve left a hole in our lives that can’t be replaced … until we see you again.

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