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Whatever floats your boat...

After taking photos to send to her foster mother showing that Ruby was getting along with our other four dogs, we realized that Ruby was almost completely deaf. She was completely oblivious to any commotion involving the other dogs unless she could see it. This presented us with one challenge and resolved another. There was really no point in changing her name from the one given to her by the pound. She would never hear it. So as we could not pin a name on her, we simply pinned Toozday on the end of the name Ruby. However, as easy as that issue was resolved, we also came to realize that we had to watch every single step we took to insure we did not hurt this fragile little girl which made hardly any sound (other than a cough) as well as never picking up on the noise of anything approaching her. It really hit us that we were going to have to learn how to communicate to this little old lady in ways which were foreign to us. So we tried the obvious hand signals like waving for her to come. This was met with the blank stare which was always accompanied by total silence. When you reached down to pet her, she would duck. In fact, I would have to say the only social interaction she knew was duck and run away, or stare blankly at you. There was no submission or dominance type of behavior. No playful stances were ever spotted. This was the kind of stuff that mystified the other dogs. She quickly became a piece of furry walking furniture to them. Woodruff continued to crouch down as if to play with her. His efforts were met with the same look which I received when trying to use hand signals. Making her understand that this is her home, and she is a member of the family seemed to be nothing short of impossible.

I had decided to put a dog door leading to the back yard a year or two back. The thought of the dogs being trapped in the house if there were to be a fire while we were away clearly demanded such a device be in place. It has probably been one of the few decisions I made which I can say was beneficial in many ways for the dogs. Ruby, however, is about one quarter of the size of the other dogs and that dog door is quite heavy having been built for large dogs. We spent days opening and closing the door for Ruby who appeared to have never met a dog door, but much to my surprise she ventured through the dog door after two or three days. Sometimes she would push three or four times on the flap before going through. I began to realize that despite the small cranial space behind those beady eyes there was a very intelligent dog. Most of that intelligence revolved around dinner though.

Ann kept a puppy sling in which she carried Woodruff as a pup. She brought it out and settled Ruby Toozday into the pouch as we took the other dogs on walks and hikes. Her fur had been shaved really up close to her emaciated body by the animal rescue group. Presumably this was because her fur had been so matted. She looked like a puppy in the sling. I could not count how many people were shocked to hear the cute little puppy in the pouch was a senior citizen. It was a little more obvious as we removed her from the pouch and had her walk a bit to build up her stamina. Ruby’s walk was not as fluid as a younger dog’s. Her tail was always tucked down, and her back was always a straight line which never swayed at the hips from right to left and back. It was almost as if she would move both her front and back legs on one side simultaneously and then the other side as she wobbled forward. Although occasionally she would have a burst of energy and almost trot like a puppy. We caught these little glimpses of an little excited puppy. She loved to walk. We just needed to nourish that with healthy food, and gradual stamina building exercises.

Ruby Toozday was never more puppy like than when there was food around. She instantly determined which room in the house was the kitchen and claimed this as her base of operations. She would venture to other rooms in the house but always return to the kitchen. Ann has been making dog food for a couple years now, and keeps it in the refrigerator between feedings. Ruby would always walk up to the refrigerator if she saw the door open for any reason. I took this as her attempt to communicate with us. (Feed me) Actually, she was like a little furry Einstein when it came to putting food in her belly. She carefully choreographed a dance at the anticipation of eating. First the right front paw would bounce twice on the floor and then the left foot would do the same. She hopped back and forth, and soon you could hear the heaving panting. She would jerk her little frame around with the agility and flexibility of a three month old puppy. Then on occasion something wild would happen. This noise would come from nowhere. It was a deep throaty human like sound which sounded something like “RRROWWAHHH!!!” If you put food on a plate, she would place one paw on the plate to hold it steady while she licked it as clean as she could see or smell. At this point I promised myself, if she is that intelligent then I can make her understand some way that she is home to stay. I was the one lacking the intelligence to get this message across to her. I just needed a breakthrough.

All rules went out the window when food was involved. If you recall her social interactions were usually the blank stare, ducking, or running away. However, if I put a plate of food in front of me and it became paws on my knees, cute faces and heavy panting. If I put my plate on the corner of the table it then became put her feet in my plate and strain to get her mouth on my food. Take the plate in my hand and pull it away and her head followed the plate as she attempted to shovel my dinner into her eager mouth. Ah, she IS a dog after all! However, none of the other dogs are so bold as to try and take my dinner unless I leave it unattended for several minutes. She is a dog and just because she does not have the doggie social skills doesn’t mean that I can’t use a little bit of what I know about dogs to communicate.

With all the food excitement would come the cough. With the eating anything would come the cough. With the drinking of water would come the cough. With picking her up would come more coughing. This kennel cough thing was not going away. I began to search the internet for other explanations for the cough. At the same time I started searching for any lost dog postings that matched her description. Oh I was not going to give her away. I wanted to understand where she came from. I wanted to know her story. Alas, there was never any light shed on her origins. I believed I came up with a solid explanation for why she was coughing still. Until we confirmed it with a Veterinarian we would change everything from seldom picking her up to using a harness instead of a collar when walking her to raising her food bowl so she did not have to lower her head to eat. When I showed what I believed was the cause to Ann, she commented that this (if it was Ruby’s problem) more than likely would be what would end Ruby’s life. Did she start coughing and her previous owners knew the end was near? Was that the reason she ended up abandoned? Did her previous owner pass away? How is it the Animal Control described her as a stray? Why did no one claim her? She was a great mystery, and I had yet to make that connection with her outside of being the guy who has the food.

Ruby Toozday was a loner at night, preferring to sleep by herself in the room next to the kitchen instead of following all the other dogs into the bedroom. So here was my first opportunity to try to bond with her. We bought her comfy little beds for her to lay on, and she picked one wall mainly to lay down at sometimes under the wood bench. So this is where we placed her beds. I soon grabbed some blankets and pillows and laid next to her sleep areas at night as to say, “you and I are of the same pack”. The only problem was she would tolerate it for five to ten minutes and go in the kitchen lay down and maybe watch me hoping I would leave. I graded myself with a D minus in the deaf doggie psychology at this point. It looked as though outside of food provider (not particularly knowing if I was just a temporary one at that) she would never have seen me as anything else. Sure she was tolerant of being held and loyal to the food in your hand, but if you reached down to pet her she ducked. If you laid down beside her she left. It was probably a month later that I found the canine behavior that spoke to her. I would find the one that had her coming across the room to sit at my feet, the one that stopped the ducking, or only tolerating my presence for 10 minutes. Before any of that happened; she grew strong enough to walk with the other dogs and she began putting on weight. Ann adored her and treated her with the lovingly gentle mothering ways. All of these factors helped make a breakthrough in communication possible. It was an eventful month before she saw herself as being a part of our family. We may have still been in many ways strangers to each other instead of family by her understanding, but there was certainly enough activity for her mind to puzzle over, like walks, hikes, camping and a magazine photo shoot with hundreds of other dogs vying for a local magazine cover to benefit the Humane Society.

The breakthrough? It was so simple. Most dogs have a handful of strong passions. (Belonging/affection within a pack, having a position in a pack, searching or hunting for food, getting food and territory.) Ruby showed me she had no interest in her position within a pack, but had her own territory. Food was number one for her. She really liked to walk which has to do with searching or hunting for food. She was fascinated by garbage cans along the walks, which did suggest she may have been a stray and found her dinner in people’s discards. What I was missing was the key to let her know she belonged. It was a simple gesture. Simply placing my cheek to hers and the top of my head to her top of head and cheek told her that I accepted her as family. She did the same back to me, and rubbed her head on her front leg or the ground in front of her until she coughed a little. Once we did that simple interaction she started laying next to me even when I did not have any food. Once we did that simple gesture as I came home she wanted to play and assumed the puppy position and invited me to chase her into another room. Then she would turn and chase me. This always stopped short because she would start to cough. She knew she was a member of the family at last. We knew that her cough was not going away and we needed to make an appointment to see what this meant. Was it what I thought was the cause, or something else that we may be remiss in overlooking? Were we doing all the wrong things?

Ruby was much smaller than the other dogs. However she was biggest in the kitchen.

Ruby hiking in her pouch.

Ruby hiking.

I tried and failed to get Ruby to pose for a portrait.

If I had just pointed the camera a little lower and to the left, this might have been the shot.

Views: 8

Comment by BlancheNoE on September 4, 2009 at 7:59am
Excellent writing Bruce,..and of course the story is engaging to say the least. Ruby obviously had the heart of a champion. Many creatures, including humans, never find a true home in their lifetime. Ruby was so fortunate to find the best home ever. Have I said lately that you guys rock ? Well, you do.
Comment by JustAnotherUserName on September 4, 2009 at 8:24am
This really could be a book, you know. Rarely have I been as riveted to see what happens next, even though I know....
Comment by Chig on September 4, 2009 at 10:19am
Thanks again all. 7 months is not long enough. I don't want to forget. Not sure if it is story worthy, but it will be something to help me remember her in days to come as it gets harder to remember that face I see all to clearly yet in my mind, or that quiet beauty she carried.
Comment by NatureJunkie on September 4, 2009 at 3:48pm
I'm loving this, Chig, and like Ruth, I can hardly wait for the next installment.

So many people think a human-dog relationship is about subjugating a dog to their will, "teaching" a dog to get by in the world as humans perceive it. But dogs hear it, see it, and smell it differently than we do, and of course, they have different priorities. You're a good listener, Chig. I will remember the cheek-head gesture, just in case I need it one day.
Comment by NatureJunkie on September 4, 2009 at 3:50pm
P.S. After seeing these particular photos, I can understand now why people mistook her for a puppy.
Comment by SydTheSkeptic on September 5, 2009 at 1:19pm
Holy bejeezus, those pics of Ruby are great! What a smile!

Ya know, reading all of this, Bruce...I know you're doing it to preserve her memory and feel the feelings, but I am SO grateful to be able to come to know Ruby this way. Your writing paints a great picture for me of not only Ruby, but of the bond you shared with her. That is something very intimate and sacred and I feel privileged to be able to receive it.

My heart is both heavier and lighter, heavier at the growing knowledge of how deep the loss, but lighter for seeing the peace she came to know through you and your family in her last months.

Thank you SO much.

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