“You’re the best girl in the whole world. Yes you are. Yes you are. Ru-bee! How’s my Ruby, how’s my girl, huh? You’re a sweetheart. I missed you. Yes, you’re a sweetheart. Are you my girl?”
It’s from a scene early in my favorite movie of all time, “Slap Shot,” starring Paul Newman as the player-coach of a ragtag minor league hockey team that gets caught up in the goonish fighting tactics of the 1970s.
In that scene, Newman’s Reggie Dunlop and his star player Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) are picked up by Braden’s wife in a van upon arriving back from a road trip. As the van careens through the streets of Charlestown, an ill-fated Pennsylvania steel mining town, you hear Braden cooing to his best girl. “Ru-beee! How’s my Ruby?”
The camera cuts to the inside of the van, and that’s when you find out he’s not cooing to his wife, Lily, but to the family dog, a giant, mild-mannered St. Bernard named Ruby.
That film holds a special place in my hockey-loving family, so when we got a shih tzu puppy 15 years ago, we thought it would be cool to name her Ruby. Sort of a puppy-naming inside joke. (Many years later, our son named his own dog Lily, after Braden’s wife.)
Whenever my dad saw Ruby, he would give her the Braden greeting: Ru-bee! You’re the best girl in the whole world, yes you are!
Our Ruby, though, was a shih tzu with chutzpah.
As she was always the smaller of the two dogs in our household, I jokingly referred to her as the backup dog, borrowing a page from former Miami Herald columnist Dave Berry. My wife hated it when I did that.
Lacey, a 40-pound terrier, preceded Ruby at the Whyte house and was the “primary dog” for the first few years of Ruby’s life.
Soon after Lacey died, we acquired Blue, a 40-pound Aussie shepherd, who assumed the role of Primary Dog, which he still holds.
Alas, the shih tzu was always the Auxiliary Dog. But she was vocal in that role and I don’t think she ever considered herself a backup to anyone or any thing.
You always knew what Ruby wanted. Whether she growled, barked, or looked at you, quizzically cocking her head back and forth, she left no mystery about what treat she wanted, what couch she wanted to be hoisted upon, or what door she wanted open should there be a door that inconvenienced her by daring to be closed.
Ruby liked cookies. Maybe too much. She ended up a little on the plus-size spectrum for a shih tzu, although one day about five years ago, that last cookie she ate might have saved her life. Ruby was attacked by a coyote in our back yard. My wife had gone to pick up our daughter, then in high school, from cheerleading practice.
When Erin and Brooke returned home, Blue was barking to beat the band, and led them to Ruby, bleeding on the dining room floor — with four puncture wounds in the neck.
Erin and Brooke rushed her to an emergency vet, and they patched her up. She spent a month wearing the Cone of Shame. A millimeter one way or the other, and she would have bled out. The working theory is, the coyote hopped our fence, grabbed Ruby, and while the coyote was trying to haul her cookie-enhanced physique over the fence, Blue interceded, just enough to startle the coyote into thinking this particular shih tzu wasn’t worth the hassle.
We didn’t lose Ruby that day.
But, this week, we did.
Ruby, at the ripe old age of 15, crossed the rainbow bridge, as the euphemism goes.
When our kids were younger, one of the hardest things we ever had to do was tell them that a family dog had died. It was an awful, gut-wrenching scene in our kitchen when we told them and both of their hearts instantly shattered.
They’re older now, both out of state pursuing their education. This time, they saw it coming — Ruby’s health had been deteriorating markedly for quite some time — and while they were of course sad, as we were, they had a level of understanding that they didn’t have when they were little.
And, as our son Luc summed it up on the family group text thread:
“Aw, poor Ruby. She lived one hell of a life. Always snacking, napping and gave zero (expletives). Best nap buddy.”
That she was.
Ruby, the fiery, strong-willed, sometimes cranky shih tzu who survived a coyote attack and never feared speaking her mind, will be missed.
Ru-bee. You were the best girl.
Yes you were.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.