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Adopting Ruby Dawn: A Tale of Reluctant Love

I’m honestly not a demanding wife.

Now, my wife would probably roll her eyes and laugh, pointing out my daily demands from the type of eye cream she uses to the route we drive home. But when it comes to big things, the life changers, I’m not a line-in-the-sand kind of lady.

That said, I knew we didn’t need another dog. We already had a dog. We traveled too much. Dog sitters were hard enough to find for our docile old man dog, much less throwing a new rescue into the mix. It was too much. We were too busy. It just wouldn’t work. So despite her daily sighs over Instagram puppies and exhortations that Scooter was surely lonely, I wisely pointed out the cons.

One of our best friends is on the board of directors for the Berkeley Humane Society. We attend street parties and Pints for Paws and fundraisers to support Berkeley Humane’s good work. October 2017, as my wife left to attend the Empty the Shelter event sponsored by Bissell Pet Foundation, I drew my line in the sand: “Whatever you do, do not come home with a dog.”

She agreed, “Of course not, honey; see you in a few hours!” and slipped out the door.

Two hours later, I got a FaceTime call from the friend my wife went to support.

I answered, wary.

Romy Harness’ smiling face filled the screen. “Annie, hi! Your wife has something to ask you.”

“I’m sure she does,” I said, already resigned to what fate had in store.

The video screen flipped to Tiffany and a stocky brown dog with a white forehead star. The pooch was smushing between her legs and nuzzling under her armpit like a 10-pound lap dog, not a 45-pound pit bull. My wife’s face was so sweet and tender and her voice almost shaking, as Ruth’s story tumbled out of her mouth: This gentle, toothless 8-year old girl was surrendered to a municipal shelter the year prior with advanced mammary cancer. Berkeley Humane Society had rescued her from the municipal shelter. Berkeley Humane visits regional municipal shelters (municipal shelters take in all stray and surrendered animals in the community; they are overcrowded and under-resourced and are forced to euthanize animals that no one adopts due to behavioral problems, health problems, or lack of interest) and identifies dogs and cats they can save through medical interventions, behavioral training, or simply just love. Berkeley Humane performed the surgeries necessary to get her cancer free. There was no help for her ground-down teeth — a likely sign, the vets said, of longtime overexposure to fleas and the associated chewing.

She was happy at Berkeley Humane, but over several weeks, no one had adopted her, probably because of her advanced age and high likelihood of cancer returning. “She’s had a hard life,” said my wife, “but she immediately wanted to cuddle with me! And,” said my wife, delivering the final blow, “she’s one of only two dogs left in the shelter.”

All the available dogs had been adopted that day. There was a black pooch being courted by another attendee and our soon-to-be, sweet, butt-wagging, brown, toothless wonder. A dog liable to die of cancer is a hard sell no matter how sweet. “But we can provide her a safe, loving home and any comforts she needs when her time comes,” campaigned my wife.

“Besides,” my wife said, “Cathy Bissell of Bissell Vacuums is standing right here. Her foundation is sponsoring the event; I can’t stand my ground against an executive vacuum saleswoman.”

The minute the phone rang I knew we were getting a dog. Even before the explanations and the health needs and the sad story of a neglected pup, I knew that Ruth (now Ruby Dawn) was ours. I’d made a line in the sand, but I also knew that unless it was important, my wife wouldn’t cross it. Thank god for that, because Ruby needed us.

She needed regular health care and regular meals and a consistent routine and training. She needed to hike our regional parks and sniff our neighborhood sidewalks with the wild abandon of a dog who’d spent eight years chained in a backyard. She needed a new tumor removed this summer and may have another sprouting in, and if it comes to it, we’ll have that removed, too.

She needed to learn she can trust people and that we could be trusted. She needed to know it was safe to love us. Now, her big bully tail thumps when we walk in the room. She offers her belly for scratches and rubs with no fear. She doesn’t sequester herself in the safe confines of the small bathroom when we leave, because she knows we always come back.

But even more than she needed us, we needed her. Scooter, our solitary old man dog, needed a sweetly disinterested female to follow around. My wife needed another dog to cuddle and walk and love. And most of all, I needed Ruby. I needed Ruby to open my heart. I needed her slow love and gradual willingness to soften my ideas of how things were supposed to be. I needed Ruby to show me that life has so much more in store when I let go of what I think I know. We love our Ruby girl and are so grateful to Berkeley Humane Society and Bissell Pet Foundation for the work they do.

Annie Crawford is an Oakland freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@Annie_Crawford) or her website, AnnieCrawford.com.

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Main article photo by: Photos of Ruby Dawn courtesy Annie Crawford