As golden retrievers go she was utterly typical—even stereotypical. She lived in a middle-class suburban neighborhood: tree-lined streets, neatly clipped lawns, fenced backyards. She was a good-looking, athletic, robustly built dog, and while she wasn’t a hunter I have no doubt that given the right opportunities she would have made a splendid one. And I fancy that she gazed with something like longing at the flocks of mallards and Canada geese that frequently flew over, enroute to the nearby river.
She held no titles; she achieved nothing worthy of the public record. Her distinction was all in the hearts of her family, and therefore incalculable. To them, she was as perfect as a dog could possibly be.
In other words, she was pretty much as the same as 99.9 percent of all golden retrievers. I’d like to tell you a little about her—and about the two girls she helped raise.
The girls were toddlers when Ruby joined the family as a bright-eyed pup. Young women now, they can’t ever remember being without her. The golden retriever named for her luxurious mahogany coat was as constant a presence in their lives as their mother and father. She’d been their playmate, romping and chasing tennis balls in the backyard, sometimes barking out of sheer exuberance; she’d been their companion on their early morning paper route, insistently nudging them awake with her soft but cold-nosed muzzle when they ached for a few more minutes of sleep. She rode with them in the car on family trips, sticking her lovely head out the window to drink in the breeze, an expression of dreamily blissful contentment on her face.
But most of all, Ruby was simply there for them, letting them wrap their arms around her, sink their fingers in her soft fur, and press their cheeks against
her side—feeling her breathe, smelling her warm familiar smell. Whether they wanted to share their joys, ease their sorrows, or just display affection, it made no difference. Ruby was a source of comfort and reassurance, ebullient and empathetic in equal measure. The girls loved her, unconditionally and unreservedly; she loved them back the same way.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but as I watched them grow into the beautiful, confident, accomplished women they are today—and I mean the kind of beauty that radiates from the inside out—it occurred to me that Ruby deserved part of the credit. Of course, they learned the lessons in responsibility that taking care of any dog teaches (any animal, for that matter). But it was hard not to think that, in a larger sense, the people they became owes something to Ruby’s example. Loyalty, generosity of spirit, equanimity; responsiveness to the needs of others and willingness to give without expectation of return; the desire to make the most of every opportunity and the humility to be grateful for the blessings that come your way: However they girls came to possess these qualities, the company of a certain golden retriever during the formative years of their lives sure didn’t hurt.
Ruby lived to a ripe old age and, while it was a sad day when she died (the girls’ father took it hardest of all), she seemed to know it was time. With one of the girls in college and the other soon to go, it was almost as if she understood that her work was done—that there was nothing more she needed to show them, no more wisdom she needed to impart.
You raised them well, old girl. You did yourself proud. Here’s to you—and to all the other golden retrievers the world has never heard of, but who’ve enriched our lives beyond measure.