A Hole in my Heart

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Yesterday we put Ruckus to sleep.

This past week has been highs and lows with Ruckus, at the beginning of the week I found him lying down in the mud outside the house and cried thinking it was the end. The next day, he was pretzeling and dancing like a puppy. The next day he wouldn’t eat, but the day after that he was play fighting with Cindy and eating peanut butter.

Saturday night Ruckus came inside after going outside to pee, lay down on his dog bed, and was breathing pretty heavily. He got my husband’s eye and they looked at each other a long time. “Okay Buddy,” my husband said. “If it’s the same tomorrow, we’ll go to the vet.” Ruckus seemed to understand, took a deep sigh and closed his eyes.

Sunday morning we woke to find Ruckus had soiled himself on the bed. This is extremely atypical for Ruckus, other than peeing a bit when he gets excited, he never goes in the house and would rather die than soil himself or where he sleeps. My husband cleaned him up, he slowly went outside for a bit, relieved himself on the deck, came back inside to a different dog bed we put down. He seemed okay, comfortable, relaxed. We went out for breakfast.

We came home, Ruckus tried to stand up and his legs gave out. We helped him up, he took three steps and his legs gave out again. He looked at us, reminding us of the promise my husband made the night prior. We knew it was time.

We went to the animal emergency hospital in the town where my husband grew up, where Ruckus first lived. Temperature 100.5, gums pale. The doctor said it could be his heart, something with his vertebrae, a tumor. Did we want to do analysis? We said he would be 14 in April, and at this age, we just want him to be comfortable, have a quality of life, and do the right thing. She agreed, and told us about our options. We chose to be there with him when they put him to sleep, and asked to have his remains so we could bury him in the back yard (he lived here for 12 years).

They asked us to leave the room, we came back 10 minutes later to Ruckus on a dark green towel in the operating room, a catheter already placed in his front leg. He saw us, limply wagged his tail and moved his head in for a snuggle. I got down on one knee so we could see eye to eye as the vet put in one syringe, and then another. Ruckus looked to get sleepy, rested his head on his leg, and then it was over. I saw Ruckus leave his eyes, where he looked tired and resigned, and then nothing at all. We cried. My husband doesn’t cry often, and it was even more upsetting to see him like that.

He got Ruckus in 1998, his mother died the year before, he had to leave active duty of the Navy early to deal with her estate and moved into her home. Ruckus was a sign of permanence, that he no longer lived in an aircraft carrier, that he was now an adult with a home. We went looking at dogs together, no real plans, thought he would go with a Weimaraner and through a breeder, but then we entered a shoo and saw Ruckus. He was older than the other puppies – they said if he wasn’t bought in the next couple of weeks he would go to a shelter. He was on the third tier of the pet store terrariums, upside down, licking the glass. We took him into a play area where he immediately began to chew my shoes. I feared he’d be a chewer, an aggressive dog, but my husband fell in love.

Soon I also fell in love. Though my we were only dating at the time, I felt Ruckus was also my dog. I carried him home from that pet store, he peed all over me. I helped potty train him, took him for walks, spooned with him on the floor when watching movies. A little over a year later, I moved in with my two guys in our new home, the home we still own today.

Ruckus was a chewer, I remember my then-boyfriend being so angry that he ate one of his Adidas flip flops. He seemed to know which pair of my underwear was my favorite or more expensive and I would find him gnawing on them or find them regurgitated in the backyard. I remember the time we went to church and came home to find he ate an entire box of Thin Mints – he sniffed it out of the plastic bag, from on top of the dining table. He ate the entire box – all the cookies, the plastic sheaths, the cardboard box. I sat outside on that sunny Sunday with a spoon and a bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide, trying to get him to puke up all that chocolate. He made it. He also made it when he ate one of my trouser socks – it twisted around his intestines and the week of Christmas he had to have surgery to have it removed. Ruckus hardly had teeth because he would prefer to chew on rocks instead of all the crazy dog toys we would buy to get his interest.

Ruckus had to have his ACL repaired when he was around four years of age, and after that he was a little slower on his feet. While he still had bounds of energy, walks were shorter and playtime with more aggressive dogs was reduced. We worried about his other leg, and I think he did as well. A few years later, we realized one reason for his chewing was his thyroid; we put him on medicine but if given the chance he would still eat dog food until his stomach split.

We were a good family, Ruckus, my husband and I. We took car rides together, and discussed taking Ruckus to the beach so he could see the ocean. Ruckus was our buddy – our friends loved him, he was so giving, so loving, so selfless. He had a sense of humor, would try to distract me and then lick my face. We’d have cookouts and Ruckus would go from person to person greeting them, never begging or jumping, just socializing. He would get so excited when my husband’s friends from childhood would stop by – no matter how long since their last visit, he would still remember and wiggle around… often peeing at their feet in happiness. Somehow Ruckus made that charming.

Then I got pregnant… a bit sooner than any of us expected. We realized the house was a tad too small and remodeled. Ruckus loved the remodel because there were always people around to pet him and give him attention. He would survey the work, strut around the property with my father-in-law, ensuring everything was being done well.

End of October 2008, my father-in-law called me complaining of stomach pains; I took him to the hospital down the street and he died the next morning. Aneurysm. He owned two dogs. For couple of months, the dogs remained in my father-in-law’s house while we decided what to do with them. We (us, neighbors, sister-in-law) would visit the dogs several times a day to let them out, feed them, give them affection. Everyone said they couldn’t take the dogs, but everyone said the dogs had to be kept together and with the family. Our house was under remodel, at that time the two of us and Ruckus were living without electricity or a working kitchen, we couldn’t take in the dogs. But as time went by, we knew we would have to take them, no one else would step up but they were happy to lay out guilt trips. These dogs didn’t deserve such treatment so once the house was complete, Alfie and Cindy came to live with us.

The addition of two more dogs was awful for Ruckus. Not only was there a new baby and a new home, but two new dogs taking up his space and attention. Cindy and Ruckus had always been enemies, and now they shared a home. The first year was rough – lots of doggy mind games, aggression, drama. Ruckus learned bad habits from the new dogs – begging for people food, snatching food off the coffee table, not listening when we called for him to come inside. Also, the additional stress and drama did age him.

It also made me feel guilty. This dog spent the first decade of his life with unconditional and consistent love. He knew how we ticked and we him. We worked well together as a family, and he felt secure. Then these two dogs made him have to fight for food, fight for affection, fight even for a place on his couch. We were so busy with Emerson and three dogs that Ruckus didn’t get the attention he used to. If I wanted to snuggle with him during an entire movie, I either felt guilty for ignoring the other dogs, or else the other dogs would make me feel guilty by forcing themselves in Ruckus’ place, or being passive-aggressive by barking or pooping on the floor. I relished in those few minutes when Ruckus was inside with us, the other dogs still outside, and life was calm and how it should be. I’d take a deep breath, enjoying my family of four and then would be woken from my dream by a dog barking at the door or fighting with another for food, a toy, or just because.

Ruckus stopped coming up the stairs at bedtime less than a year after the other dogs moved in. He tried the stairs once but slipped and gave up. I also wonder if he felt it was no longer his “thing” since Cindy too would sleep in our bedroom at night. Cindy would come upstairs, Alfie would take one couch, Ruckus the other. In the morning I would come downstairs, Alfie and Cindy would dash outside, but Ruckus would wait, knowing it would give us a couple minutes to cuddle together without any other dogs around. Sometimes, this was the only time all day when I could spend it with Ruckus, give him the affection he needed and deserved.

Ruckus was good with Emerson, he tried to be loving, but she thought he was kind of gross, being old, warty, farty, smelly, slow. However, she knew to be kind to him, to respect him, and to know a kiss from him was a special thing. He didn’t mind, he kept out of her way, didn’t blink when she would accidently hit him, was always gentle. It made me wish we had children earlier to see how he would enjoy life just him and a kid, I think they would have been best of friends.

I feel so evil, but when we were driving to the vet, Ruckus in the back of the Suburu on a bed of yoga mats and blankets, I kept thinking, “Why Ruckus? Why not Alfie?” I write this as Alfie is curled up on the couch next to me – his back to me, shoved in a corner as far away from my body as possible. I came downstairs this morning, to only Alfie. I snuggled with him, he sat stiff as a board. I murmured in his ear about how Ruckus is in heaven, he’s happy and healthy now, that Alfie is safe, and he is loved. I let him outside, and left the door open so he could come in whenever he was ready. He came in, I was sitting on the couch as I am now, with the laptop. I patted the couch next to me, encouraging him to bond. He came up, curled up next to me, sighed, relaxed. Then he sat up, went to another couch and curled up. I ignored him – if he doesn’t want to sit next to me that’s his prerogative, it’s his life. I guess he wanted me to be upset or come sit with him over there because he got up after a couple minutes came and stared at me. I scruffed him behind the ears, chatted a bit to him, went back to typing, and he took a big shit on the floor.

Cindy howled all night last night, maybe because there was some animal outside she heard, maybe it was about Ruckus. Alfie has been extra-timid, sniffing me, I think trying to figure out where Ruckus went. I want to calm their nerves, but part of me just doesn’t care. Having them is the right thing to do, but it aged Ruckus, made his last years uncomfortable, and now he is gone and they are here to stay like cockroaches. I miss Ruckus, as I scrub the carpet with Bac-Out I think how the only time I ever had to clean up after Ruckus was when he was a puppy, and the week prior when it was near the end. Last night, when Cindy would come inside and was barking like mad at a deer or something in the woods, when I had to put on my Crocs and walk in the dark to yank her back inside, I thought how I never had to do that with Ruckus. A couple clicks with my tongue and Ruckus was at the door. I know there is a reason for everything, and it’s not our place as humans to understand everything, but this sucks.

Alfie relaxed on the couch, his body now just a couple inches from mine. I went to pet him, he stiffened up, then relaxed into my hand. I hope that this is the reason, that Ruckus left so we can have more time to spend on these other pups, and that they will understand our love and accept it. I can only think that at this point.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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