96: For the Love of Ruby

96: For the Love of Ruby

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

For the Love of Ruby

I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.

~Doris Day

Forty-five days of rehab, months of daily A.A. meetings, professional counseling and innumerable attempts at “finding God” should have made it easier, but instead each day of sobriety became a tougher battle to fight. I had been a daily drinker. Now, facing the world without some artificial form of confidence was agonizing. Fear paralyzed me. Despite the support of counselors and fellow A.A.’ers, it seemed all hope was gone. I resigned myself to the fact that I was a lost soul bound to go through life angry, alone and afraid.

The last place I expected to find salvation was in the companionship of an unwanted dog.

I hadn’t expected life to turn out this way. The plan was to graduate from college, start a career, get married and settle down in a house complete with a white picket fence, and kids and dogs running around. That was the plan anyway.

My addiction had other ideas. As with any unhealthy relationship, alcohol had no intention of sharing my time, my money or my attention with anything or anyone. Within two years after graduating college, my drinking had spun out of control and I found myself bouncing from state to state. In early 1990, after being rushed to an ER with a near fatal case of alcohol poisoning, I was forced into treatment.

The advice of well-paid counselors and well-meaning friends could not break through the loneliness and frustration that continued to threaten my sobriety on a daily basis. After five months, the only progress I could claim was that I hadn’t been fired or committed a homicide and I hadn’t had a drink. The likelihood that I could go much longer without one of the three happening was seriously in question.

“You need to get a higher power,” they would say. “You need to believe in something greater than yourself.”

As far as I was concerned, God had long since left me behind. I felt truly alone.

Then a co-worker came to work one day chattering about her new litter of Labrador Retriever pups. Week after week, she gave updates on the litter. They were registered Labs with strong blood lines and all had high hopes for being adopted into homes where they would be given first-class treatment as AKC champions.

All except for one.

It soon became obvious that the smallest of the litter would not find a home. The “runt” was bound for the pound.

“I can’t afford to raise a dog that won’t provide income someday,” was her reason for disposing of the flawed pup. My heart broke. I knew the cold isolation of being shunned because you fell short of some impossible standard. I had to see this little outcast for myself.

As soon as I walked into the yard, I saw the shy little “runt” sitting alone in the corner, obviously frightened by the other dogs that were bounding about excitedly. She looked awkward and unsure, innocent and afraid. In an instant, I knew we belonged together.

That evening, I scanned the parking lot of my apartment for any sign of management. A dog could get me evicted, and with my financial situation I didn’t have many options. When the coast was clear, I bolted up to my third-story apartment with Ruby tucked inside my shirt. Getting the bed, an array of puppy toys and a forty-pound bag of dog food up proved a far greater challenge.

Protecting her became my sole focus. I trained her, spayed her, fed and clothed her (a prospect she learned to hate). Within weeks, she grew to a point that she was no longer easy to conceal. Walks became covert operations as we played a daily game of “dodge the manager.”

I was more in love with that dog than I ever had been with another human. This fact became terrifyingly obvious to me one day as I was sneaking her home after one of our clandestine outings. I dug frantically for my key. A cold space opened in the pit of my stomach as I realized I had locked myself out of my apartment. How would I explain her to the manager? I didn’t think “seeing-eye dog” would fly.

If Ruby couldn’t live in the apartment with me, we would live in my car together. I would not abandon her—not at any cost. I knew then she had changed me. I finally found something that mattered to me more than myself.

I had found a Higher Power.

The next day I called a real estate agent and a bank—a prospect that six months earlier I would have never considered. Within a year, I had realized a dream—I finally had a home of my own. With Ruby by my side, taking those first steps towards a fulfilling life was no longer such a daunting prospect.

Somewhere along the way, she taught me to love myself. To Ruby, I was always beautiful and fun, always smart and strong. Her love was unwavering even when I didn’t feel deserving of it. When bouts of deep depression would drag on endlessly, she waited steadfastly by my side. When I desperately wanted to go to sleep and never wake up, her big brown eyes pleaded with me not to let go.

In my darkest of days, I hung on for no other reason than for the love of Ruby.

In just two years’ time, I had gone from an angry, depressed recluse to a socially well-adjusted member of my community. Ruby gave me courage to live again. She gave me a reason to take care of myself and to tackle problems that once overwhelmed me. She took the edge off my fear and gave me a safe, comfortable place to start my recovery.

I have since moved back to my home state of Texas and put to rest the ghosts that had me on the run for so long. I have a career, a wonderful husband, a beautiful home and, of course, a yard full of dogs. With the help of a little black pup that was written off as a “runt,” I now have the full and happy life that eluded me for so long.

And nineteen years later, I am grateful to say I have not taken a drink.

In the early days and months of my sobriety, I was too self-centered and too cynical to believe in most things I could see. I wasn’t about to turn my will and my life over to the power of something I couldn’t see. God understood that the best way to reach out to me was in a form I could love and understand—a helpless and unwanted dog.

It has been nine years since Ruby peacefully passed away. I feared that without her there for support, my world would collapse around me. That didn’t happen. The life lessons she taught me carried me through.

And to this day, her loving spirit still lives in my heart.

~Stacy Murphy

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