Silly Ruby, Why Won’t You Ever Learn?

Lessons on love and life from a dog that kept going back

By Leslie Phelan


My family got Ruby as a rescue and loved her for ten great years. Our country vet had just finished putting our old dog Scruffy to sleep when he brought Ruby out to meet us: an abandoned German Shepherd that had just birthed a litter of seven a few nights before. The doc had been successful at finding homes for all of her pups, but there didn’t seem to be anywhere for Ruby herself to go. So, already missing the beloved pet to whom we’d just said goodbye, Mom and Dad agreed to take the friendly girl home for a trial adoption.

We loved Ruby right away! Me being about ten years old and my little sis about seven, we had grown up with old Scruffy as our dog and while she was the loveliest, sweetest pet in the world, we were thrilled to suddenly have this energetic and gregarious wiry-haired new dog to bring home.

Ruby was a curious bitch who exercised her outdoor dog freedom at every chance, always disappearing down the road or into the forest and coming back muddy, stinky, injured or covered in porcupine quills. Muddy and stinky were to be expected but the injuries were mainly from getting kicked by our horses, and it happened ALL THE TIME. The quills were a habitual problem too.


Why do you bug the horses, Ruby? Do you like taking a hoof to your hip? Silly, moronic Ruby! What happens literally EVERY TIME you sniff too close to the spiky rodent? “When will she ever learn?” we’d wonder. She was really so silly, that Ruby.

It was baffling and a running joke that Ruby must suffer from some kind of amnesia because she never seemed to take away any of the lessons from those excruciatingly painful experiences. At least, I presume it would be excruciating to have my dad pull quills out of my cheeks, nose and gums with a pair of needle-nose pliers…but I’m no expert.

Ruby has been gone for many years now, but it’s funny how often this image of her coming home to us hurt by the same old culprits floats into my mind. It’s the image I see behind the shoulders of any friend telling me she’s gone back with a dude who has already proven himself to be a bad dude, at least for her. Ruby has become an archetype to me, a symbol for the silly girl who does a poor job of remembering the lessons life has already presented to her, and is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over until she finally learns.

There was a time I was a Silly Ruby. It was several slices of on-again, off-again with a guy who had oodles of charisma but no honor. Towards the very end, as I began to feel strong enough to let him and his addictive passion exit my life, I began to feel something like a Ruby who was finally remembering and finally learning. The horse will always kick. The skunk will always spray. And quills in your face hurt like a bitch.