Water retrieve

The Adventures of a Redhead

Born on bonfire night 2005, Ruby Red was set to be a wee fireball. She was officially a “lemon and white” cocker spaniel on paper. But there is nothing yellow about Ruby. Oh no. Think red. A very vibrant red.

She was 10 months old when she came into our lives

Originally owned by a leading retriever trainer, who bought her to his brood to work alongside his Labradors at his country fair demos. But Ruby just didn’t “get” neatly cut grass in display rings. She used to look back at her handler with a “it’s there look, you can see it, just go pick it up yourself. Nothing for me here. Now where’s the heather and gorse bushes?”. In fact I can picture her now. Ruby had this ability to not quite look at you, almost as if she was keeping one eye very firmly on what might happen, in case she needed to be ready. Concentrating very hard, on nothing in particular.

And freshly mowed grass in a display ring simply wasn’t cutting it for Ruby. So they reluctantly decided she should go to a home where she could exercise her need for something more testing. Mr Smith went “just to see her” (as you do). This was never going to end any other way. She charmed her way into his heart. And with a parting word “you’ll need to hang onto her, she’s a bit of a wild one” she was ours.

She joined us the week we sealed the deal on our cottage in rural Glenlivet. She had just one night in suburbia before being promptly put in the back of the Sprinter van with the other three and we travelled north to meet the place that would eventually become home. Any other wee dog might have found it all unsettling.

But Rubes is not like any other wee dog. Of course not. As we would come to learn.

Lemon and white cocker

And so began the adventures of Ruby

There was the day Mr Smith took her and our old (and also sadly departed) lab Teal along on a shoot day. He was asked to hop over the fence and “let the spaniel work the outside”. He sits them both while he carefully steps over into the field. Then he turns to call the dogs across. No Ruby. In that split second she had gone. They walked the entire length without a sign of her. When he reached the end he asked “anyone seen Ruby?”. “Yes she’s away over there somewhere, doing a fine job”. In her own little world doing what spaniels do. Just a shame there was nobody there to witness her finest moment. When they finally reunited he said she was just the happiest wee spaniel ever, tongue out, panting, little tail wagging looking like “I have had just the best time, where was everyone?”.

Unperturbed, Mr Smith persevered, and she became a regular. Despite her not being the quartering, close run spaniel Mr Smith had dreamed of, the beaters’ kids loved “the smallest spaniel ever”. Most spaniel trainers will tell you cockers are a bit of a challenge. We were used to Labradors who mostly want to do it right and please you. Rubes on the other hand just wants to do it and please herself. But then, seriously, have you seen some of those spaniels at work? One might say she was a natural.

She settled in well

That is until the day they were invited along to a place where it was super important she was on her best behaviour. And then our little Houdini clearly got caught up in the sense of occasion. Somehow in a split second she left the heel. And when you are that small you can wriggle between boots relatively unseen when you have got a very important job to do. She had spied some birds that needed flushing.

Not your average game birds. Oh, no, that would be too easy. Hens!

She didn’t harm any of them. She wasn’t a pegging spaniel at all. Just gently, tail quivering, sticking her nose under their bottoms. But poor Mr Smith. Extremely apologetic (while already declaring “never again”). The owner of said hens (Ruby under one arm, chicken under the other) was remarkably understanding, laughing off Ruby’s little excursion as “she is just doing her job. Trying to get them to fly”. And judging by her little happy panting face and her thrashing wee tail, she too clearly agreed she was doing a great job.

Meanwhile, Teal (now known as the wise one) decided he was not going to be associated with any of it and took himself off to walk the rest of the day with Heather at the other end of the group. Oh the shame.

Ruby’s adventures didn’t stop there of course

Twice we thought we had lost her and both times Houdini had found her way out of dog proof gardens. The first time was on my watch, from our garden. I turned my back on her, for literally a couple of seconds, to deal with one of the other dogs and turned back to find her gone. There was nowhere to go except down the drive and out. Yet somehow, we would come to realise, she had managed to find a tiny space under the back fence and out onto the heather hillside beyond. Next stop Tomintoul eight miles. You can imagine my panic. Trying not to think about rabbit holes and fox dens and the “smallest spaniel ever”.

We had the neighbourhood out and had covered many miles on foot and by car in seven hours. I was still walking around the woods, calling “Ruby!!!” when neighbours drove by with her sat in the passenger seat like butter wouldn’t melt. She had spent the entire day not half a mile away exploring the rabbit holes at the dump. There she is, sat on Susan’s knee.

Like “what’s the fuss? There were LOADS of rabbit holes to check out. It takes time you know”.

I was a mix of relief plus “I could $£%& throttle you” whilst hugging her a little tighter and in floods of tears.

The next time, we had taken a new year’s day walk with all the dogs down by the neighbours. And as happens in these parts, we were all having a wee dram and a cuppa only, totally unaware Ruby had found her way out of the garden and was off celebrating the start of 2015 in her own way. The family sitting down to a full Sunday roast at the house down the road had the shock of their lives when I appeared at the French windows to ask “anyone seen a tiny cocker spaniel?”. Up the road, down the road, cars out and that sick feeling in the pit in your stomach when you think she is definitely gone now. And then Mr Smith appears with that familiar redhead on a lead.

“Have you seen next doors stick pile? It’s fab”…says Ruby’s wee face.

You can never fall out with a Cocker

Wise words given to us when we first considered giving a home to Ruby.

Words which we would soon know to be true. If she was in bother she would always come and crawl quietly up your leg with an appealing “are you cross with me?”.

If life was good in Ruby’s world (which was pretty much always) she would simply take a running jump for a cuddle. Now if you ever smelt Rubes you will know when you have “been Rubied”. In fact all your friends will know when you’ve been rubied . Affectionately known as pissy paws, she was never even kennel trained, let alone house trained. At her first place she bunked up with the pack of hounds, so manners were not high on her agenda. And when you are that small, you kind of paddle in your pee. She didn’t seem to care a bit. Because that is exactly how she liked it…not a care in the world…to the very end. And happy to share her pissy paws with ALL her favourite people.

Her favourite game was to put her nose in the air, realise the back door was open from her kennel, and leg it. She was fast. Kennel to back door in 3 seconds! To the shouts of “Ruby!!” “Door!” “Too late!”. She’s in, empty the cat food on the way by, lap of honour, pray she keeps moving, “don’t pee, don’t pee, keep going Ruby” and out before you could even get your whistle out.

Another was to see just how near she could get to the cat before they would hiss and try and take her nose off. No fear – quick side step, duck and run past. If she could laugh I swear she was. While the cat would look on with an evil stare like “she gets me every flipping time”.

Even when her serious working days had stopped, she did still love a retrieve. Getting a piece of the action. She recently fell back in love with the rolling tennis ball, a great training aid for our lab pup. She could also play her part in being the distraction for puppy training. Oddly, she was very good at that! The sit and stay puppy training too. Are you shuffling Ruby? Who? me? And we were just saying today, it’s not so many days ago she joined in the Labrador group chase. Because that was our Rubes. Totally unpredictable.

It never gets any easier

The sharp eyed critics may have noticed my past and present tense is inconsistent, in writing, today. And the reason is quite simple. You see, we lost Ruby just over a day ago, and right now the memories are current and the loss incredibly painful. I am finding it so very hard to speak about Rubes in the past tense. But I am finding it comforting to recall all those crazy Ruby times.

Our Rubes was Little Miss Independent. A tough nut who was as happy with the lads as the girls. A free spirit. A wild one. Feisty and demanding on the one hand. Sweet and affectionate on the other. Some days she would train with the best of them. Other days she “can’t be bothered” (though we reckon Rubes would use stronger language if she could speak). She reached the equivalent of 91 years old, in doggy years. And I guess we are all allowed to be a bit “whatever” in our later years.

Our Rubes was a tiny cocker spaniel with a huge character. Irreplaceable.

We already miss her so much. Remembering her adventures, looking at the photos, that’s what is going to get us through the grief of losing her so suddenly.

And if she has made it to Rainbow Bridge now, then a word of warning. “You’ll need to hang onto her, she’s a bit of a wild one”.

Ruby-was-a lemon-and-white-cocker