Dirty Paws and a True Heart

Young Ruffy’s coat was black; not black, like semi-sweet chocolate, but deep, blue-black, like a raven’s wings. He wore a tiny patch of white upon his chest, and four small, white boots on his paws to complete his dapper outfit. Ruffy’s mother was a Cocker Spaniel, his father a Border Collie. I never actually met them, but they must have been fine folk, for their son certainly grew up to be a credit to their family. His deep brown eyes expressed a kindness that showed gentleness of parentage.

Ruffy came home with my mother and father when he was a two-month-old puppy, and when I was a vigorous four-year-old. He endured my years of ear-pulling, and tail yanking with grace, and he grew to be my protector and playmate.

I was proud of Ruffy, the best rough-house dog in our neighborhood. His dusty kisses slathered children’s cheeks, and his paws dirtied white tee shirts with red California clay from one end of Lancaster Drive to the other. Mothers always knew with whom their kids had played, and felt secure that Ruffy had been on duty.

On weekday afternoons Ruffy waited on our cool, concrete porch for me to get home from school. When I jumped down the steps of the big yellow school bus, he would launch across the street like a rocket to hop on hind legs and box my chest with his front paws until I knelt to scratch his chin. Satisfied with a brief acknowledgement, he would retreat for the shade of the porch again, to wait for the screen door to open.

It always did, and he bounded inside the house to slide on the hardwood floors against kitchen cupboards, overjoyed at being invited for a slurp of water or tidbit dropped in his bowl. Mother had a soft spot in her heart for Ruffy, and scolded him less than she did me.

Eight mm movies bring back memories of my faithful friend; Ruffy has retrieved sticks and cavorted in my dreams for many years. And, as much as I loved Ruffy, I know that my mother’s affection for our dog was stronger than mine.

Dad abandoned our family when I was in junior high and Ruffy was a grandfather in dog years. While Ruffy couldn’t comprehend our grief, his unwavering faithfulness comforted us during those difficult times.

Mother knew that her old dog harbored no thoughts of chasing new adventures. On the day that Ruffy died, Mom’s sobs told the story of a companion who never thought about ending his years with anyone but us. Though the past still pricks like a pin, this picture of a true heart mentors me. Strange as it seems, I owe a grateful hug to my pal, Ruffy, who helped teach me the meaning of loyalty.

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