Last week our sweet little dog Rukkus of 12+ years unexpectedly died. We now know that he was killed by a deer. We are unsure of what exactly happened that night around 1 AM on July 15th. I have replayed that night in my mind a thousand times, and we are all still in shock at how we had to say goodbye to our sweetest little buddy. It’s hard to put into words what a big part of our family this little dog was to us. He was my first baby, my constant comforter through so much loss including the loss of our sweet angel Afton.
This post is a long one (little disclaimer), details of the tragic events of that night and memories of our little buddy.
– The story of that night and how we had to say goodbye –
Last week our family had plans to leave town and head to Montana for a family reunion on my side. We arranged for Kyle’s brother and family to watch Rukkus. Typically we have Kyle’s parents tend him for us, or friends and neighbors on our street which he so is familiar with. He was known to just hang out on our front porch without worry of him getting lost. Desperate to find someone to watch him, we were thankful Kyle’s brother and family were happy to have him. Admittedly I was concerned about leaving him in an unfamiliar place. On the one hand, it wasn’t ideal, because he had never spent any time at their house. On the other hand, Kyle’s brother and his family are huge animal lovers, and they have a number of other animals, so Rukkus would be in good hands and watched by a family that knows and loves him. Because we knew they were animal lovers and that they had a fenced in backyard, we felt like he would be okay with them.
Avery and I drove him over to their house the night before our big road trip dropping him off just after 9 PM not knowing it would be the last time we would see him alive (tears). I remember the drive over feeling overwhelmed with my to do list before we had to leave early in the morning. Knowing what I know now, I so wish I could give him one last little hug. On our way home after dropping him off, just down the hill from their house, Avery spotted some deer in an orchard. I backed up the car, parked it and we both hopped out and I took a little video of the deer. It’s weird thinking back as this was like a foreshadowing moment, these were the same deer that ended up killing our little dog.
When we got home, Kyle and I got the kids to sleep for the night and the two of us spent the rest of the evening working at our computers to get a few things done before we left town for the week. We finished around midnight and quickly packed and got to bed quick in order to get as much sleep as possible before our 4:45am wake-up call to caravan with my family up to Montana.
At 1:30am I got a call from my sister in law letting us know that they had lost Rukkus. After letting the dogs out one last time before bed at 12:30 Rukkus had gotten out of their fenced backyard. He had squeezed through a small gap under their fence. With much concern for our little hard of hearing old dog, both Kyle and I hopped into our cars to go look for him. When we got there they were also in their cars already looking for him. We all slowly drove around all night searching for him, but it was pitch black and Rukkus is almost completely deaf, so we couldn’t rely on whistling or calling his name to get his attention (in addition to the fact that it was 2am and the neighborhoods we were searching through probably wouldn’t have appreciated the premature wake-up call). We drove around at the pace of a crisp jog and kept all the windows down and the radio off to help us hear any sound that might point us in his direction. Visually, we just had to hope we would see his movement or the reflection of his eyes in our headlights. We caught the glow of a number of eyes, but not a single set belonged to any dog. Our sightings were limited to a number of cats, and a couple of deer.
After about one hour of driving around, I began to worry about the kids home asleep, so I decided to head home at about 2:30am to stay with the kids at home. Kyle continued to drive around searching for another hour. Occasionally circling back to his brother’s house to see if they had any news about Rukkus. Kyle really wanted to keep searching, but by this time, he had been out for at least 3 hours and there was no telling how far Rukkus might have wandered. He decided to head home and try to get some sleep and resume the search in the morning once it was light outside. Ultimately, we were hoping for one of two things: 1) That Rukkus would be able to meander his way back home (we live about 2 miles away). 2) The other option was that he would be spotted by someone once morning arrived, and would be returned by a nice stranger. We have good identification on Rukkus, so if he was found, we were confident he would be returned to us.
The kids woke up early with excitement to leave on our big road trip. I worriedly informed them that Rukkus was missing and that we had been up all night looking for him. Avery really wanted to go with me to look for him. We drove all around again looking and looking. I made calls to all the local police departments and our local animal shelter. We ended up at the Animal Shelter based on a promising lead, but it wasn’t our Rukkus.
Feeling hopeless, Avery and I decided to head home around 7:30 am. Kyle and I decided it would be good to make a flyer to take around to some of the local gas stations and grocery stores. At this point I was so tired and decided to lay down for a minute. Kyle had my phone to let me sleep but to still make it easy for anyone to reach me if he was found. When he grabbed my phone, he noticed a text from our neighbor who is a dispatcher for our local police department. She had been keeping her ears open to any police activity that might clue us in on where Rukkus might be. She had asked if it was ok to use one of our pictures of Rukkus to send out to officers in the field to keep their eyes open. Immediately after sending a quick reply to her, she replied with the following text:
“Kyle, they found him. Officer bringing him to you now. He was hit and killed. I’m so sorry.”
The first two lines of the text, brought an overwhelming sense of joy: “Kyle, they found him. Officer bringing him to you now.” Everything was suddenly fine as a wave of relief. Then, just as quickly, that wave of relief turned him upside down in despair as he read the last two sentences of the text: “He was hit and killed. I’m so sorry.” Kyle stumbled into our bedroom to break the news to me. I was asleep and it took me a minute to register what he was attempting…and failing…to tell me. Aiden came into our room and asked what was going on. I don’t remember exactly what happened from that point, but I remember Kyle was kneeling at the bed when Avery came into the room and asked if what Aiden had told her was true. Then the four of us all ended up bawling as we knelt around the bed. We weren’t praying…just grieving in complete shock.
Somehow, we all ended up together on the front porch holding the kids as we waited for the police officer to bring our sweet little dog’s body back to us. It was so surreal to see the Police SUV turn down our street. It felt like a slow-motion funeral procession. It felt like the officer was never going to reach our house. I’m not sure he wanted to reach our house. I know I didn’t want him to reach our house, yet we needed him to reach our house. We needed the closure. It’s just that it had all happened so fast and we were still in shock. Our heads were still spinning.
The officer was so kind. He explained to us that they had received a call not long before from a lady who lived around the corner from Kyle’s brother. She had heard a commotion during the night and heard a single, sharp yelp from an animal. She went outside with a flashlight and saw two deer running off, but nothing else. Thinking there was nothing left to see, she went back inside and didn’t see our little Rukkus at the base of her neighbor’s driveway until she went outside in the morning. The officer had placed Rukkus’ body into a large black plastic bag and was sensitive to having us look in the bag with the kids around. He informed us that his body was in good shape, other than a single puncture wound and some ants who had reached Rukkus before he was found in the morning. He had taken off Rukkus’ collar, so we were able to identify him before looking into the bag, but made a visual ID anyway. That was so hard. Up to that point, there was still the slightly, smallest sliver of a chance they had made a mistake and the dog in the bag was not our eternal puppy. Seeing our little Rukkus’ body made my heart sink and we couldn’t hold back the tears. Kyle cradled the bag from underneath and walked toward the house, thanking the police officer through our ugly tears. I opened up the tailgate of her car and I laid the bag in the back. To protect the kids, we asked them to stand on the other side of the car until we could open the bag and get a better look at his complete body. After a quick glance at his body, we decided to take him around to the backyard and give him a bath to get rid of the ants and some of the surprisingly small amount of blood from his puncture wound. The kids followed us around back and Kyle removed Rukkus from the bag and laid his little body on the grass.
After some decisions were made, we drove him to our vet, where we said our last goodbyes. It was so very sad. We hadn’t even had the time to process what was happening, and here we were saying goodbye for the last time to a family member who had already unexpectedly left us. While we certainly wish we would have had a few more years with Rukkus, we also wish we would have had more time in that room to say goodbye.
The officer had mentioned the address where he was found, so we decided to drive by and see if we could see anything or talk to anyone who could help us piece together what had happened. There was a lady outside of the house when we pulled up. She had a big gravel, U-shaped driveway and her house sat back from the street. She indicated she was the one who had called the police this morning when she saw our dog at the end of her driveway, but that it was actually her neighbor who had heard the commotion during the night. She was so nice. We thanked her and she offered her condolences. As we were pulling back onto the street, her neighbor was just pulling away from her house. We drove up alongside her on the road and she stopped to see what we needed. We explained that we were the owners of the dog they had found and she recited essentially the same information provided to us by the officer. She was also extremely kind and felt so bad about the whole situation.
At this point, we drove home, feeling SO empty. The kids still wanted to go to Montana, and Kyle and I did as well, I just think we wanted to hit the pause button and take the necessary time to process everything that had happened in the past 10 hours. It was all too much. Really, we wanted to hit the rewind button more than anything, but that isn’t reality. Reality was we could either go home and die for a day and then get on with it, or we could get on the road and take the next 7+ hours to process everything and get all of our ugly crying done in the privacy of our own car. We chose to get on the road to Montana. Everything happened so quickly, and it would have been nice to take an hour or so to process everything, but getting on the road was the right decision. We spent the time talking through our tears about the dog we had just lost. It was a good opportunity to work through our emotions as a family and do it before we caught up with the rest of my side of the family. The fact we were working through the emotions on the road was both good and bad. On the one hand, we weren’t surrounded by all the reminders of our dog that we would have faced at home. At the same time, we knew it would only be a few short days before we had to return and face all those daily reminders. The food and water bowls; his doggie bed; our daily trips to the mailbox; beverage runs; car washes; Sunday dinner with the family; etc. etc. We were in shock and it felt like a dream…a bad dream, but it was a big help to be surrounded by family and headed to a location that was full of nothing but positive memories.
The hardest part by far is thinking about his last moments: Not knowing exactly what happened or how it unfolded. Was he trying to find his way home (probably), or just exploring around a new neighborhood? We wonder if he was scared or felt any fear. I don’t mean to be mellow dramatic, but he really was more than just a dog to us. He was there for us every single time we needed him and we weren’t there for him when he needed us most. That thought just breaks my heart. I hope he was just exploring. I hope he was unaware of the threat until it happened and I hope he experienced no pain. We knew our years with him were limited, but I always thought we would have more control over the timing and circumstances of how he passed. Maybe it’s best it happened this way as he didn’t have to experience a deteriorating quality of life over the next two years and we weren’t forced to make tough decisions about medical expenses and/or when to make the final decision. Personally, I would rather face those decisions than watch it unfold the way it did. At least we would have been with him and showering him with love as he left us.
What we wouldn’t give to go back in time and send fate down a different path. In the end, that’s all it was: fate. And that’s one of the hardest things to accept because it’s not even close to the script that we imagined playing out for our little guy. With hindsight, it’s easy to see all the things we could have done differently, but the fact is that we didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody did. What happened could have happened on any given night at any given house. Our house; our parents’ house; any house where we might have left Rukkus with while we were out of town.
12 ½ years with the world’s greatest dog. He was just the sweetest fur ball you could ever imagine. He was our constant companion …always. As hard as it is to lose him, the benefit of having him for 12+ years so heavily outweighs the sadness of his loss that it almost takes the sadness away. Our house feels so empty now…like something very tangible is missing – a member of the family, but I still wouldn’t trade in the grief if it meant trading in all the time, love and memories we shared with our sweet little dog.
In a way, it seems strange to feel thankful for those who were the bearers of bad news, but we are SO thankful that we are not still searching for him and that prayers were answered to find him when we did. Even though he wasn’t found how we would have hoped, we are so thankful to have the closure and chance to say goodbye.
We feel so thankful to have had him for all those years. He was a gift to our family with us through all of our big moments.
As sad as it is to say goodbye to our little guy, when I look at the very last picture I took of him with us, I have happy memories. That Sunday night we went for a big walk as a family…his favorite thing. Right before we left for our walk, I let him lick the heck out of an empty Stoffer’s Lasagna pan…also his favorite. We sure did love him, and he loved us right back. This picture is so special to me now, because we were all together. We brought along our stroller in case Aiden needed a break from walking and riding his long board, but if I look at this picture long enough, I like to imagine Kyle’s pushing our little Afton. I love thinking that she’s with Rukkus now.
I’m not going to lie, losing our constant companion has been so hard for all of us, especially me. He was with me through the hardest times. When words just can’t make things better, a little dog by your side can help. He was the little old dog who looked like a forever puppy. He was so good with people and would just hang out on the front porch and welcome us home with his always wagging tail. Everyone who knew him loved him. Our home feels so different without him. So thankful to know he’s in a better place…all dogs go to heaven. We love you forever little buddy.