July 28, 2008
All dogs go to heaven
The Desert Sun
When Ruby Montana first met the dog, his name was Fritz. He was a wisp of a thing, not even three pounds.
It was Christmas Eve. The sign on his cage simply read, “Heartbroken and homeless.”
The pup had been living with an Alzheimer's patient who fed him nothing but Pepperidge Farm Milanos and beer. After his owner was admitted to a nursing home, the family wanted to put the dog to sleep. Instead, he ended up in a pet grooming shop, waiting for the right home.
Ruby Montana saw the Chihuahua and fell in love.
“Well, come on. I had to take him home,” she says. “There was no way I could walk away from him. Even though I thought my two cocker spaniels would kill him.”
She christened him Louis L'Amour.
This is what Ruby Montana does. She is a collector of many things — people with stories to tell, broken animals, vintage salt and pepper shakers.
Until eight years ago, Ruby owned an eclectic shop in Seattle, Ruby Montana's Pinto Pony, a 2,500-foot space chock-full of retro kitsch, like pig-faced cookie jars, old postcards and Aunt Jemima pitchers.
There, Louis L'Amour helped run the Pinto Pony. As Ruby tells it, he was “the hardest working dog in retail.”
Ruby Montana holds a photo of Louis L'Amour, her 21-year-old Chihuahua who died last week. People in the community and around the world have responded with flowers and messages of condolence. (Richard Lui, The Desert Sun)
Ruby herself is something of a throwback. She is all red lipstick and bombshell blonde hair, propelled by the high-octane coffee she calls “jet fuel.”
She's the only person in the world who would have created the famous Seattle Spam-carving contests, judged by author Tom Robbins. (He wrote a story about Ruby that appears in his 2005 work, “Wild Ducks Flying Backward.”) The Spam-themed festivities “came in a dream,” she says.
Eight years ago, Ruby packed up truckloads of her stuff, drove to Palm Springs and began a new phase of life as the owner of Ruby Montana's Coral Sands Inn.
The place is sweet and quirky with seven theme rooms, like “The Howdy Doody Goes to Bali Suite,” “Yippy Ky Yo Ky Yay Rodeo Suite” and “The Yiddish Cowgirl Suite,” each decorated with vintage artwork, Formica tables and the kind of glassware you would find at grandma's house.
“It attracts a certain kind of person,” she says.
Ruby runs the inn herself. While she doesn't particularly like scrubbing toilets or changing the bed sheets, she's in the resort business for other reasons — for the family it creates.
“You don't make money at these endeavors, but what you do make are friends,” she says.
Louis L'Amour, too, settled into his new position and gathered new fans from all over the globe.
The guests never arrived without gifts for Louis, who ended up with more sweaters than an L.L. Bean catalog.
“He fell into a new kind of retirement lifestyle,” Ruby says. “More glam than retail.”
There are other dogs that help run the joint, too.
Ruby Montana has a shrine set up for Louis at her Palm Springs home. (Richard Lui, The Desert Sun)
A couple years ago Ruby had Louis L'Amour firmly tucked away in her purse at Trader Joe's. At the checkout, the pooch popped his head out, prompting another woman in line to exclaim, “I know his soulmate and she's in jeopardy!”
That's how Ruby ended up with Lola, a sassy grey dog who fell head over heels in love with Louis L'Amour.
Then, just last year, Ruby was driving on a back road in Emporia, Kan., when the driver of the car in front of her tossed a dog out the window. Ruby pulled over, chased the dog down and gave her a new home and new name — Dusty Springfield.
Last Sunday, just after the storms, 21-year-old Louis L'Amour slipped and drowned in the resort pool. He was carried to Ruby in a towel.
“I heard the knock on the door and just knew. It was the hardest door I'd ever opened,” she says.
Ruby Montana has no problem collecting things. It's letting go that is the problem.
She didn't make an announcement about Louis L'Amour's death, but word spread anyway. Within a day, she had received hundreds of phone calls, dozens of messages on her blog and kind words from all over the world.
“The best part of life is that each person is so unique in what they bring to the table,” she says. “That's what L'Amour had. You truly felt his soul. Everybody did.”
Ruby's neon green cell phone rings. It's a woman in Wisconsin. There are choked-back tears on the other end as a woman says, “My heart is broken for you.”
“It's hard to imagine life without him now, he's been stalking my ankles for so long,” Ruby says, sorrowfully.
Maggie Downs is a features reporter for The Desert Sun.
She can be reached at 778-6435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Photos : Richard Lui, The Desert Sun