Monday, July 28, 2008

A tribute to Louis L'Amour in The Desert Sun

July 28, 2008

All dogs go to heaven

Maggie Downs
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

All Photos : Richard Lui, The Desert Sun


Anonymous said...

I am so very sorry to read in the Desert Sun today about your beloved family member passing but what a great and long life 21 years old, gives me hope my best friend Summer Leigh is German short haired pointer she is 14 and I pray she will live to be 21. As my four children always tell me mom you talk to summer more than you do us...can you blame me... Last Saturday we went in to Los Angeles for the day as our daughter in law was having a baby shower and of course summer was the star attraction at the shower what a lady she is...Sorry for your loss.

Sharon Nielsen

The Coral Sands Experience: said...

The article was so touching, so wonderful and such a fitting tribute. Both he and you are much loved…
Harriet Baron

Anonymous said...

I never had the pleasure of meeting your little "furbaby" but I was so touched when I read my Desert Sun this morning that I had to write you. What a lovely story and how luck Louie was the day you walked into his life (I'm sure you feel the same way about your adventure with him). He certainly was a "animal angel" and he will always be with you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ruby - how strange! Well, predictably, I just wanted to add to your many condolences...Louis was a grand little dog fortunate to have decades of loving care by a special mistress.
I know how you feel. My extraordinary cat, Black Orchid, died several years ago and I still acutely miss him. When I hear a meow....
Well, the little tyke, Louis, was lucky to live a long life and to depart quickly. Though I know that's not much of a consolation to you.
So from Gordon and me.
Hope this gets through!
Jorie and Gordan Parr

The Coral Sands Experience: said...

Outstanding! We will look for it. FYI. I funded a small pet memorial for Louie through the WSU School of Vet Med. As an alum and one who has taken pets to be treated at the school, I know that important research is being done to help animals, just like Louie, live strong and happy lives (just like he did). You should be getting a letter from the school acknowledging the gift. Just one more way to show the impact Louie had on all of us. Love you. pat

Pat Patterson

Anonymous said...

Dearest Ruby,

As dog lovers and friends of yours we were both very saddened to hear about Lous L'Amour's untimely demise. We didn't know him, but we are sure we would have loved him had we met him.

My first instinct when I saw the paper article about you this morning was to call you, but I'm quite certain you've been inundated for the past week and that this morning's news started that ball rolling again. I put off calling you all last week about attempting to arrange a date to have you and Greg come for a drink at the house before going to dinner - and now I know why the timing wasn't right.

Would this coming Friday or Saturday work for you? We would both love to see you and I know Greg would, too. I will inquire about his availability.

Don sends his love.


Terry Arnett and Don Foster

Jodi B said...

Louis Lamour was an integral part of our Coral Springs experience. My sympathies go out to you, Ruby.

reginaaplmdesert said...

Dear Ruby,
No, words can fill that empty place and hole in Your Heart ! From one dog/animal lover to another, my heart breaks for you losing Lous L'Amour. The True Love of an animal is so Wonderful and Precious! Just know, your were the coolest Mommie, with tons of love and kisses...I am so proud you rescued Dusty Springfield ! God, put you in that place at the exact time.To, share your Love with her and Lous. Sending my prayers and condolences to you from Regina and Danny Mcgrath.

Anonymous said...

Just read about Lil' Louis in the Desert Sun. My husband & I live in Corona but have family in PS & DHS & read that paper often

We have two little Pekes - Star & Toby & they are our kids. 7 years ago we lost 3 dogs in a 9 month period due to cancer & old age. It was the worse time. The we found Star & Toby at an animal rescue.

Just want to say how sorry we are for the your loss of your pupper. I was so depressed for a few months & I dread going thru it again but the fun, love & good times they give me will be worth it. The pain does dull but you will never forget him.

Hang in there. Enjoyed reading your's & the puppers stories.

Irene Johnon
Corona, Ca

Anonymous said...





James H. Kabler III

g said...

Dear Ruby,

I have fond memories of Louis tottering around the patio during our stay at the Coral Sands in summer of 2005. I was visiting your site and blog because I'm writing a post about the Coral Sands on my blog, and that was how I learned of Louis' passing. How sad.

Please accept my condolences and best wishes.

My blog post about the Coral Sands is part of Pink Saturday
and I hope to publish it August 9th.

Best wishes,