Farewell to Rufus: A Gentle Giant and Heart of Our Home


By Joyce Wayne 

I’m beginning to understand the unique role pets play in the lives of children and older people. It’s not that those between retirement age and childhood don’t love their pets; it’s that we spend the most time with them for a number of good reasons. We rely on our pets for companionship, love, and an even-tempered view of life.

Recently, our gentle giant of a dog, Rufus passed away. He was going on eight years old, and although the Great Pyrenees breed isn’t expected to live past ten years, in our minds, Rufus, the happy and contented dog that he was, would live to a fine old age.

Before he became ill, Rufus weighed 160 pounds. His majestic head soared above the dining room table. But his size didn’t actually define him. It was Rufus’ quiet, kind, and gentle spirit that made him the pet that he was. He was a rescue dog. His mother was owned by an unscrupulous breeder whom the Oakville Humane Society brought into their shelter 8 years ago to give birth to her eight pups. When we first discovered this extremely tall and gangly puppy, he was 12 weeks old. Out of all the shelter animals, only Rufus was allowed to roam the halls.

My husband, my daughter and I fell in love with him immediately. Rufus enjoyed the slow pace of our home and the overriding fact that he was rarely alone. Our company was what mattered to him, and ditto on our side. In the neighbourhood, he was well-regarded, and we met many of our neighbours on outings with Rufus. On walks down by Lake Ontario, most people we encountered stopped to pet him, ask what breed he was or allow their little dogs to play with him. Rufus was gentle with the tiniest puppy.

In many ways, Rufus was the defining fixture of our home. He slept at the foot of our bed, watched television with us, and spread out in whatever room we occupied. On most days when I was glued to my computer and writing, Rufus was right beside me. As much as I kept him company, he kept me company too.

Pets as Companions for Young and Older People

When he was nearby, stretched out on the floor, or guarding the door, neither my husband nor I felt alone. For older people and for children, pets not only keep us company, but they can also provide the loving and emotional support that everyone enjoys. Spending time with friends is more difficult and complicated as we age. I find myself making more elaborate preparations than when I was younger, and whether we like it or not, our friends and family are whittled down by age or illness.

On a windy Saturday night in March 2023, our front door blew open while we were away. When we returned hours later from a night out in Toronto, we noticed the wide-open door as we drove into the driveway. Our first fear was that Rufus had run away. Next, we assumed that the house had been broken into. But neither had occurred. As we mounted the steps to our home, there was Rufus, a huge smile on his face, happy to see us returning to him. He’d been guarding the entrance for hours. I don’t believe he would have considered leaving us.

From time to time, we discussed moving to a smaller house or a condo, something on one floor, since our home includes three flights of stairs. Yet, as long as Rufus was with us, we never considered it seriously. This was his home, as well as ours, and where we decided to stay. Even today, we’ve agreed to stay in this home.

Yesterday, my husband made his once-a-year visit to the cardiologist. When he told the doctor that he experienced mild chest pains for a few days after Rufus’ demise, the doctor explained that he was experiencing Cardiomyopathy, which can be a serious symptom that requires urgent medical attention. All symptoms that affect the heart muscle are called Cardiomyopathy. In everyday language, it means a “broken heart.” The connection with our pets can precipitate chest pains because we love our pets as we love our family. They help keep us fit by walking with them daily and, most importantly, by filling our hearts with joy and compassion. Simply having Rufus in the room always brought a smile to my face.

 I’ll never forget our Rufus and will always honour his secure place in our beating hearts.

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