Oh, this dog.

The funny thing is that *I* wasn’t the one who wanted a dog. I acquiesced because I thought we (me and The Ex) could adopt a puppy that was on the smaller/medium size whom we could train (ha!) to live well with the cat I’d had for nearly 10 years, named Elle. After doing some searches on Pet Finder, we drove to Seneca, Illinois, to see what was listed as a Chocolate Lab/Golden Retriever mix named James–Bartles, we were told, had already been adopted. A Chocolate Lab is not the right dog for me, especially a puppy, as he was a bundle of quivering canine energy who jumped (a lot) and would need training (also, a lot). After several more rounds of puppies, all of whom were excitable and several which peed on me, the director of the shelter said, “I think I have a dog you should meet.”

She came back in the room with a fairly large dog, clearly a Shepherd mix. He came into the room, looked at us, and walked over to me and sat down on my right side, leaned into my leg, and looked up at me with large brown eyes.

Done. I was toast, and the director knew it–she said, “they always know.”

After walking Ralph through the cat room at the shelter to see how he would respond to cats–which he passed with flying colors–we paid the fee and loaded Ralph into the back seat of what was then a new Honda Accord. This was early August–I believe August 4th or 5th–2003. On the drive home, Ralph threw up three times. Clearly, not a car dog!

After a few rocky starts (marking in the house, eating the cat’s food, etc.) Ralph soon calmed down and became accustomed to the pace. While the request to get a dog was not mine, it was very quickly apparent that Ralph was my dog. And despite my irritation at the in-home marking, I quickly fell in love with this dog.

And who wouldn’t? Ralph is, and has always been, gentle and sweet. All he’s ever wanted to do was please.

Now, as it’s becoming obvious he won’t be with me for much longer, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on the seven short years we’ve shared.

He used to bark and chase after UPS trucks. Not Fed-Ex, not USPS, just UPS. Once, in the middle of winter in Chicago, I started out with him for a walk. He heard the truck going by, I lost my footing, and all I could do was hold on to the leash–Ralph had picked up enough speed that he dragged me OVER a snow-covered bush, launching me as if off a ramp, and pulled me halfway across the lawn before stopping.

He was, for a while, a stress-chewer. He chewed up several blankets and dog beds, stopping only when I got home. Some were not recognizable as dog beds by the end of the day–thank goodness Costco was selling them pretty cheaply.

He did not like to be left alone. Left in the backyard, he would attempt to tunnel out–and boy, could those paws move dirt. Once, when secluded in the mud room while I painted in the basement, he had what could only be described as a temper tantrum. He chewed up an entire box (including the box) of Scooby snacks, tore up the lid to a wastebasket, and peed on the drier–all because he could hear I was in the basement and he couldn’t get to me.

Ralph was an enormous source of comfort for me, and was my best buddy and companion for a while. The Ex-H traveled every week, and I had Ralph to keep me company. When the ex ultimately walked out, deciding he didn’t want to be married anymore, Ralph helped me keep it together. I don’t know what I would have done without Ralph–I’d just moved to New Hampshire (I’d been here around 3 weeks), I had no friends in the area, and my family was on the other side of the country in Arizona. I had a brand-new job that it was now imperative that I keep. Scary times, but right there, was Ralph.

Ralph settled right in when we moved in with AP (then boyfriend, now husband). He immediately understood the household order, and slept on the floor, right next to AP’s side of the bed. AP works primarily from home, and I will be forever grateful as I think the multiple daily walks and companionship have lengthened Ralph’s life considerably.

Ralph is fading fast. It’s breaking my heart, but I realize that this time had to come at some point. Such a sweet dog. One in a million. I’ll be forever glad he chose me.

Ralph, I’m lucky to have known you. You’ve made me a better, more patient, and more understanding person.

I love you.

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07 2010

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