I am very, very sad today. Our sweet family dog, Ralphe, was put to sleep. He had been suffering for a while, and we knew that they end was coming for him. Still, it is a pretty big loss for our family, particularly my Mom. That dog loved her most. He followed her around and didn’t like being separated from her for any length of time. After all, if she were nearby, there was always a better chance that he would get taken on a Jeep ride.
Ralphe came into our family in the summer of 1999. I was in Washington D.C. for an internship when Mom called to tell me that Dad brought home a golden retriever puppy. She was seeking help with determining a name for her puppy. I told her we should name him Ralph, but only if it was pronounced in the British way. Mom liked the idea and named him Ralphe, adding the “e” to designate the difference in the pronunciations. When I returned home to Pensacola later that summer and met Ralphe for the first time, I knew it was love at first sight. That dog was special.
We had a few beloved family dogs before Ralphe. All had excellent temperaments and were delightful companions. However, Ralphe was the dog that taught me that a happy, well-adjusted dog had all of the essentials already figured out. He knew how to ensure that he maximized his treats and his time spent in air-conditioned places. But above all, he knew how to give love. That dog was my comfort in some of the hardest times in my life. When faced with heartbreak, failure, or something just not working out as I had planned, I knew that I could come home and that Ralphe would sit beside me as I cried and worked things out. All he asked for in return was for me to stroke his head softly. And I did. It was the best therapy anyone could have possibly asked for. In happier times, we would play games and learn tricks in the backyard. I taught him how to catch my rebounds when I would shoot hoops in the backyard. He taught me the simple joy of a good squeeky toy. In the backyard swimming pool, he loved to “water-ski” – in other words, be pulled around the shallow end by his front paws. Ralphe was a true Street in that dog loved to be wet. In the summertime, anytime that he was outside, he would be in the pool. Mom introduced him to the water when he was still a puppy and he loved it throughout his years. Even after my parents moved back to Mississippi, he would still come to the back door wet and muddy from swimming in the pond.
When I decided that I was ready to try a dog of my own, I knew that I wanted Ralphe to be around. We were lucky enough to get Knightley in Mississippi and for the first two weeks Knightley was with us, he was with Ralphe. Knightley was scared and uncertain in a new place, but being around Ralphe sure seemed to calm him down. Ralphe showed him the ropes of what it means to be a good family dog. Ralphe didn’t mind when Knightley was a rambunctious little puppy that just wanted to play; he was patient and tolerant. Furthermore, he showed Knightley that the way to get the good stuff (the treats, the pats on the head, and the belly rubs) is to be a good friend. He also showed Knightley how to rip apart a stuffed animal when no one was looking. I think Knightley appreciates learning the sneakiness from Ralphe too. Every time we went back to Mississippi after that initiation from Ralphe, Knightley wagged his tail in excitement to see his best buddy.
Because of that role that Ralphe played in Knightley’s development, whenever I look at Knightley, I will also see Ralphe. And I will always miss him, too.