Ralph was a birthday present for my husband in May of 2000. Ralphie was a six month old Basenji when he came into our lives. He had lived in a small travel kennel for his first six months and…let’s just say he had some emotional problems because of that confinement. Basenjis are an ancient breed of dog that can be found etched on pyramid walls. Extremely intelligent they have evolved beyond barking and will yodel when delighted by something. Ralph was red and white with ears which stuck straight up and were two sizes too big for his puppy face. He also had an adorable curly tail that wound around like a pigs. A strikingly handsome dog, Ralph was fast, athletic, and cantered like a pony. If Ralph were a person, he would have been found in a library wearing a robe and ascot while puffing on a pipe. By looking at him, one would never know the mischief that lurked behind his amber colored eyes.
Brian and I brought home this adorable little dog, and were stumped with a name for him. As the days passed, we noticed his mischievous, dare devil nature. One afternoon while cooking I looked over in time to see Ralph balancing on his back legs and swatting at a carving knife lying on the counter, the blade spun on its handle like a propeller barely missing his eyes. It was at that moment that I thought of the movie The Christmas Story. The theme of the movie warns Ralphie of the dangers of a BB gun,
“Ralphie, you’re going to put your eye out!” Therefore, our little hellion was aptly named Ralphie.
Ralphie was like a whirling dervish his first two years. He destroyed comforters, couches, pillows, curtains, — our new Berber carpet. If he wanted your sandwich and you shooed him away, he would begin ransacking the laundry room. While you rushed over to the laundry to save another shirt or sock from annihilation, Ralph would be at the table eating your sandwich!
Every time I would tell someone a Ralph story the same question would arise, “Why don’t you get rid of him?” The truth is if someone would have told me the stories I was telling, I would have had the same response. But now that he was in our lives, the thought of losing him seemed incomprehensible. I couldn’t, he was ours—for better or worse.
Ralph taught me that things can be replaced and carpet can be repaired, but things that really matter never come easy. Ralph was smart, tricky, and devilish, but late at night he would sneak into bed and curl up next to me and sigh heavily as he drifted off to sleep. As Ralph matured and grew into his ears, he became more of a couch potato. He would alternate between lying on the couch and lying outside in the sun. Ralph would still however, occasionally dig under the fence to explore, but he always came back when he was ready.
Eventually, my husband and I decided Ralph needed a companion. We settled on a rescued black lab named Arco who was the opposite of Ralph. He never ran away or chewed anything and was happy and affectionate while Ralph remained more reserved and aloof. If this new dog were a person, he would have been a high school jock partying after the Friday night football games sucking beer straight from the keg. They were as opposites as two dogs could be, but they became inseparable. On the occasion that Ralph would tunnel out Arco the Lab would cry and run along the fence line until Ralph was found.
Last year Ralph took his bimonthly escape and was hit and killed by a car. Ralph, our little dare devil, had made us love him and now our little family was devastated. My husband found a large rock which we used as a tombstone; on it he wrote, “Ralph, who always made life an adventure.” Our little dog came into our lives like a hurricane and left us just as suddenly. He redefined what I was willing to tolerate and fight for. He taught me the beauty of patience. Ralph changed the combination to my heart.
Paintings by Gwen Dumas
Originally published Pinestraw 2010