I've many passions but two of them are reading & camping, so naturally my camper's name is Parnassus for Christopher Morely's "Parnassus on Wheels".
By: PeaceRiverBP , 5:15 PM GMT on March 30, 2006
In continuation of yesterday's Dog Blog:
Ralph was two years old when he was removed from his first home and placed on "Doggy Deathrow". His original owners were drug dealers who wanted a big guard dog, and not knowing anything about dogs and Saint Bernards in particular- they bought Ralph, who grew to a 150 pounds. Since he wasn't naturally vicious (like most Saint Bernards, who are known for being lovey drool machines) they tortured him and kept him on a six foot long chain that attached to their porch. Ralph came to the attention of the authorities when he attacked two people (while he was still chained) and mauled them. So, Ralph was taken away to await his fate.
In the mean time, a local woman who headed "Friends of Animals" - an organization that places animals who need a home - spoke to my future husband regarding Ralph. (I hadn't come on the scene yet, so this part is as related to me by people who knew the situation.) His dog had recently passed away and she thought that maybe he might be willing to take in Ralph and give him a good home - and she was also hoping that the town would grant Ralph a reprieve if his new owner promised to reform him. After all, Ralph had come from a horrendous situation and a little kindness might turn him around. My husband agreed to take Ralph and he was given a stay of execution; as long as he behaved himself.
Poor Ralph was very scared and confused when he was brought to his new home. He ran around the house, terrified, and finally, hid in the house's only bathroom and growled at anyone who approached the doorway. By evening, he was coaxed out with some food and gradually made himself at home. He became a good pet, but his reputation preceded him and although he never hurt anyone- people tended to flee when he barked at them. He was rather a lazy dog and if he sensed a threat, he was stand up and "Woof!" but he seldom did more than that. The only problem was that he had been so traumatized by his earlier experiences and being picked up by the police and dog catcher, that he hated anyone in a uniform.
This was a problem because my husband had a long-time friend who was a policeman and one day, this friend decided to stop by for a visit while still in uniform.
He pulled into the driveway with his cruiser and saw Ralph sleeping in the sun about half-way between the cruiser and the door. He knew Ralph well and knew the door wouldn't be locked, so he figured he could sneak by Ralph without waking him up and just slip into the house, where he could yell "hello!" He quietly opened the car door and shut it with a soft 'click' and then proceded to tiptoe to the door.... but just as he got up to Ralph, Ralph picked up his head with a start! The policeman didn't hang around to see what Ralph would do, he just turned and ran for his cruiser and actually dove through the open window! Ralph ran in close pursuit with his slow loping stride and stood up at the open car window, where my husband's friend now lay across the seat, honking the horn for help. Unforetunately, my husband was inside the house with the stereo blaring and he didn't hear a thing until he happened to walk by a window and see Ralph's hind-end sticking out of the cruiser window. By the time he ran out to rescue the policeman, he found him still laying across the seat, with Ralph's paws on his chest, drooling all over him and he had his radio mike in his hand.
That friend never did say why he had stopped by and in fact, he never visited again.
I came along some years later and Ralph knew a dog lover when he saw one. I gave him lots of special treats and brushed and bathed him. He didn't care about being bathed, but he loved the brushing part- he'd sit still to be brushed for hours and his fur was so dense that I would swear I'd brushed a whole dog's-worth off each time. We'd go for walks, but he wasn't much of a walker- he seemed to examine the world with his nose and he had to stop and smell everything- and I mean EVERYTHING! Most dogs pull on the leash but with Ralph, a leash was only a formality- usually I was in front with Ralph lagging behind.
One draw back was that I had to be very cautious with Ralph
around other people because he'd become very protective of me and although he minded well when told to "be good" when family and friends came over, he didn't like other people to be too close to me. If I knew that "huggy-kissy" family and friends were going to visit, I'd shut Ralph in a room before they arrived because he would be even more upset if anyone touched me.
When my oldest daughter was born, Ralph was absolutely devoted to her and extremely gentle. One day, when she was about a year old and playing on the kitchen floor while I put clean dishes away in the cupboards, a neighbor popped over. This neighbor was a girlhood friend who now lived next door- and like everyone- she knew that we didn't lock our door during the day and she just let herself in. Besides, she worked with animals and even though she wasn't even five foot tall and probably weighed 90 pounds- she wasn't afraid of Ralph at all. She saw the baby on the floor and picked up her with a swoop. I was just turning to face her and warn her that Ralph was eating in the pantry where we kept the dog dishes, when Ralph came barrelling through the pantry's swinging door and lunged for her! I grabbed Ralph off her and shoved him into another room and shut the door. My friend was okay- there wasn't a scratch on her, but she had drool and dog food all over her wool coat. I apologized profusely and helped her clean off her jacket, but she graciously said: "That's okay- he didn't hurt me and it's my fault- I never would have picked up 'his baby' if I'd known he was in the room!" That was the only time that Ralph would actually attack someone- if you discount the time he barked at and drooled on the policeman, many years before.
Most of the time, Ralph was very laid back and even though he outweighed me by 30 pounds, I never had any trouble controling him. He simply did as he was told. But, occasionally he got his own ideas, if no one else was around. One day, my husband and I were going to take the dogs (we had two others, my Sugar and an old hound dog) to the beach and we stopped at a convenience store on the way to pick up a few things for lunch. When we came out of the store, Ralph wasn't in the car! As I gazed around, I saw him. He was sitting in a Volkswagon convertible, a few cars down- with a very pleased, self-satisfied expression on his face. A man who was standing close by must have noticed the look of horror on my face because he called out: "Excuse me! Is this your dog? He won't get out and he won't let me in!"
It was kind of a shame that people were afraid of Ralph, because as long as you respected his cardinal rule:
"don't touch my family" he was really a nice dog. When at play, we sometimes had to fish around his mouth for tennis balls and other toys and he made no protest. And believe me, you really did have to fish around - his mouth was so big, I almost felt like a lion tamer getting ready to put my head in a lion's mouth. When my toddler tried to feed him a piece of salad crouton from her high chair once, I gasped and held my breath, knowing that Ralph had inch and a half canines and fearing that he might accidently nip her, but, Ralph just calmly lapped it out from between her little fingers. Just the same, I told her; "Honey- only Mommy & Daddy feed the doggies!" No need to tempt fate!
By this time, Ralph was very old and well past the 8 or 9 year life expectancy of most Saint Bernards. He was getting pretty lame by the age of 12 and slowly losing weight. In February of 1984, he was fading fast and I knew the end was near. I tried to spoil him more than usual with treats and brushings, but on February 8th, he didn't even want food any more. While my now two year old daughter napped, I sat on the floor with Ralph's head in my lap (I was eight months pregnant, so I should say- on whatever lap I had leftover!) and I brushed him over and over. If I paused for more than a moment he would pat my hand with his huge paw to spur me to keep going.
He passed away that night and we buried him in a little grove of pines behind the house. That Fall I planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs out there- for the dog who loved to sleep amongst the daffodils.
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