Ralph our dog died three days ago and ever since I’ve wandered around the house and spotted him underfoot in the kitchen as I grated parmesan for our pasta or found him curled up in his grey bed near the piano.
I’ve hesitated to open the front door without checking the screen door is in place, in case Ralph races out onto the street as he has done for most of his life.
I now interpret pain in every moping gesture of our other dog, a decade younger than Ralph, and therefore hopefully with many years ahead of her.
She misses him.
I wasn’t at home when Ralph let out a sudden yelp of pain. My husband who sat nearby on his chair was first on the scene and my daughter and her boyfriend both upstairs, working remotely under Covid restrictions, rushed downstairs.
My daughter drove the car and her boyfriend carried Ralph into the vet’s where they tried to resuscitate him.
For me, his death happened between phone calls. My daughter rang in tears to say Ralph had suffered an episode and the vet might need to put him down. They were doing their best, she said. Half an hour later, she rang again. ‘He’s gone,’ she sobbed into the phone.
I could not cry. Even now I cannot cry. Tears are behind my eyes but something frozen inside tells me to hold back.
Not that I’m not sad, but somehow, I cannot let myself give way to the deep torrents of emotion I saw in both my daughters, the ones who first brought Ralph into our household all those years ago. They who were hell bent on getting a dog after all the years of parental resistance.
When Kevin Rudd offered a stimulus payment to encourage spending in 2008, the older of the two, used some of her $900.00 bonus from the government – she was a student at the time, working part-time and therefore on a low enough income for the government to include her in its generosity. She bought Ralph, a cross between Cavalier and Maltese along with something else and our lives changed.
A dog is a dog, my husband said whenever we first thought to introduce comforts into Ralph’s life.
My husband grew up on a farm. They had farm dogs who slept outside in the shed. Working dogs who were given names but came and went were not treated as part of the family, not in the way we treat our domestic dogs today.
At first, my husband insisted Ralph be an outdoor dog, and Ralph sat outside the kitchen window desperate to join us. In no time, we relented and kept him confined while still a puppy in a corner section of the kitchen. We were told this is containing for puppies.
Over the years Ralph took over the house. So by the time the other dog came along, no part of the back of the house was dog-free.
Once upon a time, I would have been appalled at the idea of a dog sleeping on my bed, but these days who cares?
Who cares if the dog sleeps all night on your finest doona? Who cares as long as your dog is not wet?
I like to measure the process whereby my hard-hearted attitudes towards pets have softened over the years.
How the dogs got me out walking again. How the dogs taught me a new language – the language of a dog lover. The language of those we meet in the park who study the attributes of their canines with much dedication, not unlike the mothers of small children.
Maybe it was not possible for me when my children were small and my life so full of the demands of family life to take on anything extra, or so I reasoned then.
Cats and rabbits, even green tree frogs were okay. They asked for little by way of attention, but dogs, like children, need a level of affection my once overwhelmed mind could not take on.
I still hold back tears at losing Ralph. I did not want him to die. I hoped he would stay around for many years to come, until he was old and infirm and in need of constant care such it would be a kindness to let him go. I never expected him to go so suddenly.
Was he surprised when his ending came? The yelp he let out alerted my family to the fact something was wrong. It’s not something they ever want to hear again. A pain too great for any creature to endure.
Ralph’s past it now. And only his spirit remains in memory, along with his ashes which we will collect next week before deciding where to scatter them, so that, in our minds at least, Ralph can roam freely forevermore.