He died too soon

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. 

12 thoughts on “He died too soon”

  1. Oh Lis… I remember that yelp! We had a little dog who died so suddenly during my childhood. It’s not ‘just a dog’, who has gone now, but part of the fabric of family has been torn. Take care.

  2. Oh Elisabeth, that’s so sad. Losing a much-loved pet like Ralph is a big blow.
    It sounds like he had a very happy life, even if it was shorter than expected, and thank goodness your family was with him when he needed help, and with him at the end.
    Sending you hugs xx

    1. Ralph’s life was happy enough I think, Fiona, though looking back, especially to when he first came into our lives, I wish we had been better able to care for him. But we improved over time and Ralph was much loved. Thanks, Fiona. It’s lovely to hear from you again.

  3. When I first moved to Glasgow—technically it was back to Glasgow since I was born there—my dad used to call me every week on a Thursday night. Most of the calls I can’t remember but the one that does stick in my mind is the one where I heard my mother telling him in the background (and, obviously, far too loudly), “Don’t tell our Jimmy.” “Don’t tell ‘our Jimmy’ what?” I needed to know. Tigger had died and Mum had wanted to wait until I came home to tell me face to face knowing I’d be upset which I was but by this time we’d lost maybe seven other cats and so I wasn’t devastated. My sister cried her eyes out when she heard the news. Of all Mum’s cats it is fair to say Tigger was my favourite. A more cowardly cat you’ve never met. In his entire life he travelled no further than next doors’ gardens and only then to do his business. Tom, on the other hand was fearless. He was my second favourite. He used to disappear for days and come back often the worse for wear. One day I decided to follow him to see where he went but he shook me off when we got to a pond; Tom went straight through the middle of it and, of course, by the time I walked round to the other side he was nowhere to be seen. When the bin men arrived Tigger would make a beeline for the tool shed and you’d find him in there cowering in the corner. When we arrived at our new house the first living thing I saw was a cat and that immediately made me feel at home. He (or she—never got close enough to see) lives next door and has a habit of sitting on the fence between the gardens which pleases me no end.

    I’ve never been a dog person. A number of my friends had them and I would always pet them but I never longed for a dog. Of course had an injured mutt fallen in our lap in 2015 I would’ve taken care of it just like we did the bird; I’m my mother’s son after all. I think where I struggle with dogs is their relentless neediness. Cats and birds have needs but they’re easily satisfied. Mostly, food and water aside, all our bird looks for from us is that we don’t disappear from view for too long; he likes to know where his flock is. He doesn’t even look for scritches these days; the edges of mirrors or feeders do.

    I am sorry your dog’s died though. They do worm their way into our affections these little balls of fur and fluff, don’t they?

  4. We still have the dog’s ashes in our living room, waiting for the time when we can all come together to memorialise him, Jim. It’s still sad and we still miss him. Thanks, Jim.

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