Farewell My Dear Friend

Farewell my dear friend, until we meet again.

It has been 5 months now since you have been gone and my heart still aches and probably always will. I have avoided writing this because it was just too hard to put the emotions into words but I wanted to write a final tribute on what would have been your 17th Birthday.

Ralphie you stole my heart from the moment I laid eyes on you. I originally thought we would get a Basset Hound but thought the drool and smell might bother me. So I looked into dachshunds as another option. I found an ad in the paper for dachshunds and decided to go take a look. This was the first dachshund we ever looked at and it would be our last. We were immediately drawn to the piebald black and white energetic doxie that was running around the room. My husband, Greg and him quickly bonded and played. I thought he was just adorable, and kind of looked like a baby Basset because of his coloring. We stayed there for awhile playing and getting to know him. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t intend to buy a dog that day but I knew if I left there without him I may never see him again. And I could not let that happen. I am one to really analyze the situation and take a long time before making a decision but not this time. We had nothing and knew nothing.  We bought a crate, food and leash and before we knew it he was sitting on my lap in the car. I just kept saying to Greg I can’t believe we have a dog! I never had a dog growing up so this was a huge deal for me! I had a few pet ducks and bunnies growing up but nothing to cuddle with.

We got home and called him Randy for a day but it just didn’t seem right. I am a huge fan of the movie The Christmas Story and had the idea in my head for some time that I would get a Bassett Hound and name him Ralphie. That’s why I tried calling him Randy at first. Randy is Ralphie’s brother in the movie. But then we realized Ralphie is the name that fit him best. It took awhile for all of us to get to know each other and be comfortable. He used to take big mouthfuls of food from the bowl and run across the room and drop it on the floor and eat. He had to do this when he was living with lots of other puppies so he could get food to eat. He soon stopped doing this after he realized no one else was going to take his food. I was glad he was getting comfortable.

He was our first boy and only child for 6 years until we had our first son. We spoiled him silly. He loved walks but not too long ones. Those little legs can only go so far. One time we took him to Lake Accotink in VA and decided to walk around the lake. Little did we know that the loop was several miles long. Ralphie was on a leash and we looked back at him after we’d been walking awhile and he just stood there holding up one of this paws. We had to carry him the rest of the way! Luckily he wasn’t heavy but we looked kind of silly carrying our dog around. He wasn’t about getting in the most steps but checking out the most smells and marking the most places he could. It wasn’t really good exercise to walk with him because he would stop and smell everything! It’s a good life lesson, stop, smell and slow down! Take in your surroundings! One of my favorite sights was seeing my husband walk him. It was the juxtaposition of this big tough guy walking this tiny cute dog that made my heart smile every time!

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He had a fast little trot and always had his tail up like an antennae on a remote control car. He loved car rides and sticking his head out and sniffing the air vigorously. He looked like a sting ray with his head out the window and his big black ears flowing out to the side.

You could always find him in the kitchen when food was being prepped. That nose could smell anything! He would jump on his hind legs and land his front legs right behind your knee so your legs would buckle as you’re chopping food! He loved any scraps, and some of his favorites were carrots, cucumbers, cheese, chicken, soup, tuna and salmon. It kills me now to throw away the brown bottom of salmon or food scraps that I used to give to Ralphie. We tried not to give him too much human food so he wasn’t a beggar but my Grandma and Mom had other ideas. My Grandma would always feed him while we were eating. You always knew where to find Ralphie. He would be right at Grandma’s feet under the table. After she passed my Mom slowly took over those shoes. Soon enough Ralphie would be begging from my Mom. His begging position was sitting straight up on his butt with front legs up in the air. He was quite an amazing balancer!

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Aside from his immediate family my Mom was his favorite person. And not just because she gave him good food. They had a special bond. As I mentioned earlier, we didn’t have a dog growing up so this was my Mom’s first dog too, her first granddog. And boy did he get spoiled! I still don’t know how he knew when he was in the car in his crate and couldn’t see out where we were going. He would cry and whimper in an excited way as soon as we turned on to her street. Amazing!

If Ralphie wasn’t in the kitchen begging for food, then you knew he had to be in a sunny spot or right by the fire. He was a sunbather. He would be spread out his body long and just bask in the rays. I often laid down next to him. The guy loved to be warm.

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He would shiver when it got below 75. I’m right there with him, I like to be warm and don’t like cold weather. Living in Cleveland wasn’t great for him because it’s cold 6 months of the year and we get a decent amount of snow. He would easily get covered up in the snow and we’d have to shovel the back patio so he could go out and do his thing. If there was no sun or fire going or someone’s lap to be on, then he had to be burrowed in his bed. We got him a dog bed soon after we brought him home only to find out he made a hole in it and took out the stuffing. We soon realized he was trying to burrow in the bed and figured we should get him a sleeping bag so he could burrow in there. That worked better but he still made a hole in that too. So my Mom made him a custom burrowable dog bed that he had his whole life. It was worn out from so much use but that was his place. We did get another dachshund bed that was animal print for the lower level because he had to burrow on whatever floor he was on. Even if it was in the middle of summer and hot you could still find him inside of a bed. He would stick just his nose out sometimes.

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We had two staircases in our house and although he did run up and down the stairs it wasn’t good for him and eventually he had to get surgery on his back to repair his discs. He was 9 years old when he had this surgery. Thank God we did this surgery as he had so much life left in him. The surgery went well and the recovery was long and hard relearning to walk but soon enough he was back to normal. We tried to limit his jumping off couches and going down stairs as much as we could. We had several episodes when something seemed to flare up and he couldn’t walk well so we rested him and really limited his mobility, gave him Prednisone which that really seemed to help.

Ralphie spent many volunteer hours at nursing homes visiting people and spreading joy. You couldn’t help but smile when you saw him. He was so active and just wanted to check things out that he never let people pet him too long but they were so happy to see him!

Ralphie was the oldest of 3 human brothers. Little did I know at the time he started the boy train! When the first baby came home he couldn’t contain his excitement. He wanted to sniff him, lick him and check him out. We weren’t sure exactly what he would do so we tried to keep him at a safe distance. Soon we realized that he just needed to smell him and then he settled down. He wanted to be a part of everything and I remember holding and nursing the baby in one arm and Ralphie would be on the other side. He was his little sidekick. Then the second baby boy arrived and this time Ralphie knew what to expect a little better and couldn’t believe we brought another crazy boy into the house and family.  As both boys got more mobile, albeit wobbly, Ralphie got accustomed to moving out of the way quickly so no one would fall on him. As the boys got older they loved to sit with him and pet him. When Ralphie was 14 we brought yet another baby boy into our family. This time around he was like “really, another one of these crazy people”? But quickly he loved that little boy just as the boy loved him. Ralphie mainly stayed out of his way now that he was older but they did enjoy sitting and laying together many times. Now that the older boys were in school it was quieter with just one boy and dog at home.

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One of his and mine favorite things to do was cuddle. He especially loved this in the winter. I would sit on the couch with my legs straight out in front of me and he would lay in between my closed legs. His long hot dog body barely fit the length of my upper thigh but that was his spot. I would usually cover him up with a blanket, sometimes even his head because he was shivering. Although he didn’t sleep with us in our bed, I did like to cuddle him before I fell asleep or if I was sick in bed. He would lay right next to me and rest his head in the crook of my neck. I just loved his soft chin on my neck. This was one of my most cherished times with him. I ache for those quiet, tender, everyday moments.

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Ralphie’s world began to get much quieter as he began to lose his hearing. No longer would he bark when the doorbell rang. As time went on he did not hear anything but a high pitched whistle. His world got dark about the time he turned 16. His eyes had been getting cloudy and he began bumping into things. My husband joked that he was like a Roomba, just walking around bumping into things. I had wet nose marks on my refrigerator, dishwasher, windows and anywhere he would be walking. We took him to the doctor to see if there was anything to be done to help but there wasn’t. He was slowing down but still enjoyed eating, laying in the sun and cuddling.

He could go outside to go to the bathroom so as long as he could live that kind of life I thought he had some joy even though his world was dark and quiet. Ralphie had suffered 2 episodes of vertigo that nearly killed him in 2014 and 2015. The poor thing was spinning so bad that his eyes were going around in circles. He was throwing up and having accidents all over. The first time he recovered in a few days but the second time he had it he was down and out. He couldn’t walk he just laid there. He must have felt so miserable I just can’t imagine. He wouldn’t eat or drink so he didn’t go to the bathroom either. I took him to the vet to get fluid because I knew he was dehydrated. I knew he needed to drink so I started giving him water by syringe which he did drink. I then would smash soft canned dog food into his mouth and he ate a little. Slowly I was nursing him back to health but we didn’t know if he could come back after this. We really thought he wouldn’t make it. Especially since he didn’t stand up he couldn’t go to the bathroom. He was in a bad place for what seemed like forever but in reality it was only a few weeks. Slowly he found strength and used his wobbly legs. It took some time but he was walking around and getting back to normal. I was relieved! The doctor said the more times they have this the worse it is for them and also the older he was the harder it was to come back. He said most people would have put him down during his vertigo episode because he was so bad. I knew if he got it a third time that would probably be the end. On Sunday April 9th he started to bump into things more than normal and get stuck in places he never did. At first I didn’t think much of it but then as night rolled in I knew something was wrong. He was very anxious and would not settle down. He started whimpering and then crying. His cries soon became yelps and he did this all night. I realized he had vertigo and was he absolutely inconsolable. They say you will know when it is time for them to go and I knew this was it so my husband and I held him all night. We wanted to make him as comfortable as we could. I took him in bed with me and he amazingly did settle down for an hour. He knew I needed one last cuddle. I look back and can’t believe he settled down enough to lay with me because we tried everything to calm him down but nothing was working.

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I never dreaded the sunrise as I did on this day because I knew what I had to do. The boys said their tearful goodbyes before they had to go to school. Link was only 2 so he didn’t go to school. My oldest son was upset and said we should’ve never gotten a dog because it’s too hard to lose them. I said I know it’s so hard but it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all and he agreed. I had Link say goodbye to Ralphie and he gave him a hug and kiss. I told him he was going to the doctors hospital and that he would not be back and he said that we won’t have a dog anymore. It seemed like he got the concept which was surprising.

The drive to the vet was the longest and worst drive ever. Everything seemed foggy. I couldn’t believe this was happening. The moment I knew was inevitable but was dreaded from the time we brought home was happening now. We walked into the vet and I couldn’t even talk to the office staff when we got there. There was another dachshund in the waiting room when we came in which I have never seen there before. A sign that life does go on. We met with the doctor and agreed on the plan. My husband, Mom and I all stayed in the room with him. Although I didn’t want to witness this I didn’t want to leave him alone. I didn’t watch much I just laid my hands on him so he would know we were there. Then I had to give him the final goodbye which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was sobbing hysterically giving him final kisses and hugs. I just kept smelling him and wished I could bottle his smell. I couldn’t stand that I would never smell his paws, belly and overall scent anymore. I didn’t want to leave that room. It seemed like the goodbye lasted forever because I knew when I left that room and closed the door I would never see his body again. I finally brought myself to leave the room and the rest of the day was a fog. It killed me to see the boys come home from school and look at me with their eyes that sadly questioned if he was really gone but also hopeful that somehow he wasn’t. When they realized he was really gone we hugged and cried.

The next day Link and I were laying in the office in the sun where Ralphie always used to lay. He asked where’s Ralphie? I said he’s gone and he again asked where he was. I said he was in heaven. And he said with Grandpa? My grandpa passed away recently so we have talked about this and that Grandpa is in heaven. My Grandpa loved Ralphie so much and even took care of him one time when we were out of town. It made me happy to think they were together again. Here are a few things Link said about him: “He’s not blind anymore, he can see, he sees us! “ and “We don’t have a dog anymore” Another time we were talking about Ralphie and he said “he’s blind” and I said “he’s not blind anymore.” Then I asked him “what does Ralphie see” and he said “Grandpa.” It comforted my broken heart to think they had each other up in heaven. Even though I thought Link understood that Ralphie was gone, he would ask about him from time to time and ask when he was coming home. I had to tell him the difficult news that he wasn’t coming home. Often I say I miss Ralph and he adds I miss him too. And then adds I love him.

The days following were difficult and quiet. No longer did I hear the clicking of his nails on my wood floor. No longer did I hear the whimper of his cry. I swear a few times that first week I did hear clicking and whimpers. I was used to taking him out so often and racing home to take him out and it was strange when I suddenly didn’t need to do any of that now. I have the clothes I wore with him that last night. I refuse to wash them because I want to keep the smell and hair on them. I still have his dog beds to keep the smell and hair. I have them stored in the basement and I have not looked at them since that day. I’m not really sure what I will do with them but I can’t part with them.

He brought so much love and joy to our lives. It’s so hard to say goodbye to someone that’s been part of your family for 16 years. I think of this quote often “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Farewell for now my dear friend, until we meet again.

 

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