Bringing Home Ralphie: How We Found Our Dog

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As we pulled into the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha (HAWS) last Sunday, I hid my nervousness from Michelle.

As if I could be nonchalant about bringing a 108-pound, former stray behemoth into our home after only a brief meeting the day before.

We told ourselves repeatedly that almost everyone we knew had dogs. We remembered the dogs we had growing up—hers, Chloe, was a sweet chocolate lab that lived until 16, mine was a little peekapoo, Harley (AKA Harvey), who managed to never exhibit the worst traits of tiny dogs—yipping and tripping.

But part of me was also inexplicably morose—fearing that our complex, dog-hating cat wouldn’t be able to adjust, and would change or disappear from the stress. Sad in advance, at the idea of loving this dog, knowing that—like the dogs we cherished before him—he’ll one day be gone, an uncomfortable reminder of the fragility of all life.

But the memories of Saturday’s meeting propelled us through the doors of HAWS, to the adoption table, to agree to care for him and assume responsibility for his life.

The first photo of Ralphie  I saw.

The first photo of Ralphie I saw.

Friday

On Friday, I sent an article about the benefits of dogs to Michelle.

We had held off getting a dog until we returned from our vacation in Mexico. Now, this little article was all it took for Michelle to check the websites of our area animal shelters.

Michelle’s conviction led us to choose a shelter dog. I was more inclined to get a puppy, but taking on a shelter dog appealed to Michelle from both a practical and sentimental standpoint.

She emailed back during lunch with the link to Ralphie’s photo. His bio said he would be a fit for a family with other dogs or a cat. That was all it took. “YEAH!!!” was my reply. We decided to visit him when HAWS opened on Saturday, at 11 a.m.

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Saturday

The 30-minute ride out to Waukesha seemed to take longer than I imagined. When I want something badly, I get tunnel vision–I’m only able to focus on that thing. In this case, I just wanted to meet Ralphie first, I wanted it to be our decision.

As we waited in line just before 11 for our chance to request to meet him, I paced. Michelle told me to calm down.  At one point, I turned and looked at the entrance door and there he was coming in from a walk. I was starstruck. He had been our focus for nearly 24 hours and now here he was–bigger than I imagined, but in the fur.

Michelle filled out our paperwork quickly and we were told that there were actually two “holds” on him–two families that wanted him, however one of the families had called to decline. We could look at him and if we liked him, we would be the second option, but they hadn’t even called the second family yet.

Part of me just wanted to leave–how often do people refuse dogs they put holds on? Michelle’s strength and conviction in these situations is truly the thing that propels us forward. In her mind, we came here to meet him and we still would.

They put us in a small room and we waited anxiously for him to arrive. I think I might have loved him the instant he loped in. He greeted both Michelle and I with kisses and enjoyed being pet. The few toys scattered around the room held none of his interest. I pulled on his tail, his ears, his paws, looking for any signs that would betray his stray status and wild nature. There were none, he was fine with it all.

And we sat with him, and I pet him and scratched him and tried to tell myself that this was just practice for when we meet a dog that doesn’t have any holds. After 10 minutes, we realized they weren’t going to come and get him, so reluctantly, I went back out to the desk to tell them we had made our decision, we would be the second hold.

When they came and got him a few seconds later, a crushing feeling came over me. I was certain that this was the last time that I’d ever see him–and that I am a total softie.

We drove home and discussed with certainty that we wouldn’t get him. As a formality, we talked briefly about what it might entail to pick him up on Sunday or Monday (the family with the hold had until Sunday night to decide).

My friend Matt came over and we went to have lunch in Bay View and then returned to my house for a beer on my back deck. At one point, I checked my phone and saw that I had a missed call and a voice message from Waukesha at around 1:30 p.m. I played the message and heard that our second hold on Ralphie had become a first hold, I didn’t even listen to the rest. I said his name twice outloud, Matt asked what was wrong, I could hardly find the words. “WE GOT RALPHIE!”

I had locked myself out and so I pounded on the door and yelled Michelle’s name. After what seemed like an eon, she opened the door. “WE GOT RALPHIE!” I repeated.

Her smile was blinding.

They gave us notes from three children who had socialized him.

They gave us notes from three children who had socialized him.

Sunday

The actual adoption was easy. We arrived at noon and left with our new dog and a fair amount of worry at around 12:30 p.m.

The only test I needed him to pass was the “free roaming cat” test. One staff person brought a cat into the room, the other brought Ralphie. He wasn’t particularly interested in the cat, he was more curious about us. He passed.

We’d forgotten the leash we had purchased at the pet store the day before and purchased a leash, harness and collar from HAWS. They told us that he had not been in many cars, which played out comically as he jumped in the foot space between the front and back seats and was lodged there. Eventually, I crawled in the backseat and lifted him onto the seat.

Michelle sat in the back with him on his drive home. He just laid down, taking up two and a half seats.

At home, we put up a gate between our kitchen and living room and I brought him in. He looked at Sadie through the wire with only mild interest, while she hissed. When dogs are around, she camps out under the bed, and I didn’t want to lose her under there forever.

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Then we took him outside and family and friends started to arrive to meet our new addition. He received rave reviews from them all. The information that the gave us was that he was a lab mix, though several members of my family instantly pegged him as part newfoundland and made a compelling case for it.

After hours of meeting new people, being pet and going on his first walk with us, he was tired.

He slept fitfully, and woke in bursts, wandering the room trying to adjust to his surroundings. He panted loudly, and a lot. None of us slept well.

We had done it, we had a dog and now it was on us to figure out the rest.

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Ralphie’s first week

I hate when people get all snooty about the fact they “rescued” a dog. After a week with Ralphie, it is clear to me that had we not, someone would have adopted him and been thrilled with that choice. Thankfully, it isn’t someone else who got him.

It was difficult to determine where to put him during the day. After a few days of trail and error, it was clear the best thing for him, as of right now, was to be in a cage. Thankfully, my Dad was kind enough to stop over each day to take him on a walk. I am certain that helped ease his adjustment.

He sleeps soundly and comfortably on a blanket at the foot of our bed–although he does have difficulty understanding the difference between a weekday and a weekend.

Ralphie loves dog things, like taking walks and eating treats. He wags his tail when he is happy, but we still haven’t heard him bark. He follows Michelle everywhere. He met our friends’ dogs to mixed results.

Almost the closest Sadie has willingly been to a dog.

Almost the closest Sadie has willingly been to a dog.

Sadie’s stubbornness turned out to be her saving grace. She simply wasn’t going to be cooped upstairs. She still startles and hisses at him if he makes fast movements, but she has also snuck up on him and sniffed him. He couldn’t be sweeter, always wagging his tail at the sight of her–never chasing her.

We never considered changing his name because it is just so fitting. He has all the best traits of great dogs, he is loving and affectionate. He is dopey and sweet.

He might not be the perfect dog, but after a week and what must have been one million kisses, he seems like the perfect dog for us.

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2 thoughts on “Bringing Home Ralphie: How We Found Our Dog

  1. Shannon says:

    I love this, Nick! Beau and Ralph are gonna be BFF’s 4ever.

  2. Nancy Pipke says:

    This is a beautiful story. I love it. I volunteer at HAWS just not with the dogs, but I know they do their best to make sure that any animal you adopt is going to be a good fit for you & your family. Thanks for writing that interesting blog.

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