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In May 1991, my mother rescued a black, mangy looking 10 year old cross-collie mongrel from a vet in Kingston. His owners had decided to have him put to sleep as they'd acquired a younger model in the shape of a puppy. Yes, the question does need to be asked: “Should they have been allowed to own another dog?”.
Ralf wasn't an easy dog in the early stages. Not only did he whimper constantly, but also his health and coat needed a huge amount of attention. His previous owners had made him sleep outside on concrete and he had hard, weeping calluses on his arthritic legs. They hadn't groomed him for years and the vet had found his coat so matted that the only solution was to shave off the majority. We'll never forget his pathetic little bald tail.
After a couple of nights, my mother was beginning to wonder what she'd committed herself to - a pensioner on her own, she was finding him incredibly hard work. By this time we'd fallen in love with him and decided to rise to the challenge. And so, Ralf moved in with us.
Soon the crying stopped as he became attached to us and started to regain his trust. With the help of vitamins, homoeopathic drugs, daily grooming and regular baths, his coat began to improve and grow back to reveal what would have been his former handsome self.
His arthritis began to ease off through a combination of the treatment and regular exercise. Sometimes he'd have his bad days, by now few and far between, and he'd know how to make the most of them - a long lie-in (on his own patchwork padded duvet over a beanbag that he'd chosen himself at a car boot sale. He simply walked up to it, sniffed, and plonked himself on top). He was enjoying being properly fed and spoiled rotten.
Two years into Ralf’s stay with us, he was looking and feeling so good (the vet couldn’t believe it was the same dog) that we decided to enter him for the mongrel dog show in Surrey known as “Scrufts”. We were delighted when he was nominated for a place in the “Happiest Rescue Dog” category.
In the final couple of years of Ralf’s life, his health became very unpredictable. On one occasion we took a trip to the vet at midnight, costing us a fortune, to be told that he'd possibly suffered a stroke and that he had a 50/50 chance of surviving the night. Come the following morning the “50/50” dog, as he became known whenever we marvelled at his resilience, woke us up at 6.30 panting happily, wagging his tail and ready for his walk.
After five years of giving us both joy and anxiety, Ralf developed senile dementia. Expensive drugs made no difference to his condition and, after long spells of barking blindly at the furniture and thinking that whenever we walked back into the room meant “walkies” again, the vet advised us that it was kinder to have him put out of his misery and confusion.
Anyone who has ever owned and lost a pet will know how we felt at that time. Ralf had only been with us for five years, but he was a very much-loved part of the family. The vet consoled us with the fact that we'd probably given him the best years of his life - years that he might never have had.
As the years pass, we still have a picture of Ralf in our sitting room and often remind ourselves of funny Ralf stories or silly songs and limericks made up in his honour.
We hope that in running Digs4Dogs, we can keep Ralf’s spirit alive by making our clients’ dogs feel as happy and cared for by their minders as Ralf felt with us.