The story of how I got a Ralf

* I promise no more dogs for a while. I feel like a mad dog woman.


This is Ralf. Say hello to Ralf. He is 12 years old and we have a lovely story about how we met, courtesy of a doggie-matchmaker, Belle. 


Belle belongs to the refuge. She isn’t up for adoption and if she were, she’d be snatched up by about 200 people, I’m sure. She is a smart, smart dog. I have no idea about her or how she came to be the refuge guard dog, or how old she is, or where she came from. She has free rein at the refuge and she goes where she wants. Mostly, that is in a bed in the reception, or out on the step at reception. Belle is the cleverest dog I ever met. 

Belle, however, likes to go for wanders from time to time. She is so smart, she can open the refuge gates. Mostly, she goes and has a nosey about the visitors and then she comes back. Three weeks ago, she took a friend with her on her trip: Ralf. 

Ralf is also former guard dog and he was allowed freedom to wander at the refuge – mainly because he and Belle are great dogs who are super-socialised and who never grumble or growl or get shirty. They don’t chase the cats who live in freedom, and they don’t growl or grumble at visitors. I’d seen him maybe once or twice hanging about, but during the day, he is put in the parks so he is out of the way – only Belle has the privilege of being out in the main part of the refuge full-time. 

One lunch-time, something or other had got into Belle’s head and she decided to go for a wander. Most unusually, she took Ralf with her. It was a busy afternoon that day and there were a fair few adoptions. One of our oldies & toughies, Magic, was adopted and I hung around waiting to see him off. Some Saturdays, since the refuge director and the vet nurse were there late anyway, feeding the cats, When I was waiting for Magic’s owners to come back to pick him up, Christiane told me that Ralf and Belle had gone AWOL since lunch and that they’d been last seen in the forest between the refuge and my house. It was now eight hours later and neither had returned.

The route where they had last been seen is the route I usually go home by, so I took it a little more slowly, driving through the forest shouting for Belle out of my window. At one point, there was a flash of something Ralf-coloured behind me in my rear-view mirror and I stopped and turned around, but whatever it was had long gone. By the time I got to the other side of the forest, some 10km from the refuge, I figured they were not to be seen. I planned on going and feeding my dogs and turning back to see if I could find them. 

When I got to Les Granges d’Agris, there was a flash of dog trotting across the road by the mechanic’s. My only thought was that it was the mechanic’s dog which is often outside the garage and always free. He isn’t a wanderer so I slowed down anyway to check. He and Ralf are about the same size and a similar colour. And there, in the courtyard, I saw Belle. Ralf was just a little further on. Had I not seen Belle, I would have assumed it was the mechanic’s dog and just kept driving! 

Catching these two is about as easy as it gets. “Belle, Ralf!” and they are in the car. I drove back to the refuge, but it was locked up for the night, so I took them back to my house. 

Now had they been any other dogs, I’d have just left them in the laundry and kept my dogs separate, but it seemed like a good opportunity for Heston to meet some sociable dogs who know how to diffuse any doggie tensions. Heston needs to meet more dogs like this – so often he is met with unsocialised dogs behind fences who bark and bark, or dogs who don’t go out much and don’t have much social etiquette. I just thought it seemed like a great opportunity. 

And it was!


Think you can see from this shot, Ralf is on his best doggie behaviour, avoiding eye contact, wagging his tail, letting Heston have a look at him – non-threatening and non-aggressive. 


He’s so chilled that he was completely underwhelmed by Heston’s “play with me, play with me” approaches, gave him a bit of a power hump and generally just behaved like the great, social dog he is. Mission accomplished. 

Now, in my head, I thought I would get some good photos, advertise him everywhere and find him a home. And I did all of those things. I took some good photos and advertised him everywhere. “What a lovely dog!” everyone said. No bites. 

By Friday, I was seriously considering giving Ralf a home. At 12, for a big dog, he might only have two years left, four possibly. He doesn’t have any medical issues (though I am subsequently wondering if he is deaf) and the 600€ vets’ bill fund from Fondation 30 Million’s d’Amis makes a big difference in the decision. Nobody wants to adopt a dog and face endless medical bills. I am sure it is one reason why oldies don’t get adopted. It’s sad though, because oldies are so great. Zero house-training. Zero rule reinforcement. Often well-socialised, calm and not overly energetic. 

I chatted to a couple of friends about it and I knew then that I had made up my mind. “If you can, you should!” one friend said. She was right. He wasn’t going to cost me much other than food and the usual doggie treatments, and I have the space. Amigo never needs to walk on the lead, but at a push I can walk four dogs on leads, especially when two are Tilly and Amigo. I figured Ralf could have some debilitating accident or medical need and even if it were to stretch to 1000€, much of it would be covered. And 1000€ is a big vet bill usually seen for serious road accidents. If you don’t have health problems at 12 that have already cost that much, you are unlikely to get them. Arthritis, hip dysplasia, diabetes, epilepsy, heart murmurs… all conditions that appear in much younger dogs. Even little Calîne, my friend’s foster dog, had only cost 450€ for removal of several tumours and hernias, as well as a huge bladder stone. She had major surgery and there was still a little left to spare. 

Having chatted about it with my friend on Saturday night, I got in and my facebook wall was covered with Ralf. I don’t know why. I think the universe was giving me the nod. I sent a message to the refuge saying if he hadn’t gone by Monday night, I would adopt him. Of course you know he hadn’t gone and I brought a Ralf home with me. 

That is my limit though. Seriously. When Ralf goes, there won’t be a replacement. He is here because of that visit and because I knew he was fine with my others. He had already had a taster session and passed with flying colours. It was because it was Ralf rather than knowing I could manage another dog. In reality, I could not have managed just any other dog. This was very much about Ralf just being able to slot in and be no bother. 

And he isn’t any bother. Not a stick of it. He is a big bouncy baby and if you ever see big dogs frolicking, you’ll know why I love him so much already. He is a very playful dog, but he does a lot of sleeping. Mostly, he spreads out in doorways and across the floor, taking up space with his big seven stone body. He is not so good off lead – especially since I think he is deaf, or at least hard of hearing. No response to claps, name calls, whistles. No ears pricked up. No response when he hears other dogs, just only responses to smells and sights. Still, he has plenty of garden to run in. 


And the other dogs love him. Amigo gave him a kiss yesterday. Tilly sleeps on the couch with him. Heston thinks he is the best dog ever. Heston doesn’t have to be number 1 male dog any more and he can let Ralf lead him a little. That’s good because Heston is only two and he could do with learning some manners. Amigo doesn’t mind. Ralf is not bouncy or in his space or aggressive or unpredictable; he is not a thief of toys or treats and he is not a threat. 

So that’s how I got a Ralf. As for Belle, I get the most affectionate kisses ever. I like to think Miss Smarty-Pants knew exactly what she was doing. I suspect she knew I had space in my life for a Ralf and I suspect she knew exactly where I would be going. She is still at the refuge, watching out over all the goings-on. I like to think too that Belle is the first dog all of the pound dogs see when they get here, and that she lets them know this is the beginning of their journey to the best homes ever. She is one clever dog. 

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