Blessed By Butter Boy

An odd thing happened yesterday. 

I put butter on the counter, turned my back to get something else and returned to find… the butter was still there. This hasn’t happened in my house for a number of years.

Because of Ralphie, also known as Butter Boy. He loved his butter. He loved to steal it off the counter to eat it. And to bury the container in the yard only to dig it up and bring it back in later. 

It wasn’t just butter he buried. He didn’t care much for the dog food I got him not too long ago, but he swiped the cleaned-out can from the recycling and carried it for a couple of days like the Holy Grail. He then buried it, only to dig it up a few days later and deposit the can full of dirt on my freshly vacuumed rug.

It wasn’t just butter he loved and stole. Pretty much anything was fair game for him. I’d barely adopted him when I heard the swoosh of a rotisserie chicken being nabbed from the counter and taken through the dog door. When I went outside to clean up the carcass, I found a satisfied dog but no carcass. Not a single scrap or bone was left. 

“Ralphie!” I exclaimed in disbelief. With perfect comedic timing, Ralphie looked up at me... and burped. 

When I made a Facebook page for Ralphie I put his job as “Comedian” and so he was. I’m sitting here trying to figure out how he made me laugh so often, and the only answer I can come up with that he was so full of life and full of… well, Ralphiness.

 

He just made people smile. Passing people on the greenway, they’d look at him and smile. Once a passing child said, “Happy dog,” and he was. 

Most of the time.

As much as he liked to ride in the car, he was terrified of cars on the street if he was walking. When I first tried to walk him in the neighborhood, a car passed us and he nearly took my arm off trying to get home. Ralphie was a rescue, and I think that at some point in his wanderings he must have been caught on a busy street, terrified by the cars around him.

   

So we took our walks and runs on a local greenway. When a new leg opened up on our favorite greenway we happily explored, until we got to the end of the trail and a car passed by on the street. After that, once we started down that leg Ralphie would stop by the side of the trail to fake sniff, then casually start back again - in the opposite direction. Like I wouldn’t notice that we’d turned around. 

Ralphie was an Australian Shepherd/Lab mix. He never just walked from one room to another. He dashed. And that was pretty much how he approached his life. 

We don’t know about his early life, except that he’d chewed through the clothesline tied around his neck to get away. Sometimes I could see an echo of that early life as fear flashed in his eyes. When I first adopted him he and Oakley went through a few rounds while they settled out who was going to be top dog (not Ralphie.) Ralphie was smart but dumb when it came to fighting, always getting himself into a corner. He carried a small scar above one eye, courtesy of his sister. They quickly settled in together, becoming partners in daily morning zoomies around the backyard.

A couple of weeks ago I had Ralphie at the vet. Bloodwork that had been slightly elevated a year ago had become terribly elevated much more quickly than anyone expected. He was in end-stage kidney disease. The vet said that she couldn’t reconcile the terrible lab report with this well-muscled, happy, energetic dog before her. By all rights, he should be lethargic and very, very sick. 

But he was Ralphie. Still Ralphie.

Last weekend we went to the greenway for our Saturday run. I’m getting back into running, so I insisted on run/walk intervals. Ralphie insisted that we go very fast. Once I made him stop and walk not for his health but for my own, lest I have a heart attack. (He’d increased my average pace by 3 minutes/mile in that interval.) 

The very next day his failing kidneys caught up with him and I had to make the decision every pet owner dreads, saying goodbye to my butter boy.

Like many of our four-legged friends, Ralphie was a great teacher. He taught me that I really could do more than I thought I could. I ran faster with Ralphie because he was so joyful when he could shift into a different gear, looking back at me and grinning. 

He’d undoubtedly had some tough times in his past, but they didn’t keep him from finding great joy in his present. He lived (and loved) all out, and we can only surmise that his great spirit squeezed out every possible ounce of life. 

For many of us, it’s not so much the big things that wear down our lives and make them small. The daily-ness of the grind slowly grinds away the joy. Ralphie gave me the gift of waking up to see each day as a grand and fun adventure waiting to be lived. 

In many ways, he was all Aussie, all quick movements and high energy. (Running with him I learned to be nimble when, in the midst of all-out speed, he’d stop to investigate what needed to be sniffed three feet behind us.) But I saw the Labrador Retriever in his delight in carrying things around the house (cans, balls, plastic bottles in his mouth like a pirate about to take a swig, and of course, butter.) 

He also had the big, blocky chest of a lab. Now I realize that’s how it had to be. 

Only such a big chest could hold such a big heart.

Rest easy, Butter Boy. May we all live so well and be so happy.



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