Today Ralph went home. That may not sound like a big deal to anyone reading this, but for the team at WOOF Project it was an incredibly special day that brought out a string of volunteers who had known Ralph for the year or so that we’d had him in our care. Selected from Fallen Angels Shelter, this ‘tomboy’ of sorts was an interesting brindle mix; there was something about his majestic look, momentously large ears and eyes and a unique ridgeback appearance that had me thinking he’d be adopted in minutes from WOOF Project. Having spent his whole life at the shelter, we brought him. A month passed, then another- and another. While everyone at WOOF Project was getting to know Ralph like family, no potential adopter felt the same. The hard decision was taken to send Ralph back – one we don’t take this lightly as we knew he’d likely remain there for the rest of his life at the shelter in which he was literally born. It was a week or so later when one of his greatest fans, a dedicated volunteer reached out and said she’d visited Ralph and he was miserable – with an exclamation point! Could we not please bring him back for one more try? Again, we made an exception, and again Ralph didn’t move. The decision was made again for Ralph to return to the only place he really knew, but clearly never wanted to be. This time it wasn’t the volunteer who called us- but the shelter staff who while not asking us to take him back, expressed how Ralph had actually run away the moment he’d seen their vehicle. While Fallen Angels care deeply about each one of their dogs, they were startled how this particular dog just ran for his life. Again, the feedback haunted my team but we decided to stand firm as we knew that keeping a dog in our program and gathering absolutely no public interest takes the room away from another dog who could get a home and whose life depends on it. .
The following weekend my niece Annika, an extraordinary volunteer for the Project – asked just one question. ‘OK Jo, where’s Ralph?’ Upon hearing the news, she insisted Ralph once again return and bolder yet, stated she’d even foster him! Again, Ralph returned to us. Over time, my brother’s family learnt of his challenges and Oscars Arc covered the costs to have Ralph trained despite knowing we still didn’t know the dog’s fate. The thought of sending back a fourth time beckoned – and then the phone rang.
When Ralph was officially collected on 11th December from WOOF Project, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. A farm in the Eastern Cape beckoned, as did the prospect of love, commitment and confirmation that he would never have to return to the place he knew both best and worst. The container buzzed like a hub of farewell wishers on the docks of the Waterfront, old and new volunteers, united by a streaming of tears of goodbye wishes to the dog that they had come to know so well. As my niece sent through tearful messages of bitter sweet recollections of their foster experience with the dog that no one wanted, she shared with me that evening how Ralph had opened her heart and mind. It was profound. I pondered again at how a shelter dog had changed so many lives just by being a shelter dog. I knew that so well too from my earliest recollections of my own life. As the tearful messages kept beeping through it was the last from the niece that resounded the power of an adopted dog. ‘Ralph taught me patience and how to love unconditionally’ she wrote. The messages and tears continued and before finally switching off my phone last night, I sent one simple message.
Be grateful – and not sad. That’s what Oscar taught me.
I want to personally thank my team at Oscars Arc for all they do to give dogs like Ralph a chance at having a life. To Michelle, the unwavering volunteer that believed in this dog from Day 1 and insisted we bring Ralph back – and back (Michelle, you drove us crazy- but we love you!) Chanel – who convinced me that if Ralph returned it would be so really be easy ’this time around’ because Pluto’s sun was in Jupiter’s Mars. To Ralph’s first foster Daniel – and to Annika and my brother’s family who provided the safety in which Ralph could feel safe enough to relax on the sofa and not have to worry that a van was pulling up outside the front gate And finally. To the adopting family who are going to be giving our ‘comeback kid’ a real chance to live in the country in the Eastern Cape, bless you for opening your doors.
As the great Dr Zeus proclaimed, Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! Indeed Mr. Ralph Lauren, you are on your way and we bid you farewell. Your past is over. You’ve made it buddy. Be on you way. Be on your way…