As many long time followers of this blog will attest, I bought a six-week old beagle puppy not long after I started up this blog back in April of 2008. Ralph was the second beagle I have ever owed. The first one, Mister, was with me throughout most of the days in elementary school. Ralph has been with me during some of the happiest and darkest days of my life these past five years. He was only about four-months old when Hurricane Katrina hit us here on the gulf coast (Katrina actually caused a lot of damage outside of New Orleans believe it or not). We were both scared that day. We both endured the heat, humidity and chaos following that hurricane. Ralph was a comfort for me during my recovery process of divorce. To be honest, he has been more of a good friend than just a pet. Sure, he drives me crazy sometimes. He is the only dog on earth, I believe, who can tell time. He knows when it is 4PM because that is when he goes to get his harness to take me walking...yes, you read that correctly, to take me walking! He sits and watches TV with me. He seems to enjoy football as much as I do. He barks a lot during a football game for some reason. So, Ralph is much more than just a dog; Ralph is my best friend. I even wrote a three-part series about a journey Ralph and I took together.
With all this said, you can't possibly imagine my shock when I walked out my back door to not see Ralph in the fenced-in yard. There is nowhere for him to hide in the backyard. I have one giant oak tree. But, I quickly saw that he wasn't behind it. Frantic, I started calling him. I got no answer. I got this really nauseated, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Ralph has never tried to leave home, even on the few times I forgot to lock the gate. My thought was that someone took him. But, I quickly dismissed that idea. If even a bird lands in the backyard, Ralph barks with hysterical outrage and chases off the bird. So, if some foolhardy individual would have tried to take Ralph from his backyard, I would have heard him barking incessantly. No way anybody took Ralph. I searched the entire neighborhood for three hours. I even enlisted the help from some neighbors whom I have seldom spoken to for various reasons. We couldn't find him. I was beyond frantic. I have no children. I can't imagine what a parent endures with a missing child. But, a missing Ralph had me so sick, I had to pull my car off the road so I could throw up. Ralph went missing sometime Friday afternoon. I gave up searching about 10PM Friday night. I stayed up to about 1AM Saturday morning hoping I would hear that familiar bark. No such luck. I tossed and turned all night with little, if any, sleep.
I got up Saturday morning about 6AM not able to sleep. This is the time I put on coffee, fix my breakfast and then breakfast for Ralph. I was thinking he might be waiting for me at the back door. But, he was not there. I was just heart-sick with worry and the realization I might not ever see my old friend again. It seems just as my ex-wife and I are on the road to reconciliation, my friend who helped me through the divorce is now gone. I admit, I broke down and cried. I felt it just wasn't fair, not fair at all, that Ralph be taken from me now. I tried drinking some coffee, I couldn't do it. Breakfast was out of the question. So, I decided before I begin my search again that morning, I would look to see how Ralph got out of the fence. I have a 8x12 shed about 50 feet from my house and about 2 feet from the back fence. I checked behind the shed to discover how Ralph got out. We have experienced heavy rains along the gulf coast. The ground had given way just behind the shed and provided an opening under the fence. I decided I would get some top soil and cover that up before I went looking for Ralph. As I turned to open the door to the shed, I heard scratching on the gate of my privacy fence. I quickly went over, opened the gate and there stands the prettiest sight on four legs I have ever seen!!!! Ralph launched at me and almost knocked me down. He was as happy to see me as I was to see him. He gave me a brutal licking and pawing. He was dirty from the tip of his tail to the tip of his black nose. He had a couple of scratches around his left floppy ear. But, other than that, he was in great shape.
I got Ralph a bath at a local pet shampoo salon, took him to the vet to be checked out and he got a couple of shots. After that, I grilled Ralph and I a couple of T-Bone steaks Saturday afternoon (which is a once a month enjoyment for him and me both). I guess I'll never know what Ralph did or where he went on his big adventure into the vast, wild world in which we live. Right now, I don't even care. I was at the point Saturday morning to where I didn't think I would ever see Ralph again. But, like he always does, Ralph proved me wrong. I feel a sense of overwhelming relief as I type this. I had this dread I would be writing Ralph's obituary as I was sure someone would find him lying dead on a road somewhere. Like I said, I guess I'll never know where Ralph went or what he did on his great escape. Those scratches on the ear tell me in got into it with a cat or maybe a opossum. One thing is for certain, he will have to sprout wings to fly if he intends to escape again. I have made sure of that with additional fencing beneath my privacy fence. I will never know what he did while he was gone. Maybe it's best I don't. But, while Ralph can tell you when it is 4PM, he doesn't seem interested in talking about his adventure. I doubt he would even if he could! And I'm ok with that. I'm just glad my old friend is home.