Many years ago I lived in Sydney Australia. Manly Beach to be exact. I moved there after working as a nanny in the Northern Suburbs, so suddenly living in a surfing community with three new flatmates, three cats and a dog was quite a change from what I had been experiencing in Australia so far. Manly was definitely more my speed. I loved being on the beach again - I grew up on the beach at the Jersey shore - and the surfers were just like the guys back home, but with cute accents. I can honestly say that living there was the happiest time of my life.
Two weeks after I moved in, my flatmates excitedly announced that Ralph and Jason were coming to stay. Jason was a former flatmate/surfer of the house, and Ralph was his dog. Now, I love dogs. I really do. But I have never heard people talk about a dog like this. They just went on and on and on. Clearly they were more excited about Ralph the wonder dog coming than their friend Jason. Ok I get it, he's the dog of all dogs. Could he really be all that cool? I mean come on - but nobody could tell them any different.
A few days later, I walked into my house and heard a very loud and unfamiliar bark. In the living room, among my many flatmates and neighbors, were two new faces. Jason - the surfer, and Ralph - the biggest German Shepherd I had ever seen.
He didn't seem to like me the first couple of days. He would bark at me when I came in the house and continue as he would follow me into my room. I knew he wouldn't bite, so I wasn't afraid. I was more annoyed by it. Hey! I live here now bub! It's hard enough being the only Yank in the house, give me a break!
Within one week he was sleeping at the foot of my bed every night. He would not allow anyone but my flatmates in my room. Every morning he would stand at my bedside, pressing his cold wet nose to mine in a silent plea to come out and play. When I would come home from work he would jump around like a puppy. Everyone noticed how he had taken to me. I often thought that maybe he was looking out for me because he sensed I was new, the outsider in the house, and needed a champion. When my flatmates would walk him to the pub, and then forget about him sitting outside in their drunken stupor, he would walk over to the cafe where I worked and park himself at the entrance. He would follow me from table to table, offering a friendly lick or nuzzle to my customers. My boss, who at first freaked out that Ralph was scaring off customers, soon changed his tune when he would hear the little voices crying to their mummies to eat at the place with the big cool dog. Ralph was great for business.
He never needed a leash. He would walk right beside you, even in crowds. He protected our house from strangers but was gentle as a lamb to people when we were out on the town. He let children pet him and pat him, sometimes to the point of pain, and he never snapped or walked away. It was never necessary to yell at him, a simple "Ralph" was all you needed to say to get his attention. He would play catch for hours and hours, and he never went after other dogs. It didnt take me long to realize that he was everything my flatmates had said, and more.
He and I would often go out for late night walks together. It was a ritual we had, a way for me to unwind after work. One night, as we walked back from the Corso, Ralph went off ahead of me to do his business, and I stood on the beachfront giving him some privacy. There were several bars across the street, and as I stood there, a few drunken boys spilled out of one of the bars and approached me. At first they were just flirting, asking me where I was from, what my name was...the usual slurred nonsense. Nothing I wasn't used to, especially since Aussie boys always gave American girls a little extra attention. But slowly I started to get an uneasy feeling. They were too close, too familiar, and had somehow surrounded me. Behind me was a 10-foot drop to the beach. I suddenly had a vision...being pushed...falling...nobody knowing...nobody hearing....as they jumped down to the beach to follow my fall.....
I started to edge away, but they kept asking me questions, trying to keep me where I was. I tried to laugh them off, move slowly away, but they cut me off..and then suddenly...a flash of fur...and Ralph was standing between us. His hackles were raised, his teeth were bared, and the low-throated growl coming from him was something I had only heard in horror movies. His entire body was poised and ready to strike. He looked like a wild coyote about to shred a deer apart. The boys raised their hands as if they were under arrest.
"Woah," one of them said, "is that your dog?"
Upon hearing his voice, Ralph started barking at him ferociously. He sounded like Cujo.
"Yes, he's mine," I replied.
They backed away, just as I had been trying to do only moments before. "See ya," they said. And they ran off.
That was it. Over. Just like that. Ralph turned to me, leaned against my leg, and would not allow us to lose physical contact the entire walk home.
My flatmates were stunned when I told them the story. Ralph had never, ever, behaved like that in public. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that those boys were planning....I don't even like to think about it. I sometimes wonder about that vision. Was it what would have happened if Ralph hadn't been there? How different would my life be now if he hadn't scared them away? Would I even be here to tell this story?
Ralph was my hero that night. And he will always be my hero. Nobody in my life has ever stood up for me like that. Nobody has ever put his life at risk for me. Stood his ground, ready to attack, four against one, only thinking of my protection and well-being. To me, Ralph will forever be my champion. The dog of all dogs. And nobody can ever tell me any different.