One summer, we decided to go away for the weekend. We were heading to Lake Erie and Cedar Point, an Ohio amusement park. Ralph knew his way in and out of most of the barns on the property. So we left plenty of dog food and water for him and headed off with the kids. When we returned home, Ralph was nowhere to be found. That was unusual because he was usually our greeting party. We all thought the worst. He might have gotten hit by a car or a truck. We searched the ditches along the road, we searched all the barns, checked with neighbors to see if they had seen him. There was no sign of him anywhere. The kids were heartbroken. So was I. But we were tired, so I got everyone into bed. The next morning, we hoped to wake up with Ralph waiting outside the door for us, but he still was not there. We went out and searched again with no luck. I decided to call the County Dog Pound and see if Ralph might be there. Ralph had a dog license, but I kept it in the house in a drawer. He wasn’t fond of dog collars and for the most part, he ran free. I described him, and the Dog Warden said they had picked up a black dog Sunday morning. I didn’t tell the kids, because I didn’t want to get their hopes up. But I piled them in the car and said we would go check at the Dog Pound to see if someone had found him. We walked in the kennel and there he was shivering and trembling, behind bars. When he saw us he went a little crazy. So did the kids. That story with Ralph had a happy ending and from that time forth, it was referred to as the weekend Ralph ended up in jail.
Ralph’s claim to Presidential Fame came a few years later. During the presidential campaign, President George H.W. Bush went on an old-fashioned whistle stop train campaign. He was going to travel into our small town, stop for 10-15 minutes and speak to the crowd and then journey on to the next small town. Across the highway from our farm lies the CSX Railroad track that the President would be traveling on…. he would pass our farm before heading into our town. My youngest daughter and I decided we would walk back to the railroad crossing and see if we could see anything from there. My daughter grabbed a small American flag and we packed up some water and snacks and headed across the road and back a small lane to the railroad crossing. We got about halfway to the crossing and coming up from behind was… you guessed it… Ralph. He wanted to go too. Rather than turn around and make him go back to the farm, we let him tag along. By this time, I had at least purchased a collar for Ralph so I could control him if I needed to. We waited for the train to come past. I had a small camera in hand.
It was pretty exciting. First a security helicopter hovered above us. I hadn’t really thought about security but they were checking out things from the air. We waved at the helicopter hoping that a dog, a 6-year-old and a farm wife wouldn’t be cause for any helicopter landings…. they soon moved on. A train approached and we got pretty excited but it was just a train carrying the President’s entourage and probably some journalists recording the event. Finally another train approached and we waited breathlessly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the President through the windows of the train. As the end of the train passed us, we were amazed to see George and Martha Bush standing on the outside platform of the train. The back platform was decorated with bunting. I remember Mrs. Bush wearing a bright blue dress and her beautiful white hair. I waved, my daughter waved her flag, and Ralph wagged his tail. I forgot all about my camera. As the train went past, President Bush yelled “Hey! What’s your dog’s name?” We must have looked like deer in the headlights. My daughter yelled, “Ralph!” and the President hollered back, “Good name!” and then he and Barbara were gone! My daughter and I just looked at each other and then burst out laughing. “He didn’t even see us… he just saw Ralph! I forgot to take a picture!”
From then on Ralph became known as The Presidential Dog. He also sat in our front yard with us when the Olympic Torch traveled past our house in 1996. For a farm dog, Ralph had some pretty unusual experiences. His luck ran out a few years later. Aging Ralph chased one too many trucks and was finally hit by one of them. I kept his collar for a long time, I think I still have his dog license. For a lowly mutt of a dog, Ralph left us with a lifetime of great and funny memories.