Last year, I used my holiday column to pay tribute to my dog, Stella. The darn dog actually received fan mail after that, and has insisted that I do a shout-out to her canine colleagues each year around this time. So, to keep Stella happy, here goes.
I would like to tell you the story of Big Ben, Ralph and the “Furry Angels of Newtown.”
In November, we were all shocked to read about “Ben,” the giant mastiff dog that was abandoned near Franklin, N.Y. Ben had been dumped off by the side of the road with just his water bowl. Like a good doggie, he sat down by his bowl and waited for his owner to come back and get him.
The owners never came back.
Big Ben didn’t wander or stray from his spot. He simply lay down in the tall grass, cradled his bowl and waited to go home.
Ben ended up that night at the Delaware Valley Humane Society in Sidney. His family has never been found.
I went down to visit him a week ago. “Big Ben” is a giant of a dog. He climbed up the front of me and literally embraced me during my visit. He does have a little slobbering problem (in fact, so do I now and then) and I needed a shower after I left. This is a big dog with a big personality.
The owner who abandoned this gentle giant will have to answer to God someday for this evil act (I mean, lets face it ... God has to be a dog owner, right? Remember, God spelled backwards is, well, you get it).
My friend Mike had a dog. Ralph was his name. I’d known Ralph for almost a decade. The two were inseparable in walks in the woods and adventures near and far. While Mike was off fighting fires in Alaska or working late at night at his job as a local educator, Ralph could always be found waiting by the side of the door for “Dad” to come home.
Being a dog owner, I can understand the intense bond that one establishes with a beloved pet. These two were together constantly until Ralph’s dog years caught up with him a few months ago. It was a sorrowful parting for sure, but lives end, spirits are renewed and we move forward. Molly has replaced Ralph as the new tail-wagger in Mike’s life now. But I think Ralph’s presence will always manifest itself when the squirrels begin running and it is adventure time anew for man and dog.
If you look up the definition of “man’s best friend” in the dictionary, I am sure it will say: “See Newell, Ralph.”
I, like everyone else, was stunned into immobility by the carnage at Newtown, Conn. Little kids killed, grieving parents, a mourning nation. We all felt it.
One evening while watching CNN the reporter said, “And look who just arrived folks.” The camera then panned to two big vans sliding open their side doors. Out spilled what seemed like 101 golden retrievers.
In reality it was only eight dogs, but they were amazing to watch. They came from a Chicago organization called the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs. These dogs bring an awesome amount of spiritual healing power with them. I watched as they simply ambled up and into the silent throngs, a mass of lapping tongues, dancing eyes and whipsawing tails.
Children gleefully ran to the dogs, and grieving parents surrounded them. Strangers approached the placid canines to touch them, pet them or, like many others, just to kneel in their presence. The public memorial space, which had just been a scene of tears, silence and saddened townspeople, had all at once been turned into a cooing, giggling calm harbor of tranquility.
And all because eight giant dogs had insinuated themselves into a delicate and distraught situation. When disaster strikes, these dogs climb into the van and go with an army of volunteers to share their unique talents. From Hurricane Sandy to Joplin, Mo., and beyond, they have traveled near and far across the U.S. One little girl in Newtown stopped petting the dogs for a moment, looked up into the camera and with a tiny smile whispered, “They are like angels.”
And so, there you have it. My “dog” column for 2012. It was a pleasure to highlight these unforgettable animals: “Big Ben,” Ralphie Newell and the “Furry Angels of Newtown.”
On behalf of Stella and myself ... have a great new year all!
I’ll catch you in two ...
“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.