CAMDEN — While his cockeyed ears may be perpetually confused, Ralphie, PAWS longest canine resident, is laser-focused on one thing: Finding his forever home.
After eight months in the shelter, and a set of ears that have never agreed which direction to fall, Ralphie spends his days dreaming of living as part of a home and family. It’s a life he has never known.
Ralphie came to PAWS from a shelter in Texas at five months old, and beyond brief daily walks and playtime, he has spent the subsequent eight months alone in his enclosure.
Before any dogs go to their forever home permanently, PAWS dogs go for a sleepover. The overnight stays typically last for three days, but can go for longer if the dog is a special case. PAWS provides all that potential adopters will need over those days, including medications.
The goal during those three days is to ensure the canine fits the family. Though some potential adopters are upset if things don’t work out, Eekels said ensuring the perfect fit is the entire purpose of the sleepover.
“Having them in your home for six months and then bringing them back is worse,” she said.
Despite his drab surroundings and tough start in life, Ralphie’s happy-go-lucky exuberance is palpable from across the room.
What may not be immediately obvious is that Ralphie is effectively blind, though long time volunteer Diane Sturgeon said he doesn’t let it slow him down.
“Part [of it] may be because he was born blind,” she said. “He doesn’t have any idea he’s blind, he just rolls with whatever is coming. He figures out his environment really quickly, and I don’t know if he echo locates, or what he does, but he figures out what’s around him, and can find stuff.”
Ralphie loves to play with the other dogs at the shelter, though Sturgeon said it can sometimes be tough for him to keep track of them.
Claudia Eekels, PAWS Director of Shelter Operations, said staff suspect that Ralphie was deprived of oxygen during his birth, resulting in permanent nerve damage.
It’s that nerve damage that is responsible for some of Ralphie’s unique challenges, including his sight issues. He also requires daily medication for his condition, which Eekels said is another thing for which adopters need to be prepared.
While Ralphie has yet to master housebreaking, Eekels believes it’s simply because after a lifetime in a kennel he’s never had the opportunity to learn.
Though his challenges might make finding the perfect home a bit harder, Ralphie will bring the right person countless gifts, including crazy ears, and an invariably sunny disposition.
He’s also always up for a walk, a game of tug-of-war, or just tackling the world by the side of his companion.
Sturgeon said one thing to know about Ralphie is that he is completely without fear.
You always have to watch him cause he’s fearless.
“Ralphie doesn’t know there is anything in the world to be scared of,” she said.
For a dog born with the odds stacked against him, Ralphie views every person as another chance to make a friend.
The hope among volunteers and staff is that there is someone out there willing to give Ralphie a chance at the normal life that he deserves.
Foster homes needed
PAWS is trying to expand its foster program, which would create more space at the shelter.
“That would help us save more dogs from kill shelters,” Eekels said. “We just only have limited amounts of kennels, so the more foster homes the better.”
Foster families are provided with everything needed to care for the animal, including any needed medications.
Anyone with time, space, and an open heart is encouraged to consider fostering a dog or cat.
Erica Thoms can be reached at email@example.com