Ripley J Gilhooly crossed the bridge on August 16, 2016. My wife Virginia and I adopted him in 2001 from Richardson Humane Society, so he had been in our family for fifteen years. He had been with us almost from the beginning. Bubba, our first dog, was a wedding gift, and Ripley was Bubba’s dog. (Ripley was in charge, but he let Bubba think he was.)
Bubba once had a playmate because my Mother-in-law visited for the winter and she had a Shih-Tzu named Flower. When Flower went home to Jersey, Bubba was lonely. So, Virginia decided Bubba needed a dog.
Sometime in the Spring of 2001, Virginia dragged me to a Richardson Humane Society garage sale fund raising event. It was a Saturday morning before dawn, I hadn’t had much coffee, and I was desperately trying to avoid any manual labor. I think she may have literally dragged me.
We passed a couple of puppies in a baby crib. (I’m a Grandpa now, so I know it was probably a Pack’n’Play.) I looked in, looked at Virginia, and said, “Hey! My dog is over there!”
That’s how I met Ripley.
Virginia had said Bubba needed a pet, but I think she had a short list of breeds in mind, including Shih-Tzus, and “stumpy mutt” was not on that list. So, Ripley was not her first choice. He may not have been in the Top Twenty.
So, let’s review our first impressions.
- Me: “Hey! My dog is over there!”
- Virginia: “That is the ugliest dog I have ever seen.”
Her sister and niece also thought he was ugly. Apparently, Ripley was tearing up a blanket in the crib, but I had not noticed. All the women did. Apparently, this was a warning sign. I ignored any warning signs.
He was my dog, that was all I knew.
I still don’t know how I knew he was my dog. I have met a lot of dogs since. We have three others in the house now (Murphy, Katie and Rocky). We’ve lost four in the time we’ve been married (Bubba, Sparky, Max and Flower.) So, I am quite familiar with dogs. When Murphy ran into a glass wall – twice – in five minutes, I said, “He’s dumb enough to live with us.” We inherited Flower. When I saw the look Virginia gave Rocky after she rescued him, I said, “He’s not going anywhere.”
Ripley was just my dog from the moment I saw him.
Ripley, of course, thought he was Virginia’s dog. I’m not sure if this was a neurotic need to win over the one who voted against him, or if he liked a challenge, or if he just figured out rather quickly where the food came from.
Somehow, the ugly dog became her dog, and then he wasn’t ugly any more. (He was my dog very briefly, when somebody had to bathe him after he managed to dig up the garden an hour before both families arrived for Christmas dinner, but there was little doubt the rest of the time.)
We always assumed he was not loved very much in his original home, especially after we found out he and his sister had been dumped at the shelter, but the family came back the next day, and picked up his sister. They abandoned him twice in two days.
He had spent time at a number of foster homes with Richardson Humane Society – when we took him to a reunion one year, everyone seemed to know him. I never understood why nobody else had adopted him, because everybody loved him. I think he really was supposed to be my dog. Well, Virginia’s dog. Our dog.
Food was Ripley’s passion. When Ripley moved in to our house, he discovered we were free-feeding Bubba. Bubba was very good at self-regulating, he would eat until he was satisfied, and then he would go play or sleep or annoy one of us until we played with him. Ripley parked himself in front of the food bowl and ate. The bowl was magically refilled by his new favorite parent. He ate some more. It was filled again.
Eventually, I found him, lying next to the food bowl, just flicking his tongue in and out to eat without having to stand up.
The vet weighed him at his first checkup. He was no longer underweight. In fact, she uttered whatever the veterinary term is for “Holy crap!”
We stopped free feeding.
Ripley would eat, and then go help Bubba finish his food.
We started feeding them in their crates, which we still do today.
It took a long time to figure out what breed Ripley really was, because the shelters tend to just put down whatever pops in their heads, and rescues will label a dog whatever they think is an adoptable breed, and it’s not like anybody has medical records for them.
Ripley was a “terrier mix” for a long time until somebody finally said he looked like a PBGV (which is Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, a French breed that nobody had ever head of. PBGV sounds very sexy (the full name sounds sexier, but only with a French accent.) Translated, it’s a Small (Petit) Low To The Ground (Basset) Wire-Hared (Griffon) from Vendeen. Everything sounds better in French.
Ripley was small. He was low to the ground. He had wired hair. We’re pretty sure he was a native Texan, though – he would always bark at cows or horses on the TV.
After we met Ripley at the RHS event, we found his foster Mom, arranged a playdate with Bubba, and after they seemed to get along, we decided we would take over fostering him. We did the paperwork to be a foster, but nobody believed it. We were foster failures. He never left.
We’ll never know how old Ripley was, since he was rescued. People figured he was born in October 1998 or so, so he was probably at least 17 years old. We know he left us on August 16, 2016.
After he passed 10 and had survived three back surgeries, I had actually thought he was immortal. That’s not exactly true – after he had torn the skirting off the couch, chewed the bottom of a $3000 dining table and dug up the garden an hour before family and in-laws arrived for Christmas dinner – all within his first year with us – and survived all of that, I thought he was invincible.
If I ever got caught doing something that really annoyed my wife, I was planning to just say, “Ripley said it was OK.”
Ripley was not very good at training. Someone who is married to me thought he was stupid, but later realized that he’s just stubborn.
Bubba flew through training, so we took Ripley along one week. Ripley appeared to struggle. The instructor had a firm policy to never say “No!” to a dog – you would redirect from bad behavior to good.
As far as I recall, this is his first and final training lesson:
- Trainer: “Sit, Ripley!”
- Ripley rolled over.
- Trainer: “Let’s try again. Sit, Ripley!”
- Ripley rolled over.
- Trainer: “Once more. Sit, Ripley!”
- Ripley rolled over.
- Trainer: “NO! NO! NO! NO!”
I have never been more proud of one of my dogs. I managed to not laugh until we were in the car, but I still giggle today when I think about it.
Here are the commands Ripley eventually mastered:
- Do you want to go outside?
- Let’s eat dinner
- Let’s go take a nap
- Let’s go get a cookie
- Go in your crate (this required cookie bribes)
(He would sit occasionally. If I saw him about to sit, I would say, “Sit” just to take credit. He never really learned to roll over, so he just knew how to push a trainer’s buttons.)
Ripley would jump over our baby gates (used to keep dogs out of specific rooms, like the room with the skirt-less couch and chewed table) because we never told him he was not supposed to jump the gates. We have a video of him jumping the gate, wearing a SuperDog cape. We were stupid dog parents early on. Eventually, this lead to his back trouble.
Ripley had one of the most expensive backs ever.
Ripley ruptured his back at the start of Memorial Day weekend 2005, just before we were supposed to leave on a trip up North for my niece’s wedding. Nobody actually cared if I was there, but my Mom-in-law was coming in my car, as she wouldn’t fly. So, I had to go.
That was the weekend that we learned Ripley understood math, since his emergency surgery cost almost exactly the same amount as what we had saved for the trip. To those who thought we should just “put him down and get another dog”, I will say this: We did what we thought was required as good pet owners, we got ten more years to spend with Ripley, and I got out of a wedding. I think we made the right choice.
Ripley had another rupture and one more round of surgery a year later, but after that, his neurosurgeon must have paid off her yacht, because she suggested that we go to OSU and have disk ablation surgery. This procedure prevents further ruptures. (Wait. There’s a cheaper procedure that prevents doing that other procedure you’ve done twice?)
So, we spent a romantic weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Of course, on the way to the pre-op exam, Ripley stopped short in the parking lot, and Virginia tore her Achilles, trying not to step on him. So, now I had two creatures limping. (I did ask if we could put my wife down, but the vet said “No.”)
Ripley was a very good learning experience for the student doctors. One held him gently while they were inserting an IV because “he was so friendly.” She learned quickly that if you poke a dog with a sharp object on one end, the other end is likely to bite whomever is holding him gently.
The vet leading the team said, “Well, she won’t do that again.” Ripley was a teacher.
Ripley was quarantined as a bite rísk while he was recovering from surgery. I don’t think anyone really believed he was a bite risk, but rules are rules. I had never had a dog in quarantine before. It made him sound tough. Ripley ended up in quarantine and on crate rest at the same time, so he slept twice as much.
He got much mileage out of his bad back, since he was the only dog in the house that could trip someone, and instead of getting yelled at, he would get petted to see if he was OK. I’m pretty sure he knew this and milked it.
Here’s another lesson we learned: Short dogs can’t get your attention easily, especially if they don’t bark much. The fastest way is to poke you in the legs, or nip at your ankles. So, Ripley did both. Actually, he only nipped my wife, but she’s slower than I am (probably from the ankle injury.) He would poke me.
One day, I was standing in the kitchen, and I felt a poke. I moved over a bit. Another poke. What was wrong with this idiot dog? I moved over. Poke. Move. Poke. Move. Then, my wife said, “You realize that now you are standing by the cookie jar. You’ve been herded.”
I gave Ripley a cookie.
He only did that a couple of times before I learned.
After that, I would just go stand by the cookie jar to begin with, mainly because Ripley taught Katie to poke me, too.
Ripley did learn one useful trick after his surgeries, so he was trainable, after all – we put ramps by the couches and bed, and he (mostly) stopped jumping on and off the furniture, and used the ramps instead. I do think it helped that they took less energy to use. Nonetheless, the one other command he (mostly) learned was “Ripley! Use your ramp!”, which was generally yelled from across the room as someone saw him heading over the side of the couch.
The ramps will stay, even though he’s gone, because all the dogs have learned to use them.
Ripley was a world-class napper. I was always afraid all of the energy he was storing up would come out at once, and we’d have a supernova. Unfortunately, it never happened. He just left us quietly.
You never miss a dog right away, especially if there are other dogs in the house. However, over time, you realize that all dogs are equally adorable and annoying – but in their own unique ways.
There will never be another Ripley.
He was my dog.
I miss him.