Man’s Best Friend: A Tale of Ripken

By Ben Smith:

Over the last couple of years, I’ve written on just about everything associated with my life. I’ve written about hunting, fishing, and baseball. I’ve written about my family, politics, and my childhood. I’ve shared about debilitating stomach issues and old friends that have passed on. As time passes, it gets harder and harder to cover a topic that I haven’t already beaten to death. But then you read something, or see something, that reminds you that there’s so much more that hasn’t been covered. For instance, how have I not written about the greatest dog I’ve ever had?
Through the years, I’ve had a few good pups. The first was a yellow lab named “Bud”. I don’t have a lot of memories of him because we didn’t have him for very long. I do remember getting caught eating dry dog food in our utility room while trying to teach him how to eat it. And I remember falling asleep on top of him in our carport on a summer day. Unfortunately, someone stole him while we were gone one day.
Shortly after losing Bud, I remember getting off of the school bus and seeing my dad with a brand-new Black Lab pup at the end of our driveway. She always seemed to have such great posture and poise, so “Lady” felt like an appropriate name. She became my best friend. We were inseparable, which wasn’t always a good thing. Being attached at the hip to a dog got me in trouble more than once. For example, riding your dog into the pond and coming out covered in leeches was mortifying for my mom. But, just like Bud, we didn’t have Lady for very long. After a few short years, we were leaving our home in the country and moving to an apartment in Jacksonville, Florida and Lady couldn’t come with us. My dad loaded her up and took her to my aunt and uncle’s house. That trip is the very reason he hasn’t had a dog since. According to him, he cried the entire trip and can’t bear losing another dog, so he just doesn’t get one. Lady eventually died from Leukemia.
I went the next nine years of my life without a dog. It was probably for the best due to my busy schedule of school and baseball, but something was definitely missing in my life. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed my apartment sending my roommate back home, I was forced to get another apartment alone. Living by myself for the first time was pretty lonely. I longed for a companion that would listen to me gripe, but not gripe back. One day I was sitting on my balcony sipping on a glass of tea and decided that I was going to get a dog. My girlfriend (now my wife) did her best to dissuade me, but I’d made my mind up. Against her better judgment, she accompanied me to the animal shelter, neither of us knowing the impact of the decision I was about to make.
There were so many dogs caged up at the shelter. Big ones, little ones, fluffy ones, and wiry ones. Most of them had the same thing in common: they barked uncontrollably in hopes of getting your attention. One thing that I knew I didn’t want was a yapping dog that annoyed me all day. We walked around for a while before I saw him. He was the only pup not barking in the entire shelter. Peacefully asleep at the back of the cage, this was the dog for me. One that was laid back, liked to nap, and wasn’t going to get big enough to eat me. For the first time in a long time, I felt just like that little kid getting off of the bus again. My heart was so full.
On the way home, we thought of names for our new pup. Being a baseball player, it had to be something pertaining to baseball. We finally settled on “Ripken” in honor of my favorite player growing up, Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken was a schnauzer mix with shaggy fur and floppy ears. To be honest, he looked a lot like the dog “Benji” from the movies. He was pretty small, only about 8 weeks old, and content to be a lap dog on the ride home. However, I had no idea that the dog I was bringing home wasn’t going to be the same dog once we got there.
I might be exaggerating just a little bit, but I don’t think he slept for two weeks. At night, I kept him in my kitchen barricaded with a baby gate. He’d sit at the gate and whine for the entire night. I don’t remember exactly, but my grades had to have suffered during this time. I was a sleep deprived zombie for weeks. Potty training wasn’t too bad, and once he figured it out, I stopped barricading him in the kitchen. From then on, Ripken slept at the foot of my bed, his spot for the next five years.
For 13 straight years, Ripken was by my side. We taught him how to sit, how to shake, lay down, roll over, and speak (bark). He knew how to fetch after chasing hundreds of baseballs across the room, something I regretted after he ate an autographed Ken Griffey Jr. baseball on my desk while I was gone one day. He loved people, but he didn’t let anyone get close to us that he didn’t know. We went on long trips, we went fishing, and we had fine dining every once in a while. He was there to sniff our first two kids when we brought them home for the first time. He played in the yard with them and loved on them when they didn’t feel good.
Like all dogs, Ripken got old. I came home one evening from work and Amy told me he’d been laying by the fence all day and wouldn’t come in. Walking up to him, I could tell right away that he wasn’t doing good. I picked him up and took him to a friend’s house that is a veterinarian. He gave him an IV and sent us home, but I could tell on his face that he didn’t have high hopes. That night, I spent the entire night holding Ripken, hoping his condition would improve. Unfortunately, it didn’t and the next morning my friend came over to do what I’d dreaded for a while.
As I held Ripken, the girls came in one by one to say their final goodbyes. As I watched my wife run her hands through the fur on his head my heart shattered into a million pieces. It’s amazing the love this quiet little dog at the shelter gave us over 13 years. I kissed Ripken on the head, his eyes looking straight into mine, and nodded to my friend to give him the shot. I placed my hand on his chest and felt his heart beat for the final time. Broken hearted, I buried him behind our yard next to the kid’s swing. He loved to watch them on it, so I felt this was the best place for him.
It’s amazing how a little dog can have so much of an impact on your life. Ripken was my best friend. He was there when I was happy, and he was there when I needed to shed a tear. He always loved us and never judged us. He appreciated the simple things in life whether that was a tennis ball or a ride in the truck. You could always count on him to be there after a long, hard day at work, tail wagging just wanting to play. You could also count on your food being gone if you walked away for a moment. At the time, we didn’t know it, but he was exactly what we needed, and I think he knew that. I always thought Ripken was ours, but I was wrong…we were his.

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