Ralston crossed the bridge comfortably at home this week after a bout with cancer. He was nearly twelve; a little early in the life span for his breed, but well into his senior years.
Everybody loved Ralston, and he lived a life more robust, meaningful and exciting as many humans.
A crossbreed (Yellow Lab x Golden Retriever) born into the Guide Dogs for the Blind program, Ralston grew up going to work every day at U.S. Bank in the Big Pink tower, preparing for his future blind partner by learning office manners and getting accustomed to the sights and smells of downtown Portland. He washed out of the training program at the age of eight months (for being car sick), and as is the custom of the organization, we as his puppy-raising family adopted him as a pet. (No, we didn’t sabotage his training to keep him.) (But we thought about it.)
After a brief period of unemployment (during which he hung around the house, getting into trouble with Moses, the hoodlum neighbor dog), Ralston changed careers and became a certified Dove Lewis Animal Assisted Therapy and Education (DLAATE) pet.
For several years he provided love and comfort to troubled children living at the Parry Center, where he was assigned to kids so abandoned by adults that no family came for them on Sunday, visiting day. Ralston served as the visitor for these boys and girls, helping them feel special and teaching them to be kind to animals in the process.
He also brought some normalcy and a family atmosphere to homeless teenagers at the New Avenues for Youth shelter. Petting him, the young people spoke with love about the dogs they left behind, or the pets they hoped to have when they were on their feet again.
His final DLAATE assignment was to spread cheer and distraction to the patients and families on the 7th floor of St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he had an uncanny knack for who needed a hug the most—sometimes it was the nursing staff.
Ralston knew a lot of commands and enjoyed a short acting career while registered with the Talented Animals agency. He appeared in two TV commercials—one for the Oregon Lottery where he showed considerable skill, and another for the Oregon Humane Society which captured him in a role he was meant to play: just sleeping on a dog bed. He was also sent to Canada for ten weeks to work on the set of Underdogs, a feature length film with real movie stars that, due to bond issues and melting snow, was unfortunately never completed. He had a ball on location anyway, learning to pull a sled, hit a mark, and running wild with his canine castmates.
Since retirement Ralston has stayed busy napping, shedding, chewing sticks, and covering the Airstream and tow vehicle with his muddy pawprints.
He will be sorely missed by all, especially his young friend Ripley, who we are sure Ralston believed was one of his stuffed toys come to life.
See you on the other side, my good boy.