The unforgettable companion: Margaret Cho reminisces on Ralph the dog, ‘truly the ultimate love of my existence’

The vet didn’t believe Ralph would survive, but I rescued him from the animal shelter and nursed him back to health. We became inseparable companions.

When I encountered Ralph at the animal shelter, he appeared to be the most unwell puppy. He was small, suffering from a severe head injury, and infested with fleas. Among a group of other puppies, he resided in the back of a cage, seemingly trampled upon.

It was 1997 when I found myself in a profound state of depression. It seemed fitting that I selected a dog who mirrored my internal feelings – trampled upon, sorrowful, and solitary. The vet predicted, “This dog is unlikely to survive,” but I refused to give up on him. I dedicated myself to round-the-clock care, feeding him by hand and regularly taking him to the vet for hydration through injections. He reminded me of the character in the film “The English Patient,” played by Ralph Fiennes, recuperating from illness, which led to his name. Like Juliette Binoche, I nursed him back to health so that he could fulfill his destiny as a romantic hero.

His recovery was remarkably swift, and he continued to grow in size. Though I initially thought he would remain small – weighing approximately 1.4kg (3lb) when I brought him home – he eventually grew to become a 30kg (66lb) boy.

We became constant companions, establishing our own routines and shared moments: our morning workouts and meal times. He slept by my side, resting his head on the pillow.

I believe he didn’t fully identify as a dog because whenever we visited a dog park, he never strayed far from me. He had no interest in playing with other dogs. When I adopted a second dog, he would gaze at Bronwyn as if to say, “I apologize, but dogs are not allowed here. I must ask you to leave.”

Eventually, I ended up with three dogs. When a trainer visited, Ralph would stay close to me, as if to suggest, “It’s good that you’re attempting to control them, because they are quite unruly.” He never participated in any of the exercises, considering himself above such activities.

Ralph adored people, but he remained extremely wary of other dogs. Over time, he began allowing the other dogs to sleep on his bed alongside him, but he reserved a special “office” beneath the stairs that only he could enter. This space was filled with countless tennis balls, as he didn’t particularly enjoy toys but was fascinated by tennis balls, amassing them like a film noir detective awaiting an alluring femme fatale to present him with an enigmatic case.

My song “Hey Big Dog” is a tribute to Ralph. He had an intense fear of wind, causing him to seek hiding places. In California, we experienced the annual Santa Ana winds, which terrified him. The song is a duet between Ralph and me, although Fiona Apple provided his voice.

Ralph passed away in 2009, after spending around 12 years together. The grief never truly dissipates – one simply learns to coexist with it. However, it burdened me for a significant period of time. I was unprepared for the pain associated with mourning an animal.

I believe Ralph enabled me to comprehend the essence of unconditional love. Nothing can compare to the deep affection I felt for him; no human could come close. He genuinely was the love of my life. Some may perceive this as melancholic, but it is quite the opposite – to experience such profound emotions for another being is an extraordinary privilege.

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