Ralph Knuth walks his neighbors’ dog, Digger, a male white lab who resembles his dog, Spirit, which he had to say good-bye to in March.

Some sad stories have a relatively happy ending. That’s sort of the case for Ralph Knuth of Waynedale. On March 27 he reluctantly had to say good-bye to his dog, Spirit, a 10-year old Labrador retriever who had been with the Army veteran since he and his wife, Stella, selected him from three other pups at Christmas time in 2008 when he was just a few weeks old. Spirit was the fourth Labrador retriever the couple had owned.

There comes a period in a dog’s life when he or she will let you know when it’s time to initiate the final step. According to Dogs & Devotion, by The Monks of New Skete, “One of the most serious responsibilities we assume when caring for a dog is developing the wisdom to know when to help them end their lives with dignity….Our dogs cannot understand and find meaning in their suffering and they trust us to have their best interests in mind, even when it means making a final decision. Listen to your dog. Your dog will intuitively know when it’s time, and his eyes will plead with you to take this step.”

And that is what Ralph did, reluctantly. He and Spirit had to give up their daily walks earlier this year because it was just too difficult for the white lab to stroll even one block from their home in Winterset Community. Losing the use of his hind legs, Ralph’s dog may have had intervertebral disc disease, he explained, which causes a ruptured disc and a nerve pinch that makes the legs go numb. Ralph knew Spirit was in pain and he just couldn’t watch him suffer any longer. It was tough to witness his body degenerate while Spirit’s “spirit” was still fully intact, he related.

Ralph, a widower since Stella died on June 22, 2014, had relied on Spirit for companionship. Some relief came but a short time later when Ralph’s neighbors across the street, Don and Jan Miller, asked him if he would like to walk their two dogs on occasion, or even daily, if he wanted. And, remarkedly, both dogs are Labrador retrievers. There’s Maggie, an eight-year-old female black lab, and, Digger, a male white lab who resembles Spirit. Like Spirit, in fact, he’s about 10 years old.

“They’re really nice dogs,” said Ralph. “When I knock on their door, they’re Johnny-on-spot and ready to go.” He now walks both dogs separately nearly every day. The Miller’s gave Ralph a garage-door opener and a leash, and told him to walk the dogs whenever he wants. And, if he needs the companionship, he can keep one overnight occasionally. The Millers also have a cat named Baxter who looks forward to Ralph’s frequent visits.
Actually, the Millers are benefitting, too. Jan had knee surgery April 30 and currently is not able to walk the dogs. And Don works about 55 hours a week at Ellison Bakery where he’s been employed for more than 50 years. Jan also works at Ellison and has about 44 years of service.

In addition to his devotion to dogs, Ralph enjoys watching the many birds that frequent the feeders in his back yard. He searches for the unusual ones with his binoculars and looks them up in several bird manuals he keeps handy. In addition, he’s an avid fisherman, especially ice fishing, angling for a large bass a couple of times a week usually with his friend from Kendallville who coincidently also is named Don Miller. And when he’s not fishing, he seemingly is constantly working in his yard. Last year he received an award from the Winterset Community for his well-manicured lawn, trees, shrubs and flowers.

Ralph is one of 84 local veterans who went on the 30th Honor Flight Northeast Indiana on Oct. 17, 2018. He and 74 other Korean War veterans made the trip to Washington D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor. Ralph was accompanied by his son, David, on the flight (Waynedale News, Nov. 1, 2018).

Ever the patriot, on his walks Ralph notices the American Flag flying at many homes. And when he drives somewhere, he also observes the way some businesses display the Flag. It’s not unusual for him to knock on a door and point out that their Flag has seen better days. Perhaps it’s frayed or faded and in need of replacement. Often times he just leaves a note, politely asking the Flag’s owner to either get a new Flag or not fly the current one out of respect since it’s damaged.

With all the activity and ambition in his life you might think that Ralph is newly retired. He will turn 90 on January 14, 2020.

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer