Want to adopt Ralphie the 'demon' dog? There's a lot of competition

Even Ralphie's advocates admit they don't have many nice things to say about him. They concede that he's a jerk, a terror, a demon. They caution that anyone choosing to engage with him should do so at their own risk.

Given that stipulation, his supporters have just one request: Will you please welcome him into your life forever?

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Niagara SPCA, a no-kill shelter that serves 12 communities just north of Buffalo, takes in thousands of animals each year and writes loads of Facebook posts to showcase them to people looking to adopt, Executive Director Amy Lewis told The Washington Post. Normally, Lewis and her staff focus on the positive attributes of the pets that come to their shelter. When compelled to touch on an animal's shortcomings, they try to do so in a lighthearted or humorous way. A dog that doesn't like children or other pooches becomes a pet that "prefers to be an only child."

That tactic didn't work with Ralphie, a 26-pound, 14-month-old French bulldog who was surrendered by his owners about two weeks ago. The Niagara SPCA focuses on adopting out strays and doesn't normally take pets surrendered by their owners, Lewis said. But since Ralphie was cute and a highly desirable breed, the shelter made an exception.

"We were like, 'Why not? We're pretty sure we can find a suitable placement for him,'" Lewis said.

But his previous owners had withheld information about Ralphie's "less desirable traits," which shelter staff members soon learned about. He started guarding his crate and lashed out at anyone who came near. He attacked vacuums, brooms and mops. Lewis and company developed a working theory about the backstory that had been hidden from them.

"Our best guess is that Ralphie's cute face got him whatever he wanted and boundaries are something he heard people talk about, but they didn't apply to him," his adoption advertisement speculated. "His first owners took him to board and train, but their relationship was built on the premise that Ralphie was the boss so things ended abruptly. He was rehomed. Two weeks into this new home and he was surrendered to us because [he] 'annoys our older dog.'"

"What they actually meant was: Ralphie is a fire-breathing demon and will eat our dog."

The shelter decided not to make the same mistake when announcing his availability to the world. "We knew we needed to be honest so we would weed out all of these inappropriate homes," Lewis said.

They didn't hold back. Acknowledging that Ralphie is an adorable young dog and that would-be pet owners should be banging down the shelter's doors to snatch him up, they assured people that, in the end, few would want him. Why?

"Ralphie is a terror in a somewhat small package. What could go wrong with a 26lb dog, right?" the shelter wrote in its adoption post, which racked up thousands of reactions on Facebook and made headlines across the country. "We're sure you're thinking: my ankles will be just fine. We'd caution- proceed at your own risk."

The Ralphie bashing continued.

"He's a whole jerk- not even half. Everything belongs to him. If you dare test his ability to possess THE things, wrath will ensue. If you show a moment of weakness, prepare to be exploited. Sounds fun, huh?"

Who might be the best future owners for such a difficult dog?

"The ideal home for Ralphie is the Mother of Dragons, or an adult home free of other animals, with an owner who will lead him calmly and sternly- putting up with zero crap."

On Thursday, Lewis said Ralphie is not a lost cause. If shelter staffers believed that, they wouldn't be trying to foist him off on some unsuspecting dog lover. They think he can thrive in the right environment, a quieter home led by a patient but firm owner willing to set and maintain boundaries. His new home should have minimal distractions - no children or other dogs competing for human attention.

"We really see potential in him," she said, "but anyone who adopts him needs to know that he has these issues."

The radical transparency is having the desired effect: attention, and lots of it. The SPCA has received hundreds of calls and emails about Ralphie from Florida to California, Washington state to Rhode Island, and from all over Canada. Some hopefuls are upfront: They say they'd like to own Ralphie but don't meet all the criteria listed in the adoption post. Lewis said she doesn't even have time to answer the voice mails from people who say their kids or other dog would love Ralphie.

Not all of the feedback has been positive. One woman from Seattle told them they should euthanize him, Lewis said. A more common response has been criticism of the SPCA for maligning Ralphie. Lewis said she gets that, but the goal of the post was to resonate with people so that it got in front of as many eyeballs as possible, including those of his future forever owner.

Lewis thinks she might have found "a perfect fit." She received an email Thursday morning from a woman in the Miami area who said she had once owned a Frenchie that sounded like a Tasmanian devil or, as Lewis put it, "Ralphie reincarnated."

Lewis said she expected Ralphie's adoption ad to be popular but not this popular. She has a theory about why it struck a chord with so many people from so many different places.

"A lot of it is, obviously, that Ralphie's adorable," she said, "and I think everyone loves an adorable jerk."

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