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The Yankee Express

Lukey V. claims redemption

Luke takes the polar plunge at Wells State Park in Sturbridge


In his defense, it had been a harried week. Dog owners understand. We do the best we can to give our pets the attention they need and deserve, but somehow, some way, we fall short. 
“Luke, I just need to practice one more time. We’re going to go for a walk. Promise.”


Luke had been so patient with me (and family) all week. Daddy had another conference call. Momma had more dances and revisions. Bro was off to Boston. Again. my heart went out to Luke through all of it. He needed me, but I just couldn’t grab the time to give back. One more SEND. One more POLISH. Luke didn’t deserve such human craziness. Yet still, he waited patiently. He chewed his bone. He walked around the house. He collapsed on the floor and waited by the door. He held onto one thought, a fragile hope that I’d stop what I was doing and think about how it might feel to be a dog who can’t grab his keys and go. 

 Luke rests at Verizon in Sutton.

“If I can’t bring my dog, I’m not going.” The motto, a classic Dog Person quote, sits on the border of a frame, one of a few treasured gifts shared with me. The saying became my mantra. Luke’s been on crowded buses, through fragrant Health & Beauty aisles, and on the cement floors of dog-friendly coffee-shops.
“Your dog is so cute! Do you mind if I pet him?”
“Of course she doesn’t mind!” Luke puts his chin up and smiles like a dolphin for one more person who reciprocates his affection. I’ve developed a friendly observation throughout my dog-owning years. People seem kinder in the presence of pooches. 
“Is he a service dog?”
I can’t lie. Even though my dog absolutely “serves” the needs of the community, it’s just not ethical to pretend.  
“My name is Luke Valentino. My Momma writes stories about me!” Luke is proud of me, proud of the person he just met, and proud to simply be out in public. His expression, once again, brings out the best in people.
“He’s not a service dog,” I confess. “I’m a columnist. I take him along for story inspiration.” Like jelly from a doughnut, the white lie oozes from my mouth. Writers are not entitled to such special treatment. Nevertheless, I want to keep Luke in the loop.
“Want to take a selfie with me?” Luke has no idea that most dogs don’t go everywhere with their owners. He very well may think he’s a service dog. “You can follow me on Instagram too!” Luke’s personal web page, found at livingwithlukevalentino, features pieces of our excursions. The content of the posts tend to be light-hearted and humorous. However, the pictures do not tell the full story, I’m afraid. One picture features Luke Valentino playfully galloping along a trail in the forest of Wells State Park, Sturbridge. The date was Saturday, February 18th. Here’s how things went down. 
“Luke – Come!”
The command echoed with the stern sound of my teacher’s voice. Luke has responded to this voice since he was an eight-week-old pup. My neighbors have heard the echo through opened bedroom windows, while I’ve watched Luke consider straying from the yard. “LUKE, COME!” I’ve caught him in the act so many times. My voice, aided by an electric collar which corresponds to a remotely charged “beep” sound, has always been effective. Add food rewards to the mix, and the deal is sealed.
His electric collar had been on during that hike pictured so nicely on Instagram. His recall had been stupendous. “Luke, COME!” He heard my voice, then the beep, and ran back to me as though training for a horse race “Don’t worry!! I just wanted to see what the pavement smells like up ahead! I’ll never leave you, Momma!” 
Off-the-leash time has proved an exhilarating experience for both of us. Watching my dog gallop amongst verdant pines reminds me of the easy way in which a tropical fish flows with the current of the sea. Dogs naturally need to run.  I was about to learn, however, that freedom can also prove dangerous. Lukey V. was about to claim redemption for a week of neglect. 
He tiptoed to a charming cove bordering the lake and sniff. No problem there. Then he dipped a paw in to test the waters. Things were getting hairy. My husband sniffed out his next move and approached the shoreline. Before we had a moment’s notice, he did the dirty deed.   
“Ahhhhh. So refreshing.” Our pup took the polar plunge. Worse, he was completely unapologetic about the move, and oblivious to our calls. Like a child surrounded by candy spat out of a pinata, he moved freely, biting at the air to catch bubbles. In my mind’s eye, the song “I Feel Good” by James Brown played on. 
Lukey V. had seized the moment and wasn’t about to stop, just as his parents had not been to halt their activities a week prior. His paws flapped against the water while he created bubbles and swam like a confused duck.  
“Luke!!” Our teaching voices failed us this time. Meanwhile a crowd of onlookers approached. 
“Oh my gosh, look at him go!”
We tried to lure our one-year-old pup back with treats. 
“He doesn’t need food. He be like, ‘I got water, Man!’”
The teen-ager’s remark dripped with sarcasm. Nevertheless, it was spot on.  We watched our pup grab minutes of unadulterated, joy-infused moments. Cliché as it may sound, Luke was in his own world.  
We had to wait for him, just as he had for us. We snapped a few pictures (may as well capture the crazy) and, finally, something struck our pup. Perhaps the cold temperature had made its mark. More likely—
“Oooh-weee!”  He shook his way to shore and accepted a few treats. “Swimming sure does work up the ol’ appetite.” He came back for food.  
He shook off the cold until his fur frizzed out like an afro on a humid day. Then he rubbed himself, shoulder down, on the pavement. Thankfully, the midday sun was hot and full. We took him to a grassy meadow along the trail and let him shake, rub, and absorb the heat. I even surprised myself with a clever survival tool. Though I’m not known to be the G. I. Jane type of girl, the weapon came to me like a dream. “I have a blow-dryer packed in the car!”  
We warmed and groomed our pup until he appeared fresh and fluffy. Then we drove home and counted our blessings while he curled asleep in plush blankets lining the floor of his travel crate. 
Sometimes a dog needs to take what he needs. Just as we do. 
Write to Amy at [email protected]
Find Luke Valentino on Instagram: @livingwithlukevalentino