Luke becomes a dirt digger, and teaches a lesson
By AMY PALUMBO-LECLAIRE
Spring 2023 has brought forth new growth in Luke’s personality. More specifically, he’s become a dirt digger. I’ve watched him swipe dirt with the speed of a texting teen. My lawn, verdant with fresh grass and deep holes, reflects life with a grown pup. “I need to get to the bottom of this.” Head down, tail stiff, his focus is manic. Fresh dirt falls like powdered sugar around new holes. He looks up at me every so often like a lion who’s found chocolate pudding in the garbage. “I like to dig.”
Dogs, Google tells me, dig because they are bored or to bury prey. Luke Valentino, a current unneutered male, exposes a third reason.
“Luke. Please.” I caught him peeing on a worm after sniffing (and digging) him out. “I don’t know who you think you are Mr. Slime, but I’m the boss of this yard.” Dirty deeds aside, I can’t help but appreciate my pup’s natural tendency to play in the earth. I’ve watched him zoom around the yard like a fool falling in love. I’ve watched him rub his back in the grass as though scratching an itch. I’ve watched him sniff new blooms.
Spring has sprung. My pup wants a taste of it.
“We need to do something about Luke’s digging. He’s wrecking the whole yard.” My husband is unimpressed by Luke’s spring cheer. Keeping up with the Jones’s is difficult with a sixteen-month-old digger. He grabs Luke by the collar to (literally) rub his nose in the dirt. “Nooooo.”
Luke smiles down at one of numerous holes. “That bitch was my best work yet.”
Never a fan of shame and blame, I’ve found that applying “natural consequences” works better for my adolescent pup. Imagine scolding a child for building a sandcastle in the sand. “How dare you make that hole in the earth!” The process of digging is natural and playful, an act of innocence and an expression of a dog’s personality. Luke is a big kid wearing a fur coat. Besides, Luke Valentino, quite admirably, has not chewed on a single piece of furniture, as many pups do. Granted, he’s torn the guts out of a stuffed elephant, but that’s about it. “It’s just a phase,” I tell my husband. “Leave Luke alone. He’s just being a dog.” My dog-friendly rationale has led to a rather ironic outcome. I’ve respected my pup’s needs to be a dog and, in turn, he’s understood my human side.
“You do yard work, Momma?” Luke watches me use a pitchfork to make final touches to one more dirt-filled hole. He stares up at me with a champion smile. His body is finally catching up to his head. He’s a beautiful, curious dog. I read his mind. “My Momma is so good at everything she sets her mind to. She types and dances and does yard work, too. Look at her go!” Dogs love us unconditionally. They have no agenda or expectations for us. They love every part of us.
“Luke, want to go for a walk?” My cheek is smeared with dirt, but Luke doesn’t notice.
He translates the offer. I watch his smile close then open again as he thinks about it. “I was thinking the same thing!! I love going for walks!”
“You created a lot of work for Mummy, Luke. You’ll have to wait.” I emphasize the word wait. He inspects the covered hole and smiles again. I can tell he’s thinking about his actions. “Let’s go for a walk!” But not for long. Luke is a dog. His guilt is short-lived. He’s moved on three seconds ago. We move away from the hole (pun intended) incident. Boredom strikes a few days later. A young dog’s energy is boundless. There aren’t enough hours in the day, it seems, to take Luke on the walks, runs, playdates, and dog-friendly adventures which he requires. I gaze down at my yard to see the latest surprise, one that takes my breath away.
“What are you doing, Luke?”
Luke is digging another hole, but this one is different. This one is created at the border of my Mother’s Day Garden, in a spot naturally “prepped’ for a new flower. “What do you think, Momma?” I can barely believe my eyes. He shows me his work with a nose smeared in dirt. My yard is expansive. He could have dug in so many other areas but, instead, he chose this one. My mind draws up the memory. A few weeks back he sat and watched me plant flowers there.
He lifts his chin while I pet him. “I was thinking you could plant more flowers here, and that way you’ll always remember me—Luke Valentino—your favorite Golden Retriever.”
I cover the hole, but not completely. I think about all the dogs I’ve had; good dogs I’ve loved, missed, and cried for. Someday, I’ll wish for one more day to watch Luke Valentino dig one more hole. Dog owners understand the empty holes in our hearts when we lose our pets. What I wouldn’t give to have one more day with Lincoln!
“I love you, Luke.” I massage the ears of my young dog’s big head.
I’ve since planted marigolds in this garden for my favorite golden, Luke Valentino. There’s no need to wait for his passing to remember him.
He’s with me now and, together, we’re filling the holes.
Write to Amy at [email protected]
Find Luke Valentino on Instagram @livingwithlukevalentino