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The Yankee Express

Luke Valentino Comes Home

By Amy LeClaire

Luke Valentino entered my life on Friday, March 25 in the most peculiar way. I’d love to tell a story about how my puppy paraded through a pudgy pile of siblings to greet me, as though destined. “I’ve finally found you!”
Our story is less cliché.


He was nestled beside his brother, burying his face in a blanket before realizing what was happening. A person had come to meet the crew at a set and confirmed location to mark a second travel day (he had just been to the vet a day prior). One more person and one more activity gave Luke, at seven weeks old, one more reason to bury himself in the warmth of a brother. “I’m wiped.” 
His eyes met mine, and registered my face for a split second. 
“That’s him. That’s Luke,” I said. I recognized him immediately from the picture sent a few days prior. He was a bit darker than the others, and a good size. The camera captured his essence in a perfect shot, one that melted my heart. Something about his expression held a calm and healing essence to correlate with his name: Luke Valentino. I knew him before I met him. He was the one. 
“I gotta’ get to the bottom of this.” As though searching for a treasure, he dug away at soft blankets which lined a clothes basket repurposed to be a travel-bed for the ride home. Every now and then he looked up at me and broke into his heartbreakingly miniature puppy smile. “I don’t really know you yet, but I feel you.” Then he peed on one of my old shirts.
We arrived home and introduced our puppy to our yard, one we would later realize was overly full of mulch shards and acorns. He looked around and sniffed the air with hesitation. His short legs wobbled like a newborn lamb’s as he experienced a whole new landscape, a view that seemed wide and mysterious next to the only one he knew with his mother and litter mates. “This is your new home, Luke.” I picked him and up and squeezed him close, already smitten by an indescribable love and prayer for a pup whose story was about to be written. “Luke Valentino – my love for you is endless.”
    We brought him inside. He looked around, still unsure, and found his bed, a cozy wooden crate which was lined with a thick, orthopedic dog mattress, soft blankets, and stuffed animals. He crawled in and collapsed safely in a corner while I breathed in a knowing sigh. The bed mattered; it was not an expense to be skimped on.
The next few days gave way to the intense work of a puppy and, along with that, progress.
Minutes streamed like a river of watercolors, blurring the lines between day and night while Luke gained our trust and kept us honest. “Are you really going to be here for me?” He wailed for us on the first dark night alone. We sat up like parents in an ER. “Did Lincoln do this?” We couldn’t remember. We had been wearing rose colored glasses for so long and felt like rookies. “It’s okay, Luke.” We stroked him, took him outside, gave him Nyla bones to chew on, and redirected curiosity gone chewy. When he attempted to squat, we scooped him up and praised him for going pee-pee outside. We sauntered about our kitchen with bed head and slippers, pouring coffee for each other, and talking about poop. It was a new puppy thing. Late March weather happened to be atypically cold, down to the twenties at 2 a.m., but we cut our losses. Imagine days of torrential rain happening with a new pup!  Neighbors and friends visited, showering little Luke with toys, countless hugs, and well wishes. We were exhausted but we were a team, unified by the bundle of joy Luke had brought us, just as Lincoln had eleven years ago.
A week passed and our pup’s progress had us breathless. Puppies are so impressionable. Given enormous attention, they learn how to survive with you comfortably and quickly. We gushed and bragged and videotaped every milestone. Our bashful puppy had grown into a confident member of our family. He knew he was loved. Lonely nights that had him whimpering and confused became serene cuddle moments with Daddy, who shared his sweatshirt to sleep upon throughout lonely nights. He began to explore rooms and hallways that once seemed scary. He found Lincoln’s favorite spot beneath the island counter and sniffed with obsession. If I dared to walk across the driveway, creating a distance between us, he’d sit and stare up at me. “Don’t leave me! I like you!” He’d race towards me, his little legs surprisingly strong and assured, and we’d cuddle while he nibbled my sweatshirt tassel.
    I’ll never forget the first time he noted the hovering echo of a helicopter. The sound seemed great enough to swallow the sky. Maybe the sound could take Luke with him? He ran like a puppy actor auditioning for The Lion King during an adventure scene. He ran mightily and with record speed, straight towards the deck steps where, for the first time, he managed one step at a time, so as not to fall through the spaces between. I scooped him back into the house. “You’re okay, Luke.” Then he chewed on Daddy’s boot and forgot all about it. Luke was a survivor. In one week, he had learned that home is where the heart (and fun) is. 


The bed he had tentatively crawled into became a cave for hauling stuffed animals up-and-into. He learned to master the art of the “running start” in order to manage the big teddies. Occasionally he’d misjudge the physics and bounce off of the stuffed animal’s belly onto the floor. “I meant to do that.” A tenacious pup, he’d try and try again. He soared over the step-down into our family room, and learned how to “sit” on command, given a kibble reward. He even exposed a rebellious side, dashing away from us in the yard, acorn in mouth, and changing direction like a tennis player when we got close enough to snatch back the choking hazard. We were exhausted but so enamored by our March puppy, son of Mister Big and Molly of Cloverdale Goldens. We couldn’t wait to build more adventures with a puppy named Luke Valentino. We couldn’t wait to experience all that dogs do for us.
Stay tuned for more on Living with Luke. Write to me. [email protected]