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The Yankee Express

The stars align for Luke Valentino – parking lot peril

“More ice, please.”


Every Dog Mom relates. There’s always one frightening incident, the dog story to be told and retold. The one that can’t be topped.  I thought losing Luke to the shadowy cave of the fox den last spring was my scary story, and the one to be placed up on a high shelf. He was a curious three-month old pup, still learning his boundaries, yet, incidentally, my smartest dog to date. Luke is a thinker and he aims to please. 
“I’m coming, Momma! I just needed to sniff the muddy leaves across the street!” My puppy isn’t perfect. He loves to explore but always comes back on command, and expects to be rewarded for good intentions. “How about a few blueberries since I listened so well?” My horror was not surprising, then, when after a full ten minutes of searching the yard, I still couldn’t find little Luke on that chilly, spring day. Worse, Daddy Fox had been checking him out on more than one occasion. I knew a clever carnivore when I saw one. Little did I know that my fear of losing the pup that stole my heart (even after losing King Lincoln) was about to rekindle.

 Luke visits the Barnes & Noble at the Millbury Shopping Mall

We had just visited the dog park. After parking and guiding him to jump from dog crate (perched in the trunk) to ground, I allowed him to grab his leash and gallop up to the dog park gate. The park is safely located on a high hill at the end of a long, driveway flanked by woods. The small liberty offered, I’ve learned, has helped Luke to gain confidence with unfamiliar ground. He loves to survey the play scene before making a grand entrance. “My name is Luke Valentino and I’m here to play! I excel in a defensive game of wrestling and/or chase, but preferably wrestling because I’m not built for speed. Oh, and my Mom might not let me play with you if you’re a Pitt. Who’s ready?” The spirit of the dog park, though fun and free, served as an unhelpful precedent to our next destination.
I had a lunch date planned with a friend at Panera, the outdoor café of which Luke had come to know and love. “How old is your puppy? He’s so well behaved! I once had a Golden that looked just like him!” Friend after friend came over to meet and greet my social (now) ten-month old puppy. His favorite server, Ryan, filled his water bowl and made sure to add enough ice (a recurrent Valentino request). The Panera experience had become a vision that danced through my puppy’s head like a slab of moist chicken. 
“Hey, I know this place! This is where I meet new adults and children! And Ryan brings me water! And my Mom gives me a slice of—” 
After noting the scene through the backseat window, his four legs found the ground as they usually do, with his leash clipped and exuberant thirst for life turned on. I fumbled with his backpack, adjusted my keys to lock the car, and rushed to the unsafe speed of a puppy in a hurry, a puppy pulling me forward, a puppy who had suddenly broken free! 
What happened next plays out now in my mind like a slow-motion film featuring someone else’s pup. Luke, unaware of the vehicles surrounding him, galloped through the mid-section of the parking lot to then cross over the main road running parallel to the restaurant’s front entrance. A car was coming. It wasn’t speeding. But it wasn’t moving slowly either. It was simply moving forward casually, a ship sailing to the motion of a breeze. The driver (though I’m not absolutely sure) seemed unaware of the puppy heading in front of her car. Likewise, Luke was unaware of the danger. I could not scream his name because stopping him in his tracks would have derailed the physics of what was to become a perfect storm. My heart sank in my chest and I screamed his name a thousand times while running forward to witness what stars look like when aligned. The exact speed of Luke’s gallop had aligned perfectly with that of the oblivious driver, so that the two moving parts, pup and car, had sailed seamlessly by each other. Had the driver accelerated a beat faster, Luke would have been hit. Had Luke moved a few steps slower, ditto.  A small crowd had already formed on the patio to protect the galloping puppy. 
“Oh my gosh.” I made it to him and gasped while he sat regally, completely oblivious to what had just transpired. “Look at all of these amazing people to greet, Momma!” 
For as long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the compassion shown in the eyes of a girl who came to our side. “It’s okay. It just happened.” She had bright, punk style hair and kind eyes.
“That was completely my fault,” I said back, feeling dizzy. 
“Sometimes things just happen and we don’t know why. He’s alright. Your puppy is going to be alright and so aren’t you.”
I’ve always said that dogs are better than people. But on that particular day, I learned that sometimes the stars align, and people are just as good. 

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