LIVING WITH LUKE
The multiple-personality aura of Luke Valentino
By AMY PALUMBO-LECLAIRE
There’s something about Luke that has us talking. We can’t put our finger on exactly what has us so crazy in love with him. Perhaps my son says it best. “He has an aura.” Truth. His personality is full of innocence and curiosity, fragrance, and flaw. I’ve never met a puppy quite like him. He’s about to celebrate his first birthday. I couldn’t help but reflect on traits that have earned him a few nicknames.
Luke is a Watcher and a Thinker. He’s the first pup I’ve owned who adores sitting on the front steps to watch what’s happening in the neighborhood. He’s a thoughtful observer, seemingly ahead of his time for a puppy. Amid his research, he’s drawn conclusions about who he will and will not accept. Chest puffed out, he sits regally on those steps, a giant teddy bear on the look-out. There he has made dog friends and human friends. His tail senses good and bad vibes. Fortunately, he’s experienced more of the former. He wears his love for others in a kind, “bear cub” expression. I’ve watched his nose twitch while a serious mouth breaks open to a casual smile every time a guest arrives. “Hi! My name is Luke Valentino.” He lowers his head and wiggles, humbled by the goodness of Dog People, who happen to be one of the more understanding breeds, I’ve found. I trust my dog’s instincts.
“Hi Luke!” Known for his columns and charisma, Luke has become popular in the neighborhood. “You wanna’ play in my yard?” Dog walkers make their way onto our lawn. Luke can barely believe his luck. His tail wags. He fights to restrain his joy (not wanting to come on too strong) but his love for people and the various dogs that extend from people, explodes on that very step. “I’m so excited that you’re here! I want you to know, I’m well trained. I have my moments, but for the most part, I know how to behave.” The owner approves of Luke. Professor-style, he lifts his head, and the two dogs exchange sniffs. “Are you a dog? I’m a dog. Are you a boy? I’m a boy. Are you nice? I’m nice.” Trust established, the owner unclips the leash and—BAM—two dogs rumble in my front yard.
I used to worry about Luke amid spontaneous play. What if the dog is more experienced? Overly aggressive? “I’ll take you down if you keep it up.” I’ve since watched my pup take a cheap shot at a loose collar. Needless to say; I’m over it.
Still, watching my pup develop the realization that not every dog likes him, or wants to play with him, is hard for a Dog Mom. He once approached a unique dog couple at the dog park. The dogs entered together, side by side. They were obviously tight and their owners, also best friends, stated the obvious. “These two are boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Luke, nevertheless, didn’t understand the history or intimate nature of the long-term dog relationship. He trotted over to their side and used his famous shoulder move to greet them. “Wanna’ play?” Boyfriend snarled and shunned my pup. “Get away from my girlfriend!! Just go away!” His growl was aggressive. Luke turned away from the dogs and joined me at the park bench. “Someone’s having a bad hair day.” I felt bad for my pup. He sees the best in every dog, despite the feeling not always being mutual. “It’s okay, Luke. You’re a good boy. They’re be another dog to play with.”
My concern faded upon watching him take a stand for bad behavior on future playdates. “I DON’T LIKE YOU ANYWAY!” I’ve seen him bark back in the face of a hater.
“Let it go, Luke.” My pup’s ego was bruised.
“YOU’RE UGLY and SO ISN’T YOUR MOTHER!!”
“Luke!” My pup’s temper has warranted another nickname.
Lukey V is the side of Luke known to show some sass—the “bark at me and I’ll bark back louder” side, the Valentino (Italian) side that was suspicious of our front yard snowman. “You’re cold and you’re still and you don’t belong here!” My son built the snowman with love, but Luke refused to accept him. He barked, backed away, and snapped his head around, as though paranoid of the snowman’s next move. “Mess with me and I will destroy you, Frozen Man.”
“Luke, be nice. The snowman can be here,” I pleaded with my gangster pup. “He’s a phony, Momma.” He gazed up at me, then back at the Snowman. “He’s pretending to be a person, but he’s full of cold air. Look at the Stiff. I’ve seen his type.” Days passed. January rain beat down on an innocent snowman who somehow had caused bad blood on our front lawn. He melted. He slouched. He aged. Worse, Lukey V lifted his leg and peed on his bottom ball.
Puppies poop a lot, exposing a more vulnerable side to their character. Luke is no exception. Our puppy slept in a comfortable crate until the age of six months, when he outgrew a bed designed to look like a piece of furniture. I lined it with a plush mattress and blankets. It was beautiful. Still, my husband and I heard our growing puppy jostle and struggle to try and get comfortable through the night. We could have purchased an extra -large crate but, instead, came to the same conclusion. “Luke needs to move around and sleep comfortably. Let’s give him a chance to sleep outside of the crate.”
We were both on eggs that first night. We gated the stairs and shut the bathroom door. Luke had the entire downstairs to himself. We also left the crate door open, should he want to go back in. Was he ready for his own apartment? What if he chewed on table legs? Teared apart the shag carpet? There were so many unknowns. Despite our fears, I entered our kitchen in the morning to find him curled up beneath the kitchen table. Of all places he could have slept, he chose the confines of an enclosed area, a cave of sorts. “What a good boy you are, Luke!”
Weeks passed and Luke became more liberated to try out new sleeping spaces. He slept on his plush bed by the bay window. He slept by the front door. He toggled between spots. Then, to our surprise, he pooped on the dining room carpet.
“Ohhhh Luke. What happened?” Suspicious of his own accident, he inspected the mound with a stiff sniff. “How did my poop get in the house?” He couldn’t help it. Nevertheless, the odor was horrible. I gagged, cracked a window, and began the unfun process of cleaning poop from an expendable area rug. My mind traced back through his diet. Admittedly, he had some junk food at a friend’s house the night before, bones said to be “all natural’ but they all claim such. He had also been chewing on rained-on sticks drenched in bacteria. Both ingestions, I knew, were a culprit to his maturing digestive system. Poor Luke. He can’t hop onto a toilet when a bad stomachache strikes. I forgave my pup. Then I bagged his poop and threw it outside for him to see. “Poopy goes outside.” I treated the stain with a small army of toxins. Digestion issues (and diarrhea) are not uncommon for puppies. He watched me scour the carpet, head over paws, as though to say, “I’m sorry, Momma. I know my poopy is stinky.”
Luke’s stools hardened with each passing day. He became more “regular “with clean eating, a close monitor on snacks (and sticks), and mounds of freshly cooked white rice. My family celebrated progress. “Lukey did poopies outside!” We visited the spot on the rug for gentle reminders. “Noooo.” I stretched out the word and kneeled to a spot overly fragrant. “Lukey does poopy outside.” He glanced up at me then looked away. “Can we move on, please?”
Baby Luke emerged, suitably, when my pup was about eight weeks old. I’d cradle him in my arms like a baby so that he could gaze into my eyes, then chew on a dangling sweatshirt tassel. The habit continued as he grew, and even until he reached a stocky sixty-five pounds. Baby Luke doesn’t realize he doesn’t qualify for the standard of a lap dog. I return home from teaching Zumba classes to find him ready and waiting for our special routine in the family room. “Let’s do Baby Luke!” He hovers about my gym bags and winter clothes, holding me to it. I collapse to the floor and maneuver Baby Luke onto my lap. He licks my neck and face. We cuddle like a pair of honeymooners, and I think to myself, “Of all of my puppy’s sides, this just might be my favorite.”
Write to me at [email protected]
Visit Luke on Instagram @livingwithlukevalentino