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The Yankee Express

Luke Valentino, a bashful pup gone spunky


Luke Valentino has grown so much in the past year and a half. Puppies are cute, but they are also a tremendous amount of work. Directly proportional to the energy expended on a puppy seems the reward of a full-grown dog who understands how to live with us. Luke has learned that we can’t cater to his every whim. He has a toy box. He has a bone. He has a life!  
Luke came into my life in March of 2022. He was the darker-hued of three other Golden males, the one nestled in the warmth of his brother, the guy uninterested in me or a new home for that matter. Of the Seven Dwarfs, Luke was Bashful. “That’s Luke,” I said to myself. “I’ll take the one in the back,” I said aloud, fighting to ignore Happy, who sat staring at me with a heartbreakingly small smile. “I’ll be your forever friend.” My heart had already settled on Luke a few days back. He caught my eye in a picture sent me by his breeder. He seemed to look into my eyes as though to say, “My name is Luke Valentino. I’m not Lincoln, but you’ll love me just the same, and I’ll love you back.” He looked like a Luke. He was Luke! Fate had brought us together. 
Do we ever love our new pets in the same way we do those we’ve lost? I don’t believe so. Rather, I think we love them differently or perhaps individually.  I loved Lincoln for his athletic, robust spirit. He was up for a new adventure on the ball field. He was my partner in crime; with me to share in my love for people and life. He was a dog who viewed the world with rose-colored glasses until his last day. He didn’t focus on the pain of his tumor, but on being together. Why complain when we can play? He seemed to understand that our journey is paved with highs and low—and that it helps to focus on the highs.  He was my dog. 
What about Luke?
Bashful dashed like a bunny into the comfort of his plush crate on his first day home. He cried for me at three a.m. with a miniature puppy howl. “Arooooooo! Help! Help! I somehow pooped on myself!” He was careful to explore only sections of our home at a time and tackled the deck stairs with trepidation and a shrill bark. “I know I’m supposed to walk down the stairs but it’s easier for you. Your legs are bigger!” Weeks turned into months and little Luke grew into his big, boxy head. In the process, he began to trust us. He may have been the most docile puppy I’ve owned, the only one I could trust to be alone on the front steps, but he was developing confidence and attitude. The mane of his chest puffed out like a lion’s—and so did our love for a bashful pup gone spunky. There’s so much to celebrate about Luke. Where to begin? 

He’s a Snuggler 
A dog is therapeutic, scientifically, and remarkably so. Research shows that petting a dog lowers the stress hormone, cortisol. Moreover, the social interaction between people and their dogs increases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, the same one which bonds a mother to her baby. More simply put, snuggling feels good. “Do you want to snuggle, Luke?” My grown pup is more a thinker than a jumper. He’ll look up at me or my husband at the edge of the couch as though to say, “I was thinking of snuggling with you, but I don’t want to bother you.” We scoop him up and he makes the big, clunky transition from floor to chest. Then he tucks his big head against one of our chests. Luke’s coat is soft and extremely thick. Snuggling with him is like hugging a brand new, expensive teddy bear. He’ll gaze up at the television and tilt his head in curiosity to the sight of a dog on film. Occasionally, he’ll find himself hooked on a scene. “There’s a dog who looks like me! Now he’s walking on the grass like me! Hey, there’s a car. I ride in cars, too! A person is swimming. I know how to swim, too!” I’m not particularly fond of watching television. Unless Luke is beside me. 


He Travels like a Champ
I used to travel everywhere with Lincoln, but rides were not easy. He was a backseat pacer, and far more high-strung than Luke. In some ways, I created the monster in the backseat. I acclimated him to Dunkin Donuts drive-throughs and tossed him one too many donut holes. He came to attach car rides with indulgence. Luke, on the other hand, lays down patiently in his travel dog crate (highly recommended) and will sleep through long rides. He’ll pop his head out of the sunroof upon arrival. “We’re here already?” Luke has already been to Vermont, New Hampshire, and numerous central MA destinations. He’s sat beside me in cafes, restaurants, and bookstores. He’s not a Service Dog and I’ve never claimed him to be. “I’m a columnist. He’s working” is what I say, instead, when questioned. I write lots of stories about Luke. I need to be with him, my companion and muse.

He Aims to Please

Admittedly, food rewards have been a central part of this equation. Still, nothing warms my heart more than the expression on Luke’s face when he has made a good choice and knows it. “Hi Momma! I really, really wanted to chase after that shaggy mutt but you’ve worked so hard to help me stay in the yard. How about putting something in my dish so I’ll remember to do it again? Aren’t we a great team?” I’ve learned that consistency matters the most when it comes to training a dog. Luke’s consequent behavior is no exception (barring a few erratic bunny chases; every dog needs to chase a bunny now and then). 

He’s One of a Kind

Luke Valentino is unique. He doesn’t like the game of fetch like most dogs. Instead, he prefers Tease and Chase, a game involving a stuffed animal pushed into our butts (a subtle nudge) to initiate an intense game of chase that goes on with unathletic slides and raucous unfairness. Luke positions himself to win every time, finding the perfect angle around the coffee table to prevent us from grabbing the stuffed lamb from his mouth. He’s also a colossal sore loser. Should we find a means to take the lamb back and run with it, he’ll whine like an NFL player handed a bad call. “THAT’S MY LAMB!!! GIVE IT BACK!” He’s even adopted a clever tactic in grabbing a second stuffed animal to make us jealous, so that we’ll drop the lamb.  “I like the beaver better anyway.” Often, I find myself losing patience with his tantrums. “Let Luke win, please!” 
Luke may win a game of Tease and Chase, but when it comes to finding the right “next dog” my family has scored big. Whether snuggling, playing, or traveling with us, Luke has added so much joy to our lives. I never thought I’d find a dog I’d love as much as I did Lincoln. Then came Luke Valentino. I couldn’t be happier. 

Write to Amy at [email protected] 
Find Luke Valentino on Instagram @livingwithlukevalentino