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The Yankee Express

Luke’s Right to Play

By Amy LeClaire

Truth. Having a dog is like having another kid. Dogs need our discipline, love, energy, and patience. Dogs remind us to be on top of our game. “No Slackers Allowed,” they tell us. 
Big dogs have big needs. Do they have bigger needs than little dogs? Perhaps their needs are simply different. Luke is not a particularly needy dog (or overly big) but he’s a playful one. His favorite game happens to be Chase, a game that’s been written about, a game branded by the unsubtle push of a stuffed animal—directly into the square of our butts. 
The jolt takes us by surprise. Then, game on. The stuffed lamb hangs from his mouth like a dead bird. You’re It. We’ve been nominated. “I’m gonna’ get you!” We raise our hands like a monster’s while, spooked, Luke rushes away and slides around corners of the house, slipping foolishly. Pizza is about to be delivered. 


“Hello there.” I open the door, disheveled, and wipe stray hairs from my sweaty cheek. “Let me take that from you.” The delivery man simply wants to accept his tip and split, but my 68-pound Golden wants IN on this new person. He wiggles. He whimpers. Chase has become a distant memory. “I don’t really know you, but you smell good.” He drops the lamb and picks up a sneaker to share. “Oh, and I love you, too.” Pizza Man shuffles to make a smooth transition. Rather inconveniently, a paper receipt falls to the ground and Luke snatches it up. I extract wet paper from his mouth and struggle to accept a pizza still unpaid for. I want to wash my hands so badly, but things are starting to feel awkward. “Excuse me. Young dog here.” I’m embarrassed. Worse, I make excuses for my own lack of proper dog training. Front Door Greetings are huge when it comes to this. Luke should be waiting patiently for me to decide when the time is right for a front door exchange with Mr. Pizza. “Have I told you lately how much I love you?” Instead, he licks the young man’s hands, and fails to respect boundaries. 
“It’s your turn.” Luke’s exuberance has led my family to keep score regarding the work required to own him. 
“I walked him the long way.”
“I did hose play.”
“I stayed up late with him.”
Luke follows the conversation and awaits the verdict. “Aren’t I the cutest male Golden?” Luke’s cuteness, admittedly, has kept him out of trouble. I’ve watched him dig holes wide and deep in the yard. I can’t help but admire how productive he is. “Luke is as powerful as a motor! He dug that hole in 30 seconds flat! He’s a natural landscaper, I swear.” My husband, visibly worn-down by Luke’s hobby, covers the hole like a gravedigger. “Daddy is so good at yard work.” He smiles down at his work. “We’re such a good team.” 
Luke, though needing assistance at times, surprises us as well. Sometimes he handles boredom like a champ.  He noses through his toy box, pulls a toy out, and lays down to chew. His independence warms our hearts, though in a bittersweet kind of way. 
“Look at Luke! He’s self-soothing with that smelly, old bat!” We watch him play by himself, his paws stretched at eleven, a crinkly bat (a first toy) between his paws. “No one wants him! This is so sad. He doesn’t ask for much, and we’re all too busy.” 
Oblivious, he nibbles at the bat’s broken wing. He’s moved on. Dogs do not dwell on problems. Sometimes (the irony) we lie beside him while he chews and crowd him. Independence may be the goal, but we can’t bear to watch him grow up too fast.  “What a good choice, Luke!” He looks up at me. “I’m a purebred good boy.” Then he licks me on the lips.  

*   *   *

“Has Luke gone for a walk?” My son faces me with deep concern while I prepare to leave the house. Keys in hand, I ponder the interrogation. Ben has been to Italy, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Iceland and soon to be Nashville in a span of years that have had me rolling lint brushes across black clothing. “I’ve walked nearly as many dogs as your age,” I think to myself. “Good idea, Ben,” comes out instead. “Let’s try and make a walk happen.” My son’s intentions are good. Like me, he worries about our pup. We may not be a perfect dog family, but one thing is for sure when it comes to living with Luke. We love this dog—a once bashful pup nestled beside his brother, the darker of his littermates. We love Luke Valentino, and we understand his right to play.