Paul S. Gifford

EDDIE – A LIFE REMEMBERED

IWVPA Club Recognition of Outstanding Non-War Related Writing: March 12, 2006
Awarded: March 12, 2006
On July 5th, 2003 the final word, on the final page of the story of my beloved dog Eddie Valentino was composed.

How did Eddie come into my life?

When I was a very young twenty one I had planned to go see a movie one early spring evening. When I arrived at the theatre, I discovered that the advertised time in that day’s newspaper had been wrong. I had forty-five minutes to find something to do; it just so happened that in the same parking lot was a pet store and I have always had a fondness for animals.

It was basically a pet supply store, but they did sell a few rabbits and mice. They normally never sold dogs, but as soon as I walked in I noticed a large cardboard box, placed by the door. I inquisitively peered inside, and too my delight discovered that a young puppy was sitting there. My curiosity was now piqued. I read the information on a card, that had been taped to the make shift home. It informed me that the store owner’s next door neighbor’s dog had an unexpected litter of 6 Airedale Terrier/German Shepherd mix puppies.

Growing up in England, I had always desperately wanted a dog, perhaps clinging to a romantic notion that having a dog was an enchanted experience. Maybe I had read one too many Enid Blyton books, or watched too many episodes of Lassie on a Saturday afternoon, but circumstances alas had never permitted my dream to be realized.

As I peered in at this little fellow, the last remaining pup of the brood, a strange thing happened; he looked straight back at me, as if to say, “Here I am!” I somehow managed to pull myself away from his clinging gaze. I then attempted to distract myself by glancing about the rest of the store. As I peered at a rabbit, the puppy managed to climb out the box and follow me! The owner of the store smiled in amazement. “He has never done that before…” she remarked in an amused tone.

At this point in my life I was renting a second floor apartment; not the ideal environment to nurture and take care of an energetic six week old puppy. I bit my lip, pulled my composure together and marched out of the store, trying hard not to look back at the glorious young dog again. The store owners, picked him up, and smiled at me, as I left my ears were full of whimpering.

I discovered it difficult to fall asleep that night, I kept thinking about him. It was the strangest thing this curious little dog was turning into an obsession. The next day I tried again to keep my mind off him, I almost succeeded. But at 5:30 the impulse became stronger than I could stand “I must have this dog.” My mind was made up! Now, the shop closed at six, so I knew that I had to move fast as I had 15 miles of freeway to cover. I raced to my car and sped off into the afternoon flirting with getting a speeding ticket. I arrived with moments to spare, hurriedly parked my car, and ran into the shop, my adrenaline racing, and my heartbeat thumping. I had made it, there was the box! I looked in, unable to conceal my excitement and to my horror the box was EMPTY!! “AAArgh!” I thought, “I am too late, and someone else has taken my dog!” It was then I looked up and noticed the friendly store owner – who was smiling at me! She quickly informed me she had seen the look of love come over me the day before, and had put the dog safely in the back room for me! Her heart had told her that I was going to be back. As she went back to get him, I don’t know who was more excited me, or the dog!

So that is how I came to own my first dog. He came to be known as “Eddie Valentino”.

There are a many, many stories I could share about him, and perhaps one day I might but as I sit here and write my simple tribute to my beloved friend, on this the day of his passing, a few significant events readily spring to mind:

Eddie had such a confounding impact on my life, it is most difficult to fully express. However I shall take an attempt to explain some of his everlasting effect on me. Please forgive me as it is late, and my lack of real sleep for a couple of days is having a marked impression.

My education into dog ownership began quickly as I realized just how dependent a puppy is. I was completely naive as to what dog ownership fully entailed. The actual purchase of the dog was a mere $35.00, after my first vet visit and pet store extravaganza; I was soon up to the $500.00 mark! I was still a waiter at the time, so it was definitely felt, but I did not care, nothing was too good for my new best friend. I remember eating lots of meatless spaghetti dinners and macaroni those first couple of months!

The very first night I brought him home, I had made a bed out of a large shoe box and a soft towel, and placed it carefully by the side of my bed. My optimistic intent that we were both going to get a good night’s sleep- Wrong! That first night was rather long! The only way he eventually got any rest was by sucking on my little finger. The next night, after a little research I wrapped an alarm clock in with the towel and although a vast improvement, he still felt a need to suckle that finger of mine!

I quickly established that he was a very active pup and that he needed at least two hours of exercise daily for him to burn of all of his energy; this in turn meant that I also was getting two hours of exercise. Each day we were to be found in the local park, chasing, catching and playing, building the foundations of a deep trusting friendship.

The months passed and circumstances prompted that I needed to find a new place to call home, as I had to move out of my old apartment. I regrettably had to get Eddie boarded a couple of times. Eventually I discovered it – an apartment on the bad side of town, but they allowed dogs. (Have you ever tried apartment hunting with a hundred pound dog in tow?) I left Eddie behind when I was scheduled to meet with my new landlord. He seemed to like me, and despite being in a questionable neighborhood, the downstairs apartment with a small yard seemed perfect. I mentioned that I had a “medium sized” dog. He explained that the deposit would be higher but a smallish dog is acceptable. A contract was signed. I shall never forget the look on his face when he actually got to see Eddie for the first time!

Eddie started going everywhere with me; outdoor restaurant patios, and convenience stores, and even into the barbers – no-one seemed to mind! It seemed as if the whole neighborhood knew of my unusual, half human companion. He became my best friend, companion, and protector. The bond between us was incredible. You might find this hard to believe, yet he could communicate to me, with a particular bark, or shake of his head. Eddie also was a teacher, he taught me patience, but most importantly he taught me how to love. When I was depressed, he was there to understand and support. His dependence on me so much managed to motivate myself as I would permit myself to let him down. I manage to get my career going, moving up into restaurant management, the future was beginning to look rosy.

My life went on like this for the next ten years. We both had become older and wiser sharing a multitude of adventures and experiences together. I was happy and contented with my life, yet I could not help but think something important was still missing from it.

Then after an intriguing set of circumstances at the restaurant I managed I got to meet the second angel God had seen fit to bless me with – my beloved wife Sarah. We got engaged on the first night, moving in together a month later. Love truly does work in miraculous ways.

Eddie had spent almost a decade with me at this point, just the two of us. He was naturally rather jealous of Sarah right from the onset. As I hugged her he would gently growl, and attempt to push between us. It was a tough transition for all of us. Sarah and I found a modest house to rent, yet it had a large back yard. Eddie quickly transitioned from sleeping on the bed next to me, to sleeping in a dog house in the back garden. Sarah, however, conceded after a few weeks, and allowed him to sleep in his bed in the kitchen. This is where he slept, relatively contented for another couple of months.

I shall never forget the fateful night that things were once more about to change. It was a late August, at the end of a glorious hot Californian summer. We had a thunder and lightening storm; Eddie was always terrified by them. At the second crash of thunder, I heard a noise from the kitchen; Eddie had managed to jump over the gate that had been put up to contain him. As my wife blissfully slept, I watched lovingly as he cautiously nosed open our bedroom door and peered in. I could not help but smile as he stealthily crawled to my side of the bed. Then with a satisfied sigh, slumped down and fell asleep. From that day forth, that’s where he continued to sleep. My wife learned that a pet is part of the family too.

The last eight years simply have flown by. So many things have changed, but there was always the one constant in my life, Eddie. Over those years, he has gotten lost, survived two surgeries, and has shared in a host of adventures. He gradually got a little slower, significantly grayer, and in my mind even more wise.

Up to about two weeks ago he was still fairly active, but arthritis was beginning to dramatically show its wear and tear upon him, especially with his hind legs and hip. Yet, he still managed his daily walk around the park, even if we had to stop and rest a couple of times. These were our magic moments. I used to chatter to him as we walked, and he used to intently listen to my every word. He knew when to reassure me, he knew when to comfort me, and he knew when to make me laugh.

I understood the end was coming, he was after all seventeen years old, and had already beaten the odds; I started, heavy hearted, to say goodbye to him.

This morning, despite his best efforts he was no longer able to get up. During the night he had needed to relieve himself, and was unable to stand up to go outside. He has always been fanatically house broken, never failing to awaken me in the night if he needed to be let out. But this morning I awoke to discover he had soiled himself, and was lying in it, he looked up at me with a combination of embarrassment and anguish. My heart ached. I knew this day was going to be his last. With a little effort, my wife and I transported him outside, and we began to clean him up. I wanted to give him a little dignity back. Despite his obvious discomfort, he still managed to smile at me, even licking the tears that were now slipping down my cheeks.

The vet was called and an appointment was made – three o’clock, this afternoon. I hugged him as I wept; our time together was quickly fleeting. I fed him six all beef hot dogs, his favorite food, which he eagerly devoured. I lay down next to him, talking and singing to him, as he talked and sang back.

I would not have had the strength of will to transport him to the vets myself. As it happens I did not have to. I am fortunate enough to be truly blessed with a marvelous brother and sister-in-law, Dwight and Rhonda. Dwight’s brother, a fireman, had just flown in for a visit from Chicago. It was decided that they were going to take care of it for me, realizing that I would not be able to. At the allotted hour they dutifully arrived. Eddie required to be carried off in a blanket, as his ability to walk had completely been lost. He refused to even try. He was placed in the back of Dwight’s truck… I hugged him and kissed him goodbye, for the last time, completely overcome with emotion, I almost was physically sick, I was so heartbroken, and then they drove off.

I was told that his final passing was quick and painless. The vet office was apparently also in tears when they were informed of my Eddie’s story. They were amazed to discover that this dog lying in front of them was a remarkable seventeen years old.

So this brings me to the end… a brief summary of one wonderful life. A life that taught me so much about love and loyalty and a life that has improved my own in more ways that I can ever express. I truly believe that the wonderful existence that I and my family share right now would not have happened without my treasured Eddie Valentino. I whole heartedly contend that he was sent to guide me, to show me how wonderful life can truly be.

Eddie’s memory shall always remain deep in my heart.

Now to the future, I have two other dogs, Chester and Tasha, both were rescued, both amazing stories in there own right. As it happens Tasha is asleep at my feet right now, right where Eddie used to be…