My greatest experience as a “non-mom” was being the mother to an aggressive Boxer dog named Luca. Luca Dean Brasi Venturella to be precise. (Photo by Michael Davis. Follow his awesome photo blog at michaelwdavis17.wordpress.com)
I chose him from a pound in Los Angeles when I was 19 years old. This was the type of place where they posted on the cages the number of days until the dog is euthanized.
Throughout his life he was truly my family’s dog. He lived in L.A., Chicago, and the last five years of his life, he came to live with my husband and I in Joplin, Missouri.
Like I said, Luca was a mean one. We’re pretty sure he was trained to fight and it’s a set back from which he never recovered. Any time he saw the mailman or UPS guy he would charge the front picture window with all of his might (we actually had to replace the single pane window with a double pane because we were worried he would go through it!). He chased and charged any animal, small or large, and frequently bit people who walked through our front door (that stopped in his later years, thank heavens).
Despite his shortcomings, he was the most precious little guy I ever had. He was a snuggler, even until the hour of his death. Even though he was 65 pounds, he LOVED sitting on people’s laps. He loved drinking out of lawn sprinklers (or “free drink stations” as we called them). He would squeak a chew toy for hours…on your leg. When we walked through the front door he would jump in the air with excitement and joy even if we were only gone for an hour. He needed a LOT of attention. It was a requirement that he go on a run every day. He was definitely high maintenance. And he was the first great love of my life.
I remember moving to Joplin from Los Angeles when I was 21 years old. I got a job, started my junior year of college, but felt so out of place. I was alone and Luca was truly one of the highlights of my life during that period. Dogs are consistent. That is the greatest things about them; their unwavering love and commitment. Don’t get me wrong, I know what it feels like to be loved. I was VERY fortunate to come from a home where my parents loved me unconditionally – but, there is something about a dog’s love that is very unique.
Anyway, I met a boy, married him and my parents and beloved Luca moved back to Chicago. I stayed in Joplin and finished school and two years after I was married my parents asked me if my husband and I would consider keeping Luca, “Just for a while”. Chicago had 91 inches of snow that year and my Dad’s travel schedule had significantly increased. I was ecstatic, and my husband was willing, so Luca officially moved in.
For the next five years my husband and I planned our lives around our little guy. Saturday and Sunday mornings began with long walks. Late Friday nights with friends were never too late because we had to get home to Luca. Christmas cards included our “fur child” and Christmas morning always started with Luca burrowing his nose deep down into his stocking. I do believe that many people with actual children see their days and years going the same way…just with a lot less fur. May I remind you that the clean-up that goes with a dog is just as extensive as the clean-up that goes with a child, especially if you are a neat-freak like me! But I digress.
For me, being a pet parent is incredibly fulfilling. Dogs do not achieve great societal accomplishments that you can brag about. They don’t get good grades that give you the right to an “honor student” bumper sticker on your car. They do, however, love and need love. They need daily care and attention. They require accommodations to schedules. Pets require discipline and money, just like kids. It’s not exactly the same, because no two things are ever really alike, but it is comparable.
Luca died on April 28, 2012. He had lung cancer and we had to make the very humane, but difficult, decision to have him put down. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. He was my first “fur baby.” He impacted my life in so many ways.
The night that Luca died, we left town because we didn’t want to be in the house we shared that now seemed so empty. As we walked around Kansas City, we came across a lady who told us that the way you learn to love one dog only teaches you the patience and skills you need to be a better pet parent for your future “children.”
Let’s all recognize and celebrate the joys and sorrows of parenthood and support one another in our journeys, no matter what path we take.