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The joy and tragedy of owning a dog

Bruno, an Italian greyhound and the only child for all seven years of his life, was about to get a younger sister.

My wife, Mary, and I were nervous. Googling “Italian greyhounds and babies” yielded one conclusion: The two don’t mix. The small breed, known for extreme neuroticism, must be the focus of their masters’ lives and can’t handle competition from small humans. Yet video after video on YouTube shows the same thing: Baby comes home from the hospital, and resident Italian greyhound licks the new family member adoringly. Experts be damned.

We of course trusted YouTube.

When it came time for our homecoming scene, I placed our little Frankie, bundled and asleep in her lemon-colored carseat, on the floor near the couch and gave Bruno some love as he jumped on me.

After a minute or two, Bruno noticed the blanket wiggle a bit. He got curious and moved a step closer. Then he dashed over, skidded to a stop and licked Frankie’s face enthusiastically before we could pull him away. Each seemed smitten. Mom and Dad were near tears of joy.

As she grew out of diapers, Frankie grew to love her big bro “Bwuno,” and he happily tolerated her. Their pact was simple: You snuggle me in bed, and I’ll dish you leftovers. When she finished eating, he licked her bowl and her tray. When she cried, he bellowed next to her in solidarity.

As they found harmony, I grew much grumpier about little four-legs. Just about every day, he peed and crapped on the floor when we were away. Every night, he begged at dinner and always posed a threat to swipe our food when we were distracted, which was our constant state. Managing a child while working full-time frayed my nerves enough. Packing on Bruno duty was too much.

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I wanted to rehome Bruno to a family where he’d play the lead role in every episode, and I told the ladies so. Absolutely not, they declared.

On a Friday about a year ago, Bruno came to work with me at this magazine. He spent his time doing Bruno things: knocking over trash cans to scout for scraps, lounging on the boss’ office couch, snuggling under people’s desks by their feet. At quitting time, I walked him on a leash through the newsroom. Suddenly, Bruno stopped, started shaking and collapsed onto the carpeted floor. His final statement came in a piercing yelp so loud it immediately caught everyone’s attention.

The journey had ended for Mr. Personality, just before his 11th birthday. Mary brilliantly explained his untimely death to Frankie: Your brother is up in heaven with (recently passed) Aunt Margie, and she’s feeding him all the turkey he wants every day.

Although Mary and Frankie seemed reconciled to Bruno’s passing, I suffered pangs of guilt, and the questions still haunt me. Could he sense he wasn’t truly wanted? Did all the change cause stress that shaved years of his life?

In the weeks and months after his death, I came to realize how much he meant to me. The dude Velcroed himself to me for more than 10 years. We moved together to 10 different homes in four states. He walked down the aisle with the ring bearer at my wedding and welcomed Mary and Frankie into the famiglia. He never blamed me for moving him from San Diego to the Wisconsin tundra. For Bruno, although our life circumstances changed, our bond didn’t. Sadly, I didn’t return that loyalty. I vowed that next time, if there was a next time, I’d do better. In February, we made the leap into dog ownership again.

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Scramble is another greyhound, but the full-size kind, weighing five times what her Italian predecessor did. We’ll cherish our new hound as long as she’s with us, knowing that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to anyone, and that only fate decides whose turn it is to start having turkey scraps in the great beyond.


‘Arrivaderci, Bruno’ appears in the April 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning April 2nd, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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