Yesterday afternoon, I was chatting with a colleague about her high-maintenance pomeranian. (Who knew dogs could have Xanax prescriptions?)
As I was laughing about her stories—hand-feeding the pup one kibble at a time or watching the highly anxious small ball of fur suddenly binge eat when unexpected visitors were arriving—I had a sudden revelation. February 14th was a day to remember an important 4-legged friend of my own.
Rudolph Valentino DeFrancesco, the most handsome dalmatian ever born, made his debut on February 14, 1991. Little did I know that six weeks later, he’d be mine.
At the time, I was working as a junior copywriter at an L.A. ad agency. The mother of a coworker a was a dalmatian breeder—and one afternoon she arrived with several irresistibly adorable puppies in tow. I scooped one up and held it close to my heart. “How much are they?” I asked. “Well, they’re from championship line,” she replied. “American Kennel Club. They have all their papers. Oh and their dad is an actor. He’s been in several pet food commercials. They’re $800 each.”
She might as well have said $800,000. The price was unfathomable to me at that juncture. “Well, if something falls through and you have an extra puppy, let me know” I replied.
A few weeks later, something did fall through. Two puppies needed homes, and I could have one if I was still interested.
I consulted with my husband, and we agreed that it was a go. I headed over on a Saturday morning in early April for my “meet and greet”—and entered into a room with a sweet mama dalmatian and her two remaining boys. They were both about a foot long, getting some spots, but much of their fur remained white. Both were utterly adorable, but I was particularly drawn to one. He was more high-spirited and spunky. I scooped him up, brought him home and deposited him on the bed, where my husband was still snoozing.
Our new addition cried a bit for his mom and brother that first day, but soon made himself right at home. We named him Rudolph Valentino, and he quickly captured our hearts.
In December of 1992, another addition arrived—our daughter Gabriella. We were faced with comments from a few well-meaning family members. “You’re not keeping that dog, are you?!” my mother inquired. She simply could not fathom my decision. “Dalmations are not good with kids, you know” another stated.
I ignored all the naysayers. I knew better. And the day we arrived home with our new daughter in tow, the one-and-a-half-year-old Rudy was ready. He literally leaped with joy—springing halfway across the living room to greet us.
And for the next 12 and half years, he and she grew up together. We soon learned that he resented the fact that Gabriella received so many toys and stuffed animals. December was especially rough, with here birthday and Christmas both occurring in quick succession. He’d get ahold of her new toy—a stuffed Winnie the Pooh or fuzzy white bear—and chew the noses off of them. In time, Gabriella’s grandma would come to the rescue, rummaging through her button jar for the perfect nose replacement.
He was a master food pilferer, amazingly adept at snatching unattended delicacies off a dinner plate or a loaf of bread off the counter. I’d sometimes catch him while the crime was in progress, but he was so quick for a chubby 70-something-pounder. He’d scurry out his dog door in a flash, with me in hot pursuit cursing and yelling. One Christmas, he ate a whole pound of fudge that was beautifully wrapped and waiting under the tree. He was perfectly fine afterward, FYI. (I’d heard that dogs can die from eating chocolate; this most definitely did not apply to Rudy.)
He also”talked” all the time—and after Gabriella took up the violin in elementary school, started displaying a new talent. She was playing “Joy to the World” one winter evening and he started singing along in harmony. The tune apparently touched him to the bottom of his spotted soul.
Wherever we went, kids would excitedly approach and ask to pet him. “It’s a dalmatian!” they’d exclaim. Rudy was always wonderful with his fans. As he got older, he got a bit more crotchety—and not everyone was a fan. My younger sister couldn’t stand him, and the final straw occurred one holiday season. Gabriella’s dad was picking her up, and inadvertently let go of Rudy’s leash. He barreled into my sister’s living room, lifted his leg and urinated all over her Christmas tree, beautifully wrapped presents and white rug. Thankfully, I wasn’t there to witness the moment—which we can chuckle about now…a little.
The day that he died on that summer afternoon was absolutely devasting for all of us. Twelve-and-a-half-year-old Gabriella was inconsolable, as were her dad and I. “Rudy was with me every day of my life, Mom.” I held her close and we cried together. Later that evening, we wrapped him in one of her favorite towels, buried him and held a funeral in our backyard with her neighborhood friends.
I still miss him so, these 12 years later—and always will. I’m so grateful for the conversation I had yesterday with my colleague. I may otherwise have forgotten to remember.
Happy birthday, Rudolph Valentino DeFrancesco. I may forget your birthday down the road, but know this: you’ll be in my heart, always and forever.