The vast majority of nights, when I climbed into bed with a book in my hand, he would climb atop my stack of pillows and lick my head and ears until I said the magic words: “You kissa the daddy, doggie.” It was a nightly ritual that defined our bedtime routine. He wouldn’t stop licking and eventually I’d have to say the other magic words: “Okay, thank you. Thank you, Rigoletto.”
Then he’d stop and make his way over to Ann Marie, his Mommy, where he’d burrow his head against her body and sleep. Some mornings I’d wake up feeling him lying against my back, but most mornings he was asleep alongside Ann Marie, often with his head buried between her neck and shoulder.
Of course there were nights when he had a rough time and would wake up to prance around the bed until one of us woke up and took him downstairs to pee. And for a while, it just wasn’t bedtime until Rigoletto threw up on my arm, but like most things, over time you get used to them. One thing we never had to get used to was Rigoletto being in bed with us. We loved having him there.
Most mornings he’d give Ann Marie a rough time by lying in bed for some overtime, forcing her to rush to get dressed for work at the last minute because she couldn’t stand to disrupt his sleep. When I was left to do the chore of bringing him down for his morning bathroom break, breakfast and his insulin shot, Rigoletto would move to the center of our king-sized bed, forcing me to stretch a little more than my back would allow. I had at least two back spasms until one or two of the brain cells I have left figured out it was better to pull the sheet (and Rigoletto) toward me, than to stretch my old ass until something snapped.
Yeah, duh …
When we first brought him home, I tricked my wife into driving the car so I could hold him and bond before she did. It was a dirty trick, considering it was her dog we were buying. That bond may have lasted when it came time for certain of Rigoletto’s rituals, but there was never any doubt about who Rigoletto needed to survive. Rigoletto was Ann Marie’s dog through and through. Even after he first went blind, he’d wait with his head pointed toward the door for her arrival home from work each night, and as soon as he heard the back door sliding open, off he ran, sometimes into a wall or chair, but he’d keep going until she was holding him and calling him her baby in her most squeaky voice.
He was about 5 years old when he was first diagnosed with diabetes. I was as clueless about such things in animals as I’m clueless about way more than I like to admit, but Dr. Sal Pernice (of Dogfella fame) saved Rigoletto for us when we lived in Brooklyn. I’d just received an advance for a screenplay and it quickly went from our hands to the veterinary hospital on Carroll Street.
The best five grand I ever spent.
There would be another cost, a bigger and ultimately better one, the day Rigoletto’s back legs were paralyzed. He needed a back operation to fuse his spine. Eight grand later, we were crying like babies when we picked him up from Red Bank, New Jersey, because he was walking again. The recuperation period was long and difficult, and Ann Marie bought a blowup mattress and slept on the living room floor with him for 3+ weeks because we couldn’t take the chance that he’d fall off the bed so soon after the operation.
I tried it one night and turned the air mattress into a placemat.
He had a great run for so long, some 14 years (98+) … and he was the gentlest, kindest, most loving dog I’ve ever owned. He could make a mess when I left something like a gum wrapper in my trash can under my desk, and at least twice he found Christmas candy and ate entire boxes of chocolate (and threw up for a few days afterward—probably how he developed the diabetes), but Rigoletto was truly the perfect dog for us. We will miss him terribly.
As I sit here crying while I type this, I’m already haunted by that handsome face I loved to hold with both hands as I kissed the top of his head. My wife is distraught, but was incredibly strong in the room where Rigoletto was administered the shots. She talked to him the entire time, while all I could do was sob. It was very tough saying goodbye to our little guy.
This atheist can only hope there is a heaven, at least for animals.
Thanks for all your support and condolences. I’ll be a mess for a few more days, I suspect. We had talked about how we’d handle his passing as regards rescuing another dog, but right now it’s just too difficult to contemplate. How do you weigh the pain of loss versus the opportunity to provide an animal with love and shelter?
Listen to me, amici … the smart money is on a rescue sometime down the road.
Rest in peace, little guy.