In an earlier essay, I listed our closest friends in Ghivizzano. I realize now that I omitted a special friend from from that list. Unfortunately, he is no longer here. His name was Pippo. He was Ramona and Grazia’s dog, a black giant schauzer mix. Beginning in the winter of 2010/2011 he became our ‘time share’ dog, a loving companion and trusted friend.
Pippo was a gentle giant: I have never seen such a docile, obedient dog. When we first came to know and love him, he was indoors most of the time. I knew that Grazia and Ramona walk little (the former because of age, the latter because of back pain). This was during the few weeks of winter when the days in Ghivizzano are bitterly cold and it is even colder after the weak sun sets. I offered to walk Pippo as a favor to Ramona and Grazia, so that they could remain in their warm house. I also wanted this huge dog, with his massive legs and sleek body, to have a chance to use his muscles. Ramona and Grazia gratefully accepted my offer. I would arrive after dinner and take Pippo around the neighborhood. He was delighted to get outdoors and he was bursting with energy so we sometimes ran at the start of our walk. After a week or so, Pippo understood that my arrival usually meant going out. As soon as he heard my voice or saw me standing in the doorway, he came bounding to the door. If I delayed (as I often did, talking to Ramona and Grazia about the day’s events), Pippo impatiently paced to and from the door. When I finally picked up the leash, he bounced up and down with joy and panted in anticipation.
Sometimes Pepper would talk Pippo out too, especially on pretty days. The walks were beneficial to us all. I think maybe Pippo enjoyed them the most, because we took him far from home, to new smells and new dogs. But I returned to Ramona and Grazia’s house refreshed and calm. I was happy to help Pippo, but the walks with him benefited me, too. When Pepper and I were troubled or tired and we took Pippo for a walk, his wagging tail and happy gait made the day brighter and our worries less important.
Pippo was already old when we met him. But recently his health declined quickly. He stopped eating and became lethargic. He was almost deaf by now and my arrival didn’t have the same affect it once had. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even get out of his bed until I came to scratch his sides. Eventually, Grazia moved him downstairs to the cantina, as he couldn’t climb the stairs any longer.
Grazia postponed the fateful decision as long as possible. The veterinarian prescribed steroids, which allowed Pippo to recover his appetite and some of his energy. But we all knew that this was a temporary reprieve. Pippo was officially Barbara’s dog. But as with many pets brought into the home by a child, Grazia soon assumed his caretaking. She took him for a short walk in the morning and at night for his ‘bisogni’ and filled his water and food dishes. Grazia kept up a good front, treating Pippo as a responsibility and a duty to maintain. But in those final weeks, the facade cracked. She admitted that many nights she was sleeping little, thinking about ‘povero Pippo’.
The day before the vet’s final visit, Grazia told Pepper and me about it, so we came to say ‘goodbye’. Pippo barely raised his head, but did reward our visit with a couple of thumps of his tail. That evening, I brought back from a restaurant a few bones. I wasn’t sure he could eat them, but Pippo always loved well-cooked bones. (He was a greedy eater, and more than once he scarfed down an entire bone, only to retch it up later because it was too big).
The next evening, I passed by Ramona’s and Grazia’s house. I dared not go near the cantina. Grazia’s face said everything. Without a word, she shook her head slowly. After a few moments of silence, we talked about Pippo. I was glad to find out that during the last night he did eat all of the bones. So he died with a good meal in his stomach.
It has been a month since Pippo was put to sleep. But Pepper and I still miss him very much. Yesterday as we drove past Ramona and Grazia’s house, I turned my head without thinking. Pepper noticed and asked me if I was looking for Pippo to be stretched out in the shade. And it was true. He will be in our hearts forever.