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  • Thomas Lawrence Toscano

PET TEACHERS

When I was a child, a newborn really, my parents got a dog and named him Oakie. He was a magnificent warrior dog, brave and ever watchful. He latched on to me and was my best friend. I have always had one very early memory, almost surrounded by a magical mist. There I am, on the first floor in my grandparents kitchen ( they lived beneath us - for my grandfather bought a house when I was born and we lived on the top floor), Oakie is with me and he begins to go down the stairs to the ground floor, I troddle down behind him as he leads me down to the bottom. That view of myself and Oakie going down the stairs has stayed with me all my life. He was a large Irish Setter, extremely powerful, agile and surprisingly gentle with me. There is a family anecdote ( sorry the only photo is in my mind).


Frequently my mother would put me in the backyard in an enormous blue baby carriage. You know the ones, what are called prams in England. Big and rather significant with a hood that comes half way over the body of the carriage. One day she looked out the back window to check on me, this is probably spring/summer of 1953. What she saw was the carriage bobbing back and forth, front to back, she couldn't instantly comprehend why it was moving so much, so she quickly ran down the stairs, out the door and to the back. What she found was a true demonstration of just what that dog and I were like together. Oakie had jumped in the carriage - and I was sitting in the back - I had an long sesame cookie halfway in my mouth and the other half of the cookie was in Oakie's mouth. Now knowing my mother she probably said one great No! to Oakie which caused him to exit at cartoon character speed, but, of course, that's only speculation. He and I were so connected and he was so protective of me, that we were inseparable. That relationship marked me for life. I'm sure that Oakie taught me a lot, however, the lessons are undoubtedly recorded within my cells and my following of them is probably on the instinctual level.

Kio, pure white german shepherd, Weston, CT

Now, the only time I bought my own dog was in 1999. During that time I flirted with the idea of getting a wolf hybrid. I spoke to a man in Greenwich Village, who claimed he owned a wolf and would walk it around off leash, so well was it trained. I quickly let go of that idea and continued to search for an answer. Then, one day I saw an adventure film and during one scenes out of a fog came bounding a white german shepherd. That was it - it was like a lightning bolt going through me, I knew. I found a breeder, on a farm, in the outskirts of ALlentown, PA and one day 3 of us, myself, Fabiane my girlfriend at the time and Jackie Jeski who drove us. At the time I was without a car. Well, there were two pups left, one the runt and one the dominant. Fabiane got right down to the circle they were enclosed in and here comes Kio bounding over to her. The other little fellow seemed uninterested, "this is the one", she said.

Well, I was struck. Completely in love and this very powerful, very courageous and rather independent creature became my constant companion. Except for the times that I went to Milano and Catania to work, we were together. We scoured the neighborhood of Greenpoint, Bklyn each day we were there on our marathon 1-2mile walks and of course, when in Weston, CT, forest was ours! Once or twice I saw someone walking a dog on a leash, in the woods, seeing the utter frustration of the dog, who wanted to bound and pursue whatever she could find. With Kio, there was no such behavior. He was well trained, very connected to me, to the point that when we walked on our various trails, which quickly he knew intimately, he would not go further than perhaps 100 feet in front of me. If he turned and didn't see me instantly he'd come running back until he found me, with the greatest joy imaginable. Often times, I'd play hide and seek on these walks, hiding behind a 200 year old tree of great girth and waited until he came hunting me. He always found me, once in a while I was able to delay it, but, he never failed.


Further proof of his prowess and connection to me was our first coyote encounter. In the same forest, on the same trails, one Sunday morning we encountered a coyote. I was walking on the upper trail watching carefully all the terrain ahead and also, the trail opposite us. This trail was on the opposite ridge with wetlands in between. Suddenly, as I was standing on the trail and Kio was standing next to me I spied a movement. It turned out to be a coyote coming down at traveling speed, sustainable over long distances, coming right at us, again on the other trail. As he approached, I kept Kio's attention upon the opposite direction, and watched invisible and dead stil as this magnificent creature approached the direct opposite spot on the opposing trail. Just as he arrived there, Kio moved his head, saw him, and bolted as fast as lightning across the trail, the coyote, 1/2 a second later took off down the trail. I didn't move an inch but watched Kio pursue the coyote and get up rather close to him as they both bounded through the trees. I counted, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and immediately let loose with the "emergency whistle" which, for those of you who know the pitches, is a bosun's call. Instantly, to my great relief, Kio pivoted 180º and came right back to my side - all puffed up with pride looking at me as he arrived projecting "hey, look at me, I'm a coyote chaser!"

We had many adventures. He was the most intelligent and magical creature and showed his bravery when ever it was required. But even more amazing was his ability to teach me lesson after lesson. He taught me how to listen even more than I was doing at that time, he taught me stillness, he taught me focus. And then, there was the day that he taught me a new way to communicate. He and I were standing in the driveway at Joseph's house in Weston on the edge of the woods, and he was clearly trying to tell me something. I wanted him to come with me out toward the road and he was facing towards the back of the house and the woods. Suddenly, he turned his head, and at the same time I heard, I want to go this way, not your way. I moved my head mirroring his movement and he looked at me and projected back to me the greatest joy I had ever seen in him, because I was right. Silently, without words we had communicated at his level. He KNEW I understood and there came bursting out of him such a joyous reaction from him as he came running up to me, jumping and prancing because we had connected on this new level in his language. I was completely humiliated and embarrassed. I could not believe that I had been so dense up to that moment. I knew this dog. We spent all our time together he had been trying to communicate with me the entire time. We built on my vocabulary and our ability to communicate continued to grow. Head movements added eye movements and looks. The more we went forward the more we grew in our abilities with each other. It was a glorious time for us and the last 2 years of his life were very special indeed and I miss him all the time.


My experiences of learning and observing with Kio brought me a greater appreciation of the opportunity to strive, see, hear and be sensitive to all that nature and others had to dispense.


Kio was a great gift of my life. He opened me in ways that I had not realized I was closed. It was truly a privilege to have him by my side and I miss him very much. Thankfully, I've continued to learn and observe and be open. I can't wait to see him again.

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