Titus Pullo looked like a warrior, with a scarred (but ruggedly handsome) face, the body of a prizefighter and a growl that — if you were unlucky enough to hear it up close — sounded like it came from the Devil himself. But under the brawny exterior was a goofy, cuddly mama’s boy who could charm anyone into giving him a belly rub. Titus enjoyed meeting people, but what he enjoyed most was going everywhere with his mom Colleen, and that he did: Titus visited more courthouses in Mass. than most of that state’s lawyers and he vacationed everywhere from my house in Upper Black Eddy PA to Soho to Cape Cod, Fire Island and Nantucket. Though I like to think that he was particularly fond of my porch at UBE, in reality his favorite place was wherever Colleen was, and he didn’t care if that meant sitting in the Cayenne for a 6 hour road trip or carving out his place in the ranks of our dog-heavy house in Fire Island (for the record he established himself as top dog pretty much immediately (sorry, Shamu, but it’s true). Wherever Titus went, he made friends, from the doormen at Trump Soho, to the waiters at Cipriani, to the folks at the Homestead General Store and the market in Duxbury and the bank teller at the drive-in window, who gave him treats and asked for him on those rare occasions that Colleen went to the bank without him.
Titus loved his owner fiercely. He wasn’t too happy about sharing her with me and let me know it right off the bat. It took a while, but gradually we came to an understanding about sleeping arrangements and PDAs and such, and although our understanding gradually turned into love, Titus and I never did stop jockeying for position at bedtime. Titus was 85 pounds of muscle and used every bit of it to control the center of the bed like an occupying army, but I never minded. I would gladly continue sleeping in the 12 inch-wide strip of bed that he grudgingly ceded to me at night just to have him still be here with us.
When he suddenly developed a rare and lethal form of cancer, we were devastated and had no idea of what to expect. Though his tumor grew incredibly fast and hideously large, Titus was a true Centurion, stoic, good-natured and goofy to the end. In fact, on what would be our last evening with him (though we didn’t know it then), he was in rare form. Though he had slowed a bit in his final week due to pain medication and the debilitating effects of his tumor, he barked jealously at me for hugging his mom, shared our steaks from the grill with gusto and was excited to go for a walk at his favorite park. When we got there, he rocketed out of the car like a puppy and set off on the trail like he had a destination in mind. He led us to a floodlit baseball field, where a little league game must have just finished. The lush green grass of the ball field was brilliantly illuminated and the evening sky was turning a deep blue as the sun was setting. I walked out to the infield and called him, not sure if he had the energy to respond, and he ran out at full speed to meet me, leaned up against me and rolled over for a belly rub. There in the soft green grass, under the brilliant lights and the fading evening sky, Colleen and I rubbed his tummy and played with him like we had done countless times before, not knowing it would be the last time we ever did so. The three of us left the park as the last rays of the sun faded and the sky dimmed and it turned chilly, so when we got home we lit a fire against the cool night air and we snuggled with him in front of the fire the way he loved to do. That night, we had to help him climb upstairs to bed, which we never had to do before. We didn’t know it then as the three of us went off to sleep, but he had already said his goodbyes to us. The next morning, we woke at dawn, looked at him and with one look we knew he was ready to go. We took turns lying with him in bed and talking to him all morning until the vet was ready for us, and when it was time I had to carry him — all 90 pounds — down the steps in my arms. Our noble Pullo, so brave and strong, could not even walk. We got to the vet a little after noon and even the vet was in tears. His final moments were as he had lived – stoic, noble, fearless and brave. We on the other hand we were bawling our eyes out, and we still are days later.
Of course, everyone loves their dog and thinks their dog is singularly special. I grew up around dogs and dog lovers my entire life — my mom was an AKC certified dog trainer and managed a kennel and my dad was outside general counsel to the Penna SPCA for many years — and I’ve had, and have known, a whole lot of dogs in my life. But I never knew a dog like Titus Pullo. He will be missed by all who knew him, but most of all, he will be sorely and forever missed by his mom and I. RIP, noble Titus Pullo.
“Soonest our best with thee do go.” Death Be Not Proud, John Donne, 1610.