Although it's hard for me to believe, this summer will be my fifth in Pittsburgh. Only yesterday, or so it seems, I packed up and with a heavy heart left Lodi. Not a day goes by when I don't think of all the wonderful years I spent in Lodi, the friends I made and the great times I had.
And even after five years of trying to evaluate which is the better place to live, I still can't decide. Pittsburgh and Lodi, dramatically different in every way, are equally outstanding.
My three dogs Sparkle, Hoppy and Fido have been a constant in my Lodi and Pittsburgh lives. At different times in this space, I've written affectionately about all of them. They were well-known throughout Lodi not only because of my columns but also because, as my constant companions in my open-air Jeep, friends and neighbors frequently saw them, noses up, cruising through town.
Ten years ago, right after I first adopted him, I wrote a column about my then brand-new English springer spaniel Fido. Life with him was a challenge. Even though he was only a few months old, Fido had already had three owners. Figuring out why wasn't hard. Fido was long on energy and short on learning skills. Every waking hour was an adventure.
Fido was the most demanding dog I'd ever known. My floors had to be clear of all objects, lest they become Fido's focus. Pencils, socks, old newspapers, ice cubes and even once a jalapeño pepper became Fido's playthings. He tossed them about before chewing them beyond recognition. Within my four walls, Fido was a blur. Throwing Fido outside was no solution. Grass, tree bark and mud were among his favorite treats.
Gradually Fido's behavior improved — but only marginally. Fido took a few cues from the other well-mannered dogs he roomed with, his older and younger sisters, Lily and Sparkle. I was helped immensely by easy access to the Lodi dog parks, where Fido could run until he dropped, and the Harney Lane irrigation canal, where during the summer months he swam with his pals to the point of near exhaustion. I write "near" because Fido was never truly worn out.
Readers sent me comforting letters predicting that as Fido grew older, his behavior would improve. All I had to do, they wrote, was just hang in, and one fine day Fido would be the wonderful pet I hoped he would be.
Despite readers' encouragement, I remained skeptical that things between Fido and me would ever completely work out. I made the comparison to a football game, wherein at the end of the first quarter the score was Fido 35, Joe 0. Sure, in the remaining three quarters, teams can and do overcome such huge deficits. But it doesn't happen often.
Years later, I feel obliged to update my audience about Fido.
My well-intended readers were partially correct. As Fido aged, he's slowed down, but he's never entirely given up his wild and wacky ways. Now, as Fido enters his final years, he's understandably demonstrating less enthusiasm about his outside adventures, sleeping harder and longer. Fido's footing, once the envy of other dog park dogs, is shaky.
And while Fido has required near-constant supervision all these years, he's been a pretty good pal and the source of many good if unintended chuckles. What else can you do but laugh when your dog mistakes a charcoal briquette for a Milk Bone?
During Fido's last days, we've entered into a period of peaceful co-existence. I never thought I'd say it, but when he's gone, I'll miss Fido.
Joe Guzzardi lives with his wife, three dogs, two cats and an African grey parrot. Contact him at email@example.com.