Lou was found on top of a hill in Mendocino County, with his family, a pack of wild dogs born from guards dogs on a nearby marijuana grow. He was covered in fleas and ticks, had an infected gash on his neck and a limp. But in his eyes, Steve Duno saw his new best friend.
He took Lou to a nearby vet who treated his injury, removed half a cup full of ticks, vaccinated and de-wormed him. The vet warned Steve that his bowel movements would be interesting, and was right: during their first day together, Lou eliminated a squirrel skull, sock string, foil, pebbles and a gum wrapper.
This was the beginning of their friendship, as told by Steve at his book signing for "Last Dog on the Hill" at Barnes & Noble last night. I attended assuming it would be the usual book signing, i.e. "buy my book" with little talk of the book itself. Instead, I left feeling transformed by the bond of love between Steve and one very special Rottweiler/Shepherd mix.
After a childhood of hunting for road kill and trash, Lou was not used to being confined to a house. The first time Steve left him alone for a five minute trip to the store, he returned to find the carpet ripped from the floor, a door unhinged, and the kitchen window shattered. On this day, Lou taught Steve his first lesson - that he needed to become a dog trainer. Since then, Steve has trained 8000 dogs and become an expert behaviorist and author. During his 16 year life, Lou also helped teach deaf children sign language and helped train other wild dogs how to behave in society, saving hundreds from euthanasia.
Steve was an in-house tutor for celebrity children, including Allysa Milano and Sidney Poitier's children, but the real star was Lou, whom he compared to Antonio Banderas and Al Pacino. A real Rin Tin Tin, Lou saved Steve's life twice, prevented a rape, foiled a robbery, survived cancer, comforted war veterans and sick patients during their last days, acted in a Washington State Lottery Commercial, graced the cover of a book, and knew over 200 words and commands. Even some of his friends were celebrities, like Jonathan Harris, Mr. Smith in "Lost in Space", who befriended him while tethered outside Steve's health club.
In the opening paragraph of the book, Steve relates how he could invoke the presence of the departed Lou from the smell in the carpet, his furs in the floor. I felt this way at the book signing, as if I had met Lou. His spirit lives forever through the memories of his owner, which are now being expressed in book signings across the US. In the words of Lou, "Arugula" (the sound of his bark).
"Last Dog on the Hill" is a wonderful tribute to a dog with a very powerful soul, the tale of the purest of love between dog and man and their mission together. You may want to include a box of tissues in your order. My eyes welled up three times in reading just a few pages.