Most dogs respond to the words “sit”. Cello preferred “Why don’t you have a seat… please?” That was my boy, the majestic, the aristocratic, Cello the magnificent.
I found him at a fish store, Jack’s Aquarium, in Hilliard, Ohio on June 18, 2002. He was sitting in a small aquarium, and at 9 weeks old, he was almost the size of my hand. The moment I saw him, even though I had never grown up with a dog, I knew that my life would change forever. I knew that I was willing to commit everything in me to adopt this boy and make him my soul mate. Being a huge fan of the musical performances of Yo Yo Ma, I decided I would call him after my favorite instrument, “Cello”.
He was small, but everyday, like something out of a cartoon, when I got home from work, he would double in size. I had no idea that this little cub would become a 130 pound beast, a hulk that could stand on his hind legs six feet high, so tall that he could smell what I had for lunch. He once jumped up and caught a bird in mid-air. He also traumatized me by crushing two squirrels to death. He was a bear, a hunter, a magnificent wild beast, and he knew it. If he was to live within the tame confines of a human house, he demanded my respect first.
Our relationship was completely mutual, 50/50, not master and dog, but truly best friends teaching each other about life. I set the rules and he showed me how easy they were to break. I got him a baby brother (Oboe), and he employed him as his assistant. When Claire came into our life, he took his time before signing off his approval, and then he spent his entire life making us laugh. He was no ordinary dog. He had a voice and an opinion, and he made sure it was heard. When I threw him a tennis ball to catch, he looked at me with ridicule, as if to say “you go fetch it yourself. Do I look like a dog?”
He permitted me to take his photographs, and posed, ever so dignified, like a king, while Oboe rolled on his back playing in the grass with his tongue hanging out.
Cello was my protector. Once, while walking in Hollywood, a group of gang-bangers jumped out of a van with sticks to pull off an initiation on me (thinking I was walking alone), before they came around the parked cars revealing the two giant beasts walking before me. Cello rose up and growled threateningly, and I kid you not, like something out of a movie, the cowardly thugs backed away and ran back into the van, taking off. Cello was my monster.
He was also the gentlest creature you’d ever meet. Around children, he became a puppy again, crouching down, curling up his tail and spinning it like a helicopter blade, giving away his child-like happiness. When he saw our friends come into our apartment, he ran to his collection of toys and stuffed as many as he could into his mouth, bringing them up as an offering to show that it’s time to play. When we went for car rides, he would stick his head up through the roof, like Dino on the Flinstones, bringing smiles to people out on the street.
Cello loved to eat from my hand, and I loved sharing my meals with him. Whenever we sat down to eat, he would diplomatically position himself between Claire and I so he could maximize his pivot range to manipulate us with his soft puppy eyes, putting his chin up on the edge of the couch. And if we ignored him, he would get up and bark at the neighbors to make us run out after him, and he’d continue a full circle back to the meal awaiting him at the table. He put us to work, and deep down, we loved it, because he made it all fun.
He was my best friend and my teacher. He taught me how to love completely. I never knew I had this much in me. Despite all pretenses of being the proud lion that he is, his puppy love instincts always betrayed him. As soon as I would come home from wherever I was, he would be waiting for me at the door, eager to play and share hugs. And quite honestly, is there anything happier than rolling on the ground with your living breathing Teddy Bear?
He taught me how to be present and live in the moment. Because of him, I became compassionate towards animals, and gave up my treasured hamburgers and chicken (I became pescatarian). Because of him, I had my awakening to life, I moved from Ohio to California to pursue my dreams of filmmaking, and he was with me every step of the way. He acted in one of my early short films, and when I was in film school, he patiently waited at home for me. He was beside me when I wrote Captain Abu Raed, and even slept on the editing room couch when we were cutting in post. And lastly, I had the good fortune to share a cameo with Mister Cello in my last film, Strangely In Love.
My Lulu kept me balanced and reminded me that no matter what success or failure, the most important thing in the world was that we go for our walks every day. Nothing else really mattered, and quite honestly, nothing could be more true.
My greatest fear throughout our eleven and half years together was that I would lose my boy. He was my anchor. My home. But now looking back, I couldn’t have asked for more. We’ve experienced life’s happiest memories together. From the snow of Ohio to the canyons and beaches of California, to camping in the woods together and hiking Runyon everyday. From the single life to married life. Making movies, celebrating with friends, and going through the private tough times too. He was especially there for those. Right by our side. In his final days, he lost control of his hind leg due to a tumor growing behind his eye. I had to carry him with my two arms for his last ride up the steps to our door, as I did when I brought him home in Ohio. I hurt my back, but I was happy to have my boy completely in my arms, like a giant baby, one final time. Cello was my universe.
He was born on April 9, 2002 and left this world on October 10, 2013, sleeping on our bedroom floor, surrounded by Claire and I, after a good night where all his friends came and bade him farewell, playing him music, kissing his giant head, combing hands through his thick double-coated fur. I miss him beyond words, yet somehow, though our apartment has now become all too quiet, I feel him everywhere I go. I carry him with me, in my heart and in my mind. His spirit is in my spirit. We are one, till the day I die.
There are millions of dogs in the world, but there will only be one Cello.
My boy, my son, I love you forever and ever. You made me a better human being through your doggy love. No words will ever do justice to what you signify to me, but I will honor your memory by loving the way you loved, and smiling every time I feel the pain of your loss in my heart.