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How Mark Ruffalo's Dog Saved His Son from Danger

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The upcoming book No Better Friend: Celebrities and the Dogs They Love compiles more than 50 touching and entertaining essays written by celebrities about their beloved canine friends. The tributes, which were assembled and edited by author Elke Gazzara, come from Kathie Lee Gifford, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, and many others. In the weeks leading up to the book’s release, we’re publishing a series of excerpts—the second, from Mark Ruffalo, below.

I was living in LA and looking for work as an actor. I had almost no money, so I split the rent with another struggling actor on a sort of little house in West LA—more like a shack, really.

It was Thanksgiving, and an actress friend invited us to her house for dinner, where there’d be a lot of people we knew. I was looking forward to it. It was about 1 p.m. when we left our house, but when we opened the door, lying on our little porch was a dog, all straggly and dirty. She had what looked like a lamp cord around her neck, which she’d broken free of. The dog looked up but didn’t move. She looked unhappy, and we figured she’d been abused and abandoned.

I got some scissors and got that cord off of her. There was dried blood all around her neck. She obviously had fought like hell to free herself. I filled a pot with cold water and placed it nearby. Then I brought her some meat loaf from the night before, and we left. I felt bad for that animal.

Courtesy of Mark Ruffalo

Frieda Number Two giving Ruffalo a kiss.

The wine at the feast was that cheap Gallo red, and I drank it happily, but when we left I was a little high, so my friend Charlie drove. We parked in front of our house and saw that the dog was still there. She was waiting for us. I think we both hoped she would be, and knew right away that we were going to keep her. We took her to the vet, who gave her shots and cleaned her up. From a dirty, wretched creature, she became beautiful. I don’t understand how people can take a gentle, loving life and treat it with such cruelty.

We named her Frieda; I don’t remember why. In time, she became my dog. I took her everywhere—on auditions, to meetings, to parties—and at one of those gatherings I met a very attractive girl with a great body. We liked each other very much, so she took me and Frieda to her place. It was like a studio apartment—you know, where everything is in one space. Well, when it got to the moment of truth, she said that Frieda had to wait outside. I guess she didn’t want her jumping into bed with us. She said that I could tie her to a nearby post, and she’d be safe. Well, I had to think fast. Should I leave now or pretend to go along? I was very horny, so I double-crossed her, rushing my pleasure and getting out of there in ten minutes. Frieda was very happy to see me, and I felt guilty that I’d left her, and very bad about leaving that girl. It was a sacrifice, believe me. What a night it could have been.

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I started getting more work. In time, I got my own pad and took Frieda with me. For seven years, she was my constant companion, and then I lost her. A car ran her over. It took me a long time to get over it. I never even thought about getting another dog again. The loss was too painful.

Years later, after I married and my wife was eight months pregnant, she called me and told me she’d bought a little puppy.

“What? Are you crazy?” I said. “You’re going to have a baby and raise a dog at the same time?”

“I had to see what it’s like to be a mother.”

I laughed, she laughed, and we had ourselves a dog—a Belgian breed that’s hard to spell: Schipperke, a Belgian barge dog. It was all black and looked like a little fox. They say it was among the first dogs ever to wear a collar. The skipper of the barge would clip his key to the dog’s collar, knowing it was so loyal that it would never allow anyone else to come near it. They’re water dogs, known to rescue many a drunken barge hand who fell into the drink. They’re very protective animals, and, like cats, they like to climb things.

When our son was about a year and a half old, we bought a place in upstate New York with a pond and willow trees—very pretty. Frieda Number Two was the same age as the baby, but she weighed about twenty-five pounds by then, and she lay under our son’s bassinet, protecting him. She loved him.

One day, we were outside, the baby sitting on a blanket playing with his toys, Frieda doing her thing, and I was on the phone. It was a business call and dealt with a difficult issue, so I strolled away so as not to yell in front of the baby. When I’d finished, I turned and saw that my little son was waddling as fast as he could toward the pond and Frieda was on his heels. I could have run and picked him up, but before I could make my move, Frieda had already dashed in front of him, reared up, pushed against his chest with her paws, and knocked him on his fanny. She knew danger when she saw it. All she thought about was saving the baby. What a dog. She’s still with us and will be forever, I hope.

Excerpted from the book No Better Friend: Celebrities and the Dogs They Love, by Elke Gazzara. Copyright (c) 2013 by Elke Gazzara. Used by permission of Globe Pequot Press,

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