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St. Pete man and dog were constant companions, in life and now in death

By Lane DeGregory
For years, Zeke stayed close to Gerald Rittinger and let others know when Gerald was struggling with health issues, like low blood sugar caused by his diabetes. SCOTT KEELER | TIMES

ST. PETERSBURG -- For more than a decade, Gerald Rittinger’s dog kept him alive.

The Air Force veteran died on Dec. 3 at age 77. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne, who said she would have lost him 14 years earlier if not for their yellow Labrador, Zeke.

Zeke wasn’t a therapy dog. He knew few tricks, and wouldn’t even fetch. But every time his owner went into distress from diabetes, or had a stroke, Zeke noticed and went for help.

Years ago, Gerald described how Zeke had a way "of looking at you, like he knows something." He estimated that Zeke had saved his life at least 30 times.

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Over the last few months of 2014, Zeke slowly deteriorated. Just before Christmas that year, he had to be put down. He went peacefully in their living room. His portrait still smiles from the wall above where his bed used to be.

Without Zeke, Jeanne had to bring in a live-in caretaker to help her husband, who held on for another three years.

Gerald will be buried in St. Stephen Cemetery in Ft. Thomas, Ky., on Dec. 20.

The remains of his beloved best friend will be buried with him. And Jeanne is having Zeke’s name etched into the headstone.

Contact Lane DeGregory at [email protected] Follow @LaneDeGregory.