On April 15, 2019 we had the veterinarian to our house and Leo was put to sleep. He had cancer and we made the difficult decision to not pursue surgical options, hoping to give him instead a bit more time enjoying the best life we could provide for him. It’s never expected, although we had a little more time than usual to prepare, and that was a gift in many ways.
Leo came to us not quite six years ago in July, as befitting his name. He’d been found about this time of year in Merced, California and spent a month in the shelter there, then another in the Bay Area. After being neutered, he found his way to my mother’s home, and then to us. Basically healthy, he had little human socialization, and didn’t know what it was like to play, to just hang out, or how not to chase cats. We decided that his backstory was that he’d been a working dog, and there were several indicators that this was correct.
A Leo story: We noticed that he really hated to go out in the rain, and would spend his time at the dog park sitting under trees or bushes so as to stay out of the water falling from the sky. One day something ‘clicked’ in his head as he realized that when he got wet, we dried him off. He loved the attention of getting toweled off and lost all grumpiness about going out in the rain. (Swimming, too!)
His teeth were broken and several had to be removed. He’d been shot several times and carried buckshot in his body. (We learned about the ammunition in him much later.) Over time he developed degenerative nerve disease and we watched as he became increasingly ‘shaky’ in his back legs. It was beginning to manifest in his front legs as well. For a time, acupuncture and chiropractics adjustments helped, and he went every month.
As he lived with us we came to understand that he was also an anxious dog, living in a world that made him fearful and therefore overly aggressive. Prozac helped him relax, and we continued to work with him on being socialized, trusting us to lead so that he didn’t have to. We did a lot of training with him, bringing in a variety of professionals and doing our best to merge him into our household of humans, cats, and another dog. A measure of our success might be seen in how well our house became integrated. He and Sasha never became ‘best buds’, but did become companions. They hung out together, and we are told by pet sitters, dog walkers etc… that when we aren’t around you could count on them much more to have each other’s back and curl up next to each other. A cherished memory is actually from seeing them on the website of a doggie daycare, where you could check in on the communal area via webcams. We picked out, once, that Sasha was not feeling well (I vaguely recall that she was recovering from one of her injuries, maybe?) and was sitting very self-containedly off to the side, against a wall…. and there was Leo, perched right next to her, vigilant.
Kit adopted him and would often walk right up and rub his head and chest. Roland has started to do this just in the last few months — a huge difference from how they interacted when Leo first came into the household. In the last six months or so, Kit and Leo have been even closer; John has gone downstairs in the morning to find *two* animals waiting to be let out of his office, Kit having quietly slipped in and gone to sleep without being noticed (and thus being penned in). That it keeps happening tells us that Kit doesn’t mind in the least.
He loved John tremendously and followed him through the house, lying near him and frequently suffering from being woke from a deep sleep because John would get up and move about. His one irredeemable flaw was that he often didn’t like visitors. We began to have people visit by just walking in (the doorbell was a negative trigger), and he eventually grew accustomed to our circle of friends. People fell in love with his ‘eyeliner’ eyes, soft fur, and calm demeanor. A beautiful dog, he never really cared about strangers, but would entice visitors to our home into long sessions of petting him — often encouraging them to continue by way of a raised paw.
We called him The Inspector, because he always had to know what was going on, what everyone was up to and always getting into the households’ business. At the dog park he was Mr. Mellow and hardly any interaction bothered him. He was known to chastise an over-eager pup from time to time, but mostly ignored them loftily. People he could give a darn about, except the ones who were a part of his extended pack (a quiet shout out to Dallas and Pals).
Leo loved to chase birds, and always harbored a dream of catching one. This was actually John’s one hopeful sign when he went to pick Leo up in San Francisco. He was with my mother-in-law, and was a very mopey, slow-moving pooch; “hang dog” was invented for this look. As they walked him in the park, however, he suddenly lit up and rushed ahead, barking happily at a bird that lit up into a tree. It was the only “doggy” thing he did that day, but it hinted. I will never forget the day he relaxed enough to start rolling round on his back. Or when he began sleeping on his back — sure signs of comfort and trust. With us, he learned to smile. With us, he learned to play. A quick story: when he first came to us, John would take both dogs to the field to play ball. Sasha would enthusiastically gallop all over and bring the balls back to keep the game going. Leo had no interest in this activity at all, and for a long time John would just give him a bone to chew on. One day Leo trotted after a ball that came near him. John threw another ball just a little further. Each day they’d do a little more, with Leo getting more and more excited by this game, until he was joining Sasha in enthusiastically running all over. (He never did get the ‘retrieve’ aspect of the game, and usually left the balls wherever he’d dropped them.)
We knew for more than a week that he had cancer and spent much of that time discussing options and making those terrible decisions. His anxiety was core: spending time in surgery and recovering was going to be extremely difficult. The vet told us the surgery had some high risks for a dog his age, and with where the tumor was located there was a chance for further nerve damage. Moreover, the best prognosis would not give us years, but months. We chose to forgo the surgery — why spend most of his time in recovery? Chemo was discussed, but again the cancer itself pointed towards months, and it was clear that all efforts would be on halting the mass’ increase, there was no non-surgical alternative that would result in his being cancer-free. And meanwhile, he’d suffer the side effects of medication while declining at a slower rate.
In the end, facing the possibility of an acute event that would cause him a great deal of pain, we opted to choose a time and manner for his death. We added pain medication to his daily supplements because the mass was giving him some discomfort and made sure to keep his daily routine structured. Then we added in time for all of his favorite activities: chasing the ball, ambling along with John in ‘alone time’, hall ball, and opportunities to chase the birds.
We are very, very sad, but also content that we did our best.
A final note: Many of you have also lost a pet and this eulogy may evoke sadness. John and I are very raw and tender and even a little angry right now. We ask that you do NOT share your stories with us, nor memes about rainbow bridges and the like. In time we will be able to appreciate those gestures, but for now it just adds to our pain.