Friday, March 16, 2007

My sweet Leonardo

Well, you may have noticed no new art or blogging this week. It's been a rollercoaster, for sure. But before I go into the details, let me say that as I type this, I am feeling good, so though this will be a sad story, it does have a happy ending.

Leonardo, or Leo as we call him, was born February 6, 2003. At that time I was living with my best friend Emily in my house in CT, and dating my now husband, Rob. Emily and I agreed to dogsit our friend's big, black lab named Moose for a week. It was a week of fun walks, tossing a slimey tennis ball around, and Moose going back and forth between our beds at night. We were both in love.

The day Moose's mommy came to pick him up, I bought a newspaper to look for a dog. It was crazy impulsive, but it was like all of a sudden I just couldn't wait anymore. I knew it was only a matter of time before I got my first dog, and having Moose proved that I could do it. I wanted a male yellow lab, and when I opened the classifieds, there was an ad for just that. I called the number and was told they had one puppy left and it was a first come, first serve sort of deal. Emily and I hopped in the car and drove to their house ASAP.

When we got there, we saw a whole bundle of adorable pups, playing outside on the deck. The family was very nice, and their kids clearly loved each pup dearly. I didn't know which one was the one for me, since many were claimed but yet to be picked up. And then I saw him. My first glimpse, my breath is taken away, and I know, he's the One. A little ball of silky, yellow fur and brilliant blue eyes came running full speed towards me, plowing into and over my lap. A bundle of pure joy and enthusiasm. Shortly after, they pointed out that he was indeed the one available, and by then I was already sold. We drove home with little Leo wiggling all around Emily's car giggling, overjoyed with our new member of "the family".

At first, it was a bit grueling, I won't lie. I grew up with labs, one of which had two litters of puppies, so I was used to all the normal puppy antics. Little steaming puddles and piles for a few weeks until housebroken. Destroyed shoes, furniture, and anything else that matters to you. Leo was quick to be housebroken, but all the destructive tendencies were through the roof. I was told I should kennel train him, which went against all of my instincts and experiences, but I did give it a shot at first. I purchased a huge, supposedly indestructable one that was made out of sturdy material rather than metal. He brought that expensive thing down in a matter of minutes, standing proudly outside of it, tearing at the fallen walls. He was constantly on the go, and for the first month I was sleeping on the couch in the living room with him so we'd be closer to the door for the frequent potty breaks. I remember him finally falling asleep on or beside me, then I would crash and he'd wake me up every hour chewing on my hands. He loved to use those chompers.

One day we came home to the top half cushion of our couch ripped wide open, with white, fluffy stuffing spewed all over the house. Another time he chomped down on a little piece of linoleum and yanked it up, eventually tearing off half of the kitchen floor. He had so much energy and was obviously used to rough housing with his siblings, that he often turned on me with those sharp little teeth. I got my share of cuts and bruises during that time, but it was all worth it. All of it.

As Leo got older, he got bigger, and bigger, and bigger still. But the puppy in him was going nowhere. Now all that energy was packed into a 80 lb and growing monster - flying into my lap full speed was a whole new experience. He stopped attacking me, which was fabulous, and began to use "his voice" more to tell me his thoughts - every thought. WOOF let's go outside, WOOF where is my stick?, WOOF stand up and do something!, WOOF someone opened their car door three houses down! Yes, he is a chatty one, for sure.

But really, he just wants a few simple things and he's happy. He wants to be free and run, and he wants to be around his people. Oh yes, and food. My parent's labs were roamers, but Leo's always been a trustable fellow to stay by your side. I feel so lucky that we have my parent's house 6 miles away with acres of open fields and forest to wander sans leash. There is also a hiking trail on a dirt road closer to where I live that we go, which is beautiful, and we usually have the whole woods to ourselves. Our daily walks are the best medicine for both of us. He has an enormous smile on his face as he bounds around, peeing on everything, and chasing and retrieving sticks. He can find that stick anywhere, he has one powerful nose. We walk and I take in the peaceful views and feed off of his joy, and I know it's time to turn around when his prance gets a little wobbly.

Leo is absolutely a member of the family. We may be a little unorthodox in the way we include him, for instance sleeping in our bed. Two tall humans and one 100 lb dog fills up a queen size bed pretty quick. Every morning he comes up from my feet to my side, lays down and we have a solid 15 minutes of snuggle time. Our ritual comes to an end when he's decided he's had enough and it's time to get up. At four years old now, he's calmed down a lot, and has matured to being one fine gentleman. He's amazing with my husband's kids, so protective and gentle. He's also great with my mom, and is sensitive to her challenges as well. He's a good boy, but there is no hiding the energetic pup within, and I absolutely love that about him.

So..... that brings me back to today. I didn't plan on telling the full story of Leo but that's what happened and I'm glad I did. It's long but worth sharing for all those dog lovers out there that know each animal has their own personality, and to tell you about what's happening for him, for us, right now, wouldn't be complete if you didn't know more about who he really is. Gulp. Here we go.

We found out Leo had a tumor in his left eye. This was all very sudden and out of the blue. He went for a walk with his best buddy, my aunt's terrier Spooky, and as usual they fully pooped themselves out on the farm. Everything was fine that night, he was passed out sleeping, but that's par for the course. In the middle of the night, I woke up and he followed me into the bathroom. His left eye was closed, and in his half asleep stance, I didn't think much of it. Plus, the light was shining on that side. Anyway, I woke up to him, right by my side like as always, and saw that his left eye was still closed, and he was pawing at it. I called the vet right away and they said to come right in.

Meanwhile, this was the first day of Rob's vacation. He took this week off to just get some R & R (he works nights, it's a rough schedule) and do some work around our house. Thank God he did take this week off because I don't know how I could have gone through all of this without him... back to the story.

So we thought it was pink eye or something, but our local vet saw it and said "ok, this is really bad, I don't know which kind of bad, but it's bad". That was the first belly punch of the day. She looked at his eye with magnifying glasses and described what she saw. She thought that something had punctured his eye and there could still be a foreign object in there. She said he still had vision in that eye, but we needed to see an optomologist ASAP to check it all out. They called up to Tufts in MA and told them about us, we were set to go right away.

We drove up to MA talking about it, and I was typically optomistic. Leo was happy, ears flapping in the breeze in the back seat. It was a beautiful day, and as a little family, we were enjoying it together. I wasn't nervous until I walked in the door of the animal hospital. It wasn't long before they examined him and we waited outside for the assistant to retrieve us. She called us in and we met the doctor. I could just tell from the way the assistant talked to us that this wasn't good, and the way the doctor sat and his other assistant stood to the side. They were prepared. Good news comes naturally, people carry themselves different when they have good news. Bad news makes them stiffen up. I could feel it in the air before he said the words "tumor" "cancer" "operate" "remove".....

There it was, layed out for us, our options were down to one, remove his eye. Leo was in the room with us as we got the news and I hated that he had to feel our sadness and hear our terrified, cracking voices asking mumble jumbled questions that didn't come out right. We were speaking Shock English and thankfully the doc was able to translate.

We looked at pictures of dogs that have lost their eye, and it was comforting to see each animal's personality still fully present, one eye and all. We were given the option of a prostetic that would go under the eyelid, but chose not to because they can lead to future infections and problems. Screw that. Who cares if it's a little sunken in? It's my boy's life that I care about. I saw a golden retriever that didn't have the prosthetic and he looked sweet as pie, so I know Leo will too. It's just a little, tenderoni closed eye.

We left him with the kind hearted, sympathetic assistants, after they gave us some alone time with him. From there on it was a blur of emotion and fear.... Not good.

Cancer to me means an unstoppable force that takes over everything. That's what it's done to the people in my life I've loved and lost to it. I was so scared that it had progressed. The doc told us the tumor was very large, that's why they couldn't do just a simple lasor surgery. Uh, the fears were overwhelming. But skipping to the good part, he is free and clear! They did bloodwork, and he's ok. Fuck you, cancer, the good guys won this time!!!!!!!! Yeee haawwww!!!

Leo had his operation yesterday. Last night was a celebration of the good news that he had made it through the operation, everything went as planned, and was resting. I woke to a phone call this morning saying he's ready to be picked up today. They open their doors at 4.

So is it terribly sad that my little love lost his eye? Yes. But I am overjoyed because he's coming HOME and he's going to LIVE many many years of a happy life! I feel so thankful and I know his recovery time will be hard, but we're ready for him. And, though it makes our travels harder, it's snowing, and snow is one of the top things on Leo's love list.

I was a wreck yesterday waiting for the results, and spent hours online researching things and writing to friends. I'd like to thank Angela, Sacred Earth, Crow and Redgirl, Emily, Janet, Jessica and my parents for being there for me, Leo and Rob. I'd also like to thank the creator of this website that I found that was the best medicine possible - a hearty laugh.

Check out CHOMPO the one eyed wonder dog and her amazing tales at - Chompo lightened my heart and mind yesterday. Thank you Chompo.

Leo is a special guy, he really is. Now he is going to have even more of an impact on the people he meets. "Look at me! Sure, I've only got one eye, but I LOVE LIFE! Let's run! Let's play! Let's smile and love one another! Life is good!".

Thanks for bearing through my long winded tale. I'll be updating you all soon. :)


Cynthia said...

Wow, I'm so glad that your story has a happy ending, Jessica! I read the whole thing just waiting for the bad ending. I'm sorry to hear about Leo's operation, but soooo sooo happy that he will be okay and have many happy years left with his family. Our pets are part of our families and we love them dearly.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jess! I'm sorry that Leo had to loose his eye but I'm glad he is back home where he belongs! :) My Aunt's dogs are like family members as well. I understand how it can be hard. Ohhh and Jess, I will always be there if ya need someone to talk to. That's what friends are for! *Hugs* I'm really glad he's alright! :)

Anonymous said...

And three cheers for Jessica for being so strong and visualizing Leo's wonderful recovery!

Paula Manning-Lewis said...

I am so happy to hear the happy ending!!! Our dogs are our children too and I can totally relate to your story! Leo sounds like a wonderful doggie! :)

Redreamer said...

Bright moments to you all should ALWAYS write your words... they tumble the picture clear as a bell.... Great Writing....... HOW ABOUT SOME PICTURES??? HMMMM ;)

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to read that he's cancer-free, the little...uh...big scamp. I lost my beloved cat Harry last year after 16 1/2 womderful years of friendship. I was holding my breath as I read your story. Please give him an extra hug for me. of my best friends has had only one eye since he was young - and he's a marvelous artist. Just give Leo a paint brush and see how he does! (-;