the 505 is a crappy little stretch of highway that i really love for the plain and simple fact that it’s a short cut. jaunting away after vacaville from 80 east, giving sacramento a wide birth and rolling recklessly through cattle flecked hills, it makes my trip home to shasta county two hours shorter.

on this particular day seven years ago, i was making a resentful return trip back to SF fog after several blissful summer days up in redding. it was still scorching in the midday sun half way through the cut-off, when i saw him.

he was sitting in the dried brown grassy median, panting. i thought he was a puppy, or at least a juvenile, with big brown cartoon eyes and a giant fuzzy head.

i had three thoughts.

one: “poor guy must be so hot. he’s going to die of heat stroke.”

two: “how did he get in the middle of the highway?”

three: “i’m sure he’s fine. and i don’t need to rescue any more animals.”

half a mile later i was parked at the top of an incline, emergency lights blinking as i ran back against the traffic.

he agreed to walk back with me surprisingly easily. he had a green collar, too big for his neck, with the loop that probably held a name tag open and bent. he would resist slightly, nudging my legs with his head. not a nip, but the same gist as one, like “hey lady, go a little slower would you? i’m still making up my mind about this.” he willingly got in the back of the car, and i spent the next hour and a half driving back to the city muttering the mantra, “what have i done what have i done what have i done what have i done what have i done”. one thing was clear…i wasn’t going to keep him, i would look for his owner and as a last resort adopt him out through the SPCA.

the ensuing week was hellacious. he didn’t understand cities. he didn’t understand stairs. he definitely didn’t know what the f*ck a leash was, and the linear construct of sidewalks and cars were a total mystery. our first “walk” he ran around panicked, flinching at every car that passed, twisting the rope that tethered him to me, and wrapping around my legs. but if i let him off leash and there was another dog in 100 mile radius, he was gone, running after the pheromonal call of the wild. he couldn’t sleep at night and paced the room, whining. he didn’t like dog food and only ate once every two days. however, he did eat the front door the first day i made the mistake of leaving him at home when i went to work. fortunately i was nannying at the time, and the woman i worked for warmly suggested i bring him.

the one thing that was clear was his name. i was standing in the hall with my housemate, both of us bemusedly, and somewhat stressfully, gazing at him. “what do you think i should name him?”

and we both said at the same time, “LEO.”

leo was an enigma. at the dog park he was extremely popular due to the fact that he was intact. like an ambassador for Better Dog Behavior, leo drew every dog to him and greeted them with meditative respect. when he knew we were going out (and he was ready to go out 10 minutes after we just got back, everytime) he would do a little dance in the hall, often leaping up and doing a complete 180. if there was a siren (even if it sounded like it was in marin) he would let out a howl that was more like the bellow of a coffee grinder. he wouldn’t play fetch, but after realizing that i seemed to like balls for some reason, he brought me a nest of yellow tennis balls out of a closet, dropping each one gently in my lap.

i tried to find his owners, posting ads in the classified newspapers of all towns local to where i found him. i contacted all the spcas, all the haven humanes. no one was looking for him. and the SFSPCA wouldn’t take him because he was a rescue, not a previously owned (and therefore KNOWN) pet. if i wanted to go that route, the only option was the pound.

my stress levels began to skyrocket. he was a handful. he was untrained. he was willful, stubborn and disobediant. he wouldn’t stop eating the front door and eventually broke out a pane of glass, cutting his feet. my housemates hated me. one night he took his chance when the door was ajar and ran out. i tried to call him back in and then grabbed his collar. he growled at me. “fine!” i yelled “you stupid jerk! just go! i’m so sick of this! get out of here!” and with one resentful look back at me, he did just that, running into the night.

i stood on the steps for 40 seconds, resolute.

and then i took off after him, bathrobe and flip flops flying. i caught up to him 4 blocks later. i apologized and gently led him back.

that night, as i was saying good night to him, i encouraged him to come closer to me as i sat on the floor. i softly rubbed his velvety ears, and cooed his name, telling him he was a good boy. and then he padded slowly towards me until the top of his head pushed into my chest and he let out soft hissy groans. i was totally shocked. we stayed that way for several moments, during which time i felt the chains of love wrapping themselves around and within and without us.

i looked him in the eyes and said, “leo…do you want to stay with me?” at which point he came towards me again, burying his body into mine. i took that as a yes.

leo was recently diagnosed with kidney failure, in the beginning stages. in my sparse private moments, i cry often and i cry hard. i am doing everything i can to help him, as i always have, preparing a special diet, finding special herbs to support his system. most of all, i pull him close to me several times a day, breathing in his sweet scent that smells like popcorn and wild heaven. we have slowed down our walks, i don’t drag him along as much. i appreciate every. single. moment. because i don’t know how long i have. and this has always been his gift to me…an ability to appreciate my life, even when i felt so bad that the only thing that got me up in the morning was him.

it’s been seven years fuzznuts. i hope we have many more. happy anniversary.


9 thoughts on “seven

  1. Give Leo a hug for me. And you too. I remember the door, the broken pane of glass, the whining in the hallway when you were gone, the disinterest in playing catch. But I also remember that for a short time while I lived there he would mistake me for you when you were out of the house and would loyally followed me wherever I went and watched out for me by alerting me to all intrusions near and far. I know he’s been a great and loving friend and so have you.

  2. Ok, so I read this out loud to my girls (minus the explicits hee hee), and I could BARELY get through the darn thing without having to swallow down the lumps. Made me think of animal friends we’ve had along the way. Kate was totally enthralled and Erin wanted to know who the bear was (referring to the 5th picture down). No doubt Leo will live on in our family history as the Lion that Came to Visit. Give his velvet ears a rub from us, too. xoxo

  3. Sorry to hear about Leo’s illness. I still remember the night I met him. It was Nicole’s grad night and we were inside the Casanove pub when someone came up to us to inform you that a homeless person was taking a liking to Leo a little more than they should. We went outside to check on him and there he was, still tied to post waiting for you. I remember him hopping up to give you a face full of licks as if he was saying “mom, mom, you’ll never guess what happen with me while you were inside!” He was so excited to have you back! Wagging has curly tail at warp speed. It was then that he turned to me and gave me a sniff to get my scent, to ensure I wasn’t a threat to him or you, then gave me a muffled grunt of an approval. I don’t know if there’s any way to reverse what’s happening, Lord knows I wish there was, but you’ve had seven glorious years together with hopefully many more to come. Life throws challenges at us when we least expect them to come. It is our job to accept and if possible overcome them because each time we do, we grow stronger. Leo’s illness is simply one more challenge. I know you’ll overcome it even when Leo does finally move on. You’re one of the most loving, caring women I’ve ever met and you will be stronger once this challenge is complete.
    Give fuzzynuts a hug from me.

    1. thank you, so much, all of you who have been such good friends to me, and to my fuzzy guy. it means so much to me to read your words of empathy, knowing that you have connected with him in your own ways. i love reading your memories of him too. most of all, it reminds me that i’m not alone, and that you will all carry his memory too.

  4. love him and you. i love how much i can feel the love between you and i’ve never met you . we don’t have a dog, yet, but this little beautiful HUGE story, illness and all, makes me yearn for that one kind of love you only get to feel, between people and dogs. are you trying any homeopathics? our vet is all about them. he would talk to you if you want. love.. h

    1. hey heather, so good to know you get this, in your heart. from the teeny tiny bit i know about your family, the thought of you welcoming a dog into it brings a big smile to my face. oh my goodness, i can already imagine the hijinks! and the sweet sweet love you and your littles would have to offer a dog and that special, and fleeting canine/human relationship.

      he’s not on homeopathics, but i did just get a great tincture for him, from “tasha’s herbs for dog and cats” specifically for kidney failure. and thanks for the recommend of your vet…i may take you up on it! xo

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