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.