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Demise of a Demidog
Leonardo de Becherer
A demigod is defined as a mythological being, half human, half god; Leo, the lion-hearted inhabited the category of demidog, half canine, half god.
Discovered, for sale, in a local pet store, he possessed all the characteristics of a puppy destined not long for the cage he inhabited. My ex and I took him home, where we discovered he was in the grips of monstrous diarrhea so profound it required not only a prompt veterinary visit, but hosing the yard. Housebreaking attempts as auspicious as the sight of the lawn, Leo was granted reprieve until his constitution was suitable for training.
Leo grew into a magnificent specimen of the Golden Retriever breed he represented. Large, muscular, his gorgeous coat more red than golden, he was repeatedly mistaken for an Irish Setter. He was physically perfect. Emotionally, he was insatiable. He knew no strangers. He had a propensity for approaching strangers at a full gallop, tongue hanging out, ears and coat flying with the unmistakable demeanor of "Looking for Mr. Goodbar". He was a whore for attention.
Leo's uninhibited exuberance was usually returned, but on the occasion of being rebuffed, it did not deter him. Oblivious to the foreign concept of rejection, he could not simply sit by you, he had to lean into you. He was 100 pounds of unrequited love that would not be denied. My daughter and I still laugh at the occasion Leo took the liberty of (unbeknown to us) slipping into a residence across the street where the owner, wheelchair bound, father of 4 children, was appalled to find this obnoxious interloper in residence, uninvited and unwelcome. We were looking for the great escape artist and found him blasting from the front door across the street while our neighbor screamed, "You fucking animal, get out of here, you fucker". His young children, probably the instigators of this live comedy, exited their home with Leo, guilt apparent, unsure where the curses were aimed.
Leo was a private pooper. He hated the leash and preferred his bathroom needs tended alone. Invariably, he wandered away to the empty wooded lot next door like the proverbial bear in the woods, always to return at the back door. One day, after I got home from work and Leo on his solitary mission, a neighbor whose home was right next to the empty lot, knocked on my door. He was very angry as he told me that Leo had been using his yard as a dumping ground. As I walked with him, pooper scooper in hand, I listened to his righteous rage, relaying that he and his wife had a two-year old daughter who had encountered Leo's leavings, creating a situation where the toddler was waylaid from playing in her own yard. No argument emanating from me, I was mortified and ashamed to be responsible for a situation so unacceptable and unpleasant. I penitently cleaned up the yard and apologized, promising it would never happen again. As the neighbor's anger dissipated and he became apologetic for his angry expose, I felt gut-wrenching guilt for the problem I had created. I had a cedar, privacy fence installed to contain my wanderer and maintain his preference for privacy. The neighbor became a friend of mine and grew to love Leo. Personally, I've never forgiven myself.
Lovers, not fighters
Not a bone of contention
Protective, but without malice was Leo's modus operandi. Big, but gentle giants, Golden Retrievers have the well earned reputation as "pleasers". With the exception of being difficult to contain, even that, in the Golden's heart, is their attempt to spread the joy of just being, they are devoid of any degree of negativity.
I left the house to visit me mum. I no sooner arrived at her home after the 45-minute drive to get a call from Paul, my ex, stating "come home", there had been a fire at our home in Hillsboro. Shocked, I asked him if the fire department had arrived. He said he did not need to call them. I had cleaned the ashes from the fireplace that morning before leaving and placed them outside in the coal bucket I used for that task. Paul had dumped the ashes in a plastic bag, for reasons unknown and left it laying, filled with still warm ashes on the cedar deck. The fire had erupted into a blazing display when Leo exhibited panic, barking, running back and forth to give notice to the dimwit asleep on the couch. Finally, he awoke from his drunken slumber in the early afternoon, saw Leo's frantic behavior and heard the roaring flames. From my mother's home, I asked that he please call the fire department to make sure nothing remained smoldering. The fire had damaged the deck, the adjoining cedar facade and taken out some of the nearby electric. Were it not for Leo, the loss would have been incalculable. He proved his worth as an invaluable babysitter.
The ultimate pleaser
You know who you are
The Scotsman cometh
I tried to warn Leo, but he just looked at me with his big, dark, loving eyes, trusting me to take care of things. Leo was 8-years old when MacGregor arrived. Leo tried to get along, but the brain twists of a Scottish Terrier are more tightly wound, and Mac took the title "alpha dog". Leo acquiesced without a fight, as was his nature. MacGregor, genetically, is possesive and unwilling to share. More than once, if he was on my lap and Leo ambled over to sit by me, Mac would go into attack mode, latching on to Leo, teeth clamped tight. Leo learned to avoid meeting eyes with the Scotsman. If he saw MacGregor on my lap, he veered away, avoiding confrontation.
Leo was too good, and even had he not captured that award, he did not deserve the death sentence he was handed. It should have been mine.
This, dear readers, is my confession, for which there is no absolution. I am the loser. None of my words are intended for sympathy, but only truth.
I loved Leo, heart and soul., but it was not enough. He was too well fed, loved without restraint, but not with the responsibility necessary for those without a voice, a living being created by God. Leo had not been neutered as Mac has not. I take issue with the surgery for risks inherent with any surgery and the mutilation entailed for the possibility it can prevent a disease that may never occur. As I hoped, an injection will be available soon for this process, eliminating the need for general anesthesia and surgery. At a routine visit, I told the vet Leo was having difficulty in his daily bowel habits. Upon physical examination, they found his prostate enlarged. Neutering could no longer be ignored. I was told it was the only option to diminish his testosterone levels, possibly responsible for his enlarged prostate, in turn, causing pressure on his bowel. Cancer, although a possibility, was not mentioned. So, at 12 years old, Leo endured the trauma of the surgery I wanted to spare him. He was never the same. He sat down very cautiously and still had intermittent bowel issues. Then, ominously, Leo began coughing until he gagged. I was at work when my daughter, Megan, took Leo back to the vet. She was crying, making it difficult to understand the words I did not want to hear, when she called to inform me the vet diagnosed either a lung infection, which is usually fatal or lung cancer. My heart dropped as I realized the implications of the addiction both Paul and I had exposed Leo to, an innocent with no choice in the matter.
I contacted an out-of-state veterinary oncologist with a topnotch reputation via email. He faxed information about treatment options and the medications that can prolong and enhance quality of life. Leo was on many medications including morphine, which decreases pain and coughing. My kind, retired neighbor came over daily to give Leo his afternoon doses and walked with him outside. He called me each afternoon at my workplace after his visit to report on Leo. The vet told me I would know when euthanasia was appropriate. I did. Within two months, Leo sounded like a freight train. I knew time was closing in when his breathing became too labored to allow sleep. I was up with him his final nights, much of the time in the freezing cold as it eased his breathing. I made arrangements with my daughter and her friend to transport Leo for his final vet visit. Leo would not be able to lay down in my Miata due to his size, so I would follow Leo, more comfortable in Megan's vehicle in our funeral procession. My ex-husband's brand new truck was deemed off-limits, denied by him for Leo's last ride. Paul, instead, left for breakfast with his daughter, not even saying good-bye to the most beautiful creature in the room.
I spent Leo's final Friday night in the cold, on the deck, right next to him. He still looked at me with trust in his eyes I no longer deserved.
It is miraculous how animals sense illness and approaching death. A little chipmunk scampered down the tree, stopped and studied us, out in the cold, snow just beginning to fall. Next, a resident raccoon and opossum stopped by. Finally, in the common ground directly across the street, a family of four deer stood, frozen like statues, gazing directly at us. They stood for fifteen minutes until an approaching car's headlights sent them into the nearby woods. They had all honored Leo and said their good-byes.
Leo walked his final walk into the vet's office on his own with us by his side on that sad, Saturday morning. The vet reassured me that it was not too soon for the finality of this decision; Leo would have not survived another night. His big, beautiful heart would have given out. Unable to allow him to face his mortality alone, we stayed, honored to be in the presence of our loyal, lion-hearted companion as he left this earth. It was quick. He was silent...doll-eyed...absent...gone.
Whether his disease originated from his prostate and spread to his lungs or if it began and ended with his lungs, I will never know. In the final analysis, Leo trusted me. Though I loved him, the choices I made on his behalf ended a beautiful life in a very bad way. Circumstances matter. Leo would forgive me, for my ignorance, not intentional, but I cannot.
If, as I hope, he can see me, he knows that I love him, and grieve him still...forever...I miss you my buddy, and although words cannot undo wrong, still, I am sorry.