Leonard - The Best Dog Ever
I suppose like many dog lovers, the above photo is how we all think of Leonard - one of the family. And I assume, and hope, that others are just as certain that their dog is the best dog (and that their mom is the best mom, their wife is the best wife, that their kids are the best kids, etc) as I am here asserting Leonard to be. In that regard I am just like everyone else, I think my dog is the best - where I differ from everyone else is that my dog Leonard actually is the best dog ever.
Leonard's favorite spot - the middle of everything
I've had dogs all my life, from pedigree Dobermans to rescue mutts - I've never met a dog like Leonard. First, a bit about dogs in general, and then about Labs more particularly.
I love animals. That doesn't mean I have animals all over . . . fish in a tank, hamsters in a plastic box, birds in a cage, etc - it means that I do not have fish in a tank, hamsters in a plastic box, birds in a cage, etc. I honestly don't want to offend anyone, and I certainly don't want to chase readers away, but I am being honest and straightforward - it is because I love animals that I hate to go to someone's house and see fish in a tank, hamsters in a plastic box, or birds in a cage. I simply don't 'get' how someone asserts they love animals and then keeps a bird in a cage in their house!? To me, inside my head, that seems just like saying you love books and then tossing one in the fireplace . . . you're doing something that seems totally contrary to the assertion you're making.
Dogs are the only animal it seems reasonable and good to take into our homes as pets, and here's why; every animal we 'own' as a pet, we have to chase down, capture, and restrain in some manner to count as a pet - dogs came to us, they came around our campfires and volunteered themselves to guard our children, fend off beasts, and warn us of danger, etc, for scraps of our food and companionship. The relationship between man and dog is one the dogs instigated and defined.
Leonard still in his favorite spot - but a bit older now
And no dog is as naturally inclined toward a companionship with man than Labrador Retrievers. I think Labs currently rate about the 5th or 6th smartest breed. That's very, very smart, but they're not the smartest - however, they are the top number one most trainable . . . the reason is they desire to please, they try hard to know and do what you want of them. There is no other breed that has so keen a sense of service and companionship with their master. I'm good with dogs, I've had many dogs in my life who were friendly with everyone, didn't need a leash, and would heed my commands - but Leonard was stunning.
Leonard wasn't merely friendly with everyone - he seemed to love and care for everyone. He didn't merely not need a leash - we live in a double home with a common path from the house, separating the two yards, to where both we and our neighbors park our cars . . . with no instruction Leonard would chase a ball in our yard and stop on a dime if the ball crossed that simple little path into the neighbor's yard, and look at me, only going for the ball if I said "go ahead". And he wouldn't merely heed my commands - Leonard knew things without being told . . . I had a friend over once and I set my lunch plate with a hamburger on it down on the ottoman to run upstairs for a moment. My friend asked if I wasn't concerned that my sandwich would be gone when I returned because Leonard's nose was a foot away from the hamburger he was glaring at - I told him I was not at all concerned. When I got back, to my untouched hamburger, my friend suggested Leonard must not have really wanted it after all. I ate all but the last bite, set that down on my plate and set the plate on the floor . . . Leonard stood right over the plate with his nose 6 inches from the hamburger and his eyes looking over his brow at me - when I said "go ahead" it was almost terrifying how instantly he snatched that bite up.
I have 6 kids, there were always sneakers all over the floor - Leonard would never touch one unless we gave it to him - then he would tear it to shreds in no time. But, all this without training - he knew our desires, his interest was to do good for us. We got Leonard from a rescue shelter about 14 years ago. The lady who ran the shelter would pass Leonard (Snickers, before we got him) tied to a tree everyday, often pinned against the tree by his chain wrapped around the trunk and his food and water knocked over. She would stop and untangle him from the tree and she started taking water and food with her to restock his bowls as well. Eventually, after a number of warnings, she stopped one morning and took him, brining him to the shelter.
a noble and beautiful friend
I'm not the kind of person who is inclined to this sort of musing, but it was hard not to believe that Leonard was grateful for the rest of his life that we brought him from that lonely tree and that sterile pound to a home filled with children and people who adored him. Leonard was so good to us. After raising 6 kids, one by one they all get married and move on to start their own families. Leonard was there for those kids, the best companion, and as my wife and I faced a house without a ton of kids, Leonard kept us from too harsh a transition . . . Leonard stayed with us for another year or so - and then he knew his work for this family was done.
There is hardly a sadder story in this world than a boy having to bury his dog. Leonard was the best dog ever . . . he got very slow, lost his appetite, and was hurting - but he still would get up and come to you, he still would lumber across the room to rest his head on you. It's been just over a year now since Leonard left us, and I still come home sometimes 'feeling' him running to the back-door to greet me, I still come downstairs sometimes 'feeling' him meeting me at the bottom at the stairs. Leonard was indeed a good dog - he was the best dog ever.
this was the last time Leonard would rest his head on me - it was the last time I had Leonard's head resting on me
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