This past Saturday my wife and I said farewell to our loyal friend and companion, our dog Leon. Leon passed away in our arms, fighting the pre-euthanasia sedatives as hard as he fought the cancer which ultimately ended his seven years of life. While I am deeply saddened by his passing, Leon taught us many great lessons, a few of which I wanted to share in this post. I hope that I can use these lessons for the rest of my life in remembrance of him.
When we adopted Leon, we were told he was found in a junkyard with his mother and a handful of siblings. The rescue organization said he was several weeks old when he was rescued, so who knows what kind of hardships the mother and puppies had to endure. From the onset of our adoption at around eighteen weeks, it was obvious that whatever events had taken place had left their mark on Leon’s psyche. He was scared of nearly everything and exhibited so called fear-aggression to us and nearly everyone who came near him.
But Leon’s story is one of redemption. As hard to handle as he was, an adolescent hell on four legs, he did not give up on change. After considering giving up on him, my wife and I hired a trainer, the late Jack Pitt, to work with Leon and help him deal with his fears in a less aggressive manner. With Jack’s assistance, Leon began to become de-sensitized to the things that scared him so deeply before. His true nature, a loving dog with some quirks, started to emerge.
Along the way, Leon’s journey from the junkyard to becoming a “good boy” will encourage me to believe in redemption for others. To consider someone’s past as a reason for their behavior and to practice empathy. And to not give up on someone being capable of change, merely because their past is a little muddy.
Leon loved routines. Starting when he was a puppy, he was keenly aware of the time we usually took a walk, when he would eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, and when we threw him the ball. By his pleadings, he helped encourage us to become more structured in our routines. Structuring our days to make sure Leon’s routines were met, we avoided his disapproving barks and whines but also encouraged us to become better stewards of our time.
In addition to his daily routine reminders, Leon also gave us unconditional love throughout his life. It didn’t matter if we were in a bad mood, busy, walking his sister doggie Kaya, forgot to feed him, or had not played catch with him; he wanted to be with us. Dogs assuredly watch and assess us all the time. It’s their ability to not predicate their affection for their owners on anything but the most basic requirements that is most admirable. Leon was no different and I hope I can follow his lesson in caring for others and expecting little, if anything, in return.
I will miss Leon greatly but the pain of the last few months since he was diagnosed is far outweighed by the love and value he brought in return over seven years. I hope that others will have similar experiences and learn just as much from their love ones and we learned from Leon.