Ten days ago, Jen and I went to visit our friends at 2nd Chance Shelter in Boaz. Prior to visiting shelters, we typically check out their list of available dogs so we have a general idea of who we want to meet. Additionally, we contact the staff to let them know the type of dogs we’re looking for because they know their crew better than we do. We rely on them to introduce us to their underdogs. However, rarely do we walk out of a shelter with the dog(s) we thought we might. And, we always make a pull…even when we have promised ourselves (and our husbands) that we wouldn’t.
Leo was that kind of pull.
We arrived at 2nd Chance with a list of dogs we wanted to meet that day. One little guy has been there since our last visit in August and has been on Jen’s heart ever since. We went to see him first, and while Jen was working with him, Mrs. Wanda told us about a new intake at the shelter, a 110-pound bull mastiff with a history of killing a small dog. While he had only been there for a few days, the staff had seen nothing that indicated he was aggressive in anyway.
Because we are a small group, our foster space is extremely limited. Big dogs typically come to me and I already had four fosters (which is two more than I hope to have). I said he sounded like a great dog, but I just couldn’t help due to space constraints. We continued to make our rounds up and down the rows of kennels, meeting and discussing the dogs we went to see. When I excused myself to find the restroom, Jen continued without me and stumbled upon the dog Mrs. Wanda had told us about.
Once we found each other again, Jen INSISTED that I meet him. She said his name was Buck and he was perfect in every way (Jen says this about every dog, and she’s not wrong, but it’s also not a selling point anymore). The whole way to his kennel I told her we couldn’t pull him. She remained adamant that he was coming home with us and I repeated “Where is he going to go?”
Then I saw him. Crap! Then Jen’s toddler, aka Baby Dog Whisperer, knelt by his kennel. He lowered his enormous head to her and leaned against the fencing. Double crap!! How am I going to explain this to my husband? You can’t just slide a 110-pound dog into the mix and hope he goes unnoticed. As I am trying to figure out what to do, I knew his name was going to be Leo because he reminded me of a lion. Leo, the Lionhearted. Am I really naming AND nicknaming a dog I am not bringing home?! Triple CRAP!!!
Jen had brought along a little pet taxi, just in case, but there was absolutely no way this giant dog was going to fit in that. We were not at all prepared to bring home a dog that size. We didn’t even have a leash or collar with us. I didn’t have a crate at home large enough for him and my decompression room was occupied. Not to mention, a dog of that size coupled with his history was more than a little intimidating. It didn’t matter. We both knew he was coming with us.
As we prepared to load him into the car, he had to pee, and Mrs. Wanda noticed that his urine was dark in color. We weren’t overly concerned since he had just been neutered and we knew our vet would be seeing him anyway. The first step of our rehabilitation process is always to get the dogs examined for anything medical that may be affecting their behavior, to ensure they are fully healthy before we begin training and working on their behavioral triggers.
After our 90-minute drive home, during which Leo was absolutely the perfect passenger, he was so happy to be out roaming the yard and enjoying the sunshine. He would approach us to gently press his massive noggin into our chests, his tail wagged constantly, and he loved our little Dog Whisperer – even allowed her to leash walk him.
We often practice Reiki with our dogs, when they are receptive to it. Reiki is a Japanese energy exchange that promotes calming/bonding. Leo was not only receptive; he initiated the exchange. We received so much gratitude from him, it was almost as if we could literally hear him saying thank you. Jen commented on it several times because it’s not something we typically notice so significantly nor that early in our process. It was palpable and undeniable.
Over the weekend, Leo seemed to not be feeling well and we noticed a great deal of swelling in his scrotum. Because he was recently neutered that wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but we consulted with a couple of vets anyway. We treated him with pain meds and rest thinking he had over done things. Monday morning, Leo didn’t want to get up to go potty. He seemed to be resting comfortably but wasn’t the happy boy we had been getting to know. I had already made him an appointment with our vet for that afternoon, so we just tried to keep him comfortable until she arrived.
Jen arrived about an hour before the vet and we noticed he had some swelling in his groin. He was tender and not excited about us touching him. By the time the vet arrived, the swelling had moved to his abdomen and legs, and his pain level was increasing rapidly. While being examined, we realized his scrotum was leaking from infection and it was going to require surgery to clean up. He also needed IV pain medicine and antibiotics. The mobile vet sedated him and transported him to another clinic we work with so he could be treated and more closely monitored for the next couple of days.
The clinic vet determined that he likely had an infection in his prostate prior to the neuter surgery which had become aggravated during the neuter procedure. Ultrasound showed that his prostate, scrotum, and bladder were all inflamed. Also, and most concerning was that he was heart worm positive with a heavy parasite load. The swelling in his abdomen continued to increase and was causing him extreme pain (even while sedated). Once the vet was able to finally get him some relief, he rested overnight. The next morning, he seemed better initially, ate a little, but then had a seizure or stroke that left him terrified and suffering. We had to let him go and were with him when he peacefully crossed to the other side.
We often receive feedback that we shouldn’t pull dogs where so much risk is involved. People worry that we are wasting resources when we spend money on a dog who doesn’t make it. All we know is that our calling is to be there for the ones who speak to us, no matter what the outcome is. Money is donated to Hard Knocks by many generous souls so we can try to save as many as we possibly can. Every bit of Leo’s expenses was covered by donations; evidence that his sweet, gentle soul spoke to more than just Jen and me.
The dogs we pull have been dealt a terrible hand and our passion is showing them what love is, for as long as we possibly can. Yes, we know it may hurt our hearts, but we fully embrace the challenge anyway. This is our superpower and that is not a resource we ever plan to waste. Sadly, we couldn’t give him more time, but we surely gave him an abundance of love. The day we brought him home was likely the best of his life. We are honored and thankful to have been able to share that day, and three more, with him.
Lionhearted: brave and determined
Lisa Maasen, and Nikki Hinsdale are Partners in Hard Knocks Rescue & Training, Inc. They have years of experience within the rescue and training community, and a drive to see its teamwork bring positive changes to the dogs in most need.