A gift called Leo

It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them.      And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart.               If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”  Author unknown

Losing pets is awful and painful, but saying goodbye to Leo was one of the hardest things I have had to do and the void he has left behind is cavernous.  He was only 8 and still a puppy at heart, but life and a monstrous tumour had other ideas for this remarkable little mutt.  Two weeks on I am still struggling to make sense of things.


After a fortnight of appointments and seeing five veterinarians in total, it became clear I would have to say goodbye sooner than I imagined.  Following a battery of tests and physical examinations, the specialist vet suggested a costly MRI scan.  My GP, who I have known for 20 years, advised against it saying I should spend the money spoiling him and building his strength for his last days, but I’m glad I followed my heart and did all of the aforementioned, because doing the MRI showed us exactly what we were dealing with and allowed me to make informed decisions.

The vets were stunned by what they saw:  A 15cm mass extending from the right side of Leo’s neck into his intracranial compartment was pressing on his brain and around the right optic nerve.  The young vet who showed me the results on the monitor was amazed Leo was still walking.  It was a blessing though that there was no invasion of the brain.

Our own vet, Sheena, was shocked when she read the report and more so when she saw him again.  The deterioration was rapid.  He was losing weight as well as the sight in his right eye.  Overnight the colour of his iris had changed from his trademark beautiful light green to amber and seemed to be ulcerating.  By now his tongue had “died’ on the right side – a shrivelling which made it hard for him to eat his food normally and although he was still managing to get food down eventually and otherwise interacting normally with me, it was hard to believe I was doing him any kindness by keeping him alive or that he wasn’t in immense pain.  Being a pitbull, it was even harder to judge but he pawed frantically at his temporal bone all the time and painkillers may or may not have solved that for him.  The vets warned that a stroke or seizure was very probable as the tumour spread relentlessly.  Working full time I would never have been able to monitor him around the clock and would never have forgiven myself if I came home and found him dead or maimed.  It was a hard place to be.

And so, after a sleepless night where between his bouts of restlessness it twice seemed as though he had died, I stayed home and we spent the day doing everything Leo loved to do.  He supervised me cleaning the pool as he always did with his muzzle in the way of everything, we played ball (his favourite thing), ate biltong, had a rest in my son’s bedroom so he could smell Dylan one last time, and then I sat on the kitchen floor with him like a homeless person and we shared a TV dinner.  He wriggled with delight as always as tears streamed down my face at the thought of what was to come.  More than once I considered delaying the inevitable.
Leo was a character of note, larger than life and tough to the very end.  Never once did he wince at being poked and prodded. I miss him more than I can describe but I know I did the right thing by him.  He died peacefully in my arms after a day of only good doggie things and not alone from a painful death or by stroke or seizure.  I owed him that. Fittingly he wagged his tail and licked me right to the very end.

In a touching acknowledgement of how much part of the family Leo was to me, my boss quietly drew a line through my Leave Form and deemed it “Compassionate Leave”, something generally reserved for human relatives.  Such was Leo’s reputation.

I know now that this pup that never grew up was on loan to me, sent with the purpose of demonstrating unconditional love.  No matter how I reprimanded him for chasing birds, wrecking the garden or for pulling me on walks, he would always come back with his tongue lolling and tail wagging ready to love and be loved.  He was a precious and special gift and I was lucky to be his Mom.

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Bon voyage little man, you were so very loved.  Until we meet again. xxx


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