Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Story of Little Leo (and How He Adopted Us) — Guest Post by Susan Brody @unpubYA

It all started when cancer took our beloved Murphy from us in February. He wasn't quite 11 years old.

Murphy & me
We'd had three months of warning that this was coming. In November, he had collapsed. I was the only one home. I scooped him up and drove like a lunatic to the vet. The vet did a sonogram and showed me the unmistakable outline of the large tumor on his spleen. He could probably save him this time, the vet told me, but it would only be a matter of weeks or months until the tumor ruptured and no one would be able to save him. Every day from here on in would be a gift.

The vet did save him that time, and then performed the same miracle once again in December. But in January Murphy began steadily losing weight and becoming weaker, despite his six daily medications. When he collapsed again on February 6th, we knew it was the end. Despite all the time we'd had to prepare, once he was gone no one in my family could imagine what we would do without him.

But we still had another dog at home that we had to take care of: 8-year-old Finney, our younger Goldendoodle, who from the age of 8 weeks had never known life without Murphy. And, unlike us, he didn't understand what had happened.
Finney (left) and Murphy

The month of February passed in a blur of tears. But at some point along the way, my 19-year-old daughter began campaigning for us to get another dog. It wasn't that she imagined we could ever replace Murphy; it was that she was very worried about Finney not having a companion. Gradually, my husband and I began to think about it, and we both came up with the same idea: that the best way to honor Murphy's generous spirit would be to save a life by adopting a shelter dog.

By the end of March we felt ready to begin our search. My daughter insisted that we look for a dog close to Finney's age, so that they would have roughly similar life expectancies. My husband and daughter both have pet allergies, so we tried to look for poodle mixes, but they were few and far between. And possibly the hardest part of all this would be that Finney has always been very selective about other dogs, and not in the least shy about making his preferences known.

We hit our fair share of bumps along this journey. Then, on April 12th, my husband emailed me at work: "Is this Cockapoo worth inquiring about?" It was a little guy, about 7 years old, who when rescued had been so neglected, his hair so hopelessly filthy and matted, that he had to be shaved down to the skin.
Leo, when he was rescued...

But he was described as friendly and affectionate, and we decided it was worth the hour-long trip to the shelter to see whether he and Finney could get along.

The two of them seemed perfectly comfortable together right from the start of our meet-and-greet, and the three of us humans all fell in love with the little guy, who had recently been given a name at the shelter but who clearly didn't recognize it. When we signed the adoption agreement that day, the woman at the shelter urged us to give him yet another name, and we came up with Leo.
At our meet-and-greet. (The white furry cutie in the back is Finney.)

We didn't bring Leo home that day because the following weekend we were going to take a long-planned trip to Washington, D.C., visiting our adult son and his girlfriend. We weren't staying at a pet-friendly hotel, and we couldn't leave little Leo in a kennel his first weekend with us, so we arranged to pick him up the following Sunday on our way back from Washington.

Everything went smoothly that day. Leo didn't display any recognizable emotion—not fear, not excitement, nothing. He sat straight up on my daughter's lap in the back seat the whole way home, looking out the window. He didn't make a sound during the hour-long drive, and it was impossible to tell what was going on in his mind.

When we got home and out of the car, my daughter and I immediately attached his leash and took him for a walk around the block. That seemed to go fine. Meanwhile, my husband left to go pick up Finney from the kennel where he had spent the weekend.

We finished our walk and brought Leo into the back yard, and that was when I realized how freaked out he was. He wouldn't go farther than a small corner of the yard, no matter how much we encouraged him to explore. And when I brought him inside the house and put him down on the floor to sniff around, he went right back out to the yard again. I finally put his leash back on him, which he seemed to find comforting, and walked him around the house a little before bringing him back outside.
Leo in the backyard, the day we brought him home.

And that was when my husband pulled up in the driveway with Finney in the car. I panicked. If Leo was so traumatized by his new surroundings without another dog there, what would happen when he encountered Finney, who is three times his size? I instinctively scooped Leo up in my arms and braced myself for Finney to come bursting into the yard and finding the little intruder. A few seconds later, Finney did burst in, but the strangest thing happened. He walked right past me and Leo as if we weren't there. No reaction whatsoever. Had all the dogs in my life suddenly turned into zombies?

I figured that the two of them were going to have to meet sooner or later, so I put Leo down on the ground. Finney continued to act as if Leo were invisible, and Leo didn't show a whole lot of interest in Finney, either. I couldn't believe how nonchalant they were both acting. In fact, Finney's arrival seemed to make Leo feel more comfortable; he willingly followed into the house and started checking the place out.

That night, and the next day, I kept waiting for the shit to hit the fan between them, but it never did. And it still hasn't. Finney has been a saint about this attention-grabbing little interloper, and Leo quickly started acting as if he'd known Finney his whole life.

Things weren't perfect. Leo pooped in the house twice. It's been very had to convince him that whatever food is in Finney's bowl is the same as what's in his own bowl, not some magical elixir. But, overall, it's been a smoother ride than we ever imagined it could be. When we took them for a hike the following weekend, Leo just followed Finney around like an old pro.
Leo's first hike

Leo's hair is growing back, and he's a healthy little boy who would be happy to sit on his new people's laps 24/7. I would have to say that, after 10 days of living together, we've all really adopted each other.
The family

And I feel sure that, somewhere, Murphy is watching and smiling.

 ~ * ~ 

Thank you so much, Susan! Yes, I agree; wherever Murphy is, he must be so happy that you opened your home, and your hearts, to little Leo. There's so many positive things about this experience... You did a fine, fine job at all sorts of levels. I'd love to get into the details of how this magic happened—Finney's reaction, for instance, is a lesson in itself—so here's the plan: I'd like to invite this little community to join me in assimilating the learning here, and in a few days, once people have had a chance to read, comment, ask questions, mull it all over, I'll put up a follow-up post on bringing rescue dogs home using your story as illustration. Sound like a good idea? Oh, I hope so!

Thanks again for sharing this here. Much love and light to your beautiful family!

Susan Brody blogs at TheArtofNotGettingPublished, tweets as @unpubYA, and can also be found on G+


  1. I was so sad when I was reading this. Dogs are such sweet and loving pets,everyone should adopt one. Their loss too can be heart wrenching.

  2. Great story. There are some parallels with Eos's arrival here, too .

  3. It is so hard when your furry loved one becomes ill and then passes away. I still miss my Katie girl and always will. The nice thing is how many great memories I have and pictures. We have Walllace who is a rescue and, even though we have had him since September 2009, he is still phobic of the outside. If we get into the country away from cars etc,...he becomes a regular dog but being in the city, where we live, has his phobia in full mode when we are outside. We tried everything...rescue remedy, amnitripoline, thunder shirt plus 3 dog behaviourists to help us but he is our livable freak boy. I believe he was shot at when he was roaming the streets in Louisiana and that fear has never left nor his wariness with people. I look at it this way, I am phobic of heights...very phobic and nothing I have done has cured me of this so he has this phobia and one must understand this. He is very happy inside and gets along with all the pussy cats. He really missed Katie after she passed but he is so much better now. He comes up to most people when they come into our home except for my brother for some reason. He has done his business in our home even when he knows it is wrong but he is scared of the outside. It doesn't happen that often any more. So, I say, congrats to your for saving this boy and creating a loving home. They need to and deserve it.

  4. What a lovely story of Leo's adoption! I'm so sorry for your loss. I teared up reading about Murphy. I know all too well how devastating it is to lose our precious babies. I've lost 6 since 2005. But Murphy will always be a part of your family and your every day existence. That circle of love that you shared can never be broken. And I'm sure that Murphy is very happy that Finney and you all have a new addition to your family.

    I loved the photos. The picture of Leo's first day at home was priceless. You can see the apprehension in his eyes. I'm thrilled to hear that he has adapted and attached to Finney. I bet Finney is glad to have some canine company too. Dogs grieve just like we do.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful story of love, loss and rescue. May you all have many happy years together!

    Michele at Angels Bark

  5. It is so sad to let go of our furry mates, glad you and leo found each other. :D

  6. Thank you all so much for your support and kind words. And uber-thanks to Guilie, who gave me this opportunity to review the whole journey and put my feelings into words. I was sobbing when I wrote the parts about Murphy, whom I will never stop missing, but it was also cathartic for me to talk about him in a circle-of-life kind of way. And I am in awe of Guilie and of all the other rescuers out there in the trenches, day after day. it's such a difficult but beautiful way to live one's life!

  7. Heart wrenching and heart warming at the same time, thanks for sharing Susan! It is great to meet your family, so glad you've found Leo.

    Guilie I am in awe of you!

  8. Poor Leo must have been so scared. But I'm glad to see he relaxed. :-)

  9. What a heart-wrenching story. But lucky you to have found Leo.

  10. Lovely story - and how wonderful to read that Finney accepted little Leo without a fight over dominance. I acquired a cockapoo puppy last month - they are delightful dogs.

    Susan A Eames at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos

  11. I am so sorry for the loss of Murphy :( We fear that our older dog (she's 16 or so and also a rescue) won't be with us for too much longer and I'm not sure how our 10-year-old dog will take the loss of her. My husband has commented a few times that he doesn't want to get a second dog when she passes, but our younger dog was only a year old when we got her so he hasn't really known life without her.

    I am very glad that Finney and your family found Leo <3 And that Leo found you!

  12. This is a beautiful story even though it meant saying goodbye to Murphy. I believe though that Murphy is happy seeing Leo by Finny, and I believe Finny feels good playing the big brother. Thank you so much for sharing. I could see the compassion between the dogs in your pictures.
    All the best.
    Shalom aleichem,


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