We were driving down a familiar road headed home to our cottage in the country when we saw something brown running alongside of the road. As we passed by the creature, it fell to the ground and turned over, legs up toward the sky. We pulled off the road and walked back toward the little thing and it started wagging its tail.
The pads of his paws were bloodied by the distance he had traveled on the blistering hot asphalt. We could tell he was some sort of toy poodle despite the filthy, matted fur that covered his entire body. We scooped him up and headed home.
I put him in the kitchen sink and ran warm water over his body, soaping him up with shampoo. He shivered nervously as I clipped the matted clumps from his frame revealing a soft coat of white fur. His ribs were showing through the short hair when I finished. We wrapped him in a soft towel and held him until he was dry. I’ll never forget the look of gratitude in his sweet eyes as he reached up to give me a kiss before falling asleep in my arms.
The veterinarian told us that he was likely around nine years old, about ten pounds, suffering a bit of malnutrition and from the normal parasites that go along with living in the wild. We got him his shots and medication for the flea bites and abrasions that were present on his feet and body. He went back home with us, immediately taking charge of my lap like a hood ornament, staring out of the front window of the car.
We weren’t supposed to have dogs in the small place we were renting, but we convinced the landlord that he wouldn't be any trouble. With tile floors, any cleanup would be minimal, we told them, and we would be responsible for any damage. The little guy never once messed in the house.
Shortly after that, we relocated to another city where we took him with us into an apartment in a new complex with lime green shag carpet and Harvest Gold appliances. We both found new jobs and Leo stayed home during the day. It wasn’t long before the neighbors stopped us on our way inside.
“Did you know that your dog howls the entire time you’re at work?” they asked.
“Well, no.” We had no idea that he was so lonely. “I hope it doesn’t bother you.” No, they didn’t mind. They also had a dog, a beagle they named Beagle, and he barked most of the time.
Leo seemed fine for a time and then he started howling so much he began to wheeze and cough up foam. We took him to a new veterinarian who x-rayed his throat and discovered he had a torn esophagus, probably from eating sticks and rocks when he was out on his own. His jaw was also broken and not repairable, according to the doctor. We were given little choice other than to put him down.
Still in my teens as a young wife, it was my first time to make the ominous decision to end the life of a pet. I could barely live with myself for weeks afterward. The gaping hole in my heart after he made the trip to Heaven was nearly unbearable. The only consolation was that his last few months of his life he was happy and secure and well-loved. I always wondered where he came from, why he was out on his own, who might be missing this little boy.