I can’t start any blog post about Leon without first thanking Rita Sherrow, my friend, colleague and one-time landlord, for plucking Leon off the long stretch of Highway 75 between Tulsa and Okmulgee. Without her, I wouldn’t be writing this, my dog’s obituary.
Leon Russell Lamby Honey Pie Hart (not his official name) left this earth on Friday, May 29, at roughly 5 p.m. It was a long belabored decision by me to put him to sleep, after health complication after health complication robbed him of his last twilight years. He was about 12 – I don’t know his real age, and because I’m a journalist, I don’t feel right making one up. So we’ll say he was roughly 12.
Leon came into my life when I didn’t know I needed him. I was 28, living alone in Tulsa, working nights at the Tulsa World. Rita was my landlord then, and didn’t like that I lived by myself and worked nights with only the care of a small gray cat named Piper. Piper, I should add, saved my life one night, so she was a pretty good guard cat. So Rita came by with Leon and said, “You need to take him.” I minded her because she gave me that look that my mom used to give me – just do it, her eyes said. I need you to take him, for you, for him, and for me.
Now, Leon wasn’t a normal dog, not one day of his life. He never jumped, licked, or got in my face. I always had to force my love on him, and he hated it. Even when, just an hour or so ago, he was given a sedative, he still pushed me away when I got too close. So it shouldn’t be a shock that we didn’t take to each other immediately. I was a cat person. Leon was standoffish. It took us about three months to bond fully, but once we did, he was my shadow. He may not have liked personal space invasion, but he didn’t let me go into a room alone throughout his entire life – except the bathroom. He knew the cats had me covered in there. (Nosy-ass cats!)
Leon was the perfect dog for a workaholic journalist who didn’t have time for herself, let alone him. He patiently waited for me to get home after 13-hour days. He waited for me to take him out, bladder aching, and wagged his tail nearly off his body when I finally came home. (He never had accidents until he started getting older. Not one. He was so proud of himself for that too. He was always so embarrassed when he had one later in his life. It broke his heart.) But he was always glad to see me.
Up to Leon’s last day, he wagged his tail when I came home. Even when his old bones creaked as he got up, the Cushing’s distending his liver and pulling on his spine, creating what I’m sure was an immense deal of pain, he met me at the door.
I was supposed to make a list of the five things he loves doing, and check what he could still do. The only thing Leon still did was meet me at the door. I decided it was unfair of me to keep him alive just so I wouldn’t feel lonely when I walked in the door.
The last two weeks, since I made the decision, I’ve been through every range of emotion you can imagine. I’m fine – I’m not fine – I’m happy with the decision – are you crazy, he’s fine, you’re just selfish – you’re selfish if you let him live… there was no easy answer. He’d given me his answer a few Saturdays ago, when he fell down on a short walk. He turned to look at me – the saddest look I’d ever seen on his face — shrugged off his collar and leash, and turned around to head for home. He trudged up the back steps that day, exhausted, hurting, and with that sad look, went inside and collapsed on the rug, where he stayed all day. I didn’t want to accept it. But I knew. A pit was forming in my stomach. That was one of my worst days ever. I made the decision right then that it was time.
I know I made the right decision. But it’s, of course, not an easy one.
This is the dog that eased my fears on lonely nights, the one I turned to when I was sad, the one who helped me get over my mother’s death, breakups, moves, scary new jobs and aging. He got me up and walking when I wanted to lay around.
One of the happiest days of my life was finding him after he ran away for two days. I put an ad on CraigsList and lo and behold, someone found him. He had a broken leg, but ran to me anyway. He’d been hit by a car. What followed was a dozen weeks of twice-weekly vet visits – when I was at the brokest of my life. But he was worth every penny. And he never strayed again!
He had a very vibrant life, chasing squirrels with the best of them, barking at letter carriers, barking at deliverymen, barking at any sudden movement – but never leaving my side throughout the night. As a herding dog, he knew he had one job – to keep me safe.
He did. And I hope I kept him safe today by taking away his pain.
He had the most beautiful eyes. And the sweetest, kindest face. I loved him more than I’ve loved any pet ever. I loved him more than I’ve loved a lot of people.
I’m strangely relieved at the moment. I kind of feel better. I have been living the last two weeks in this sort of denial-sadness-worried state. I’ve not felt like myself.
But today, as my brother helped his weeping sister to the car, I felt relief creep up. His ashes will come with me back to Oklahoma, and he’s going to be scattered where he came from, where my heart will always be.
I loved Leon. He loved me. It’s one of the saddest things in life that our animals don’t live as long as we do. Today is one of the saddest days of my life.
But I’m better for having known him. He taught me patience, unconditional love, and strength.
Thank you Leon. And thank you Rita, Jodi and Jason, dad and Melissa, Natalie, Lila, Katy, Anna and Nick, Megan, Randi, Holly, Renae and even Trey, who always scared Leon on purpose. Thank you all my friends who’ve helped me through this, and who will continue to help me through this. Leon might not have shown it very well, but he loved you.
And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he loved me.