By Huw Le Lytle
Monday was a very sad day. We lost the most wonderful little dog in the world, Leo. It was peaceful and natural, Leo went to sleep on his blankie, and simply drifted away in his sleep. He was just shy of 17 years of age. And I miss him with all my heart.
When I was adopted, I was the most nervous and traumatised little dog, but Leo was my constant companion and gave me all the confidence in the world. I used to sit on top of him half the time, just to make sure I could be as close as I could be. On my very first night in my new home, I actually slept curled into a little bundle between Leo’s legs. And there I stayed, all night, safe and sound.
Leo understood all about changes in fortune. In February 2008 he was found, roaming the streets, by a veterinary nurse who worked at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. He was stick thin, had lost most of his hair, was covered in sores, and had a necrotised ear. The other ear had been sewn up in what looked like a rather inelegant attempt to address the same kind of ear infection in the other ear. The nurse took him straight to Battersea and at first it looked hopeless. They simply didn’t think they could save him. But she urged them to try. He was fostered by one of the Battersea staff to see if they could get his strength up for treatment. After about 2 months he was well enough to start treatment and what turned into a series of operations for his ear canal infections (and ultimately removing all the necrotised tissue, hence “the ear thing”!) removal of some suspicious lumps, and, of course, removal of his “extra baggage”.
And then in May, Human went to Battersea late one afternoon, too late to visit the kennels, and enquired about adoption. The rehoming coordinator said there was a little one-eared Bedlington terrier who was still in hospital, but she could ring when he was available to meet. A few days later the call came that “Gromit”, as he was then called, was ready for a meeting. So Human raced in and waited excitedly in the room. Then through the doors he came and it was as though they had known each other all their lives. Leo bounced in, seemingly over the moon that there was someone to meet him. I think he knew, and he said to me that he had hoped, that Human was there for him. And so Gromit came home with Human. And the name Leo? Because this little one-eared dog had the courage and wisdom of a lion!
Human was surprised how people looked at him with some dismay (his one ear, his shaved bits from his operation, his still slightly slim frame). And then one rainy day Human put a coat on him, and suddenly more people started chatting to him and being kind to him. And so, Leo’s affection for a new outfit every day was born. It makes sense really. Leo used to say that it gave him confidence, because people were kinder, and it gave confidence to those people unfamiliar with or even scared of dogs, meaning he was doing a service for dogs everywhere. And that is why Leo always said, “I love my shirt.”
In September of that same year, Leo had a stroke. Human was devastated and distraught, but Leo did make a full recovery and, although he slowed down a bit (he was now just a blur in the park, not a flash of light … Leo used to be very fast!), he went right back to being Leo.
Leo started to develop cataracts late in his life, but was doing well and, with his advanced age, everyone wanted to avoid surgery. But in 2015, he lost his sight, and so he had lots of tests to see if cataract surgery was even an option. Health-wise everything looked so good, he was booked in and on his way. And it was during this time that the cardiologist discovered the problems with Leo’s heart. He had an exceptionally low heart rate. So he had a temporary pacemaker during his cataract surgery and sailed through and even got to see for a week. But then complications set in, he developed secondary glaucoma, and poor little Leo had to have his eye removed in an emergency surgery. So as well as no ear on the left side, he had no eye as well. But in typical Leo style, he soldiered on, kept realising his passion for ribbies on a daily basis, and took full advantage of the sophisticated butler service in this house.
In the last few days before Leo passed away, he had slowed right down. And Human noticed that I was spending more and more time with him, sleeping with him, hopping into his basket with him, and smooching his ears (even if one was just curls) and his eyes (again, even if one was just curls). Human realises now, I was saying goodbye to the best little dog in the world.
When Leo passed, Aubrey and I came up to wish him well. Aubrey sniffed him and nuzzled him. And I hopped up beside him and sniffed and nuzzled and then trembled and trembled and trembled. This made Human cry all the more. Some might say that’s not grief, that’s just me being scared. But if you see your friend, your mentor, the most important pal in the world, formerly full of life and then lying there still, don’t you think you too would be scared?
And maybe that is what grief is. For everyone. Maybe it is fear. Fear that our pals won’t return. Some people say that dogs don’t feel grief, that we don’t have the ability to feel grief. Some people say it is not an expression of grief, it is just waiting … waiting for our pal to return.
But maybe grief is waiting?
People say it takes memories to make grief. But if grief is about memories, then why are we waiting, if not for our memories? And there are lots of respected people and scientists and studies out there that now agree with me, dogs grieve. But take it from a dog … dogs grieve because dogs remember and dogs know.
So grief is but a memory.
And so we wait. And we wait. Some humans wait their whole lives, but I want to assure you that you don’t have to wait, your missing pals are already here, right beside you. And maybe that is why a dog’s grief is less enduring. Not because we don’t have the ability to feel grief, but because we know we will see each other again.
We love you, Leo. Thanks for the memories.