Meet Leroy. Leroy’s name is actually Rocky, but I changed it for the five days he lived with me because my husband wanted to name him after Leroy Hoard, the football player. And the Rocky movies have way too many montages for my taste.
Leroy is a beautiful Weimaraner / Lab mix who has had an absolutely shitty life. He was born on the streets in Tijuana, Mexico. At around eight weeks of age, he was found with his brother, both just balls of ribs. He was taken in by a loving but overcrowded rescue group where he then lived in rescue, in one house with 50 other street dogs, for the next year of his life.
Enter, me. I’m a well-meaning dog trainer who had an itch to bring a third dog into our home. I am in love with rescue dogs as its the bulk of my work, and it’s hard for me to be inspired to buy from a breeder (though many breeders are awesome and produce wonderful dogs that I would love to have in my home). While looking through rescue group sites for a dachshund that might be a good fit for my husband’s dream of competing in the Wiener Nationals, I got a the urge to search for a young Weimaraner. I envisioned this high energy breed to be the perfect match for my almost eight year old Lab mix who is playful without regard for her age.
After seeing him online, I met Leroy at an adoption event with my husband and a friend. It was clear he had a rough life and a long road ahead of him, but I was drawn in by his potential and his need for some attention from an experienced dog person. I could almost see the skepticism in his eyes. I could see the scars from times things didn’t go so well with his dog friends. I could see in his body language that he was horrified by being crowded by so many people and dogs. I could see that he’d rather be curled up in a nap somewhere than out paraded for potential adopters. I also saw love. And the potential for a proper puppyhood.
The rescue told me that Leroy had had a rough life and was very scared of the outside world. They felt I was a great match for him since I was a dog trainer and could help rehabilitate him. I work with scared dogs all the time, so I wasn’t afraid of this challenge. Then, after meeting him, I learned that he is afraid of large dogs. Both of my dogs are large. Uh-oh.
The wonderfully huge-hearted woman at the rescue offered to let me bring him home for a few days to “foster” him at our house and see if it might be a good match for him and how he might respond to my dogs. We had him a total of five days.
The first two days, I was exhausted by 5pm from monitoring them all so closely and making sure things went exactly perfectly. I was sad that they hadn’t played yet, but their behavior together, although confusing (to one another) was not terrible. My Shepherd mix had scuffled with Leroy a couple of times, but there was no contact made, and I was easily able to call them away from each other. I was feeling pretty confident in their ability to make progress, although I had a kink in my shoulder from the stress of constantly rotating them and staring at them to make sure they didn’t get close enough to each other to startle one another and cause another fight.
By day three, I had bought him $100 worth of toys and treats and designated his spot on my bed. The night of the third day, the three dogs started to cautiously play together, and I video-taped this progress enthusiastically. I watched some Penn and Teller reruns in the evening, and Leroy snuggled up next to me on the couch. I was sure he thought I was his human now. I scratched him behind his ears and rubbed his belly the way he likes.
The fourth day was bliss. The system for managing them all safely was underway, and they were playing together in the yard throughout the day. I was getting attached. I told Leroy I was glad he was here with us, and I let myself get a little excited when my Lab mix initiated a wrestling match with him that they both appeared to enjoy. Leroy curled up in bed with me that night, falling into the routine nicely. I pet his head as I went to sleep, naive as to the day that would lie ahead of me.
On the fifth day, I went to work in the morning and enjoyed lunch with my husband and some friends before heading home to finish out the day. When I came home, I logged onto my computer, and I let the dogs out of their safe places. Then I felt a chill as I looked over to see my Shepherd mix had put his head into Leroy’s crate, where a small water bowl was, at the exact same time as Leroy. I saw their bodies stiffen (a sure way to give anyone who deals with dog behavior a panic attack), and I called them away in a cheery voice. In the time it took me to take three steps to get to crate, a battle had ensured. There was again no contact during the battle, but it took me longer to separate them than before.
When the dust settled, I heard my Shepherd mix whining, and I went to check him out. As he turned his head toward me, I noticed a piece of his lower eyelid dangling down, exposing the next layer of eyelid inside. He had been bitten at the start of the fight. In my best (failed) efforts to remain calm, I asked Leroy to get back in his crate, asked my other dog to go into my room, and I put my Shepherd mix’s leash on and walked him to the car.
As I started the engine, I began a journey down what would become a three-hour sob fest. The shock had set in. I started to realize the situation that lie in front of me. My dog was injured. My new dog was upset. My home was not the place for Leroy, the dog who is afraid of big dogs and has had a terrible life. I would have to call the rescue and tell them this news. I would have to have my dog’s eyelid put back together. All of the week’s previous efforts sank to the bottom of my stomach in an instant.
The vet talked me through the process of stitching up the eyelid and tried to pretend I wasn’t a weeping mess. She comforted me; though it wasn’t evident by my behavior. Zeus sat patiently and waited for his eye surgery to begin.
A couple hours later, she told me I could go home while he had his eyelid reconstruction surgery. I went home to hug Leroy, and I cried some more. I missed him already. I knew what had to be done. I knew I could not rescue him. I knew that, despite years as a professional dog trainer, this was not the right home for him. He would never be comfortable here, no matter how much I loved him. No matter how much I wanted him to be.
That night was hard. My dog’s surgery went flawlessly, but he was out of it and whining from the pain medication and anesthesia. I had to keep Leroy in his crate instead of in my bed, just in case. He hated not sleeping with us, and it broke my heart. I spoke to the rescue and agreed to meet with them today so they could take him back to the rescue home in TJ.
What a roller coaster this week has been. Thoughts consume me today. Will Leroy know what happened? Will it matter? Will he find a good home? Will I make it through this day? Will Zeus’ eye heal quickly, and will he go on to continue feeling comfortable around other dogs in our home? Or will he remember the time he was bitten?
Leroy will go back to the rescue, and my dog’s eye will heal in a few weeks. Life will go back to normal, and the roller coaster will end. But I will never forget the week I spent with Leroy and the way it broke my heart to learn I couldn’t give him the life I know he deserves.
Sometimes, it’s not about love. It’s not about good intentions. And it’s not about training. It’s about reality, and facts, and safety. And sometimes that really sucks, and you lose some sleep over it. You lose a lot of sleep over it. But not every particle of life can float on flawlessly, and we sometimes have to pick out the moments that sparkled through the smog, remember them for what they meant to us, and play tricks on ourselves until we’re sufficiently convinced we are happy to have had the opportunity to experience it at all.
We love you, Leroy. And we will wait each day for that call that says you have found the perfect home and can start enjoying the rest of your life – for real this time.
Later that day, the woman from the rescue met me as I said a hard goodbye to Leroy in a Target parking lot. As I walked him to her car, both of us teary-eyed, she said something that made me start to feel human again. She said, “When you’ve done nothing, you can be sad. When you’ve done everything you could have done, you can’t be sad because, well, that’s all you’ve got.”