Leo – a difficult farewell

Leo, our house dog, said goodbye forever last week. Leo was the only non- husky in our kennel and truly Johanna’s dog. He respected me and after several month after his arrival at our place we even became friends. But he belonged to Johanna. They found each other.

I will let Johanna write this post about Leo. How she feels about the loss and she is also sharing the beginning of her book with stories about Leo.

REST IN PEASE, my stubborn, beloved roommate.

Johanna´s thoughts

It did not come as a surprise. It had been emerging for a while. And yet it does not make things easier. Farewell to Leo, my loyal, stubborn, kind-hearted, voracious, and simply wonderful companion.

Leo is not one of our huskies. He is a Portuguese herding dog. He came to us 11 years ago when we were living outside of Kainulasjärvi – a small village in Swedish Lapland. The house we lived in was situated quite offside. The nearest neighbor was about 3 km away. At that time, we already had 4 huskies. Jet and Luna, Kesik and Sapun. We had built a couple of dog yards between the adjacent trees, right next to the house. And around the property was only forest …

Huskies are basically not the best watchdogs. They do not feel like they have to tell you when someone comes. Unless it is an animal. But people or cars? No interest. At least that was the case with ours at the time. The wish of a farm dog grew in me. A dog that keeps an eye on the courtyard outside during the day, sleeps in the house at night and simply barks when someone comes. There was no reason for it, probably it was just a typical picture that a city child like me has of rural life.

Search for a new dog

I started looking for an animal shelter online. Thought I would find a dog that suits us. He should also be sporty, because he should be able to follow with on our sled tours with the huskies. As a free-running dog. So, I searched: in Norrbotten, Västerbotten, within a 500 km radius. There were animal shelters, but unfortunately there were mostly hunting dogs or “not suitable for snow” dogs. I did not want a hunting dog, because they are known for to like “run after” when they get something in their noses. And the new dog should enjoy being outdoors during winter. So at least the size of a Labrador, otherwise it would be difficult to follow with through deep snow.

I had to expand my search. The dog I found was Leonardo. A former street dog from Portugal. Mixed breed, neutered, as big as a shepherd dog and lots of fur. According to his profile: sporty, curious, friendly, about 3 years old. I got in touch with the operators of the website and found out that he had recently come to Sweden after they adopted him as a street dog in Portugal. They jazzed him up, neutered him and then flew to Sweden in the hope that he would find a nice home here.

For the time being, he had stayed with a family that looked after such dogs in the first few weeks. I really liked the pictures and stories. It felt good. Leonardo would suit us very well. I called them: “Yes, I would like to take him. Where can I pick him up? ” The answer: “In Malmö”. Oh, wow. 1600 km single way, so a total of 3200 km to pick up a dog? I looked at the pictures again. Yes! He belongs to us. Leo gets a new home in Swedish Lapland.

Picking up Leo

A few days later I left early in the morning. In the most hideous November weather from the north of the Arctic Circle always south to the last corner of Sweden to Malmö. I arrived the next afternoon. Met the dog sitter and Leonardo in a parking lot, we went for a walk. Leo was mainly interested in the rabbit tracks in the field, less in me. 20 minutes later we were back at my car. I opened the side door, Leo jumped inside, laid down on the back seat. The dog sitter gave me a bag of dog food. We started our journey back home. Leo raised his head and was a bit irritated that the woman and the other dog were not joining our trip, but he relaxed already at the next crossing, curled up on the seat, inhaled deeply, made a grunting, satisfied sound and fell asleep.

Exactly that sound I miss now. I really miss it terribly. Leo’s trademark was his grumbling, his snoring, his puffing when he laid down, deeply satisfied. From the beginning he snorted at night and snored fervently. A sound that radiated so much peace, coziness, contentment, a feeling of being at home.
It accompanied me for 11 years, almost every day. Now it is terribly quiet at night.

Leo´s health problems

After Leo arrived at our house it only took a few days before we got the impression that he was running a bit strange. I called the shelter and asked if they knew of any hip problems. They said no but nobody took an x-ray to check his hips. I got the recommendation to not be worried; the muscles would still develop. Hmm, I thought. It quickly became clear that Leo could not run after our sled as planned, he does not manage the speed or the soft surface.

I was disappointed because that had always been a basic requirement for the new dog. That he can join our trips, because only then we could go on longer tours. If he always has to stay at home, we can not go on longer trips with the other dogs. We couldn´t stop thinking about his back and hips, so we made an appointment with the vet. Maybe we can do more for Leo than only to wait. In any case, we wanted to know if the hip was damaged, as that was our guess.

When he got to the vet he was scanned, no abnormalities, hips and joints ok. Muscles not very well developed, so maybe just start training slowly? For safety’s sake a few X-rays of the lower back, hips and hind legs.

I will never forget the look from the vet when he picked me up from the waiting room to show me the x-rays. Devastating, I felt ashamed immediately. But for what? Then he showed me the pictures. It was shocking. You could see over 30 small shot balls on the pictures! All scattered in Leo ‘s abdomen, everywhere. At first, I did not understand, but then it became clear: Leo was shot at with a hail rifle and bullets were stuck all over his body. Most of them somewhere in the flesh, but two very close to the hip joint.

The doctor understood that it was not us who had committed such a horrible act, Leo must have been shot at as a puppy. The bullets had been encapsulated for a long time and the wounds had healed. An operation was not recommended, because there were so many and encapsulated for a long time. According to the veterinarian, it would not necessarily bring improvement. When I said goodbye to the vet team, I got a lot of sad looks and a prescription for lifelong painkillers, nothing more. There we stood, Leo and I, in the snowy weather in front of the clinic and looked at each other.

Living with painkillers

I thought “Ok, then let us see how he’s doing with painkillers.” He was given two tablets every day, one in the morning and one in the evening. After a week we slowly noticed the change. Leo became happier, lighter, somehow liberated. So, he had been in pain all the time.

Well, we thought, let us take it easy, build muscle slowly. Walks, short runs, many short trips. And Leo got really fit over time. He wanted to come along more often, ran looser and longer, was easier moving in deep snow. No, he was not as fit as that he could go on long tours. But he did not mind sitting on the sled or on the snowmobile for some stretches. And yes, we could always have him with us and go on our tours. We gave him the painkillers for almost two years. But at some point, we got the impression that he no longer needs them. We slowly gave him less and less. And lastly, he only got painkillers when the weather changed, or he overdid it by playing. Who would have thought that he would develop so well?

Maybe this difficult start shaped our relationship so strongly. Anyway, we were inseparable from day 1.

What did Leo say to all the other dogs?
When he came to us there were 4 and when he left us there were 32 other dogs. Was he one of them?

After Leo had lived with us for a few years, I finally understood him. He was not that difficult to read. But his character was so special that it took a little while. And his stubbornness could drive you to the brink of madness. I started to write little stories about Leo, I still have the idea to write a book about Leo´s life one day. I want to share the very first story with you. The description of how he came to us, is probably the best way to describe him. So here it comes, the first capital of “Leo, the Portuguese herding dog in Lapland”. The story begins with the arrival in Lapland after a very long drive from Malmö to the Arctic Circle, written out of Leo´s perspective.

Chapter 1 – Leo, the Portuguese herding dog

“Sled dog? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that? I am a herding dog from Portugal. Exactly – from Portugal. This seems to be somehow difficult for everyone here. “Southerners in the far north” and so – the stupid sayings, already when I arrived here. How they stared at me, these huskies! Honestly – they should start with themselves, these shaggy polar bears!

These were my welcomings in Northern Sweden when I finally got out of the loud box. I have been lying around in there forever, much longer than usual between two meals. Was quite comfortable – but a bit boring at times. Sometimes I wanted to move around a bit. Well, sniffing here and there. And in the front of the moving box was the thing that rustles so nicely and with these delicious balls in it. Yummy. Well, but then the big female, with just two legs, always said something. What? Well, I don’t know, but somehow it sounded the same. I didn’t really understood it. That made me unsure. So I laid down again. Then somehow, she sounded really nice again. And sometimes she gave me one of these delicious balls. Yummy. So delicious.

Well, at least the box stopped at some point. Incidentally, it did it several times already before.

Always the same procedure: Female gets out –  I do watch closely where she goes! Then the box opened on my side and the female stands there with the grey thing in her hand. I already know that, they come in different colors. Then the female touches my neck. But no petting or such! Somehow attaches the grey thing to me. Then I can finally jump out of the box. But outside I can’t do what I want. Oh no. The grey thing is stopping me from doing so. I can´t walk wherever I want. Then it really presses on the neck. But sometimes I don’t care. Then I go where I want to go! Even if it presses on the neck. The female is always there too. I do believe they somehow belong together.

I have to be really careful with the grey thing. I’m not totally unhappy with it. Somehow it is quite nice if you are not walking alone. But sometimes the thing suddenly wraps around your legs if you’re not careful. It totally annoys. I told it a couple of times to stop doing that, but nothing changed – no understanding. Well, so I better watch out now.

Anyway…, we went always for a little round. The female, the grey thing and me. Sometimes it was exciting. What fragrance notes! Man, I would like to have continued walking for a bit. But unfortunately, it was always short. Could just leave some marks here and there, check the location a bit and back into the big box. But it wasn’t that bad, always got a few of the delicious balls. Boah and once even real food! The one with the different types, really good! Then I could sleep very well.

Arrival in the North

Ok, but now back to my arrival in the North. So, the box stopped again. Female jumped out, door opened, grey thing on and hops out of the box. It was dark and cold. Really, I mean cold. Like icy-cold paws. Yes, and then I looked around and there they stood – and stared at me! I was so not prepared for the screaming!

The two ladies in front were still ok, a bit too excited. But ok. They have probably never seen someone like me! But the two guys in the back. Honestly! Like “Hey, hey, hey – what are you doing here? Huh, huh – you yes! Yes, you yes! What are you doing here? ” And the other male always “Yes exactly, what do you want? Huh, huh, huh? ”

The big female with only two legs said something briefly, they were shortly quiet, but it didn’t really help. Then I looked around a bit. Wasn’t a chance to talk to them, as excited as they were.

Then the nice brown lady said to me: “Hey new guy! What’s your name?”

“New guy?” I thought. “Did she say new guy to me? Really? Again? Am I now the new one here? ” Then I suddenly became a little nervous. The big female with only two legs is now my new boss? Shall I live here? Here? Where it is so cold? With all the other once? Out here in the cold?

The new home

After the initial shock we went to the big hut. Phew, I was glad. It was nice and warm inside. And a tasty flavour of food was in the air. Thought that couldn’t be that bad. The brown lady with the pretty name Jet had told me straight away that I would probably stay here. Being the new one – I’ve been that many times. The female with only two legs will be my new boss. I liked her quite well from the beginning. I will take good care of her now, then I can maybe stay and do not have to go anywhere else again. It’s surely good to keep an eye on her now.

There is a second female on only two legs. I don’t really know yet what to think about her. She is in our hut quite often! She can scratch the ears incredibly great, boahhhh, really great. But she often comes way too close to my boss! Then I have to go in between. No matter how great her scratching is! But somehow my boss always gets weird, with her voice and she wags her paws and stuff. I better be careful not to let the other female come too close to her! Better safe than sorry.

By the way, I got a really great place to sleep. Such a big piece, soft, a bit higher, just right – I can keep an eye on everything from there! Just perfect.

But recently the sleeping place has been moved somewhere else. At first, I had my sleeping place with the boss. That was nice. But now she somehow has her own place to sleep. And I can’t go there anymore, there’s a wall in between! But the other female on two legs can go there. That’s not ok! How am I supposed to protect here than?

Night discussions

I complained a bit, also louder with shouting and scolding, but nothing happened. I was very worried. Especially because the other female was there too. I had to walk straight in. I know how to open this closed walls, simply hit the knob with your paw and the wall opens. The knob can look very different every time. So I came to my boss’s sleeping place. Well, at least I’m in. Carefully went over towards the boss. Didn’t actually look dangerous, except that the other female was MUCH too close to her. So, I scolded heavily! My boss got up and said “Leo” very loudly! I was very proud: “Yes. This is me!” I said. And she again, this time very long “LEEEEOOOO”. That sounded somehow threatening.

She grabed me by the neck and pulled me to my sleeping place. That came a bit as a surprise. “No, no, no,” I thought. “I have to look at what’s going on now!”, and scurried back to her sleeping place. Hardly arrived at here sleeping place, again the long “LEEEEEOOO”. She looked at me, took my neck again (not so tight this time) and led me back to my sleeping place. She tapped on it, according to the motto: “Come one, jump up, and lie down here.” I thought, “ok, well, if you want that so much” and jumped on my sleeping place. Oh, how nice, she caressed me – SOOO nice. And off she went. And closed the wall.

“Well”, I thought. “What’s that about?”. I got down from the sleeping place, with my paw on the knob and into the room where the boss is. There she was already waiting for me. Nice! So great how she brought me back to my bed, she caressed me. Nice!

This went on a few more times, but each time the stroking became shorter. That was too bad. And then, suddenly, when I had just jumped back onto my sleeping place, she somehow turns the thing around with me on it, very close to the wall with the knob, so that the knob disappears behind the sleeping place. And the boss too. I went back down and wanted to go back to her. But now I couldn’t. I could not reach the knob anymore. The sleeping place is in the way. What is this now? How am I supposed to protect her? And when will she be stroking me again?

I got nervous. Very nervous. Started to bark loudly and tried to open the wall with my claws… At some point I was very tired and I didn’t really remembered what my goal was. Well, I needed to rest a little on my sleeping place. So, I laid down. “It’s strange sometimes with my new boss”, I thought and then I thought of the big bone that I hade buried in the back of the tree in the morning, in a way that the others couldn’t see where I buried it .. Zzzzzzz… Zzzzzzzz… Zzzzzzz …. “

Leo, the one and only

This is exactly how Leo came into our life. There are so many stories I could tell about him.

How he canoes with me, sits on the snowmobile, steals food from the table, from the kitchen, from the oven, from a hand, actually from everywhere.

How he enthusiastically licks the jam smeared face of my niece, how he goes hunting mice at a trainstation in the city of Munic and how he travels on a car ferry from Trelleborg to Rostock with me in a hurricane.

How he tries to herd chickens, how he sleeps in a tent with Kathi during a mountain tour in a thunderstorm, how he walks with me on steep, narrow paths on the Lofoten islands.

Where he has all the bones hidden, why you didn’t need a watch when Leo was there, why he had at least two sofas on his own, which huskies he liked, how he was loved by everyone and that he always, always, always greeted me with a happy wagging tail, no matter whether I was away for 2 minutes or 2 weeks.

I can tell you all this and much more about Leo. And that is exactly why I miss him so terribly. Because he was the most wonderful companion I could have ever wanted.

Thank you, Leo, for all the unforgettable moments and your unconditional love.

/ Johanna

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