My dad had a magical relationship with dogs. When in his presence they would gravitate to him which he welcomed completely. Although this affinity for dogs was part of his DNA and he truly was born a dog lover, he did also manage to cultivate this relationship with a steady diet of treats and human food. Yes, my dad rigged the game a bit in his favor. Growing up our family had three dogs- a blockhead Yellow Lab named Leonard, a Golden Retriever named Leonard (tribute to the first) and a Yellow Lab named John. John the third dog actually died before the second Leonard. They were all truly wonderful dogs, with the last two being a bit neurotic in their personalities. My memory of the first Leonard is somewhat incomplete because he put down when I was young.
In order to describe my dad pre-dementia and help understand who he was and what he was all about one needs to understand his relationship with our dogs and especially with our second Leonard in particular. This relationship is a big component to my dad’s life and consequently mine as well.
My dad had certain non-negotiables when it came to dogs. A dog for my dad had to meet certain specks- over 60 lbs. and void of clothing in the winter. A dog with an article of clothing on in the winter to keep them warm was hardly a dog in my dad’s book. He often said too “I don’t know if I fully trust a person that doesn’t like dogs.” I kind of agree with this sentiment. He also hated when we would have company over and our dogs needed to be put away for a bit. “Don’t like my dogs, then don’t come over to my house, what do I care?!” he would say.
Interesting side note when it came to company coming over. I could always tell the importance of the company coming over or whether it was a formal party my parents were hosting by whether the downstairs bathroom was taped off or filled with excessive amounts of potpourri and a lit candle. You see the downstairs bathroom hosted daily hate crimes in our household that I suspect contributed to global warming in the 1980s and throughout the 1990s. The EPA during this period could have easily classified it as a Superfund site. A taped off hopper meant stay away.
Our second Leonard was an interesting dog. At his biggest he tipped the scales at over 100 lbs.- roughly 30-40 lbs. heavier than the average Golden. In fact he could have probably gone for the Guinness Book of World Records when it came to the largest Golden. More on his weight later. Leonard was a really friendly dog and the ideal family dog like most of his breed. He was extremely extraverted when it came to people, yet when he encountered people that were not dog lovers he never quite understood why they didn’t take to him. Undaunted, he wouldn’t care and instead viewed it as a challenge to win them over by continuing to violate their personal space with even more eagerness and gusto. To me Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are like that friend in college that was up for anything no matter what time- day or night. “Dude, it’s 3am you want to road trip somewhere?” “YES! COUNT ME IN, I GOT NOTHING GOING ON!” Leonard had this characteristic big-time.
Unlike most Goldens Leonard was not particularly active- playing fetch or chasing a ball/stick was beneath him and he refused to do it. If you threw a tennis ball at him he would literally let it hit his chest and drop in front of him and if you threw it out in front of him he would just turn and look at you as if to say “why are you throwing it over there?” He was an odd Golden for sure, a bit eccentric, somewhat like my father I guess. A part of Leonard’s eccentricity can be seen in his diet and what he loved to eat. Along with typical dog food Leonard enjoyed beer, gum and bagels. Yes that is right. Beer, gum and bagels. His taste for beer happened when some spilled at some point and he eagerly lapped it up, however, my dad who loved beer too, would often pour out a little bit of his beer for Leonard to partake. Sharing a beer with his dog was definitely a frequent event for my dad. And when my mom or someone else in the family would say something about giving beer to Leonard my dad’s usually response was “Jesus, the dog’s gotta higher tolerance than most college girls- he’s fine.”
God help the person that came over to our house chewing gum. Leonard would sniff that out and as soon as that person sat down Leonard would often try and hop up in their lap basically demanding that they give him the gum in their mouth. It was totally bizarre, but that was Leonard. Leonard would follow my dad all around the house- sitting by his side while my dad read the NY Times on the back deck was a favorite pastime. He even once ran down the street as my dad drove away, completely incredulous that he was not allowed to come along for the ride.
A steady diet of gum, beer, bagels and all sorts of other treats led to a slight weight problem for Leonard. In fact, one particular legendary family story involves my dad returning from the vet with Leonard after a standard check-up:
–“So what did the vet say?”
–“Well, first the vet said that Lenny is a very, very, very happy dog.”
–“And his weight?”
–“The vet says that if he doesn’t lose weight he runs the risk of breaking his knees…which if you ask me is bullshit. Dogs don’t have knees.”
Now only my dad would challenge the knowledge of a vet because my dad of course NEVER went to vet school. Only my dad too would of course emphasize the happiness of Leonard before explaining that his obesity might cost him his life. Heck, I would be happy too if I chewed gum, drank beer and ate bagels all day. My family to this day still uses that last line delivered by my dad as kind of a “catch all phrase” when any one of us feels like disagreeing with something despite having no expertise on the subject matter.
Leonard lived a wonderful life and did not end up dying from obesity. We put him down when his quality of life took a turn for the worse and he was not going to get any better. It was not about what was best for us but rather what was best for him.
Leonard was the last dog my parents had. Although by this point all of us kids were pretty much out of the house, my brother’s two dogs, Black Labs often came over for dog-sitting and helped fill the void a bit. It is interesting too because as my father’s health deteriorated and dementia began to really place a stranglehold on him he seemed to still respond to dogs, my brother’s dogs especially. Dementia had its work cut out for itself when it came to severing my dad’s love for dogs.