“Leushen” was a name that meant “light;” or it had something to do with a werewolf, I was never sure. He was a wolf-mix pound puppy destined for euthanization at a local animal shelter until our son Jerry rescued him. I think it was the deep golden eyes and thick, grey, black, and rust coat that snagged his heart. Since Leushen was only 6 months old, he simply couldn’t let the dog die.
When he called to tell us he was on his way with a new addition to our canine family, my husband and I shuddered. We already owned a big Newfoundland named Joshua and weren’t sure that a wolf and a Newfy would get along. Joshua was exceedingly protective. On the other hand, with both of us gone to work during the day, it might be a good thing.
Jerry arrived with the furry creature in his arms, and we were instantly smitten. His markings were obviously more wolf than malamute, but his size closer to the malamute side. He was an abused dog, and our hearts broke at the thought. Someone had beaten this poor creature on a regular basis because he cowered when we reached out to pet him. He lost his wolf nature at the point of someone’s cruelty.
The next few weeks tested our patience to its breaking point. Joshua took to him immediately, but Leushen had some issues. Wolves and malamutes both have the bad habit of chewing on nearly everything in sight. (Did we know that? No, of course not). Leushen ate television remotes, metal detector earphones, telephone jacks and cords, my husband’s favorite Mark Twain book, and eventually chomped his way through our living room couch…right down to the frame. We tried to stop it with everything from Tabasco sauce to big rawhide bones to no avail. He didn’t care for the bones, but loved the flavor of Tabasco. Spicy little critter. That’s not counting the seasonal shed that left so much fur on the floor that two vacuum cleaners died a horrible death.
As if the chewable items weren’t bad enough, he and our Newfy joined forces to become partners in crime. One week Joshua stuffed his big head under the fence and held it up so Leushen could escape. Then they both sauntered off for a walk around the neighborhood. We lived on one of the busiest streets in our city. When I arrived home I had to hunt for them, praying that they hadn’t been hit by a car or captured by the animal control officer.
Every day that week they escaped. My husband couldn’t fix the fence until the weekend, and I worried sick over their escapades. Towards the end of the week, the dogs were still in the back yard when I arrived home. When I walked out back, I noticed that one of our frustrated neighbors had nailed several boards crossways over the gate to the fence. Apparently he was tired of the daily excursions of a wolf and bear and did my “honey do” list before my honey got to it.
Something oddly familiar about Leushen’s annoying behavior dawned on me: people who have been abused also tend to act according to their own feelings rather than acceptable guidelines. They require heaps of patience and a lot of extra “cleanup” after they’ve been around. It was a moment of clarity that changed our whole outlook. Armed with a fresh view of our situation, we decided to treat Leushen more like a family member and less like a pain in the rump roast.
As the months passed, he stopped eating all the plastic in the house, and decided that rawhide wasn’t so bad after all. As soon as the fence was permanently fixed, he stayed in the yard with his pal, and became a very real blessing to our family. He slept by the bed at night beside his brother, and rarely exhibited the wacky behavior present at the beginning.
We learned to apply the principle of loving the dog to people, and found that consistency in love can help people grow beyond their bad past. Leushen was the best life lesson we could have asked for.
One fateful day, his pal Joshua passed away. A bout with bone cancer took the big Newfoundland, and left Leushen alone. He sat by my side of the bed with his head on the covers and whimpered through the night. Ok, both of us whimpered through the night. Our big black friend was gone, so it was time to find a new puppy.
I investigated the classified ads in the local newspaper and found a Newfoundland breeder that had one puppy left. I drove to their home, gathered up the little furball and brought him home. Within a couple of days, Leushen accepted his presence and rose to the occasion of becoming the big brother of the family. Whether teased by a rabbit, sprayed by a skunk, or examined as possible food by a roaming cougar, the “Boys” as I called them, grew in to adventurous and humorous creatures. Except for the two weeks it took to get the smell of skunk out of their fur.
On a crisp September afternoon, the “boys” began to bark excitedly. I opened the door just in time to see Leushen launch himself off the back porch and fly through the air to try and catch up to whatever excited him. He yelped and fell to the ground. I ran to his side. He was in extreme pain and could not walk.
We loaded the dog in the car and sped off to the vet’s office. The news wasn’t good. Leushen had torn the ligaments in his back leg, and the doctor said he would likely be lame for the rest of his life without surgery. When he told us the price of that surgery, we were distressed. It was far out of our family budget. So we picked the dog back up and took him home.
I wept over my wolfy friend. I prayed as I stroked his beautiful coat and looked into his eyes. We couldn’t put him down. We loved him too much. For the next few days I fed him outside as he lay on his bed, and gave him baby aspirin. It seemed that he was starting to limp around the yard without yelping. Then it happened. He felt so good that he once again launched himself off the porch and this time hurt the other back leg!
As he lay there on the ground, whimpering in pain, his Newfy friend Zeke nosed him and stared at me as if to say “Do something, Mom!” Leushen was in excruciating pain, now from not one bad leg but two. He couldn’t get up. My tears fell on his fur as I prayed even harder for him. This time I had to feed him outside rather than on his bed. I did everything to try to give him comfort, but I knew that things looked grim. I cried myself to sleep at night, praying and hoping that he would recover from the injuries.
Leushen didn’t move much for a few days. One afternoon I opened the back door to find him running, yes, running across the back yard. No limping, no yelping, no whimpering, just running with the full ability to keep up with his buddy Zeke.
I wonder if we will ever love people as much as dogs love us. Dog is God spelled backwards, you know. Every one of our dogs has held a life lesson in loving humans as well as animals. Leushen passed away from old age in the fall of 2006. He turned out to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, a part of our family that we will never forget. He taught us how to love in spite of bad behavior, and hold patience as the key to working with people. We still miss him, but we will never forget the truths hidden in his life.
by D.Faye Higbee
Variants printed in The Dog Paw Chronicles by D. Faye Higbee, and Wags to You anthology by Clark L. Roberts