Those of you who follow me are probably pretty shocked that I have to write Leelu’s memorial today. Everything happened pretty quickly, and we haven’t even adjusted fully to the fact that we had to let her go today.
Leelu was with us almost eight months, arriving as a foster dog. She was terrified when she first arrived, and wasn’t about to let anyone touch her. She was air snapping at everyone, growling, baring her teeth…every warning sign she could come up with. She had a kennel lead on, which isn’t the most secure option in open territory, but getting a harness and leash on her wasn’t a remote possibility. We didn’t know it at the time, but Leelu was showing us who she was, and it would not be the last time we saw those behaviors. These warning behaviors of hers came to be known as Leelu’s Episodes.
Because we couldn’t get a regular harness and leash on her, I had to go with the kennel lead for awhile and Leelu, spooked by Gracie’s over-exuberant greeting, slipped the kennel lead and took off down the street only an hour or so after getting home. Because you can’t outrun a dog I sat down on the sidewalk and called her to come, and thank heavens, she did just that. From that moment on, I was her person. She growled at Marley for the first 6 or 7 weeks she was here, and was scared of everything under the sun, except me. She was still a little worried about me, but decided I was the most trustworthy element of her new home.
Leelu was good with the animals on our home, even the cats until Gracie taught her the fun game of chasing cats. Leelu quickly learned about one of our cats who has no qualms about correcting a dog that thinks she can chase that particular cat. Hiro doesn’t take crap from anyone, not even the dogs.
Leelu’s behavior adventures continued, and we experienced Episodes at pretty regular intervals. It usually took her about two days to recover from one of them, and you had to give her lots of space while she was recovering. I was convinced she was in pain, but she would never show any signs of it when at the various vet offices. She needed a dental and we discovered that she had a broken tooth and an exposed root, and I hoped, at the time, that her pain issues had been addressed.
Leelu enjoyed a Nose Work class, and it did a lot to boost her confidence, as Nose Work tends to do. She came with some solid obedience skills – sit, down, loose leash walking. It was only as I got to know her better that I became convinced that she had been trained using some pretty heavy-duty aversives (e..g. punishments). She was terrified of hands, and especially hands that held something – anything. Getting her harness and leash on was always a challenge and she would cower, look at you fearfully, and lick her lips – all signs of stress. There were long periods where I just left the leash and harness on and let her drag the leash rather than risk a bite from her.
She only bit once, however, and it was because someone tried to hug her, and I’m not gonna blame her on that one. The majority of dogs don’t like to be hugged, sometimes even by people they love, and it was way too much for Leelu. I wasn’t home when it happened, and it wasn’t a serious bite. Leelu had a stellar warning system and aside from that one time, she never struck/bit. If you paid attention (and it was really hard not too – she was downright scary when she warned) she would slink off into someplace safe – her bed in my office eventually – and recover until she felt better.
It was not all tough times with Leelu, though you never knew when her warning system would trigger. We had lots of nice walks with all three dogs at state parks and other places. And though she slept in the office -she snored something fierce – she would let out a single bark around 5 am, and I would let her come cuddle with us for an hour or so before getting up. Those cuddle times are when she finally got comfortable with Marley, and she would literally step on him while he lay in bed, and
demand ask for pets. Eventually she even got comfortable enough to sit next to Marley on the couch, and even climb on his lap toward the end.
In early January, about 6 months after we got her (and we ended up adopting her a few months in because I didn’t see her as an adoptable dog with all her behavioral concerns) Leelu wouldn’t put any weight on her back left leg and the pain launched a major Episode – the scariest of the bunch. We had to get her to the vet, but couldn’t get anywhere near her. Marley came up with the idea of putting Bodhi’s elizabethan collar (from his eye surgery) over Leelu’s head and I put on my feral cat gloves and got a leash on her. The vet was able to get a muzzle on her and examine her, and even though her Adrenalin had kicked in by then and she wasn’t showing pain signs, we did x-rays (I was still convinced this dog had pain issues) and found an ACL injury plus a spinal problem. Leelu wasn’t a candidate for ACL surgery, or even a brace, because she goes way over threshold for any pain, and she won’t let people touch her often. Pretty hard to recover a dog with those issues. We put her on an anti-inflammatory which worked pretty well for awhile. The vet also gave us a sedative to use when Leelu was over-threshold or headed for a scary situation (like a vet visit.)
We also started working with a truly remarkable certified behavioral expert not long after that episode, and another that followed the week after. With K’s help I learned all sorts of exercises and practices that truly helped Leelu. We were making progress with her hand-shyness, and helping her un-attach from Gracie as her mentor dog. For many months Leelu wouldn’t walk without Gracie, and I had Leelu walking with me alone finally. Leelu also learned about wearing a muzzle and that it wasn’t a punishment or a horrible thing. We even had a safety protocol which involved using Bodhi’s e-collar if Leelu had an episode and we needed safe access to her, and we trained Leelu to be comfortable with that. The result of which was a Leelu who finally seemed to understand that she was loved and she got much more affectionate with us. She was still a little scared each time I started a training session – she would cower, look scared, and lick her lips – but a minute of fun stuff before training helped her understand that training would never involve pain or punishment in this house.
The biggest challenge recently is around resource-guarding, and unfortunately, I was the #1 resource she needed to guard. She would try to get between me and Gracie, and when a small piece of food dropped Sunday night while I was doing dinner prep, Leelu actually attacked Gracie. Luckily it lasted about two seconds – I put my chopping board between the two dogs (with onion pieces flying everywhere!) and quickly scooped up Gracie and put her on the other side of a gate. Aside from it being scary, no physical harm was done, just a lot of trauma for all, and especially Gracie. We were working on the resource guarding, but there was a lot more work to do.
K and I talked about what the best possible outcome could be for Leelu, and her honest answer was that with medication, behavior modification, and management of Leelu’s issues and actions in the house, we could get episodes down to perhaps one every 4-6 months instead of 4-6 weeks. And taking a vacation wouldn’t be an option – Leelu couldn’t ever board anyplace or tolerate people coming into our home to care for her. It was sobering, but didn’t require a decision on the spot.
What we wold never be able to manage, however, was a medical issue, and that, unfortunately, forced us into decision mode Monday. Leelu had been having some trouble with the ACL for a few days, and it blew up on her Monday evening. She couldn’t walk, she was in pain, and a Leelu in pain is a fairly dangerous dog. The vet’s sedatives were given quickly in a nice dog food meatball, but the fact that the ACL was only going to continue to get worse, and that we couldn’t control the pain anymore, forced us to make the final vet visit for today.
I was incredibly grateful that muzzle training allowed Leelu to be be as comfortable as possible at her final vet visit. She had been so terrified there before, but she was relatively calm. It didn’t hurt that we were feeding her a steady stream of peanut butter treat through the muzzle.(And for those of you who know dogs, the fact that she was willing to eat the treat is a good indication that her stress levels were not over the top.) It is never my favorite thing to euthanize an animal, but it is fair kinder than allowing one to suffer endlessly. I have a feeling Leelu had enough suffering in this life before she came to us. I am grateful especially for the last six weeks or so when I think she finally came to know she was well-loved and started to return the affection. We would never have been able to fix all of Leelu’s challenges, but if she passed on finally knowing she was loved, we did something wonderful for her.
RIP sweet Leelu. You were a challenging pup, but I learned a lot from you, and you will be missed. I hope life across the Rainbow Bridge is nothing but good stuff for you. You deserve the best.