He’s a lover not a fighter x

Three years ago today, Leo came into my life, a special beam of sunshine that reminds me daily how lucky I am to be blessed, with his fun-loving, joyful, affection. We start every morning with a cuddle, he sleeps as close as he can, either snuggling his head into my shoulder, or simply arranging himself on the pillow around me, ready for cuddles and tummy tickles, the moment I gain consciousness. He has learnt that being awake doesn’t mean I’m actually getting up, but when I start to stir, he springs into action, usually placing his paws on my chest or either side of my face, in a deep play bow, smiling as his tail wags furiously, and kissing me enthusiastically! It’s impossible not to feel wonderful to be alive with such a greeting, and every morning is so full of fresh enthusiasm, as if he’s thrilled we’re both still here, together! Soon after Poppy jumps on to the bed, claiming her own tummy tickles as her tail thrashes away, and Platon stretches his full length alongside me, patiently waiting before sighing and nuzzling me for his share of attention too. Then the dogs start nuzzling each other and play erupts, before we all tumble off the bed, as Poppy impatiently pleads to go outside (to chase the creatures that may have crept into the garden overnight).

Leo came into my life as a timid stray that had clearly suffered abuse, as evident by the myriad of wounds and scars he sported. He was a nervous dog, too scared to take food from the hand of the guy that called me from the port, and he darted backwards and forwards as he found the courage to retrieve the salami scraps thrown on the ground before him. I remember that I sat alongside him, a few metres away, and he tentatively sidled over until when he got to me, he seemed to make a decision to trust me, and melted into me as he panted with heat exhaustion and trembled with fear. He was quite happy to accompany me in the collar I had coincidentally purchased that morning, and it was only when separated in the car (he in the boot, whilst I drove) that he cried pitifully, apparently at the distance between us, because as soon as we got to the house, he jumped into my arms as I opened the boot. He then cried woefully again when I tied him to the bottom of our stairs to secure Platon, climbing up as far as the lead would allow to follow me. It was late, but I showered him, removed ticks, gave him a flea treatment and treated his wounds; which he let me do without any resistance. I fed him and made a bed on the balcony, our quarantine ward, then left him whimpering as he pawed at the door to come in, before he finally settled for the night. The next morning he woke us early, calling in a high pitched whine, which changed to excited barks the minute he saw me, and he relished the cuddles and tummy runs he received with his breakfast. I had made a sun shade and a comfy little den for him, but he just wanted to be with us. I left Leo in his den and took Platon for his customary beach walk before the tourists got up, and when I returned my neighbours were all keen to let me know that the little dog had howled the village down in our absence.

I decided to take Leo straight to the vet, a 90 minute trip better done before the sun was high, so manoeuvred Platon into the bedroom again to bring Leo through the house and down to the car.. I must admit the door got badly scratched in his frustration, but it was worth every centime of the highly inflated repair price I paid to the landlord. I arrived at the Veterinary surgery to be greeted by Amanda with cries of ‘Hayley mou! Not another one! You are crazy!’ As we let Leo ‘christen’ (pee on) everything, and cleaned the sick out the back of my car. She inspected his wounds and surmised that the bruising around his flank and gonads was from someone kicking him, and that he’d probably been a stray most of his short life (approx 6-8 months), judging by the numerous scars and fresh wounds he sported. Leo’s right knee and left ankle had been broken but re-set and she advised that surgery to fix it would be too traumatic, especially as he seems to have adapted to accommodate it (he sits wonky, and walks in a circle whilst going to the toilet to prevent straining the knee… which means he leaves interesting poo patterns). She tested him for leishmaniasis and erlichia, both which came back negative, and gave me some antiseptic spray and ointments for his wounds. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that we discovered a lump in his neck, we had suspected was from a tick bite, was actually a bullet, and that another one was embedded in his skull, right between the eyes. Amanda suspects he was shot head on, and then again as he ran for his life. I remember the rage and fury I felt that someone had been so hideously beastly to this loving little dog, and the wonder and amazement that this adorable creature had suffered such cruelty, yet remained so trusting and loving. Leo is my daily reminder that life is 10% what happens and 90% how we handle it.. I strive to be more like him every day.

Once I returned from the Vets, I wasn’t quite ready to introduce Leo and Platon, Leo was still quite weak and timid, but he also still had his dumplings, and I wasn’t sure how my bigger, healthy, established and neutered boy was going to take to this testosterone disparity. So I again shut Platon in the bedroom, much to his annoyance, whilst I manoeuvred Leo onto the balcony. Leo cried on the stairs waiting to be let in, Platon protested loudly, and took his frustration out on the door. It was quite a din, then just as I got Leo into the house, Platon managed to catch the door handle, opening it and flying into the room. Leo immediately crouched, and Platon stood observing him, there was a half second beat where I held my breath.. then Platon dropped into a deep play bow, and Leo mirrored him, before jumping towards Platon, and they played adorably. Platon was gentle with his new playmate, who squealed excitedly and licked him adoringly, as they tumbled around the house and onto the balcony and back again. They soon tired in the heat, and lay in the breeze on the cool floor with their heads on top of each other, and so began the most beautiful bromance I have ever witnessed, and it continues to delight me daily.

That first night, Platon came to bed with me, but I left Leo in the dog bed in the living room, with all the doors open. I hadn’t planned on a second dog, and had initially thought Leo might suit my parents, but when I woke in the early hours to find Platon missing from my side, and when I went to investigate, found the two of them curled up together with Leo’s head resting on Platon, it was very obvious that these two shouldn’t be separated and I knew that our little family had extended unquestionably! I always say that it was a Platon’s decision, we had had several other dogs come into our lives, but none had bonded like these two, and Platon played a very valuable role in Leo’s recovery.

And so the scruffy little dog that came into our lives covered in scars needed a name, I knew it had to be a warrior’s moniker, and initially called him Hector, after a much underrated character who is honourable and brave, fighting to protect his brother. However, the name just didn’t seem to suit this playful pup, and he quickly became Leonidas after the gutsy king of the Spartans. I have a dear Greek friend who bitterly complains that this scruffy little dog is named after one of the country’s greatest legends, but Leo is not a calm measured warrior as I imagine Hector was; yet he is brave and gutsy and rushes in, despite his inadequacies, rather as I imagine his namesake. Leonidas also means son of a lion, and Leo’s scruffy little face with his wiry eyebrows and beard, certainly look a little lion like. It really doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t measure up to anyone’s perception of a warrior, and he truly bears the battle scars to make him worthy of the title. Truth be told, he’s a lover not a fighter, but he loves more fiercely than any other creature I have ever encountered!

Since that day, three years ago, Leo has been a bright ray of sunshine.. he greets everyone, people and dogs, cats, anyone with excited squeals of delight, and although this is sometimes misinterpreted, he often wins over the circumspect; like the cat that lived on our wall. A stray cat that the neighbours fed, used to sunbathe most of the day on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. Platon, being a calm, cat friendly dog, curiously used to sniff her as we passed, and eventually she did the same back, until touching noses became their greeting. When Leo saw this, he was beside himself with joyful enthusiasm to join in, but the cat wasn’t thrilled with this energetic bundle that approached her, so would hiss and walk away, yet Leo didn’t give up, he learnt to approach more cautiously, and eventually the cat succumbed and touched noses. You have never seen a dog so pleased with himself as Leo that day, and so our routine on entering or exiting the house included two dogs ‘kissing’ a cat, several times a day.

Leo has been a relatively easy dog, he was instinctively house-trained, was happy to walk on the lead, and pretty much did whatever Platon did, but in a more relaxed and trusting way. For example, he’s great in the car, if I’m there and Platon’s there, he’s secure and usually curls up to sleep; whereas Platon watches every inch of the road, as if he doesn’t trust my driving. Leo did however suffer with dreadful separation anxiety if both Platon and I left him, and used to watch us take quick ‘toilet walks’ round our Greek village, howling like a banshee from the balcony. But if I took him, or left him with Platon, he was fine. It has taken time and patience, and several courses in dog behaviour, but he is much better now. He knows we’re coming back, and I always walk them in the same order so he knows when it’s his turn. If I am going out, he quickly recognises the signs, but now he’ll come and watch me get ready, then curl up somewhere comfy for me to kiss him goodbye.

Leo is definitely the most affectionate of my three dogs, he loves to be cuddled and often rolls over to reveal his tummy in readiness for a tickle. He seeks me out when I’m relaxing, and is undeterred by how close to the fire I sit in winter (the other two are a bit nervous of cracking logs), or that I always choose the sunniest spot in summer, he likes to lie snuggled into me. He is the first to race upstairs at bedtime, to secure his place nearest my face on the bed, and often follows me around like a little shadow, preferring to be in the same room wherever that is. I love snuggling him too of course, and often ask him for kisses, which he’s very generous with but also humorous about. He developed a funny little game, whereby I ask him for a kiss, and he turns his face away, so I ask again, and make kissy noises, which he ignores for a while, watching me out of the corner of his eye, until quickly planting a kiss when I look like I am no longer expecting one. I laugh and tickle him, he in turn kisses me again and again.. until I ask him for one more kiss, and the game begins again.

I can’t imagine how Leo suffered before I found him, but I am determined that he knows he’s loved, is safe, and gets treats every single day.. he in turn blesses me, and Platon and Poppy with more love than I could have dreamed, he really is the most loving little ray of sunshine to ever bounce into my life, and I absolutely adore him!

Happy ‘Found-day’ Leo mou, you are loved so much more than I can put into words, and I’m so grateful that you manage to show me so much love without words too!

Photo and words by me, Hayley Darby ©️2018