Thursday, September 7, 2017

Woof The Leonberger

A dear friend for over 30 years, John has also been an dog lover and animal rights advocate all his life.  Over our long association we’ve become well-acquainted with each other’s much-beloved pets, of which we’ve had many:  dogs, cats, birds.

For years John was the proud father of a beautiful Husky-Malamute mix named King, who, at the age of 9, unfortunately developed bone cancer in a rear leg.  The vet suggested to John that it may be humane to consider euthanasia to avoid pain and suffering in his “elderly” pet. “No,” retorted John, “No way!”  After total and successful amputation of his pup’s right rear leg, the two carried on as an inseparable team for  another 5 years, King ultimately passing away in his sleep at the ripe old age of 14, a happy and much-loved partner to the very end.

Several months after King’s passing, John found out about a Leonberger Rescue organization somewhere on the east coast that had a one-year-old, previously abused pup ready for adoption. John flew east from northern California, rescued his new friend and brought him home to begin a charmed life as constant companion to John, and sometime companion for John’s wife.  

I was introduced to Woof one fine spring Saturday morning when John and I met, with several other friends, for our weekly coffee klatch at Book Passage, a famous Marin County bookstore with an outdoor cafe that welcomes pets.  I’d recently become the proud mother of Bella, a not-yet ten-pound Shih Tzu, who accompanied me on about 90% of my outings.  (Yes, I’m also a dog-lover who keeps my pets with me as close to 24-hours a day as possible.)

That warm morning, as the group of about ten of us gathered for our weekly coffee and conversation, I settled Bella on my lap and was definitely surprised (maybe “astounded” is a more apt description of my reaction) when up to the group walked John with his new “puppy,” one-year old Woof.

What a commotion the two of them caused:  John sauntered up to join us,  very casually holding a short leash attached to the biggest dog I’d ever seen!  Woof stood about 30 inches at the shoulder and weighed in at just under 200 pounds; we soon discovered that he was the gentlest giant you could ever imagine.  John pulled up a chair and Woof lay down beside him, taking up about 25 square feet of real estate!  He was calm, quiet, sweet  and well-behaved, enjoying the attention he garnered, but not having any inclination to leave John’s side.  Bella sat on my lap and stared; I swear her eyes grew bigger just trying to take in the entirety of this enormous being in her line of vision.  Curled up as she was, she seemed to communicate that this colossal dog in her vicinity was to be looked at, but not sniffed or otherwise investigated!  Woof endured the “Ohs” and “Ahs” of the group and other patrons with a relaxed, quiet demeanor  -  his massive body taking up the floor space of three German Shepherds; he appeared to be very used to the falderal his presence caused, taking it all in stride.  John had had Woof for only a week or so, but their bond was evident; Woof was very pleased with his turn of fortune and John was most certainly a proud papa.

Our coffee klatch lasted most of the morning; after about the first hour Bella’s curiosity got the best of her and she decided she just had to get down from my lap to find out more about this potentially new friend.  She jumped down and slowly made her way towards Woof until she was directly in front of his nose; he lifted his head and they proceeded to do the nose-to-nose sniff greeting - no growling, barking or untoward bad temperament from either.  Woof didn’t get up, simply lifted his about-40-pound head and sniffed. Bella kind of walked around his head to take a little whiff of his front paw - nearly the size of a grand piano leg!  “Hmmm,” Bella appeared to say to herself, “this creature doesn’t seem to have any negative feelings about my presence, so I guess I’ll just continue sniffing my way around his gargantuan body.”

And, that she did, making a slow circumnavigation of his body, sniff-sniffing all the identifying odors that she was indexing to recognize as “Woof smells.”  He lay calmly, waiting for her to make her way back to in front of his face.  We all watched with interest (and a little trepidation on my part) as Woof and Bella became comfortable with one another.  After about ten minutes, or so, we kind of just let them do their thing and we went back to our stimulating conversation.  Minutes later I thought to take a look at what they were up to.  To my shock - and delight - Bella had climbed up on Woof’s head and was sound asleep!  Sadly this happened in the pre-smart phone era; nobody had a camera to record what might have been an award-winning snapshot of two new friends just being themselves!

Woof and Bella both became fixtures at our Saturday morning coffee group, and great friends, to boot.  Their presence was enjoyed by all who chanced to meet them.  Bella would sometimes climb on Woof’s, head, but more often, she’d just simply curl up between his two front paws and the two of them would sleep the coffee party away, totally content until it was time to head back to their regular routine of companionship for two lucky humans - John and me.

John had rescued a dog much in need of what John had plenty to give:  care, love and attention.  Woof was gentle and quiet.  He was calm and agreeable.  But, as John found out early on, Woof had a terrible fear of abandonment.  It became evident shortly after Woof came to live with John.  John loaded him in the back of his generously-sized SUV for a trip to a shop located on Fourth, the main street in San Rafael.  He found a parallel parking space directly outside the shop he needed to visit, parked the car and left Woof sprawled out in the rear of the SUV catching some much-appreciated zzz-s and walked into the shop.  It was a temperate Marin County morning, no need to worry about the car interior becoming too hot, and John knew he could check to make sure all was well in the car while he carried out his business.  Fortunately, he had a cell phone with him and it began to ring.  (Cell phones weren't so much a part of everybody’s life; John was unusually tech-savvy and carried his cell phone with him.)  He answered to hear, “Mr. X, this is Sergeant So-n-So from the San Rafael Police Department; we have your dog here at the Station.”   John immediately looked out the window and noticed the rear window of his SUV broken all over the street behind his vehicle!  Woof had pushed out the entire rear window of the car.  He’d started walking down the street, obviously looking for John, when somebody called the police, reporting a giant dog-like animal out on the sidewalk.  Two patrolmen in a police car came to investigate and found this gentle giant, who obediently walked alongside one of the two who’d been summoned, the four blocks to the Police Department.  It was there that they saw Woof’s ID tag and called his owner to come and pick him up!  When John arrived at the station, Woof was sitting on an office chair(!) calmly awaiting the return of his master.  The officer explained that he’d decided not to try to load Woof in the patrol car, opting instead to walk the dog to the station.  In the first month John had Woof, he replaced the rear windshield in his SUV three times before he was assured that his master would be back!