Leia started out being a present for a young boy who told his parents he would like a puppy (and apparently he also liked Star Wars). After three weeks, he told his parents he would not like this puppy after all. He was bored of taking care of a dog and would rather play with other, more fun toys….
Then Leia ended up living with my neighbors across the street. They enjoyed her and would have kept her except she was just a puppy and already threatened to overpower them on their walks. They were an older couple and they decided a family with children would be perfect for Leia’s needs.
My brother, sister and I begged our parents to have her and they finally agreed! Leia was just about one year old when we got her and full of life and love. She really was the perfect family dog and the first dog I ever had growing up. I always thought I liked dogs, but after living with Leia, I knew I was forever going to be a dog lover.
Leia had her bad habits too, like any dog. She would often pull the trash out of the garbage and she was not afraid to take food right out of my hands. In fact, one time I was eating a sandwich and as I was taking it out of my mouth she just dove right in and snagged a bite for herself. One time she even ate an entire batch of CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES off our counter! Of course we were worried sick about the chocolate, but she ended up not even phased by her bad behavior. When she was with my mom it was a different story. She listened to all her commands and was the greatest hiking partner. She just had one big fear: water.
Water was more of a love and a hate for Leia. She loved to drink water, she loved to chase and try to eat water from the hose, and she loved to walk in water up to her belly. However, once it got past her stomach she would freak out. She did NOT like to swim. Despite her being a black lab and having those handy webbed paws, she could never get over her puppy-hood drama to love swimming. Her first owners had a lake on their property and in the winter she had gone out on the ice when it broke underneath her and she fell in the freezing water! Never again did she want to go for a swim.
I’m getting distracted by my memories, this often happens when I talk about animals I love. 🙂
The most important lesson Leia taught me was patience. The first time we gave her a big treat to chew on I ran up and grabbed it out of her mouth (maybe this is why she felt comfortable taking bites of my sandwiches). My mom gasped and yelled at me, “You NEVER take food from a dog when it’s eating!” Leia looked up at me calmly as if to say, “Could I have that back now, please?” She wasn’t in a rush, she wasn’t scared I was going to eat it on her, she just understood if she was patient and waited, she’d get her treat back.
Leia had a dog crate that she liked to use for her bed. Every night at 7:00pm she would put herself to bed whether we were awake or not. Sometimes she liked to hang out in her crate for fun. Sometimes my sister and I would like to hang out in her crate WITH her for fun. So that’s two humans and one dog in a crate that’s sized for ONE DOG. Not only would we pile into her crate alongside her, but then we would proceed to “massage” her. Which really meant we would pull up on her loose skin and fur and say “AWOOGA” over and over again. And Leia would wag her tail and let us squish together until we couldn’t take the cramped space anymore. She knew if she just waited we would move on to our next activity.
Leia had it figured out. No one had to tell her things like “good things come to those who wait” or “this too shall pass”. She just knew.
(On a side note, I did manage to convince my sister that Leia used to take me flying with her at night while she was asleep. She got so mad she started to cry. I’m still not sure why she believed me.)
Leia was seven when we found the tumor on her chest. We took her to the vet and they said they would have to remove it and find out what stage cancer she had. They said stage 1 was treatable, past that, it would not be good. She went in for surgery and came home with a pink vest that was for catching any drainage. Though she looked super fashionable, I think she could sense a change coming. She was not the energetic dog we were used to. Most of her time was spent laying in her crate. I would sit outside her crate and pet her head gently whispering, “Good girl” over and over again.
When the vest was removed her drainage became clotted, but the vet told us the tumor biopsy showed she was at stage 2, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. She died in her crate, patiently waiting for her next adventure.
My mom told me something then. A quote about how people die when they truly understand love, when their lives have been fulfilled. She said that’s why dogs have shorter lives than people, because they are born knowing how to love unconditionally. That’s truly what Leia represented: gentle, patient, and unconditional love.