Fall 2010 Magazine

Reverend Leo

By Nancy Marano

Sometimes a guy just can't catch a break. Leo is a beautiful brindle-colored pit bull mix who had a difficult time finding a permanent home. In June, a volunteer at Animal Humane New Mexico (AHANM) sent out a plea for his adoption. He'd been at AHANM since December 2009 and he needed a home soon. He'd been adopted twice and each time he came back through no fault of his own.

The first adopter brought him back because he was too high energy for her to handle. The second adoption seemed perfect. Leo was happy and his people were happy. Then the neighbor took a dislike to Leo and threatened to shoot him and his people if he stayed. With great sadness they returned him to AHANM, too.

While he was at the shelter, the staff worked with him. Susan Reaber, the AHANM Behavior Specialist, said, "He really caught the hearts of the staff and volunteers here because he was such a great, friendly dog. He is very sweet with high energy."

One of the veterinarians noticed Leo became reactive to skateboards. "One of the staff brought in a skateboard and we used it to train Leo to relax around skateboards," Reaber said. "We use the clicker training method. We worked with him every day and made a lot of good associations between the skateboard and his treats. After he started feeling comfortable with the board, he began putting his feet on it. With clicker training, we reinforced any behavior Leo did pushing the skateboard. It got to the point where he had three legs on the board and was pushing with the fourth foot."

Leo was on television with the AHANM volunteers and trainers. "We wanted to showcase what we do with dogs who need a little extra attention," Reaber said.

Bill Hutchison and Mary Martin from the Santa Fe Humane Society and Animal Shelter (SFHSAS), were giving a class at AHANM. Brandon, the kennel tech who was fostering Leo, was in their training class. He told them Leo's story and mentioned someone was interested in adopting Leo. "We promised Brandon if Leo didn't get adopted, we would take him and commit to finding him a home. For this one special skateboarding dog, there's a bright future," Hutchison said.

Meanwhile Sam Tri, a medical resident at UNM as a family practice doctor, was meeting with Leo. "My girlfriend, Erin FitzGerald, was in medical school in Maine. We knew we wanted to adopt a dog but we were going to wait until she got here. She started looking at the AHANM website and found the picture and bio of a dog called Leo. She was pretty insistent that I meet him. I had to go to several shelters to find him since he was being protected by the Enchantmutts organization," Tri said.

Tri met Leo at a park with two volunteers from Enchantmutts. "He warmed up to me right away and I had a great feeling about him. I knew Erin would, too," Tri said.

Leo met FitzGerald at the airport. "He seemed so excited to meet me. He was wagging, shaking and kissing me in the car. Later I learned he is really excited to meet most everybody," FitzGerald said.

"I knew he was the one for us. We made it a point to create our lives in Albuquerque around the idea of having a dog. We only looked at rental houses that would allow pets and that had big, fenced yards. After a hike in the Sandias, we went straight to AHA to seal the deal and officially become Leo's parents," FitzGerald said.

"Leo is very calm inside and simply wants to be where we are." Tri said. "He loves going for walks and really enjoys hiking. He has an old dog bed we deemed "the girlfriend" because he likes to drag her around the house and yard. We discovered he loves swimming, too. But mostly Leo loves to be loved and needed," FitzGerald added.

Leo's days are filled with walks, an occasional run with Tri or exploring and hiking with both his people. "Leo is an extremely affectionate dog. He's playful when we're playful and calm when we're calm. He loves to be petted, hugged, brushed and touched. He is a patient dog but he makes us laugh every day. There is something so comforting about coming home after long days at the hospital to find Leo so incredibly happy to see us," FitzGerald said.

One thing has changed. Leo has become Reverend Leo. "We thought Leo was a small name for a big personality but he really responded to that name. For our distinguished pup we added a distinguished title: Reverend Leo. I think that it really suits him," FitzGerald said. "We are so thankful for the persistence of the kind volunteers of Enchantmutts and AHANM for keeping Reverend Leo safe for so long and for making it easy for us to become his parents."

Hopefully all the dogs waiting at the shelters for people to love and a permanent home will find the same happy ending Reverend Leo did.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by a cat named Sammy and a Westie named Maggie May. She is a member of the Cat Writer's Association and the Dog Writers Association of America.

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