A Dog Named Leaf: The Hero from Heaven Who Saved My Life by Allen Anderson with Linda Anderson, published by Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2012. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Life as I Knew It
The day started like any other day. I sat at my desk and gazed at a cloudless, azure sky from my fourth-floor office window. A couple dozen seabirds swooped in unison over the flat plain of the Minnesota landscape dotted with tall city buildings and oak trees. I started to prepare for a client conference call scheduled for later that morning. I moved a small, framed photo of our dog Leaf’s face to the right corner of my desk to make room for my notes. The image of the jet-black cocker spaniel Linda and I had adopted from an animal shelter seven months prior brought a smile to my face.
Yesterday, Leaf and I had visited the dog park near our home. I loved seeing the joy shine in his eager eyes and his legs tremble with excitement each time I held his favorite ball in the air. When I threw it, the heavens opened up for him. Over and over, he ran after the ball, and his long, floppy ears flapped in the wind. It delighted me when he rushed back to where I waited for him. He’d drop the ball at my feet then, with his pink tongue hanging comically out of his mouth, he’d wait for the next round of play.
I had grown to appreciate every inch of Leaf’s jellyroll body. The eight-inch legs that sunk into snowdrifts. The paw he’d raise to pat my knee whenever he wanted attention. The curve of his snout, which tipped upward. The wide, black, moist, and ever-sniffing nose that gave his profile a regal bearing. The pungent odor of his perspiration. The stubby tail that whipped in circles when he greeted my return home. The penetrating coal eyes that sparkled with personality when he’d peek at me out of the corners of his eyes or intensely examine my face for clues to my mood. All these aspects of my complex dog were becoming more welcome with each passing day.
His trust in me was not complete, though. Far from it. Even this morning, he still hadn’t wanted a hug or even a pat before I left for work. The cautious and guarded way that he demanded affection only on his terms made Leaf more catlike than usual for a dog. His body stiffened if I patted his head. He flinched when I tried to approach him directly or unexpectedly.
Despite of his initial distrust and fear, Leaf was taking baby steps into becoming a more reliable and fun canine companion. At times he’d plop down at my feet and take in the scenery at outdoor cafés. While driving in the car at night, sometimes I would call out, “Rabbit.” Then I’d point out the white-tailed bunnies I saw while Leaf’s legs quivered against my shoulder.
I had left him relaxing on the couch this morning, carefully licking his furry right front paw. After the right was completely licked, he had started working on the left one. I looked at him and said, “I’ll be back.” Whether he actually understood or not, he listened intently to my promise. I sensed that to a rescued dog the intent behind my words meant a lot.
This morning, though, I wasn’t just thinking about Leaf and how he was adjusting to life with us. I was also thinking about the puzzling bouts of dizziness I’d been having for the past few weeks. A couple of times the spells were so severe that I’d had to hold onto the wall as my body involuntarily slid down to the floor. Sensations of vertigo, claustrophobia, and spinning were happening more and more frequently. I tried to brush them off as symptoms of an inner ear infection that would heal in time. But combined with a series of disturbing dreams I’d had lately about catastrophe striking, all of this had made me apprehensive about my health.
When I told Linda about my concerns, she fixed on me with her blue eyes. In an unwavering voice, she insisted that I see our family doctor right away. I thought she might be overreacting, but I’ve learned during the course of our marriage that if Linda is determined that something will happen, it will happen. I knew Linda would keep asking about my dizziness until I could say, “The doctor says it’s nothing.” And so I had made an appointment to see Dr. Scott.
An older, no-nonsense fellow nearing retirement, Dr. Scott listened to my symptoms and did a thorough medical checkup. He made no comment and did not flash one of his rare smiles. “I want you to see a specialist to eliminate other reasons for your symptoms,” he said. Without further explanation, he referred me to a neurologist.
The next week, I went to see the neurologist Dr. Lucas., a man in his mid-fifties, who sported a bushy black-and-gray mustache. He ordered an MRI-CAT scan.
That medical test was an experience I do not want to repeat -- ever. My head and much of my body entered a metal tube with no more than only inches of space around me. Strapped in and sweating, I felt claustrophobic. The only thing that eased my nerves was to visualize walking along an oceanfront beach with Leaf. While the loud MRI throbbed, I imagined him running in the surf, chasing birds, with no intention of catching them, and always looking back over his shoulder to make sure he didn’t stray too far from me.
As I left the hospital, I told myself that the test had only been necessary to eliminate possibilities. I was probably just having too much stress at work. The strange symptoms were a fluke. Before the MRI-CAT scan results were in, my dizziness ended as mysteriously as it had begun.
From Chapter 16, “Be Nice Leaf…”
Just as I thought we were finishing up our time at the dog park that day, Leaf took another opportunity to let me witness his true character.
Normally, he runs to the gate when it's time to leave. He carries his ball in his mouth and looks like he’s ready to go home and enjoy his nap. That day, though, he stood about twenty feet from the gate near the only other dog left at the park. A woman sat on a bench, watching the dog. Up to that point Leaf had ignored the dog and woman.
He looked at me and at the lone dog and then back at me again. I held the gate open. Why didn’t he run over to it? I felt a nudge, my inner voice, telling me to ignore the heat and my longing for an air-conditioned car.
Leaf and I walked over to a woman, who gently talked to the dog she had named Murphy. “I rescued him only twenty-four hours ago,” she explained. She went on to say which shelter Murphy had come from.
“That’s the same place we found Leaf,” I said. Both dogs had been abandoned there and left to fend for themselves.
Murphy looked traumatized, scared, and alone even with the woman's constant reassurance. “I’m your forever mommy,” she told him repeatedly.
“How is Murphy doing?” I asked.
“Since the time I adopted him, he’s been so upset that he hasn’t gone to the bathroom.” The note of worry in her voice made me empathize with her immediately. I recalled all of the conversations and concerns Linda and I had about Leaf’s initial elimination issues.
As we talked, I threw Leaf’s orange ball for him a couple of times. Murphy watched Leaf running after it His expression conveyed that he wanted to join in the fun. I bent down, focused my eyes on his face, and said, "Murphy, you look very handsome."
Murphy touched his nose to my hand. I slowly rolled Leaf's orange ball down the hill again. This time, Murphy ran after it. He stopped after about five or six feet and hurried back to his mommy. The lady was delighted and praised him.
Leaf observed the scene and wagged his tail with increasing momentum. He came up to Murphy, and the two dogs stood nose-to-nose for a few seconds. Their tails wagged in unison. Leaf didn’t make any gestures to play. Perhaps he sensed that any sudden movements might scare the timid dog even more. But I was pleased to see that they had made a dog-to-dog connection.
I talked more about Leaf's past with Murphy's new mommy. She commented on my dog’s healthy and strong personality. “He’s strutting like he’s fearless,” she said. I knew it had to be encouraging for her to see that an abandoned shelter dog could eventually regain self-confidence.
"Murphy has a bright future,” she said. “He will be spoiled, loved, and safe in his new home." I told her about the great doggy daycare in the neighborhood that had helped Leaf become more socialized. The tension began to fade from her face.
Now a more relaxed Murphy walked a few feet away to a grassy area. Leaf had used it earlier for his potty break. Murphy sniffed, circled the area, sniffed again, and at last, was at ease enough to eliminate.
My dog and I walked to the gate once more. Leaf carried his orange ball in his mouth. He constantly surprised me with his intuitive abilities. Leaf had listened to his inner voice about Murphy and had responded with all the love in his heart.
I did not know it at the time, but what I had witnessed -- Leaf’s ability to empathize and be there when someone needed him -- would become my lifeline in the days and weeks to come.
"A Dog Named Leaf is a beautiful story told with honesty and depth. You'll be changed by Allen and Leaf's journey. This book will fill you with hope."
--Peggy Frezon, Brooks Books -- Peggy's Pet Place
The American Society of Journalist and Authors (ASJA) has selected A Dog Named Leaf by Minnesota authors Allen Anderson with Linda Anderson (Globe Pequot/Lyons Press) as one of the winners of the prestigious 2013 ASJA Awards in the Lifestyle/Memoir category.