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Abandoned outside a shelter, Leaf overcame his fear of being left alone to help his new family through a serious medical issue.
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He was scared. At just 1 year old, Leaf the Cocker Spaniel was dumped at the back door of a shelter in Minnesota. The pup — and the shelter’s security cameras — watched as the couple who dropped him rode off on their motorcycle, leaving the dog brokenhearted. A few miles away, Allen and Linda Anderson were nursing their own broken hearts, mourning the loss of their beloved Lab, Taylor. Their grief would lead them to the shelter and to Leaf, who would soon help Allen through his own fear when he was diagnosed with an unruptured brain aneurysm. But before he could teach Allen to hope, Leaf needed to learn how to trust.
“He definitely was a dog that was troubled,” Allen explains. “It took a lot of effort to get him to know that we were trustworthy and that everything was going to be okay.”
As the Andersons detail in their book, A Dog Named Leaf: The Hero from Heaven Who Saved My Life, their adolescent rescue dog needed constant reassurance to feel safe — especially at night.
“He wouldn’t sleep. He would howl all night. He was afraid of being alone. Anytime anyone left the room he would start howling — he was so afraid of being left,” says Allen.
He recalls how Leaf would wake up terrified if his people left the room while he was sleeping. Fear would flood his body, turning his eyes red and transforming him from sweet to snappy and panicked.
Housetraining was another issue for Leaf, so Allen would wake up every two hours to take the dog outdoors, bracing himself against freezing winter air in the middle of the night.
The fearful pooch was also prone to indigestion and other stomach ailments that would eventually be attributed to pancreatitis. All of Leaf’s social, emotional, and physical problems were completely disrupting Allen and Linda’s lives, but the couple were steadfast in their desire to make him feel safe and loved. When Leaf would howl at 1 a.m., Allen would take him into his home office for a cuddle session.
“I would get into my easy chair with him on my chest, and I would hold him and let him hear my heartbeat,” he remembers. “He would start to snore, and I would start to snore, and finally I could get some sleep.”
Over time, Leaf adjusted and seemed to feel more secure in his place as a member of the Anderson family. But just when things were going good, Allen got terrifying news from his doctor. An unruptured aneurysm had developed in his brain. Allen would need surgery — and Leaf seemed to sense that he was afraid.
“All of a sudden, he had a job to do,” Allen recalls, adding that it seemed as though Leaf knew that he would need a dog by his side through the crisis.
“He started being more affectionate,” he says.
According to Allen, a pivotal moment in his relationship with Leaf occurred after he’d had a nightmare that he felt was his subconscious signaling the possibility that his life could be ending. In Allen’s dream, many people were lining up to enter a magnificent building.
“I realized that this was the building of life, this was the life experiences these people were going to have,” says Allen, who found his dream self unable to join the line because he did not have a ticket.
“I woke up in a sweat, and I was shocked as the dog jumped up — he’d never jumped up, but he was there when I woke up from this nightmare, and he was licking me and being unusually affectionate.”
The next morning, with Leaf sitting at his feet, Allen told his wife about his nightmare. After listening to Allen explain how alone he’d felt when he realized he didn’t have a ticket, Leaf decided to take matters into his own paws. He knocked a pile of newspapers and magazines off the coffee table and began tearing off little strips of paper, which he would then bring to Allen. At first, Allen was beside himself, thinking Leaf was adding a new behavioral problem to his repertoire, but he eventually realized what his dog was doing.
“He was trying to give me my ticket that I wanted so desperately so that I could continue with my life,” says Allen, who was reassured by Leaf’s gesture.
Later, as Allen was being prepped for surgery, he visualized Leaf delivering his ticket to life, and knew he would wake up. It was a moment of positivity that sparked a healing journey of friendship that has lasted more than a decade. Allen got better, and so did Leaf, who is now 12 years old and knows his family will never leave him behind.
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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