Chapter 20

 Everyone’s always asking me, “How did you train him to be like he is?”

I always tell them, “That’s how they come. That’s exactly how he got off the plane as a puppy, as calm as can be.”

That’s just how Leonbergers are. That’s just how Baby is. He never says a thing about it.

Which is a good thing, being calm, because they grow up to be as big as lions. He is a lot of dog. They’re well behaved, even though Baby can be headstrong. It’s a good thing they’re smart, too, and know how to heel. They can pull and push you off your feet. If they lean on you, you better be able to lean back. They are Lean-on-Bergers.

I am a dog lover of all nationalities, but I am a huge dog lover more than I am a small dog lover. Little dogs are yappy and prissy. I gave my Pom to my mom and my mom ruined her, turned her into a total punk. I had Izzy trained like a big dog. She used to think like a big dog, but now she’s turned into a princess.

I like big animals. We are crazy, but Brian and I have hand-fed bears in the wild. The first time I saw a picture of a Leonberger I wanted one. I showed the picture to Brian.

“Oh, my God,” I want one.

“Sweet,” he said.

Getting Baby was no mean feat. It’s absolutely ridiculous what you have to go through to rescue a dog. You have to jump through hoops.

You have to have a vet. You can’t have other dogs at home. They come and check your house. They want to check the house, that’s fine. They should absolutely make sure there’s no dog fighting. That’s great, but, for real. It’s harder to adopt a dog than it is to adopt a baby.

What kills me is that there are so many unwanted dogs. If I have four other dogs, which I do, they’re like, no. Fuck that. I’m a good parent. I love animals. They’re all going to be spoiled rotten in my house.

We knew if we wanted to adopt a Leonberger they weren’t going to give us one. So, we decided we were going to pay for it, and get it as a puppy. We wanted the dog to be young because they don’t live long, anyway.

Leonbergers come from Leonberg, Germany, although ours came from Missouri. They’re a cross between a Newfoundland and a Saint Bernard and a Pyrenean mountain dog.  They are a three-for-one deal. They’re farm dogs, a water-resistant double coat, and Baby, since he’s a male, has a mane.

We got him from a breeder. It was hard because it’s something we don’t believe in. It went against everything Brian and I believe in, but we felt we had paid our dues rescuing the 600-or-so dogs we’ve rescued.

He cost us $2300.00.

I had him shipped in. Then, after he was delivered to Cleveland, I found out there was a place in Medina, only a half-hour away, which breeds Leonbergers. I was pissed.

He’s just a few months older than two years now, but when we got him he was less than a few months old, just older than about five weeks. They packed him up in a little crate that was put on a plane. We picked him up at the live-something at Cleveland Hopkins, although it was actually behind the airport, on the road towards the IX Center.

When we got there, I started getting nervous. I thought, “He’s just a baby, I wonder if the plane ride scared him?” Another lady was there picking up her dog. By the time she and her husband got him out of the crate he was shaking, twitchy, a basket case.

“Oh, my God,” I said to myself, my poor dog.” I opened the cage and he plopped out. He lay on the concrete floor, looking up at me, loopy.

I thought, “Right.”

He rolled over on his back.

I thought, “This is a chill dog.”

There was grassy stuff in his crate, still warm, a food dish, and a water dish. He had had plenty of food and water for the 8-hour trip. It had been a first-class flight.

When I picked him up he wanted to play. He fell back down to the floor and I picked him up again. He rolled over in my arms. I rubbed his belly. I thought he was going to be as shaky as the other dog, scared and petrified. I was wrong, totally wrong. He was so cute, although it was easy to tell he was going to be about mischief and mess.

He was jumbo-sized right out of the box, long fur that was ready to shed, not for a neatnik. After we got him home, we found out he loved water and loved dirt.

From the very first second I opened his cage door we were both in love with one another. “We’ve got a yard for you.” He liked that. He wasn’t a studio apartment kind of dog. That was obvious.

Leonbergers grow fast, 7, 8, and 9 pounds a month for the first two years. He’s always been about, “When do we eat?” He’s been a growing boy most of the time we’ve had him. It’s always dinnertime sometime is how he looks at things. When I can’t feel his ribs anymore is when I know it’s diet time. He can smell any food leftover left over anywhere in the house.

Baby has been a calm dog from the day we got him. He’s still always calm. When he sees people other than us, or dogs other than our dogs, he is cool. He loves being with people and other dogs, rather than by himself.

We even take him everywhere, which is where our SUV comes in handy. He’s even gone to Cleveland Monster games, in the stands, and Cleveland Indians games, right down on the field.

It’s like he’s high, or something. He is chill.

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