Chapter 20

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

   She always tells 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.

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

   Thelma likes big animals. They are crazy, but Steve and she have hand-fed bears in the wild. The first time she saw a picture of a Leonberger she wanted one. She showed the picture to Steve.

   “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.”

   They knew if they wanted to adopt a Leonberger nobody was going to give them one. So, they decided they were going to pay for it, and get it as a puppy. They wanted the dog to be young because they don’t live long.

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

   They got him from a breeder. It was hard because it’s something they don’t believe in. It went against everything Steve and Telly believe in, but they felt they had paid their dues rescuing the 600-or-so dogs they have rescued.

   He cost them $2300.00.

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

   The dog is just a few months older than two years now, but when they got him, he was less than a few months old, just older than about five weeks. He was packed up in a little crate that was shoved onto a plane. They picked him up at Cleveland Hopkins, although it was actually behind the airport, on the road towards the IX Center.

   When they got there, Telly started getting nervous. She thought, “He’s just a baby, I wonder if the plane ride scared him?” Another lady was 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,” Telly said to herself, my poor dog.” She opened the cage and he blobbed out. He lay on the concrete floor, looking up at her, loopy, goofy.

   She thought, “Right.”

   He rolled over on his back.

   She thought, “This is a chill dog.”

   There was grassy stuff in his crate, still warm, a food dish, and a water dish. He had been given plenty of food and water for the 8-hour trip. Even still, the grub was all gone.

   When she picked him up he wanted to play. He fell back down to the floor and she picked him up again. He rolled over in her arms. Telly rubbed his belly. She thought he was going to be as shaky as the other dog, scared and petrified. She 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 they got him home, they found out he loved water and loved dirt.

   From the very first second Telly opened his cage door they 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 they’ve had him. It’s always dinnertime somewhere in the world is how he looks at things. When she can’t feel his ribs anymore is when she will 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 they got him. When he sees people other than them, or dogs other than our dogs, he is cool. He loves being with people and other dogs, rather than by himself.

   They even take him everywhere, which is where their 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. High on life. He is chill.

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