Alpha Leaf

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Excerpted from New York Times bestselling book, A Dog Named Leaf by Allen Anderson with Linda Anderson, published by Lyons Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Summary of the Story:

Allen and Linda Anderson adopted a traumatized one-year-old cocker spaniel who had been abandoned. Soon, the troubled dog they named “Leaf” turned their home into a war zone. Although Leaf and Allen were forging a friendship with visits to dog parks and bonding time, Leaf’s emotional issues overwhelmed the couple.

Shortly after Leaf’s arrival, Allen, who had spent eight years as a big city police officer and survived so many close calls that Linda called him “Miracle Man,” received a diagnosis from his doctor that made him think his luck had finally run out. Allen had an unruptured brain aneurysm that could be fatal, and the surgery to repair it might leave him debilitated.

A few weeks after Allen’s brain surgery while he was still trying to recover, the following section of the story occurred.

***

Alpha Leaf

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During my healing process Leaf became my channel for viewing and living in the strange post-surgery world where my body could no longer be trusted to do what was necessary. After I was cleared to drive again, I took Leaf to the dog park so both of us could relax. With my frontal lobe still not in total functioning mode, other drivers agitated me. I now understood how a person could be overtaken by road rage.

To my embarrassment, I found myself yelling at drivers who lingered at stoplights. It irritated me that they crossed lanes too close in front of my car, chattered on their cell phones, or indulged in other poor driving habits. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been fazed much and just made sure I got out of their way.

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In our car CD player, we keep a recording of around five thousand people chanting the love-filled mantra “HU.” For me, it is an incredibly soothing sound. The voices of all these chanters fluctuate and harmonize into a magnificent, unrehearsed symphony of high vibrational sound. When I’m driving I often push the button on the car stereo system and listen to the uplifting song waft through the speakers. With Leaf in the car, I doubly enjoy the chant, sensing that it also soothes and comforts him.

On this day Leaf watched me from the front seat as my anger erupted at other drivers. I was like someone with Tourette’s syndrome, unable to censor my negative mind talk. After watching me scream

at a bus that stopped frequently in front of my car, Leaf reached his paw over to the CD player. Out of six buttons on the stereo, he firmly pressed the one that allowed the HU CD to play.

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The timing, position of his paw, his selection of buttons, and the CD that happened to be in the stereo could have all been coincidental. I didn’t care. I needed it. Consciously or not, I knew Leaf was being God’s messenger for me. His act of compassion had its desired effect. I calmed down and let the chant heal my troubled, aching heart and mind. Gratitude welled up in me. My dog had figured out how to supply exactly what I needed to dissolve a passion of the mind I couldn’t control.

I looked over at him. As if nothing had happened, as if he did this sort of thing every day, his attention returned to the traffic. His curious eyes darted back and forth as he watched cars whiz by. Who was this dog? If I couldn’t register an oncoming vehicle, would he lean over and steer the car out of the way for me too?

Later that day I sat on the living room couch with Leaf in his usual spot. His body draped across my torso, and his head rested on my crossed leg. Although I’d grown over the months to appreciate him at deeper levels, at this moment I experienced an epiphany about our relationship.

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I looked at my little adopted dog and realized that we were both emotionally damaged goods. My lack of trust in people, fear of being dependent like my stroke-ridden father, discomfort when people expressed their emotions, and an overwhelming need for privacy all sprung from a childhood in which I never had enough strength to feel safe. Eight years of police work had confronted me with some of the worst humanity had to offer. With its random violence, it had reinforced my low opinion of anyone’s, including my own, trustworthiness.

a-dog-named-leaf-5Leaf ‘s fear, mistrust, and mercurial emotions arose from losing everything he’d ever known and being left without any safety net but his own street smarts. Although he’d been the abandoned shelter dog we rescued, without a doubt he had more than returned the favor. I knew now that life had turned our relationship to its flip side. Leaf was rescuing and trying to heal me. This little black cocker spaniel, abandoned and thrown out like someone’s trash, named Harley at the shelter after a motorcycle he detested, had become nothing less than a spiritual giant in my life.

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Do your pets try to talk to you?

A Dog Named Leaf

A Dog Named Leaf

DOG TALK

For many years, our cocker spaniel Leaf has vocalized to Linda in an attempt to talk to her every night before we all go to sleep. He jumps up on the bed, rolls over for a belly rub, and then begins with a series of moans and groans that are his version of words and sentences.

Depending on how tough or interesting a day he’s had, he talks a lot or a little; in calm or excited tones. Linda asks him a question such as, “How was your day?” Leaf answers with emotional responses.

Allen is also on the bed, watching the scene unfold. But Leaf doesn’t confide in him. He only shares his heart with his “mommy”. Allen’s role is to play with Leaf, so Linda calls him “Leaf’s favorite toy.” The dog is more than happy to have Allen scratching his ears during the debriefing session on bed at night.

One night, Linda was amused to hear Leaf talking to her in his usual manner. Except for one thing: Leaf was having the conversation in a dream. From his dog bed next to ours, Leaf babbled on with the same kinds of moans and snorts he uses while awake.

Nice to know that even in his dreams, Leaf continues to communicate in his unique ways.

A Dog Named Leaf

A Dog Named Leaf

What are the animals in your home learning from each other?

LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER

Leaf, Sunshine, and Cuddles

Leaf, Sunshine, and Cuddles

The animals who live together in our house appear to be learning from each other. It’s a strange sight to behold.

As dogs tend to do, our cocker spaniel Leaf runs to the door when we comes home and he wags his tail with friendly excitement. Now, so does our little cat Cuddles. She scampers along behind Leaf. Her tail swishes. Uncatlike as it may be, she expresses her happiness at seeing us.

When he was about one year old, Leaf was abandoned at an animal shelter. We adopted him, and it’s been quite an adventure ever since. Even though he’s made his home with us for eight years now, he still has abandonment issues.

We leave the room or he wakes up and doesn’t see us; he howls. We leave the house; he howls even louder.

We adopted Cuddles as a kitten from the same animal shelter. She’s never gone through abandonment nor has she howled. But after years of watching and listening to Leaf, she’s added howling to her behavior.

It’s her version of a howl which is more like a yell. But the other day, after Allen left the house, Linda was surprised to hear Cuddles mark his departure with a long, drawn-out meow. We had a symphony of howling and yelling for about 30 seconds.

Early on after Leaf came home, he began watching Cuddles jump up on our bed at night to sleep with us. Guess who soon joined us on the bed? If she can do it; so can I!

What are the animals in your home learning from each other?

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Has an animal tried to communicate his or her wishes to you?

LEAF’S SPOT

Leaf

Leaf

In the early morning Allen was sitting on the couch in a different place than normal, having his morning cup of coffee. Leaf walked up, sat in front of him, and stared. Allen asked our little cocker spaniel what he wanted. Leaf continued to stare at him.

Allen had already given breakfast to Leaf but had forgotten to include a small apple slice that he usually gets for dessert. Still under Leaf’s watchful eye, Allen went to the kitchen and gave Leaf his customary apple slice.

Allen returned to his morning waking-up ritual on the living room couch. Leaf sat down in front of Allen and resumed staring at him. Allen thought, “Maybe he needs to go outside for a bathroom break.” So he left his coffee cup, got up, and let Leaf outside. Nothing happened, though, and they immediately came back into the house.

Once again, Allen sat on the couch only to have Leaf gaze into his eyes as if he was trying to tell him something. Finally, Allen stood up and attempted to figure out what Leaf wanted. The moment he stood, Leaf jumped onto the couch in the spot where Allen had sat. He curled up and made himself comfortable.

At last, it occurred to Allen that he had been sitting on the spot where Leaf usually sprawled out on the couch. Every morning, Allen sat on the smaller couch while Leaf had his reserved spot, viewing the world outside the living room window.

Humans can be so dense. 🙂

Has an animal tried to communicate his or her wishes to you?

Who is in charge of keeping you in balance when your life fills up with too many to-do list items?

Who tells you it is time to play?

The truth of the matter is – we are working too hard and putting in too many hours on the next books. But we have barometers in our home who tell us that. They are named Leaf, Cuddles, and Sunshine.

A Dog Named Leaf

A Dog Named Leaf

Cuddles

Cuddles

Sunshine

Sunshine

Leaf, our dog, brings his ball and drops it at our feed and tells us to throw it for him. Cuddles, the little cat, vocalizes with a scolding tone of voice. Sunshine, the bird, screeches more than usual but also sings his song if one of us spends quality time with him.  He is giving us positive reinforcement to play with him too.

Everybody joins in the chorus to let us know that it is time to rest, time to take a break, time to play.

Who is in charge of keeping you in balance when your life fills up with too many to-do list items?

How do you make special time for your pets?

MAKING SPECIAL TIME FOR YOUR PETS

Feeding, cleaning, exercising, grooming, caring for, playing with pets can sometimes seem like a full-time job, especially in multiple-pet families.

How do you find time for it all?

Cuddles

Cuddles

If you’re like us, you have to multitask, even with your pets. Exercising includes walking combined with playtime and throwing the ball for our cocker spaniel Leaf.

Annual vet appointments involve bringing both our cat Cuddles and Leaf to the veterinarian’s office at the same time. We found that sharing their distress with each other actually seems to help them cope better. Cuddles can scurry back into her carrying case and feel safe while Leaf is having his exam.

But one thing that each of our pets requires and deserves is at least a few minutes everyday of our undivided attention. Cuddles tends to like her quiet time while sitting on Linda’s lap in the morning. Linda has to work around the cat in order to write in her journal and do a contemplation. But the sound of Cuddles’s sweet purring adds a blissful dimension to the centered start of her day.

Sunshine

Sunshine

Leaf’s special time comes at night when we take turns rubbing his belly, while he sprawls out on the bed. First, he carefully paws Allen’s side of the bed as if preparing a nesting place. Then while Linda pats his head, he answers her question — How was your day? — with grunts, groans, and other vocalizations.

Leaf licks Allen’s cheeks for a while and then settles in the middle of the bed to sleep until Linda finishes reading and turns off the lights.

Cuddles curls up next to Linda’s side. The bird is covered in his cage, sleeping on his perch behind a spray of millet. And everyone drifts into sleep and dream.

How do you make special time for your pets?

OVERCOMING A FEAR OF DOGS

I recently did a radio interview and got to do what I love, which is to talk about my book, New York Times bestseller A DOG NAMED LEAF. I always enjoy sharing with anyone who will listen to me talk about Leaf and how we came out of challenging times as a spiritual team. Both of us became better and more loving from our experiences together.

A Dog Named Leaf

A Dog Named Leaf

I talked about the joy and comfort a person receives by having the unconditional love of a dog and gave examples of how Leaf’s presence made my and his life better.

On the air, the host said that she had grown up in an environment where her mother taught her to fear dogs. To this day, she would be too afraid to have a dog as a pet.  She added that without knowing better, she had instilled that same fear in her son who is now 10 years old. As we chatted during the interview about the book and my experiences, the radio show host began to understand how much she and her son are missing out on, by not having a dog join their family.

I talked about how animal shelters are always looking for volunteers. Volunteering often helps people who cannot have a dog for some reason or may be concerned over the cost of adoption.

The host said that, as we talked, she had realized that it was time for her to move forward and past her deep, lifelong fears. Both she and her son were going to volunteer a couple of hours each week at their local animal shelter. They could become more accustomed to and less fearful by being around all kinds of dogs and experiencing firsthand the different characters and doggy personalities.

She added that one fine day, she might find a dog at the shelter. They would welcome the new arrival into their home with open arms.

What a satisfying interview that was for me, the host, and hopefully, for her listeners.

Have you ever had to overcome your fear of an animal?

A DOG NAMED LEAF

A DOG NAMED LEAF

A New York Times bestseller, A Dog Named Leaf (ISBN-10: 0762781654, ISBN-13: 978-0762781652), a 224-page paperback published by Lyons Press/Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, is available at major online book retailers, in bookstores, and at lyonspress.com. Visit the book’s Facebook page and view photos of Leaf at http://www.adognamedleaf.com or www.facebook.com/adognamedleaf