Levi Dog Pasternak
January 15, 1987 - July 2, 1999

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Levi Puppy Photo

Levi's Story
by Bobbi Pasternak

Levi was abandoned in a nice neighborhood near Tyson's Corner, Virginia, a few days before this photo was taken. After a search for his owner and posted signs yielded no results, the woman caring for him called a friend who called me. Levi jumped into my lap as soon as I walked out onto the porch where he was staying. Choosing a dog on impulse isn't a wise idea, but it worked spectacularly in this case. Dave and I named him after Levi Stubbs, lead singer of The Four Tops.

As a puppy, Levi played relentlessly and enjoyed remodeling. Thanks to him, I learned drywall repair and how to replace baseboard. He eagerly investigated electrical outlets, then quickly learned how to remove the plastic safety plugs we inserted for his protection. After he chewed one of them up and hid it, we replaced the outlet covers with outdoor electrical outlet covers--the kind with the snap-shut metal covers. They were an attractive feature of our kitchen for the next decade. Levi learned quickly, though, what he was and wasn't supposed to chew. He was only five and a half months old when he destroyed his last inappropriate object, my favorite placemats. I came home and found them torn into neat 1 cm. squares and scattered all over the kitchen. He'd even flung some into the dining room. By six months, though, he was well-behaved and had the run of the house.

Levi attended Fairfax County Park and Recreation obedience classes taught by Mrs. Morton on the grounds of my alma mater, W.T. Woodson High School. He later took graduate courses with Miriam Fields of Training Unlimited. Levi learned quickly and lapsed in his skills only when he had to choose between staying and bolting for a piece of fallen food. Levi found parlor tricks distasteful, but he did have one. He licked Dave on cue. Levi always responded to the request with great enthusiasm and often performed the task without being asked to do so. Even on his final day, Levi licked his Dave.

Levi Photo Levi was always a gentle dog, very attuned to his people and appropriately protective. I noticed early on that wherever I was in the house, Levi would be between me and the front door. He guarded the house diligently, barking to ward off mail carriers (our mailman laughed at him, as have most of our UPS and FedEx drivers), delivery people, solicitors, and politicians. At night, Levi slept in our room, sometimes on the bed, sometimes on the carpeted floor next to my side of the bed. In the morning, he would curl up between Dave and me, draping his chin across my neck. He was quite the snuggle-puppy. If one of us was having a bad day, Levi would be by our side, offering companionship and gentle puppy kisses.

Next to his people, food was Levi's greatest passion. Despite attaining an adult weight of 90 pounds (or sometimes more), he swore he'd never been fed. Levi enjoyed a wide variety of foods, rarely encountering a food he didn't like. (He was, of course, not permitted chocolate, onions, alcohol, or mushrooms. Once, though, he sneaked a lick of spilled gin and tonic. He promptly went outside and tried to pick up a tree root.) Levi's Aunt Judy quickly endeared herself to him by feeding him a significant portion of broccoli under the dinner table. She was amazed that a dog would eat vegetables. Potatoes didn't agree with Levi except in one form. We had come in from outside and Levi ran upstairs first. When we arrived upstairs, we found that one-third of a tray of frozen french fries awaiting baking had disappeared from a cookie sheet sitting on top of the stove. He was so neat that not one remaining fry was dislodged from the tray. He gave us the "It wasn't me" look, but his tummy was quite cold. For once, he digested potatoes just fine.

Though he loved his food, Levi wouldn't start eating until he'd been sung "The Supper Song" or "The Breakfast Song." Dave began singing these spontaneously, but when my sister was staying with Levi once, she decided the song was unnecessary. Karen put his food down and moved on to something else in the kitchen. Then she noticed Levi, standing and staring at her. He looked at her, then looked at his food, back and forth. Finally, she whistled the song (she didn't know the lyrics) and he turned around and ate. The song, btw, is sung to the tune of the Toreador's March from Carmen. I won't bore you with the lyrics. Levi was always picky about his water, too. He liked it cold. We changed it twice a day, but if he wanted a drink and we hadn't changed it yet, he'd stare at us until we changed it. And he had to watch us change it; if he didn't see it, it didn't happen. Then we had to say, "Fresh water for the Levi boy." He was a creature of habit and he had us very well trained.

We knew something was seriously wrong when Levi's appetite diminished in late June of 1999. The decreased appetite was accompanied by a decrease in energy and some weight loss. He was diagnosed with a tumor on his spleen and scheduled for surgery. Two days prior to surgery, he went for a previously scheduled acupuncture appointment. The acupuncture session seemed to restore his energy and appetite--that evening and the next day, he was a new dog. He ate well, went for two walks, guarded the house, supervised in the kitchen, and acted like his usual self. He did well for several hours after surgery. Dave needed to stop by work, so we took a break and headed home. Less than two hours later, Dr. Summers called. Levi had developed complications; they were trying to stabilize him. Under the best of circumstances, our drive to the vet would have taken forty minutes, but it was rush hour and a torrential rainstorm made visibility poor. We drove through the storm hoping we wouldn't be too late.

When we arrived, Dr. Summers was still working with him. Levi saw us from behind his oxygen mask and managed to lift his head in greeting. He seemed determined to hold on and we didn't have a biopsy result yet, so we agreed to have him transferred to a veterinary critical care center. He looked much better that night, but developed problems the following evening. When we visited him the night of July 2, he seemed tired and was working hard at breathing. It was clear that the best veterinary care couldn't save him, so we made the only humane choice possible. Levi died peacefully in Dave's and my arms, with us speaking quietly to him. His Aunt Karen and Uncle Steve were also in attendance along with Dr. Aimé Berman.

We have been extremely fortunate to have had excellent veterinary care for Levi and Toni. For seven years, their primary veterinarian was Jordan Kocen, DVM. When we met him, Dr. Kocen was beginning to explore alternative and complementary veterinary medicine. Levi and Toni responded well to Chinese herbal treatment for skin problems they had early in life. Dr. Kocen went to a strictly holistic practice in 1995. When Levi and Toni needed acupuncture, we knew just where to go! Dr. Kocen practices Holistic Veterinary Medicine at at SouthPaws Veterinary Referral Center in Fairfax, VA.

After Dr. Kocen left general veterinary practice, our good fortune continued when we found Dr. Terri Levinstein and her associates and staff at Dale City Animal Hospital. Dave and I can never thank them enough for the care and compassion they provided during the 2-1/2 years Levi was their patient.

The last vet to care for Levi was Dr. Aimé Berman of SouthPaws CritiCare. We will always be grateful to Dr. Berman for her skill and her compassion; she made Levi's final hours comfortable and provided a peaceful and caring environment for his final moments.

If you have lost an animal companion or have a furry friend who is ill, you'll find excellent support at Petloss.com. For books on canine care, see my book recommendation page. I'll be adding new titles soon.

I hope you've enjoyed visiting Levi's page. Please feel free to e-mail us at e-mail address with your thoughts or leave a message in my guestbook. Thanks for visiting!

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We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.

Irving Townsend, The Once Again Prince

Thanks to our friend Molly Walsh for sending the above quote.

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Levi's Links

Levi Photo

Toni's Home Page - A tribute to Levi's fuzzy sister
Sam's Home Page - Levi didn't know Sam, Toni's little brother, but he would have approved.
Bonnie's Home Page - Sam's little sister, Bonnie
Lucy's Home Page - Sam's second little sister, Lucy
NurseBobbi's Home Page - Levi's mom
Dave's Home Page - Levi's dad
The Animal House - Levi's bunny and canine cousins
Dale City Animal Hospital
SouthPaws Veterinary Referral Center
Alternative and Complementary Veterinary Medicine
Whole Dog Journal - an excellent monthly magazine
Petloss.com - a resource for human companions of animals who have gone over the Rainbow Bridge
Lab Rescue of the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac - Adopt a homeless Lab, or help one find a new home through Lab Rescue. This organization, based in Silver Spring, MD, serves the metropolitan Washington, DC area. Their site includes links to Lab Rescue organizations in other parts of the US.

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Last updated 10 April 2006
E-mail Bobbi at NurseBobbi AT cox DOT net.
© copyright 2000-2006 Bobbi Pasternak