Leeloo, the 14-year-old pitbull has inoperable cancer. She has had both ears clipped because of tumors. She has had three ACL surgeries over her years. And always in my son’s life she has been the loved being, named for “the Fifth Element” the most powerful being in the universe required to ignite the four elements and defeat evil as scripted in the 1997 Luc Bresson film “The Fifth Element.”
Despite being what the world needs to save it, the film’s Leeloo, played by Milla Jovovic is also fragile and needs protection and love, even as she gives both without measure. This too is the four-legged Leeloo, giving love but in need of protection.
Before her new family named her Leeloo, the San Francisco Animal Control shelter volunteers had dubbed the small pit bull Sierra. When my son first saw her, she gazed up from the cage; she was 6 months old with large eyes and small by pit bull standards. But something drew him to her, perhaps a combination of her unique coloring, her size and vulnerability.
In the past, my son like many young men, wanted big, aggressive-looking pit bulls, like Suzy Cremecheese, a white pit bull he once owned and to whom he had not given much thought. Leeloo’s small size was probably why there wasn’t a lot of interest in her.
After seeing her, my son went home to 32nd Avenue to tell his wife and to bring her to meet the brindle pit bull. He describes the adoption process at SFACC as prospective owners waiting to meet the dog in an enclosed room with a bench along one wall. So there they sat, while a volunteer fetched the dog. They were on the bench when the volunteer brought her in and removed the lead. She wandered about the room, but in a short time after some initial sniffing, she jumped into my daughter-in-law’s lap and curled up. There was no question that Leeloo would go home with them.
I entered Leeloo’s life in 1999, when I retired from teaching and moved from Los Angeles to live upstairs in the flat above my family, in a duplex we owned together. I could hear nails clicking up the back stairs whenever Leeloo visited me.
Leeloo went out most days with a dog walker. Among other dogs, she was definitely the leader of the pack, but trotted around, minding her business, quite easy going as long as she had a tennis ball in her mouth. My son and I would walk Leeloo and later Leeloo and Otto, a stoic black lab, pit bull mix, Leeloo allowed to move in with the family. We walked between 5:30 and 6 every morning.
But Leeloo and Otto were more than the occasion for morning walks, they helped to heal the relationship between my son and me. Sometimes a son and a mother get lucky and someone or something comes along to do what they were not able to do for each other, form the nurturing bond that allows a child to love for the rest of his life. For my oldest son, I was not a reliable, responsible parent, so he was never secure and grew older anxious to provide for others what I had not given him. But his own heart was closed. Then Leeloo came home, and the healing process began.
Those who have dogs and love them know the role a dog can play. With a pet, it’s unconditional love, always returned, no questions, no strings attached. Day in and day out, my son was the center of his animal’s world. This was the love that Leeloo gave.
As Leeloo’s life neared its end, my son was aware in retrospect that no dog ever lived up to her name better than Leeloo did. Through the love she gave and took, she softened his unsafe heart and gifted us both with love, the most powerful element in the world.
Dog is Love.
The opening quote is from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Little Owl That Lives in the Orchard.”