By Gena Oppenheim (writer)
Anyone who’s had pets knows that sometimes, if you’re lucky, in a line of furry, mischievous muppets, comes an old soul masquerading as a pet. My pal Leo, who passed away last week, was such a creature. When my mom and I saw him at the North Shore Animal League, we were just browsing (if there is such a thing at an animal shelter.) We swiftly noticed that while most cages held only one dog, there was one at the end that held two little pups and one giant brown dog with liquid hazel eyes. That was it. We were both hopelessly in love.
It didn’t take long for my family to notice that Leo wasn’t like other dogs. He had a magical ability to make even the most ardent dog phobe reconsider their stance. The embodiment of peace, he hated shut doors, and figured out how to use his butt to whack them open. He also became distraught when anyone fought, leaving the room the second voices were raised a decibel. After one fight between my teenage self and my mom, we found Leo curled up in the bathtub. The sight of him squeezed under the faucet was, like many, one I’ll never forge...tied with the day my parents left on a trip and he figured out how to open their hamper and only stopped whimpering when I let him sleep in a pile of their dirty clothes.
His quirky nature led to him becoming the Lana Turner of the canine set. While she might have been “discovered” at the Schwab’s Soda Fountain, Leo was scouted sitting on his usual bench in the Washington Square Dog Run (never one to run around, we took him there because he loved watching other dogs play.) A film scout came up and asked if he had ever been on camera, because, as she said, “Their's just something about him.” The next week, I found myself on the set of Prime with Leo and Ms. Meryl Streep. In his scene, Leo was supposed to walk down the street with Meryl and the actor playing her son. When the camera started rolling… Leo wouldn’t walk with the given actor. He kept turning around looking for me and then despondently laying down on the sidewalk. After a few takes, a P.A. suggested I stand next to the camera in Leo’s view, and walk with it as it moved. Sure enough, the next few takes, he nailed it. At the end of the shoot, Meryl came over, bent down and held my boy’s face whispering: “This dog is a very old soul.”
Rest in peace friend.
GENA OPPENHEIM Gena is a fourth generation New Yorker who teaches second-grade. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received her MFA from NYU Tisch's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. http://twitter.com/#!/genabeans