He was named for the king of the Spartans who died at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., but when you first see him, you might never expect such bravery in the soul of this Leonidas.
The happy little brown pit bull strolls around with the awkward gait of any tripod, his front legs carrying him powerfully forward as his single back leg pumps to keep up. But he doesn't notice that much.
This Leonidas faced his first battle when he was between 2 and 4 weeks old. Someone tossed the back half of his little puppy body over a fence to allow the dog on the other side to rip his feet off.
Fortunately for him, witnesses to the event rescued him and turned him in to a shelter that had an anonymous animal abuse and cruelty turn-in policy. Leonidas was given proper veterinary care for what remained of his back legs, and through various channels, at about 6 weeks of age he ended up in the loving home of Anthony Barnett, who runs Lawrence's Home Sweet Home Dog Resort.
"He was most of the way healed up at that time," Barnett says. "His right leg had no toes - just the end of the leg bone with the foot pad. But he had only about two-thirds of his back left leg, and he kept trying to use it to walk on. It was hard for him to get around that way."
In consultation with Dr. Tom Liebl, Barnett made the decision to have Leonidas' left leg removed to provide better stability. The decision was a good one, and the pup quickly adjusted to life on three legs.
Those early difficulties, though, were just a small blip on Leonidas' radar; he had too many important things to do to let a missing leg slow him down. He had, after all, the whole rest of his puppyhood to go through, doing all the things puppies do: going on walks, chasing and chewing toys, licking faces and fingers, and playing with his pit bull brother Liam.
Leonidas was a busy boy, and as it turned out, his dad had other plans for him as well. Barnett has been a pit bull fan for many years now, and he is proud of the breed and of the many good examples of pit bulls to be found, but he was greatly bothered by the less-than-1-percent of the population that gets a bad rap because they are abused and bred to be fighters.
"I love the breed," he says, "and I wanted to play a more active role in showing the bond we can have with them."
Barnett and Liam have worked with the Lawrence Humane Society for several years now, assisting with education talks about animal abuse and letting the people-loving Liam show that pit bulls aren't only the vicious animals they are often portrayed to be. When Leonidas came into his fold, Barnett decided to take this education a step further and train both the dogs to become registered therapy dogs, visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes, and particularly working with veterans.
"I wanted to be able to take the dogs anywhere they're welcome," he says.
So he began the training process with both Liam and Leonidas, teaching them to curb their enthusiasm and be well-mannered for their visits. Leonidas provided the greatest challenge.
"He had to learn to stop kissing everyone he met," Barnett says. "He just wouldn't be able to pass the test if he kept doing that."
When it came time to actually test, Barnett ran into some problems. Some registration groups were hesitant to register a pit bull, and some cities have bans on the breed. Barnett finally received help from the national office of the Delta Society. Together they arranged for the Prairieland Visiting Animals in Topeka (a Delta group) to set up the testing course right in Lawrence, so the testers from could come to him on the big day, which was this past Nov. 21.
"On test day," Barnett says, "even some of the instructors were still hesitant because of the breed I was testing. But in the end, even those people had to admit that they wished all their dogs were as well behaved. I was really proud of my boys. It took us months to get to that point."
Barnett is still not done with the work he hopes to accomplish with "his boys." Their new Web site, GameDogGuardian.com, should be up and running toward the end of February, and through this site he and his fiancé hope to combat prejudice toward pit bulls with stories of the more important facts: how the human/dog bond can be used for so much good to ultimately help people.
The Lawrence Humane Society salutes Anthony Barnett - and of course Liam and Leonidas - for all the fine work they're doing on behalf of good dogs everywhere.
- Sue Novak is vice president of the board of the Lawrence Humane Society.