Dog’s Life: Finding Comfort in a Pack

Leo the Service Dog
BROTHERHOOD—Leo relaxes with Rafael Stoneman. Courtesy photo

My name is Leo. I’m a mix, they say. Maybe part Alaskan malamute and husky. Maybe some Pyrenees or mastiff or white shepherd or wolf, even. I’m not sure. Does it matter? Not to me. And not to Papa.

We met about six years ago when I was 8 months old. I was in a shelter cage in L.A., and, as the story goes, my mama dragged my papa in to find a dog. He told her no. Where they lived didn’t allow dogs. How weird is that?

But she convinced him to check us out. There were a lot of us there. And as soon as he saw me, he told me, “I’m going to get you out of here.” And he did.

He and Mama brought me to a new home. They had a rocky relationship with lots of arguments. I’m not sure what they were fighting about. I hope it wasn’t me. I just tried to love them both unconditionally throughout it all.

Papa moved out. So did I. I went everywhere he went. He took me all over Ventura County and even up to Oregon and Washington a few times.

About six weeks ago, we started camping together. I’m not sure why he moved us out of our place in Oxnard. I don’t really pay attention to all the words Papa says, but I always know what he’s thinking.

It’s not the words, it’s the way they’re said. Humans can say one thing but mean something totally different. If you’re a dog, you know what I mean.

Papa is a moody guy and sometimes he gets mad at me for certain things. Like the other day I was tied to the tree on a long rope and I kept getting stuck and caught on rocks and trees and things, and I would cry for him to come help me get unstuck. I guess he was trying to sleep. He sleeps a lot—almost as much as me.

But most of the time he’s my friend. He talks to me and plays with me and feeds me. What more do you want?

I know he’s been through a lot. He gets mad sometimes. I’m working with him. I’m trying to teach him to wag his tail more and not growl so much. He’s getting better.

Sometimes he picks people up that have a lot of bags and stuff, and he puts their bags in my area of the car, which I don’t really care for much. But I understand.

There’s nothing wrong with seeing the good in someone. He did in me. I don’t think he’s rescuing people. He’s just bringing them into our pack. We all need a pack, don’t we? Packs stick together.

They say they’re vets, but none of them have ever given me shots, so I think they’re okay. Besides, they wear dog tags— maybe they had a pack, too, and got lost. They’re just looking for a place to stay.

So is Papa. Most nights we sleep in the car or in a tent. I don’t really mind if we get a house. I just like spending time with him. I know he worries about it.

A few months ago, I hurt my leg and now I can’t walk or run the way I used to. But Papa still takes care of me. I’m doing my best to take care of him.

We’re staying near some water in Ojai tonight. It gets a bit too hot here, but it’s a nice spot. At least for tonight, it’s where my pack is sleeping.

Rafael Stoneman, a former Ventura County homeless veteran, is an intern at the Camarillo-based Gold Coast Veterans Foundation, a nonprofit organization. For more details, visit

Source: The Camarillo Acorn article from May 10, 2019