Thursday, November 10, 2022

Lenny's Last Ride

This is my all-time favorite picture of Lenny

In May 2018, Anne and I welcomed a leopard gecko into our home. The little guy was named Lenny, and we christened him Lord Leonard Attenborough Adams, Viscount of Quail Run. We believe Lenny was 6 years old at the time. 

He was uncertain about us. We were uncertain about him.

Eventually, we bonded, mostly because Lenny liked wax worms and dubia roaches and we could provide them.

Rest up, sweet boy

Lord Leonard was a mostly nocturnal creature, sleeping during the day and becoming more active at night. His habitat required daytime heat lamps and a heating pad for night. Before I'd go to bed, I'd see him pressing his little belly against the heating pad, which kept him warm and aided in digestion.

Sometimes, he liked to hang out in a pair of nets Anne had put in his tank. Sometimes, he sought refuge in his "moist hide," a little retained moisture to help him stay hydrated. During the day, Lenny spent most of his time inside his little cave, where he slept until he was ready to get a drink of water or grab some food.

Lenny in his moist hide

Reptiles aren't exactly known for being warm and cuddly, but Lenny eventually opened up. He'd let us hold him and sometimes liked to amble across the top of the couch when he was out of his habitat. Before we got our dog, Howard, we'd let Lenny clamber across the carpet. We had to keep a close eye on him, though, because he was tiny and could be easy to lose!

Once, he climbed underneath our recliner; we lifted the footstool to see him hiding proudly behind the chair's wooden foot. Another time, he got into our coat closet. Thankfully, we quickly found him and returned him to safety.

Unlike our other pets, Lenny didn't make much noise. Our turtle, Willy, has a shell and tends to bang it against things when she walks. Howard, our dog, barks and sniffs and snores on occasion (it's really cute). You didn't hear much from Lenny's tank, which we always took as a good sign. The only real sound we ever heard from him inside the tank was his little footfalls as he ascended the top of his tiny gecko house or perhaps the gentle lapping of water from his bowl.

Getting a drink

Honestly, the only time we ever heard him make an actual noise was the first time we introduced him to Howard, resulting in a high-pitched squeal we tried to avoid ever repeating.

In recent months, we noticed little changes in Lenny. He started to have some trouble shedding, so we tried to make sure his habitat had a little more humidity and also helped him pull off some of those difficult-to-shed pieces of skin. We noticed he wasn't eating quite as well and realized his night heating pad wasn't getting as warm as it should.

We ordered him a new pad just a few weeks ago, and it seemed to help. We also took him to the vet a couple times in the last two months, which was alarming. Of our three pets, Lenny seemed the heartiest, kind of like a tiny gecko tank with the constitution of a vending machine.

The noblest of geckos

But over the last few weeks, he didn't seem as active. A sure sign of a healthy gecko is a nice, plump tail. We noticed he was losing weight and his tail had thinned out considerably. He rarely ate his wax worms, one of his favorite foods, and the vet gave us some medication and a special diet powder.

We were hopeful these things would help him get back to normal. The new heating pad seemed to help. Just a few days ago, he actually ate a wax worm!

But those hopes were dashed over the last few days. Lenny was lethargic and his breathing was labored. I don't think I realized how bad it had gotten until I saw him in his tank last night (Nov. 9), where he barely moved and his breaths seemed sporadic.

Anne and I took him out of his tank and tried to get him to eat. He didn't want any of the powdered food, which you mixed with water to make a paste. He had loved the stuff. Last night, though, he refused to eat it. He showed absolutely no interest.

This picture is from Oct. 22, 2022, just about three weeks before we said goodbye

Usually, when I held Lenny, he'd climb all over my hands, up my sleeve, up my shoulder, and around my neck. He'd climb up and down my shirt, always exploring. But last night as I held him, he just sat in my palm, eyes closed, as if to say, "Thanks, Dad, but I don't feel good. I think I'll go to sleep right here."

He showed brief spurts of activity, but his breathing became labored and we called the emergency exotic vet. We had previously scheduled an appointment for him for today (Nov. 10), but we felt like it couldn't wait. We put him in his portable habitat and drove him 40 minutes to the north side for emergency care.

It's a funny thing: while I don't really remember the drive, I'll also never forget it. Anne, in the passenger seat, held Lenny's habitat on her lap, hands atop it as she whispered encouragement to our little leopard gecko. I would, on occasion, take my right hand off the steering wheel and place it atop the container, just hoping it would provide Lenny with some reassurance.

It was Lenny's Last Ride.

Comin' at ya!

When we arrived outside the vet's office, they took him in for an examination. He was breathing on his own, still, and his heart was still going. His breaths came slowly, however, and his heartbeat wasn't very strong. They could try to take life-saving measures, the vet told us, but we felt Lenny was suffering and wouldn't recover. The vet also noticed a mass that hadn't been there last month when they'd last seen him.

So, with heavy hearts and more than a few tears, we decided to let Lenny go. We didn't want him to suffer, and it would be selfish for us to try to prolong his life when he clearly didn't feel well. It is a sudden, devastating loss. As I type this, his habitat sits empty. We had his lights and heating pad on smart outlets that turned on and off on set schedules. Perhaps the hardest part was turning off those schedules last night, knowing our little gecko didn't need them anymore.

The vet took impressions of his little feet and tail so could take a part of him home with us.

A beloved gecko will forever live here

The worst thing about pets is their generally transitory nature--we will, in most cases, outlive them. But the best thing--and the thing I will remember most about our strong, gentle Lord Leonard--is how much we love them and how much they love us.

Right now, Lenny's loss is a gaping hole. In time, however, we'll heal and have a lifetime of memories about the leopard gecko who spent more than four years of his life with us in a loving home, his belly pressed up against his heating pad at night as he awaited his next adventure.