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Leo 96-062 was the inspiration for The Leo Fund, which provides extraordinary medical care for special needs dogs.

Leo 96-062 was the inspiration for The Leo Fund, which provides extraordinary medical care for special needs dogs.

The Leo Fund provides extraordinary surgical treatment for special needs GRREAT dogs.  It was started in 1997, and over the years a wide variety of surgeries have been performed with monies donated to the fund, including: correction of genetic orthopedic abnormalities of hips, elbows, and knees; repair of fractures and wounds due to car accidents, gunshot wounds, and other injuries; leg amputations; repair of damaged knee and elbow soft tissues; intestinal blockage surgery; removal of bladder stones; cancer surgery; eye and ear surgeries; dental extractions and jaw repair; and laryngeal and soft palate surgery to improve breathing.

The Leo Fund was established by Jean Kahl after hearing the compelling story of an eight month old Golden Retriever named Leo, who had difficulty walking and was unable to stand for more than a few minutes because of severe hip dysplasia.  Jean’s letter announcing the fund appeared in the July/August 1997 issue of the GRREAT News:


Please use the enclosed contribution to set up a fund for young Goldens with physical problems that can be corrected by surgery.  I was deeply moved by the recent story of the Golden puppy with hip dysplasia and I hope that this money can go toward helping others like him.

– Jean Kahl

Leo’s condition and GRREAT’s decision to treat him paved the way for more Golden Retrievers to receive the special care they would need in order to lead happy, healthy, and pain-free lives.  You will be moved by Leo’s story, and after reading about him, we hope you will want to help us provide surgical care for our other rescued Goldens.

When Leo was turned over to GRREAT in the Spring of 1996, he was eight months old and had the typical loving and playful disposition of a Golden pup.  But he also had a medical problem that made it painful for him to walk and impossible for him to stand for more than a few minutes without falling down.  Leo was diagnosed with severe dysplasia in both hips, a congenital defect in which the top of the leg bones do not fit properly into the hip sockets.  The only way to treat this problem was with expensive surgeries and months of special care.  GRREAT had never authorized this type of surgery before and did not have the financial resources to do so, but the Board of Directors recognized that Leo was a very special boy and was deserving of the chance to have a happy Golden life.  The decision was made to find a way to help him.   Fortune was on Leo’s side when Deb Nizer found an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Joseph Prostredny, to perform the required operations at a substantial discount.

Skip and Deb Nizer generously volunteered to provide the long-term care that was needed to help Leo.  Two surgical procedures were performed two weeks apart.  In each operation, three incisions were made and seventy-five staples were required to close the wounds.  Leo was confined to a crate for months.  He was allowed out only to relieve himself and even then he had to be walked with a towel under his belly for support.  After eight weeks he could be walked on a leash, and then after another two months Leo was allowed to walk without assistance.  During his entire ordeal, Leo proved himself to be a very brave little guy.  The only sound he ever made was when he was initially left alone after the first surgery.  He was lonely and cried, so for a few nights his foster parents slept on the couch near him.   As long as a hand touched him, Leo was happy.

The surgeries to correct Leo’s condition were a complete success, and he was adopted into his forever home in October of 1996.

After the Leo Fund was set up, GRREAT was prepared to treat many more dogs with serious medical problems that required expensive surgeries.  While these operations could not have been performed without the donations that have been made to the Leo Fund, the dedication of the foster homes that have generously volunteered to care for these special dogs has been crucial to the success of the fund.  Months of care and recuperative treatment is usually required, but ultimately our foster homes are greatly rewarded by the emergence of a happy healthy dog that can be adopted into his or her loving forever home.

You might be wondering what became of Leo.  His forever family sent a letter to GRREAT shortly after a happy reunion with his foster family in 2003.  The letter appeared in the March/April 2004 edition of the GRREAT News:

Leo is doing just great. He will turn nine this October. He is grey in the face, but still plays like a pup. He has been in good health, and the only mark his hip surgery has left is an inability to swim, so he needs a chaperone when we go to the ocean. Leo has brought our family many years of love and joy.  He is fantastic with our children, who can try the patience of the best of dogs.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to GRREAT and the Nizers for bringing this terrific dog into our lives. Thanks so much!  We will never forget.

Leo had a long and wonderful life.  His forever family sadly reported he made his journey to the Rainbow Bridge on February 15, 2009 at the age of 12½.

Leo will always be remembered as the Golden Retriever puppy who inspired a fund that has helped so many other dogs, who have in turn brought joy to their forever families.  His spirit lives on in the many rescued Goldens that have benefited from the fund, and we hope his legacy continues into the future.

By November 2013, GRREAT had provided a wide variety of surgical procedures to 162 Golden Retrievers through donations made to the Leo Fund.  If you would like to help give other Golden Retrievers needing expensive surgeries the chance for a long and happy life, please visit our donation page where you can make a contribution to the Leo Fund.  Thank you!