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Patrick Leahy: the Stony Brook campus “dog guy”

Kono (left) and Patrick Leahy (right) shake hands and paw at the “Sex and Relationships” photoshoot on March 21. STANLEY ZHENG/THE STATESMAN

Veteran Patrick Leahy has been labeled by students on campus as the “dog guy,” as he can be found around campus with a big American Akita named Kono. He has quickly found a sense of community and belonging among students and faculty members. 

“It was just such a blessing having the campus here because it turned into a big stress relief. Coming here and chatting with students is like the best medicine I could obtain free of charge,” Leahy said.

Born in Jamaica, N.Y., Leahy was raised in a family of three brothers and three sisters who were often compared to the sitcom “The Brady Bunch.”

Leahy and his wife, Elke Leahy, bought a home right behind the Tabler Community after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This makes it easier for Leahy to walk, cycle or roller skate through campus with Kono by his side. 

“It’s very enjoyable to come here and see the enjoyment students have with him just getting to pet [Kono] or students that have never touched a dog before,” Leahy said. 

Although both Kono and the Stony Brook campus are a big part of Leahy’s life, many events took place in Leahy’s life that brought him to where he is now. A breakup is actually what got him started on the journey he’s had.

Unlike many who enlist fresh out of high school, Leahy joined the military in 1987 at the age of 22 after his girlfriend at the time broke up with him and he felt that he needed to leave.

Leahy approached his military career with dedication and commitment. 

“I went through all of those competency tests so I became proficient in whatever the military felt I needed to know at the time. I always tried to do my best,” he said. “I never want to be the one that says I don’t know how that works. I want to know how that works. I want to know how it came apart and how to fix it. So, I became more valuable than the average soldier [and] I think that’s what helped my career move as well as it did.”

Leahy earned three skill badges: an Expert Field Medical Badge, an Air Assault Badge and a Crew Member Wing. However, Leahy explained that he was overlooked for a promotion because he did not have a good deal of education. 

In his military career, Leahy was stationed in many places, including South Korea, Germany, Upstate New York and Alabama. Many of his jobs were in the medical field, working as a combat medic in his medical platoon, a rear echelon to MediCal and being in charge of the Soldier Replacement Center in Upstate N.Y. — amongst the many other jobs he took on while in the military.

But, becoming in charge of the Soldier Replacement Center was not easy.

During a snowy winter in Upstate N.Y., Leahy was on his way home from work when strong winds caused his truck to veer into the dry snow and ultimately overturned his vehicle. While Leahy was able to slip out of his seatbelt, a Jeep, also out of control, crashed about two feet into the cap of his truck, leaving Leahy unconscious. 

“The strike was so harsh, and when I [awoke I saw] a big fireman in his bunker gear … and he’s got me on the ground with a blanket over me and my head between his thighs and he goes, ‘Looks like you’re breathing, your trucks pretty wasted, but [an] ambulance is on the way. Don’t move, you were unconscious [and] there’s some blood in your ear,’” he said.

Leahy’s injuries from that accident lasted well past that day. 

“A year later there was such an injury that I opted to have a fusion of two vertebrae in my neck to reduce the problems that it caused,” he said. “That’s where I thought my career would end. [The doctor] was like, ‘No no no it won’t end your career it would just give you this physical limitation. You can still soldier.’ I wasn’t even done healing [when] three months later, our unit came down on orders to deploy [to Iraq].” 

Leahy’s first sergeant wanted him to get on a plane with his unit to go to Iraq, even though he wasn’t completely healed and his bones weren’t fused yet.

“I’ve never deployed [for] 17 years of military service, and this guy’s got an attitude that I’ve had something to do with that,” Leahy said. 

That is when Leahy’s friends got him out of the situation and allowed him to take charge of the Soldier Replacement Center. 

Kono, an American Akita, at an agility course at the Global Pet Expo in 2017. PHOTO COURTESY OF PATRICK LEAHY

From there, Leahy took a job in the Fort Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn, N.Y. where he worked as a quality assurance officer for the Director of Public Works for eight years before transferring to Northport VA Medical Center in East Northport, N.Y. for almost two years before being robbed out of working there. 

“The facility used my health condition as an administrati[ve] condition to fire me. It was really disappointing,” Leahy explained. “They pulled it off because they tricked me into signing a document that literally gave my rights away and then when I tried to get a lawyer and they saw that document, [they said,] ‘Oh our hands are tied.’ I don’t tell [this to] very many people I tell very little people, I tell them ‘I’m retired.’”

Leahy suffers from sleep apnea, which stops him from breathing while he sleeps. His health condition is considered severe because it requires him to use a CPAP or BiPAP machine to help deliver air pressure. 

“My friend just gifted me [a new CPAP machine] because I had borrowed one from him when he saw a post that I put on Facebook bad mouthing the VA politely: ‘Can’t believe this I’ve just accidentally broke my BiPAP machine and they told me it’s three to six months before I get a new one, what are they, manufacturing it there at the VA?’” he said.

Now, at age 59, Leahy is picking up new talents and hobbies.

“My unexpected early retirement falls in my lap. I have all this time on my hands so I just started doing projects around the house,” he said. “I got a little more into cycling, a little more into swimming, started collecting and fixing up bikes and donating them to people. I still teach a little bit of clinic at the Shoreham BMX track which is my second most favorite hobby, second to roller skating.”

Leahy shared how much of an impact roller skating had on him throughout his life. 

“When I was 17 … my go-to sport [was] roller skating. There was a roller rink that opened in the next town over … called United Skates of America USA,” he said. “I grew up there, I worked there, I serviced that floor dozens of times. I’ve repaired the sound system in the building. I’ve worked with the managers and maintenance. The few girlfriends I had were roller skaters … if you weren’t roller skating, I didn’t know you.”

Leahy explained how he built up his confidence and talking skills. 

“I wasn’t very talkative, I wasn’t very outgoing. My charisma was the talent I had in my roller skates … that’s where my persona was present versus talking,” he said. “The confidence grew during my military service because of the abilities I had when I went in with my EMT experience and my interest in the medical field.”

That is not the case today; the interview with Leahy took about five hours to complete. 

“I tend to not shut up, my wife laughs at me [and says] ‘Make sure you let the interviewer interview you’ because I can sometimes ramble,” he said. 

Growing up roller skating, Leahy met his wife in a roller skating rink in Germany when he was stationed there for the military and they have been married for almost 35 years. 

Their love story was not picturesque, however. Leahy and Elke had met at a roller rink but did not see each other for months after. So, Leahy started a relationship with someone called Sylvia. The two went skating one night in Germany in which Leahy saw Elke again months after they had first met. 

“I saw her, I [went] to say hi, she said, ‘Oh you’re with someone.’ [I said,] ‘Oh that’s not serious.’ I wanted to say to her, ‘I want to get serious with you,’ and I said to her, ‘Oh she’s much older than me oh well- I- uh didn’t mean it in I want to skate with you,’ [and she goes] ‘But you’re with her,’ [I go] ‘I’m not with her,’” Leahy said.

After dating for a couple of years, Leahy was ordered by the military to leave Germany.  

“[Her parents] were inquisitive as to what our relationship might be doing, and right then and there I said, ‘Well if Elke marries me, she can come with me,’ and my wife’s like, ‘That’s how you’re proposing to me?’” He explained. “I said, ‘Well, your parents gotta know about it too so yes.’ She goes, ‘Forget it, forget it. Yeah, I’ll marry you; gimme the ring.’ Before I knew it, her family and a close friend of hers helped us do the whole wedding and … nearly my whole medical platoon showed up at the house because the wedding was done at the home.” 

After getting married, Leahy started bringing home pets. He explained, “We don’t have kids of our own because we couldn’t, so we have pets.”

The Leahy family has had a total of 11 pets: four dogs and seven cats. The four dogs include Bo, Rayek, Charlie and Kono. The six cats include Kia, Karmen, Krissy, Marley, Joey, Scruffy and a white kitten. Currently, Leahy still has Kono, Joey and Marley.

“I’m a dog person but they’re all great for me because they all do funny things,” Leahy said.

Rayek, who was the Leahys’ first dog, died at 10 years old after his stomach knotted on itself. Although Rayek was well-behaved, he accidentally cut Elke’s upper lip after excitingly bumping his head with hers and having his teeth and hers between her upper lip. 

“The plastic surgeon that was flown into the hospital air at Fort Rucker was saying how lucky she was that both have good straight teeth that aren’t crooked because it caused a nice straight line,” Leahy said. “My wife had the prettiest cubital lips when I met her and then she had this little tiny scar that was there for a bit.”

Scruffy was the Leahys’ first kitten. They had found her running through the road while stopped in traffic on Leahy’s motorcycle in Alabama.  

Kono was also found unexpectedly when Leahy and his wife stopped at an animal shelter to warm up. 

“We didn’t stop in there to look for a dog, we stopped in there to warm up and the dog just happened to be waiting. He was in there a month and the shelter employee said nobody would sit with him,” Leahy said. 

Kono’s breed is considered to be dangerous because of its origin as a hunting dog for the royal family in Japan. Although Kono’s breed can take down a bear, Leahy assures that Kono won’t harm anyone.

Patrick Leahy and Kono sitting at a pond near Avalon Nature Preserve. PHOTO COURTESY OF PATRICK LEAHY

“He will not hurt you, the worst he’ll do is step on your foot by accident, or he might lean into you wanting more attention,” he said.

Kono is a service animal; however, Leahy explained that he does not put the badge on Kono because he doesn’t want to scare people off from being able to pet him. 

“Technically he’s my comfort at night, which is when my mind sometimes runs about whatever health issues I’m dealing with or something I’m trying to take care of in the house and if I’m having a rough night he’ll notice it and he’ll wake me up, which is just something he picked up himself because he’s right next to me all the time,” Leahy said.

Kono knows German and some of Kono’s favorite places to go aside from campus are Long Island State Veterans Home, Smith Haven Mall and Schnitzels. 

Now, Leahy is working on repairing his Volkswagen Beetle to get it running again and on the road to attend car shows with his wife and Kono to spend time and do something with his wife.

“It is enjoyable as hell to come on campus [and] stop for anybody, faculty and students alike, so I think [moving here] was a good choice considering what I like to do and how much of a talkative individual I am,” Leahy said.

Leahy is not only described as talkative but funny as well. 

“I try to crack jokes and make [my wife] laugh. I love hearing her laugh, [it’s the] best music,” Leahy said.

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Mariam Guirgis
Mariam Guirgis, Assistant News Editor
Mariam is an Assistant News Editor at The Statesman. She is a second-year journalism minoring in political science. When she's not editing news articles, she is deeply involved with her Church community, planning events and hanging out with friends.
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