Couple Mourns Loss of Service Dog That Could Detect Illness

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A South Carolina couple is mourning the loss of their dog, Leo, a service pet able to sniff out cancer and infections in humans, his owners said.

"He was like my kid. I don't have children," said Michelle Spadafora. "He was the best dog anyone could possibly ask for, for so many reasons," she said.

Spadafora is convinced that Leo could smell infections in her late partner, Gabriella, who died in 2015 after battling cancer. The infections were side effects of her disease. 

"She was prone to infections and we wouldn't know when it was coming, that infection or pneumonia, but he would detect it and sniff vigorously at her mouth, telling us each time and we'd go off to urgent care," Spadofora said.

Her new partner, Karen Mascaro, also developed cancer in her left breast. Before she was diagnosed, Leo had been nuzzling next to Mascaro's chest and stayed glued to her side until chemo treatments drove the disease into remission.

But just days before Christmas, as Mascaro took the 6-year-old black poodle for walk, they were attacked by another dog that had run off from its owner.

Mascaro was bitten trying to protect Leo, and the poodle had broken ribs as well as lung and kidney damage. He died from a heart attack following four hours of surgery. 

'When he died, it felt like somebody ripped my world apart," Spadafora said. 

She and Mascaro are now pushing "Leo's Law," legislation that would allow animal control officers to remove pets that attack others after a first offense and have a judge decide the animal's fate. 

Current state laws allow such actions only after multiple documented attacks.

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