LEESA AND BUBBA
by Michelle Ransom-Hughes, featuring Leesa
(Alongside Radio, 2019)
Like all the episodes in this series, this is a love story.
But Leesa belongs to that subset of dog-lovers, those who’ll admit to loving dogs, more than they do people.
And I do need to warn you that this episode contains mentions of a bunch of adult stuff,
including drug use, violence, and attempted suicide,
Because this story is about a survivor of all these things, and her great dogs.
There’s also some bad language. This isn’t one for kids.
This is Oh My Dog, I’m Michelle Ransom-Hughes, and this is a story of Leesa and Bubba.
MUSIC: OH MY DOG THEME
(A storm rolls overheard, a dog cries, rain beats on canvas then slows)
Where I had my tent was right in the scrub.
And I woke up one night and I could feel something wet...
The whole of the pond had swelled up and my tent was about two or three inches underwater.
Had to battle my way out in the bloody… in the middle of the night.
It was horrible!
It was horrible waking up that night. It wasn't for her I probably wouldn’t have woke up.
‘Cause she was there whinging, “Argh argh argh argh”.
Then I woke up, felt the water and I was like what the hell?
What the hell?
Got up, my foot sunk straight into the dirt.
And It was raining so we had to go sleep up in the toilet that night.
I lost everything, everything got wet and ruined. It was pointless keeping any of it.
My whole bag of clothes was just absolutely... Do you know the smell of swamp water? Yeah
So the lady at the cafe gave us new clothes and stuff.
Would that kind of thing happen a bit? You’d just have to leave stuff, give it up?
All the time.
...that or someone will take it off you by knife.
That happened to me at Fortitude Valley, someone put a knife to my throat, for a blanket.
Yeah it was awesome. I loved being homeless.
When you spend proper time with these two,
Leesa, a woman in her late forties, and Bubba, a large, healthy, brindle Staffy,
you notice a current running between them, a super-sensory awareness:
something so powerful, that over time it starts to feel like they’re one being in two bodies.
She was born only a week or two before my birthday, so I made her birthday on my birthday.
She’s got my eyes. (Laughs) She does, hey?
She's got my twerky little sense of humour.
The only thing we don't have in common is she likes human interaction and I don't.
She loves pats, I don't.
She loves to be touched, I don't.
She likes all that, I don't.
She’s very spoiled: she's got her own bed, her own blanket, she's got her own toys.
She don't want for nothing
For the two years of Bubba’s life, they’ve been inseparable,
Sleeping side by side, and mostly sleeping rough.
I used to call my dog, “my companion”.
I used to call her ‘my canine’ or ‘my companion’ other than call her a dog, because I never wanted to offend her.
Bubba, a strong, gentle girl with shining fur and eyes, is Leesa’s companion.
I was called a dog many times on the streets. And that's the worst thing to go through.
So when you’re a dog, it means that you go to the coppers and you narc everyone out.
And that's what I was named quite a few times.
Especially when I tried to give up using and stuff like that. Especially then.
You get called some nasty names.
For around a decade, Leesa had no fixed address.
I’d say 6 years full on being homeless living on the streets, without a car, without any doors whatsoever at all.
But, um, if you don't abuse your dog and you don’t mistreat your dog,
your dog just learns that's how it is: you’re homeless, you don’t have somewhere to go.
You've just got to tough it out, dontcha?
Leesa’s got a big stash of horror stories to tell about herself and others,
they stretch right back to when she was a kid growing up in central Queensland.
She first ran away from what was happening at home, when she was 12.
Leesa’s seen plenty, she’s done plenty
Having said that, ten years ago, before she went on the streets,
Leesa’s life in Townsville was fairly stable, by her standards.
She tells me she had her own work, house and car, and didn’t want for anything.
Leesa raised four kids by herself.
They’re adults now, and she’s got grandkids too.
In 2007, Leesa was a step-mother too, to a 13 yr old girl, Jess.
That year, the worst thing imaginable happened.
Jess was raped then murdered, by an uncle.
It was Leesa who identified Jess’s body, and she helped with the funeral arrangements.
Jess’s murderer was jailed, never to be released.
Leesa told me she thought she wasn’t entitled to the overwhelming rage and grief she felt back then,
that she still feels, because she wasn’t Jess’s mum, but her step-mum.
Even though the sweet teenager had called her, Leesa, ‘mum’.
A few months after all that,
Leesa walked out of the Townsville house she shared with Jess’s dad, and hit the highway.
First she drove to Katherine to visit her son.
In my mind I was just going away.
But I never came back, I still haven't been back
You try going back to a house, that all you see is your dead step-daughter’s...
what she used to do, how she used to do it, her smells, her drawings she used to do...
There’s a phone pole out the front of the house with her hand print on it.
Yeah. She was only a baby.
The first time I went around to visit Leesa, it was almost 11 years to the day her world fell apart.
Right across Brisbane there was bright winter’s sunshine,
but behind the double-locked doors of her little house, it was dark;
and Leesa, nursing a huge coffee, barely moved from the couch.
After initial greetings, Bubba sat, a sentinel at Leesa’s feet, responding to any upset in Leesa’s voice with little whines.
And it’s August
it's a hard month, it alway is a hard month…
Because you go through the steps leading up to it and shit. Oh god.
Ever since Jess they reckoned I’ve changed, because I used to be angry.
I used to have so much anger me. And now it’s like I just don’t care anymore.
Leesa pulled up a YouTube video, a memorial to Jess for me to watch…
(Modern song plays and abruptly ends)
But we quickly turned it off.
And though she was determined to keep talking,
One of her hands worried at her trousers: brushing, brushing, brushing her leg.
Perhaps Leesa’s hand would normally be stroking Bubba if I wasn’t sitting in her spot.
Sometimes I have high days and sometimes I have low days, and sometimes I just have days.
And every day this week has just been a really low day.
Does that change how Bubba is around you?
Bubba she goes really quiet and leaves me alone when I’m like this.
Just wants to lay beside me and stuff.
I’ve been to hell and back and not one person has been there for me.
Except for my dog.
My dog never leaves my side.
And in the darkest of times, that's when she sits there and she starts talks to me and stuff.
she never leaves my side
By her own reckoning, having a dog is what’s kept Leesa alive in recent years.
I tried to commit suicide a few times.
And if I didn't try it, I at least thought it every day.
And I don’t any more.
Well, not as much.
No one would take care of Bubba the way I do.
Nobody can take care of Bubba, not even my daughters.
Oh I don’t know. Nobody would look after her like me, it’s simple as that.
And she'd probably have a heart attack if I wasn't around.
I talk to Bubba like I’m talking to you right now.
She sits there… she talks back in a way, even though she doesn't talk back.
Sometimes she actually does talk to me!
Like she'll sit there and vocally talk... (imitates Bubba)
That’s what she does.
Sometimes when I talk too long, she’ll put her head down and ignore me,
and then she’ll wag her tail to know she’s there.
But I’m alright now, I got Bubba. She keeps me sane, takes all the bad away.
Before she had Bubba, when Leesa had just started roaming the country…
and her life was wild and loose and angry,
Leesa had another dog, the famous Kouta.
I was on Gumtree and it just popped up that this dog was for giveaway.
So I rang ‘em up, and she said yep, she still had the dog, so asked her if I could go around.
And she said yep.
And when I seen Kouta, he was beautiful. Purebred blue American Staff, worth a fortune, and I would never be able to afford a dog like that.
And I said to her, “Why don't you want him? He’s beautiful!”
And she put her head down and she said, “It’s so embarrassing”,
And I said, “What’s that?”
“He’s got a really large thing and it sticks out all the time and I just can’t have it.
It just makes me sick, I can’t do it. So I'm giving him away while my husband’s at work.”
And it was! It was massive.
Lots of people used to comment on it, like how big it was.
Seriously, I’m not even kidding you.
He was all dark brown but he was that silvery blue,
like when he sits in the sun you can see he actually had a grey colour over his fur… it was beautiful.
And he had a big white chest. Everyone wanted to him.
He used to love horses, because we were homeless at the racecourse in Redcliffe
and every morning Kouta would be missing
And they'd go find him and he'd be running round the track trying to race the horses.
He could run, jeez he could run. He was so fast!
He was a good dog. Far out he was such a good dog.
Leesa and Kouta spent three chaotic, intense years between Adelaide and Queensland,
living in a clapped out 2-door Datsun, and when they had to give that up, wherever they could find shelter.
They were each other’s constant companions until Leesa went into rehab for a few weeks.
When she came out, she fell straight back into old habits.
And one day, someone Leesa trusted with Kouta, offered them a place to crash.
This house was to be demolished and they’d just taken up residency in there
and they lit incense and candles and that and made it all nice and cosy,
and well I crashed as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out.
How long do you reckon you slept?
I slept for at least two days.
Well, I hadn’t been to sleep for like weeks on end, like not even for a couple of hours.
And I woke up and I had no clothes and had no dog.
They took everything.
I was on drugs every day that I was homeless. It was fucked.
Yeah, it made it easy for them to take my dog.
Leesa says both her dogs could always tell when she was using
Yes, the canines used to hate it heaps.
Bubba, Bubba used to just not want nothing to do with me.
She’d sit there and look at me, her eyes’d be sunken right down, like she was disappointed in me big time.
I just couldn't say no to the drugs, it just made the days easier.
Leesa was devastated to lose Kouta, her best and only mate,
She knew who took him. And she also knew, she’d never get him back.
It was a few years until Leesa got another dog. And Bubba has a slightly different origin story:
Leesa was dossing for a while with a family whose bitch had a litter of puppies.
I stole her.
I took her because they were mistreating her
The little boy… I caught him picking her up one day and he actually kicked her with his foot,
about 3 or 4 metres she went.
The whole time I was there about five weeks, this one would always come and sit behind me, behind my back,
she always knew I’d protect her from them others, even the owner, of the dog.
It was pissing down rain, it was around Christmas time, the puppies and that weren't allowed to come inside.
I was forever trying to make shelter for ‘em, so they had someone warm to go.
Every time she used to come to me, I’d just go “Hey Bubba”.
I didn't mean it as her name… with all the other puppies I'd call them Bubba as well.
And then yeah it just stuck. And so when they kicked me out, I took her with me.
(Addressing Bubba, who we hear padding quietly around)
Lay down on your bed. Bubba.
Don't look at me like that. No, do as you're told.
She tells me to go and get stuffed most of the time. She doesn't like being told what to do.
Obviously she does what she’s told.
Ooh yeah. No treats for naughty girls, hey?
Slightly to my surprise, Leesa tells me countless times that she and Bubba found it “easy” being homeless
Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not easy because it is,
It’s very easy.
Especially when it comes to getting stuff, it’s so easy.
You can go into the 139 Club and pick up everything you need:
clothes, a toilet bag that’s got everything you need in it, your Rexona.
You get given stuff.
Her dogs were homeless too, she points out,
But most services won’t give extra food for dogs.
Being homeless it's hard to carry around a bag of dog food.
So I’d give her whatever I eat.
And then I got in trouble by the vet, because dogs aren’t supposed to eat human food.
It’s bad for their intestine, their system.
So what sort of stuff were you giving her?
If I had bacon and eggs for brekky, I’d give her half of it
No matter what I have, I’d give her half of everything, every time.
Having a dog meant there would never be a bed for Leesa at a shelter, or a refuge.
And pets aren’t allowed in rehab centres either.
But there were those who recognised their need:
The Salvos - whose land she and Bubba would camp on…
Bubba got sick one morning she couldn't even walk.
And because I were staying on the Salvos ground in a tent, they offered to take her to the vet for me,
luckily otherwise could have died, she had a paralysis tick.
… a woman, Cathy, who runs a volunteer service for the pets of the homeless,
gave Leesa proper dog food for Bubba every month or so, and still does.
And there was one mysterious benefactor… who’d observed Leesa and Bubba going into the same cafe each morning.
There was one fella there...
It makes me tear up, haha.
He used to leave dog food for her there.
And then one day he left a card there with a blank check.
It was to take Bubba in and get her microchipped and taken care of.
So we done that. Got your chip put in so now no one can steal you.
He used to watch me and Bubba walk in and out of the scrub every day
He went and asked what the go was. And Nikki told him we were homeless, and so he done that.
And we thought that was awesome.
After Leesa’s blunt take on how much help’s out there for the homeless,
I have to ask, what’s the stuff that you can’t get?
Hmmm… peace of mind. Rest.
Good people. You just learn when you're homeless not to trust anybody
The hardest part about being homeless is when everything closes down come 5 o’clock.
You get hit with the sadness of what do I do now?
Where the fuck do I go now?
Being lonely can’t be easy.
I’ve been lonely all my life, mate.
Being on the receiving end of handouts was a place of shame for Leesa, too.
I never told people I were homeless when I was homeless.
I only tell them now that I'm not homeless, because I feel like I've achieved something by getting this place.
This is the first proper home Leesa’s had since Jess died.
They told me that they wouldn't be able to house me because I had Bubba, so I told them, “That’s okay, I’ll stay homeless”.
And when I said that, they realised I really meant it, I would stay homeless,
I’m not giving my baby up for nobody.
There was another place, a false start, but this one’s feeling like a keeper.
When I go back for a second visit six weeks after the first,
Leesa’s rearranged the furniture and her whole mood’s shifted as well.
Bubba, who’s on heat, is wearing a nappy, and just as friendly as ever.
I haven't been happy until just the last few weeks of being in this place.
I’ve got that photo back from me daughter, that’s an old photo, I haven’t seen that in years.
I’ve got me Pink poster up.And I went to see Pink, oh god, that was so good.
This place is coming together as a home now.
Stuff’s going up everywhere and it’s actually feeling like a home.
And Bubba, she loves it.
She’s not a dog that’ll go out there and be out there all day.
But when she is out there she loves it. She runs around and she just loves the yard.
And Leesa’s made big changes since being housed
I've been good. I used to be a junkie when I was on the streets,
and I haven’t had nothing since I've been here.
And I didn’t think I’d ever give it up ‘cause I was that bad on it.
But now... 16 stone later.
That doesn’t matter though.
Hush your ears, don’t listen to that. That’s a lie.
Does matter, hey. Mummy’s a fatty poomba.
But here’s the crux of Leesa’s dilemma, she’s appointed herself a chaperone, Bubba.
Because without a dog...
The difference was I were free to do what I wanted to do
I’m grounded now. I can only do and go certain places.
I used to get into a lot of trouble because I could go wherever I wanted, to do whatever I wanted to.
But ‘cause I can’t get on trains and buses with her, makes it a lot different.
But now, Leesa wants to work, go back to hotel cleaning, the work she did for years up north,
managing several contracts and hiring other workers.
Supporting myself is something I've always done. Being like this is something I haven't experienced that much of.
In my dream I’d like to have a car so I can go back to wor
Even though it's only cleaning, I like to work.
But Everyone's turning me down because I've got no car.
So I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don't.
In lots of ways it looks like a Catch 22, this challenge of living a straight life after long detours and outright car crashes.
But something that’s very apparent is how essentially unbroken Leesa is, despite every awful thing that’s happened to her.
I reckon this survival has to have something to do with the fact that, because of Bubba,
every day, Leesa receives and gives love in abundant amounts.
What are dogs better at doing than people are?
Loving. Because it’s true, honest love. It’s not fake. That’s it.
I've been through a bit of shit in my life for me to not trust people.
I don't just not trust ‘em because it's just a cool thing to do.
I would rather be able to trust people, and have people come into my life and stuff.
But I just can't do it.
I could never get the love I get from her from a man, or woman, ever.
She just loves me so much. Don’t you, Bubba?
And when I go away for a couple of hours and come back, it’s like I’ve been away for a month!
(Laughing) Let me go out and come back in again! That was awesome.
My sincere thanks to Leesa, for trusting me to share her story.
If hearing this story has left you feeling overwhelmed or just needing to talk there is always someone who can listen, always.
in Australia you can call Lifeline 24 hours their number is 13 11 14.
We’ve also put a bunch of links to very useful organisations on our website, including some to organisations who help out people and dogs who are homeless, and I’m sure they could use your support too.
This show was written and produced by me, Michelle Ransom-Hughes, for Alongside Radio
Sound design, original music and the mix of Oh My Dog are the work of Seja Vogel.
Thanks as always to script consultant Lea Redfern, thanks to Phil, to Dylan, to Simon, and special thanks this episode to Jaye Kranz.
This has been the final episode of our first season. If you haven’t already heard the others with David, Kate and Mick, I strongly urge you to go back and listen.
And if you like what we’ve made so far, and if you would like to help us make another season - we could definitely use your help.
You can help by free, just by sharing Oh My Dog with other people (we love that).
Maybe you could throw us a few dollars - you can donate via our website,
OR, maybe you’re an ethical business and you’d like to sponsor us?
And if you think you’ve got a great story we genuinely want to hear about you and your dog so please get in touch.
Thank you so much for listening to, sharing, reviewing, and supporting Oh My Dog.
We can’t wait to bring you more stories soon.
SONG: I Got You by Seja Vogel