HARRISON COUNTY -- Theresa Lero said she never again wants to say, "Get 'em, Leon!"
She said it two weeks ago and her dog obeyed, chasing after two armed, masked men who had come in her house. Leon was shot in the head as he chased them.
"I don't ever want to say that again," she said. "It nearly got my dog killed."
Leon stood quietly outside his Pine Forrest Road home Thursday as Sheriff Troy Peterson called him a hero and presented him a framed certificate for bravery.
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The certificate honors Leon "for his courage, bravery and self-sacrifice on March 21, when he protected his family during a home invasion without regard for his own safety. Even after receiving serious wounds during the attack, Leon continued to pursue the criminals, exhibiting a deep love and devotion for his family."
"He is undoubtedly a hero," the sheriff said.
Lero let Leon sniff the award. Leon seemed to like it.
"He's recovering well," she said.
It was first believed Leon was shot several times. Lero said one bullet went into the top of his head, skidded along the top of his skull and exited behind an ear.
Danger came suddenly
Lero, a nurse, had gone outside to feed their horses shortly before 7 a.m. and returned to the house to give the horses time to eat. Her retired husband, Brickford Lero, was still in bed asleep.
The home invasion occurred in the sun room at the back of their house.
"The dog came trotting down the hall growling at the door and I said, 'What is it, Leon?'" Theresa Lero said.
"I went over to the window to look at the door and facing me in my pass-through window was a man in a ski mask with a gun. I said, 'What?' Then I said, 'Out!'"
Two armed men had come in, and a third waited nearby in a getaway car.
Theresa Lero said she ran to wake up her husband, grabbed her gun, said, "Get 'em, Leon," and she and the dog ran after the men.
Her gun was loaded but there was no bullet in the chamber.
"They shot at me and I just went clickety, clickety click," she said of her gun.
One bullet passed to her left, one to her right and a third hit her dog.
Lero said she yelled at the men, saying, "You shot my dog. I'll kill you myself."
Neighbors who heard her called 911 to report she'd threatened to kill someone. She said she laughs about that now.
Dog walked into ER
She and her husband put Leon in a vehicle and took him to a Woolmarket veterinary clinic.
"I didn't know at the time what kind of shape he was in," she said.
"He seemed alert so I figured he couldn't have a bullet in his brain. He actually walked into the ER. I said, 'How many gunshot-wound-to-the-head victims walk in to the ER? Leon says, 'I do.'"
Leon stayed at the hospital overnight.
The Leros later learned deputies, area police and K-9 teams arrested two young men after an extensive manhunt. A third later turned himself in. Deputies later told them the young men had targeted a neighbor's home for drugs and money, but its door was locked so they went to the Leros'.
Theresa Lero said she's glad she was home.
"I could have found my husband dead in bed," she said.
Her husband said that thought concerns him, too.
"There's no telling what they would have done," Brickford Lero said. "There's no telling what their mentality was at the time.
"I'm glad the sheriff's department did their job."
A shelter dog
The Leros had rescued Leon from an animal shelter in Vancleave after their previous dog's death. They also had rescued the previous dog from a shelter.
They thought Leon, now 2 years old, was a red-nose hound, like a Redbone Coonhound. They named him Leon Redbone. Since then, they've learned he may be a red-nose pit bull.
They said he's sweet and quiet, but barks at people until they're introduced.
"I've always said since I got him that he wasn't worth anything. He was just going to be a pet and I was going to get a real dog.
"I guess he showed me. He's my pet and my real dog."