PANCEVO, Serbia (AP) — Normally, Leo would run away at the sight of a bigger dog. The small dachshund liked most to cuddle with his owners or ride in the back seat of the family car. But, one day Leo showed that true bravery knows no limits.
When a raging bull-mastiff cross-breed last year attacked a 10-year-old girl, Leo fearlessly jumped to her rescue, barking and biting at the dog way above his size and strength. Leo paid with his life, but the citizens of this northern Serbian town have not forgotten.
Two weeks ago, a life-size bronze statue of Leo was put up next to a children's playground in Pancevo's city park, honoring the dog and teaching kids about animal friendship and sacrifice. An alert-looking Leo, his head raised above his stretched paws, now rests proudly on a white base surrounded by flowers.
Nikolina Vucetic, the girl Leo defended, often comes by.
"I am so glad Leo has a monument, he turned out to be a real hero," Vucetic told The Associated Press. "He helped me."
The initiative to honor Leo was pushed through by an animal rights group after it gained widespread citizens' support through social networks and local media. The "Pets" group says Leo's is the first dog monument in Serbia, which has huge problems with stray dogs and notoriously low standards in animal welfare and protection.
"The idea was to raise awareness about how important animals are to us and how they are always there for us when we need them," activist Ivan Kurajov explained.
Vucetic, now a skinny 12-year-old, recalled returning home from a friend's house when the neighbor's guard dog came down the street, jumped at her from behind and grabbed her arm. The dog nailed the girl to the ground, pulling her left and right with his jaws.
"I screamed and Leo rushed out barked and ran around, biting him on the leg," Vucetic said, showing the scars from the attack. "When the dog let go of me, he looked around and then stormed at Leo."
Leo didn't stand a chance. Despite efforts by veterinarians, his injuries were too severe and Leo died two days later.
Owner Biljana Ilic said Leo was a "funny, happy dog," who liked most to jump straight into the lap of whoever came into the house, happily licking the guest.
"That dog was just too big and Leo was so small," the 23-year-old added, her eyes filling with tears. The family has a new dachshund named Djole, a gift from local breeders touched by Leo's heroism.
In the Pancevo park, children have been flocking around Leo's monument, patting the dog's head and his big ears. Some have taken pictures next to Leo, laid flowers or left dog treats by the statue.
The inscription on the monument reads: "To all the small heroes with big hearts."