Inside the Leber home on a damp, chilly day, Louie lounges on a rug near the fireplace.
A 140-pound Great Dane, Louie is truly the definition of a gentle giant. The mammoth black dog lifts his head and looks toward former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber with soft, deep-brown eyes.
"He's my baby," says Ben, joining Louie on the floor to cuddle him. "He's the best."
Ben and his wife, Abby, adopted Louie from the Upper Midwest Great Dane Rescue, a nonprofit they both passionately support.
The couple has had multiple Great Danes, starting with Moose, whom they had when Ben was drafted by the Chargers in 2002. Then later, Belle came along. And years after their first two pups passed away, the Lebers adopted Louie.
Ben still remembers seeing Louie for the first time.
"Of course, when you go [to a shelter] and see a puppy, how can you not leave with that puppy?" He says. "We saw him, and he was great, and he was really shy. We loaded him up in the back of my truck and drove home with him that day. It's been quite a journey with him."
View photos of former Vikings Ben Leber and his dogs Louie, Simon and June who are featured in this segment of Purple Pups.
He explains that Louie, who came from a household of domestic violence, was initially "terrified" of his new environment.
"He was never aggressive, but he wouldn't even get up off the floor. He'd just lay there scared to death to move," Ben recalls of the early days. "So, it took him a long time to kind of get re-acclimated. Because he was with a family, then he went to a foster home, then he was with [our] family, and all within a few months. Now, he's great.
"Louie's just Louie. He's one of the most chill Great Danes that we've ever had," Ben said.
Ben and Louie regularly go on walks and runs together; on Ben's phone are videos and photos of his three children – Ames, Witt and Wells – curled into the pup's side or reclining against his broad back while watching TV.
"He has little times during the day where he is energetic, and then most of the time he's just lying there and hanging out," Ben laughs.
But Louie isn't the only dog – or animal, even – that you'll run into on any given day at the Leber home.
Ben gestures around the living room on what is a rare quiet morning.
"Chaos. It's an s-show around here all the time, literally and figuratively," he says.
But he smiles.
"Three dogs, we had two cats, we have a guinea pig, and then we have three frogs …" his voice trails off.
"Which, I don't think I've laid my eyes on those frogs in probably a year. But they do exist," he quips. "We've got a zoo, basically, at our house."
Don't be fooled, though. It's a life that he wouldn't trade for anything.
He and Louie have a special connection, but there's also a bond between Ben and the Lebers' other two dogs, June and Simon, matching white Malshis with contrasting personalities.
It's somewhat comical to see the former linebacker, who played for the Vikings from 2006-10, holding a pair of petite, fluffy, pups.
"June is our grandma," he chuckles, pointing to the older of the two, though she's only about 6. "I thought that getting a small dog was going to get yippy and whatever? [But] I told my wife, 'This is the greatest dog ever.' She acts like a big dog even though she's, like, eight pounds.
"Most of the time at night, she'll come and curl up right here," he adds, patting the arm of the red sofa. "And if I come and sit on the couch and pet her, she gets annoyed and walks away. She just wants to do her own thing."
And then, there's Simon.
The youngest of the group, Simon is the rambunctious, feisty brother; he often wears a funny "grin" complete with a snaggletooth.
"He just loves to be around you. He loves to be affectionate," Ben explains. "He almost loves too hard. He's the one that will come right up into your face and just start licking and licking and licking. And most of the time, you're not really wanting him to do that. But he loves it.
"He's the one that just likes to cause problems," Ben adds. "He's the bossiest. He's the most food-aggressive. But he can also be equal parts loveable."
While June is the "old woman" who doesn't join in playtime, Simon is the most hyperactive and even will succeed in riling up Louie.
Ben explained that Simon, who weighs in at a whopping 12 pounds, will leap at Louie and impishly nip at the larger dog's jowls. When Louie gets annoyed and knocks Simon down with his paw, the younger pup will go after Louie's feet. The interaction lasts about 10 minutes until exhaustion.
"Louie will get down and oftentimes tuck his feet underneath his body, so he's like a big, black body with just his head … It's super cute and fun," Ben says. "Simon is relentless. … I think Louie just likes it. He never gets mad or aggressive toward the little dogs. It's hilarious to watch this little white dog sort of beat up on this big Great Dane."