At a crossroads with Lollie


There is a difficult decision on my mind tonight. One that I hope no one else ever has to make but one that I assume some of you have made before. The decision about when the time is right to euthanize a pet. I’ve made this decision before. I’ve “released” a pet from their pain in old age and in illness. They were difficult decisions made easier by the knowledge that I was, in a twisted way, helping them still. They were suffering, their end was near, I was simply easing their exit.

This decision is different in every single way.

My dog Lollie has been difficult from 6 months of age on. That is when, in pitbull lingo, her “fight turned on.” She began fighting dogs for balls at the dog park. Then it was fighting dogs for getting too close to her. Then it was fighting them for no reason I could figure out. So we stopped going to the dog park. Then she began fighting with friend’s dogs who she had known all her life. Then the dogs in our own pack. But back then I was younger, had more free time, didn’t work outside my home and had an inflated sense of my power and ability to control outcomes. I believed I could “cure” or “save” or “fix” Lollie so I did everything I could to learn all I could about her. I began to be able to anticipate her reactions, nearly all of the time. And I became good at stopping the attacks, nearly all of the time. But it was those times in between, when I wasn’t astute enough or fast enough, that she would harm another dog.

At first, it was mostly noise and spit, just a dominance display, nothing more. I told myself this to calm my fear. I decided that if she ever drew blood, then I would have to do something about it. Then in a few of those exchanges her tooth nicked an ear, a lip and blood was drawn. “She didn’t mean to bite” I told myself, it was just an accident. I became even more vigilant and stopped bringing her around other people’s dogs all together. I told myself that she inhibited her bite. She never tried to really harm a dog, she was just reactive. Then she had an exchange with a dog she knew for years at our dog training club. She appeared to want to greet the dog so badly. She was all wiggles and softness, low to the ground and polite. My friend and I agreed to let them sniff noses – the first contact Lollie had ever had with another dog at the dog club. As soon as Lollie got close enough to sniff, she lunged, with a snarl, and grabbed a hold of the other dog’s muzzle in her teeth and did not let go. I had to yell in her ear “DROP IT” over and over until she finally released the dog. No blood, but still that experience shook me. Clearly there was something going on for her that I did not understand. So we stopped going to the dog training club.

Time went by without anything but a random, unnecessarily intense reaction from her toward our other dogs. I would stop it and although she appeared to “sulk” for a few days it would blow over. It was a relatively peaceful time. Then last year I started working outside the house. The hours I spent away from home increased again this winter as I began training for a marathon. Whereas in the past I would only leave for 2-3 hours, I was gone from the house from 5-7 hours at a time. Then, three months ago, my son begged that we keep one of the dog’s we fostered and I relented. I never thought Lollie would allow him into the pack but somehow she seemed to understand that he was staying and she would have to accept it. We keep them separate and only one slight skirmish has occurred thus far. But things have gotten worse in another way. About a month ago I was getting ready for bed when I heard a terrible sound. At first I thought it was a low flying plane, it was loud and sudden and angry. Then my brain registered it was a bad dog fight. I flew downstairs to see Lollie attacking our dog Bella who was in a crate (she was sleeping in one of the crates where I had removed the door.) She had no way out and Lollie was biting her legs and face. I stopped the attack and as I looked at Bella’s sore face with two puncture wounds, the long scratches on her legs I decided to move the line a bit more. Clearly this was an attack, clearly she did bite, but still, was it that bad? “Ok,” I said to myself, “I will just crate Lollie when I’m gone and keep her separated from Bella at night.” But that attack scared me. It was becoming difficult to predict what would set her off. And even more difficult to rationalize the attacks to myself.

Lollie sleeping

Then just last night the worse attack yet happened. I was out brushing the dogs. It crossed my mind that I should probably put Lollie in the garage and brush her separately, but it was so calm and peaceful out under that tree and I was just enjoying the moment. Lollie wasn’t really even participating, she was off by herself. I called our other dog, Hermes, over to me and as he was approaching Lollie put herself in front of me and turned away from me to face him. I knew that this spelled trouble so I said firmly, “GET” to move her away, and that’s when she lunged at him. It took all of 5 seconds. Five seconds for me to get up and run the three steps over to her and yell “LEAVE IT”. She stopped the attack then but it was clear he was hurt. He was limping and I could see she had bitten him on the legs in several places. But the wounds seemed relatively minor, not even puncture wounds so I brought him inside. But I kept seeing blood. He was licking and licking his legs in various places and blood was covering his legs. However, when I searched his fur I could find nothing. I called the vet and he offered to look at him even though it was two minutes to closing time. By the time I arrived, the ace bandages I had wrapped around Hermes’ legs were soaked with blood. There was blood spattered over the walls of the back of the SUV. It was terrible. I brought him in and we all just looked at him, trying to understand where all this blood was coming from. That’s when the vet said, “Could she have gotten his tongue?” and sure enough, there was a dime sized flap of skin, about a quarter inch thick, hanging on by a tiny bit of skin. It was way back on his tongue, and not obvious. But it was bleeding badly. Thirteen stitches later the bleeding had stopped. I brought him home.

Lollie as a puppy

I had never articulated it directly. Never said, “if this happens then…” but always I had it in the back of my mind that there was a limit to what I would allow from Lollie. I would hear other stories of aggressive dogs wounding resident dogs and think “That I would not accept.” I would hear how the owners would spend hundreds of dollars on stitching up the victim of the attack only to have it happened again. And again. And I thought, “I will never be that sentimental. If I cannot keep my pack safe with Lollie in it, she will have to go.”

So now I stand at that abyss. I see now how much easier it was to say “I will not accept that” than to do anything about it. I understand now more deeply why I kept moving that line in the sand, why I kept tolerating increasingly more dangerous attacks. Who wants to admit that the dog they’ve raised since puppyhood has to go? Who wants to see this perfectly healthy, beautiful dog in the prime of her life killed? Who wants to see all that work, all that love just thrown away? What was it all for? Why? Why has it come to this and is there any way at all to avoid this? She’s the only dog in the pack who understands me when I say, “go find Ryan.” She’s the only dog who listens to me as I guide her to finding the ball. She’s the only dog who plays Frisbee with me in the winter, who will jump and twist for it. She is in so many ways my best trained dog. But there is such a cost for having her. So much anxiety. I am always worried, watching, aware of her and the potential for harm. I am always trying to anticipate and think through and avoid situations that could lead to attacks. And they are getting more and more violent. And harder and harder to anticipate. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a huge part of me that would be relieved beyond belief if she were no longer with me. But how to get her to not be with me is the question. I have to kill her? Really? It has to come to that? I just can’t figure out how to get from here to there without that happening. I wish I could see into the future. I wish I knew what to do.

And this attacked crossed that line. I find myself trying to find a way around it, a way to rationalize it, but I cannot.

Lollie as a puppy

July 17, 2011 • Tags: , , , • Posted in: Lollie, observations

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.