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.
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.
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.
Buddy is a 3 year old Shih Tzu-Poodle mix that’s been with us a week. He bears an uncanny resemblance to my childhood dog, Ginger. So much so that I have actually been contemplating keeping him. However, Lollie our pitbull mix doesn’t like strange dogs. So far she’s been easy to manage but the reality is that we have to keep them separate. And anyone who has two dogs in their home who don’t get along understands when I say that it is really stressful making sure everyone is safe. I don’t like it. Maybe with work it would work out, but at this point, I don’t think I’m up for that challenge.
So, for now, we consider Buddy a visitor. He was an owner surrender, directly to H.E.L.P, His previous owners said he was just too much to deal with, given that there were children in the home. You look at his little face and think, “how can that be?” but don’t let his fluffy good looks fool you – inside that cute suit is a type-A, big dog. Knowing what I know now, after just one week, I can see how someone who doesn’t really know dogs, who didn’t really want a big dog, and who didn’t have the time to work with him would find him a nightmare. He literally needs HOURS of exercise each day just to be calm. But today I think we over did it…as I let him out tonight he struggled coming up the stairs. I guess we have found his limit – a three mile walk and 3 hours of fetch is it. That’s good at least.
So, other than his ball obsessiveness and his need for large amounts of exercise for a small dog, he is great!! Here is Buddy on PetFinder.com - where you can fill out an application to adopt him!
A few more pictures of Buddy: Read the rest of this post »
Here is an update from Jubilee’s family..
Hope all is well!! Everyone is great here. Just wanted to share a couple of pictures with you. D turned 1 on March 2nd. What a fast year it has been!! She’s not walking yet but is getting close. Jubilee is great and is just the best walking dog I’ve ever had, we walk around 3 miles a day together. I also bought a back pack for her to put a couple of water bottles in. One on each side, it makes her use a little more energy…. which is a good thing .
Here are a couple of pics………. once again A-’s sister took them she has such a nice camera.
The Question: I want to know what the proper way to handle jumping on visitors is. I have been holding him down with his collar, using the other hand in front of his nose and saying “OFF” and it’s not working too well.
I just hate when he jumps on my clients coming in……….
The Answer: I would handle this one of two ways – if you have a client who is ok with it, I would have your dog on leash when they come over. Tell them that he is in training and use that experience to teach him that the right way to great is to sit nicely. Only if he is seated does he get any attention. If he isn’t sitting you have to get him into a sit (or a down is fine) and make him hold that position until you are ready for him to be greeted. And he should hold his sit throughout the greeting. In fact, this is a skill that is tested in the canine good citizen test – sitting nicely while greeted…so it is considered a somewhat advanced skill. If you aren’t sure your client would be ok with part of your attention on your dog, or if you don’t want to do that, then I would crate or somehow separate him during these encounters. Just keep in mind – every time he engages in a behavior you don’t like, he is practicing that behavior. If you can’t get him to practice other ones, then at least stop him from the opportunity to engage in the unwanted behavior.
After I got the mats off of Jack our foster pup his mood improved greatly. While he was still hesitant, he was more friendly. What a sweet boy he is! Took him for his first vet appointment on Monday afternoon and he got micro chipped and his rabies vaccination. He was friendly and happy at the vet, even after all the pokes!
Then today, he was groomed. The groomer said he was very good, stood nicely and let him work on him. He looks like a completely new dog! A well cared for and loved dog. And he is. And I also suspect that he was loved in his previous home. It is always such a curiosity to me, how these dogs end up in that high kill shelter. He sits nicely when he wants something, is quiet as a mouse in his crate, is good with kids and other dogs, he is nearly perfect! He just had a bad habit of marking (with pee) on things in the house. He keeps his crate dry but I have to keep him close by to prevent him from practicing that. But all in all, he is a dream pup! So happy for him that he gets a second chance.
Well, our newest foster, Jack, arrived on Saturday afternoon. I was shocked by his appearance! He was literally covered in mats.
I tried to give him a bath but it wasn’t possible to get down to his skin, the mats were so tight and close to his body. In the end I just ended up cutting them off, one by one. It took 5 hours, which I spread out over 3 days. He was stressed about it but eventually gave in.
It must have felt so good to get them off of his body – they were pulling on little hairs. Imagine that sensation – little hairs being pulled all over your body – on your belly, arm pits, around your neck, on your legs. He even walked funny because of them. Poor little baby.
Today I had some time and so I swung by my friend’s house to see the puppy she adopted from me. It was the former Fritz, Greta‘s puppy, now named Finnegan. He’s almost 4 months old and looks so much like a pointer it is crazy. But his owners say he has a lot of hound in him too – sniffing everything!
When he first saw me he clearly recognized me – I got the whole greeting, the wiggle, the whine, the frantic licking and jumping up at my face. I felt honored to be remembered. It always warms my heart when my little babies tell me how important I was to them with this sort of dance of puppy love. After our greetings we were chatting about his development, his training and such, and I stood up to leave. Finnegan immediately got up and positioned himself nearby one of his owners, sitting down facing me. I mentioned it seemed that he was telling me that as happy as he was that I was visiting, there was no way he wanted to go with me. Then we got to talking again and walked into the room closer to the door. Finn followed us and I was petting him. I stood up again and opened the door and he walked again closer to his owner and sat down. Again it was crystal clear – he was happy where he was. It touched me so much that he was so bonded to his new pack – my friends have clearly done just what they needed to do to help him become one with their family. He is a well balanced, happy guy. So, thank you J- and J-, and thank you to everyone who adopts a puppy and makes him or her a balanced member of your family. It is such a gift.
Thanks for stopping by to see Finn! We’re really enjoying him. He is such a love and a cuddler, and I end pretty much every evening on the sofa with him snuggled into my side. I give you lots of credit for giving him a good start in the world. He’s been a confident, well adjusted puppy from the start. I especially appreciate that you exposed them to small crates early so that his transition to crate training was smooth.
Thanks for all the hard work you do.
I received a nice note from the family of Jubilee:
Hope all is well!! Looks like you made it through another happy journey on being a Foster mom for all the puppies and Momma dog. It truly is a great thing you do for these animals.
Jubilee is doing great!! Completely healthy and a little over 50 pounds now. She is loving all the snow and it’s hard to get her back in every once and awhile (but as long as she is burning off extra energy I’m not complaining). She is 100% done with her crate and loves being free all day with Shena. Jubilee is such an easy going dog and it’s hard not to spoil her (like letting her lay on the couch with you). She is awesome with Delilah and since D is on solids now Jubilee knows where her free treats are (instant vacuum). After the Holidays I am going to scout out some dog play areas. She needs someone more her age and energy level to romp around with, Shena is was way past that point of playing. Keep me in the loop if you ever start up a playtime again.
So from my family to yours Merry X-mas!!