Saying Goodbye To An Aggressive Pet
A few years ago we lost our beloved dog on Christmas Eve. Our new neighbors set off fireworks while we were gone, and she dug her way out. Our hearts were broken, Christmas ruined as the whole family looked for her. Signs were made, and I discovered all the Facebook pages dedicated to lost pets. A couple weeks later I received a message from a well meaning person that she thought a dog was down at the shelter that looked like our girl. My husband had already been down a few times, but this was the first time I had ever been to one. Heartbreaking doesn't even begin to describe what I felt. We did not find our pet, but we did find Charlie. She had been brought in by her owner, that could not handle her anymore. And she was a handful. She tore up our irrigation system, shoes and our young sons toys. But she outgrew it all, she loved our cats, and best of all our 3 year old son started to warm up to her. She is gentle and despite her imposing size, she is convinced she is the size of a toy poodle.
A year and a half after getting Charlie I woke up to messages and tags on Facebook that our lost girl was at another shelter some 50 miles away. She looked so much like her that my husband went down to look while I was at work. He called me to let me know that it was not her. But he was in love. She was younger and on the list to be euthanized the next day. I asked if she got along with other dogs? Cats? Kids? He said that she was a stray and marked aggressive, but she was just scared. While she growled at one of the workers, she licked my husbands hand and climbed into his lap. Now I look back on that conversation and wish I had said no.
We picked her up the next day, she was drugged from getting spayed, covered in tics and still wearing the ridiculous leather collar with metal spikes. It was ten times to large for her skinny neck and an obvious sign of where she had come from, that I chose to ignore. We brought her home, Charlie was overjoyed. She licked the drugged dog on the nose when she growled at her. A "Hey welcome to the family best friend!" My oldest son and I spent hours removing her tics. She slept though most of it and seemed relaxed. She welcomed my husband when he got home and payed no attention to our youngest. He named her Daphne and she was officially a member of the family.
The first fight happened after a few days. We kept the bowls separated but Daphne wanted it all, I imagine it like a homeless child that hasn't eaten in awhile and wants to hoard as much food as they can, just in case they don't get to eat again. I always thought Charlie would get hurt because she was so gentle, but she held her own and proved she was the alpha. We were able to get Daphne outside where she continued to body slam the window and bark at Charlie baring her teeth. As I scrubbed the blood off the walls I told my husband to take her back. But he said, this is normal, this is what dogs do to prove dominance. We just need to work with her. We have two cats that are 13 and 14 years old. We kept them separated by a baby gate until she got used to them. Shes still getting used to them. She has tried again and again to get to them. Thank god she believes in then magic of the gate barrier. Two more fights with Charlie and I started messaging shelters and rescue groups. Most recommended training. With a son in college, and me working part time to offset daycare for our youngest, extra money wasn't in abundance. So I read everything I could find on the internet. Any article that gave advice about how to deal with an aggressive dog I tried. She was kennel trained, when she started to get in a mood I gave her a treat and she would walk into it, lay down on her blanket and take a nap. My youngest son gave her a wide berth, he walked around her with side eyes and avoided contact. Daphne pretty much ignored him until she started to get comfortable in the household. When he would sit on my lap or my husbands she would stalk over with a low growl. That's when I think my husbands rosy love glasses started to clear up.
She bit my oldest son when he was home on spring break. He was playing with her and she growled but he did not take it as a warning to stop. In his defense Charlie growls at him as she pushes him down, but then sits on him and try's to lick his face off. In Daphne's defense she warned him to step back and he did not. It was a quick nip that needed a band aid. But when she bit me a couple months later, it required an ER visit. I have never been bitten by a dog before, and the damage she did to my hand has had lasting effects. I tried to justify it. I shouldn't have tried to put her collar on while she was in the kennel, even though I have done it a hundred times before. My husband said enough. She needs to go. I cried and convinced him to let me find a new home for her. I called no kill shelters and rescues but because she was aggressive they would not take her. I avoided it until she bit my oldest son for standing in front of the pantry door that had her food in it, there was no justification. Another fight between the dogs didn't help either. Charlie girl had a hole in her face and on her chest to go along with the scars that Daphne had given her for the past year. It was time.
I again reached out to shelters and rescue groups, most did not bother to respond. It could be that I was one in a hundred messages that they received each day, or it could be that once they read about her aggressive behavior they knew that they could not help me. When I finally received an answer it was not what I wanted to hear. The owner of a local rescue started the email with "I am going to be brutally honest with you...". She walked me through the process of returning Daphne to the county shelter, she told me how many non aggressive dogs were waiting to be adopted, how because Daphne had a history of biting and not getting along with other dogs she would be put on the list to be euthanized.
I had three choices. Take her to the shelter, where she would be put in a dog jail cell that was cold and cement, she would listen to the barking of other scared dogs, be labeled aggressive, her emotional state would deteriorate and right before she was led into a room to be euthanized she would I imagine, wonder why her family abandoned her. The second choice was to keep her. And wait. For another incident, for another dog fight, for another bite to happen. It was tempting considering the alternative. But then I looked at my 4 year old son, his baby cheeks, his tiny hands and I rubbed the still painful scar on my hand. What if he was the next incident? Could I live with the guilt knowing that it could have been avoided if I would have finally made the hard decision? Is a dog more important than my child? The third choice was to take her to a veterinary office, walk her in, hold her and make sure the last thing she remembers is the voice of someone that loves her.
So here we are. This morning we got up, we played, she barked at the landscapers next door, we rubbed her belly, gave her extra treats and put her harness on. I buried my face in her side, hugged her warm body and told her how much I loved her for the last time. My husband, her prince charming, the man that fell in love with this abused and broken dog, took her in. The house is unusually quiet, the kids are asleep, Charlie is laying by my feet, the only noise is the blowing of my nose as the constant tears keep falling. I tell myself that we gave her a good year, she knew love and kindness. She did not leave this life thinking that all humans were cruel. But the guilt is overwhelming.
Last night we made a pact to never take in another animal. Were staying out of shelters, we will not make eye contact with any puppies or kittens when we go to Pet-smart. I have deleted all Facebook pages that have anything to do with pets, shelters and rescues. Is this unrealistic? Probably. But for now our family needs to heal. And years down the road if we do make the decision to get another dog, we will make sure to get to know them, ask the questions, check for compatibility. We will not fall blindly in love with a big brown eyed dog.