For The Love of Dog, This Hurts!
Thorough exhaustion is good for dogs and good for people. I wish so fiercely that my thoroughly exhausted matched that of my dog! Last night I returned home from a 5-mile power walk with my pup and just sunk down into a chair and stayed like that for a while. What did puppy dog do? Oh, he got picked up by the (lifesaving) trainer we are working with and went on a hike for the better part of an hour to be evaluated.
That’s not our usual routine, but yesterday wasn’t what we’d call a typical day. It started with my partner being awoken from slumber by our dog’s distinct growling and barking, the particular noises he makes when he is trying to fight with us. When he’s trying to bite us. This isn’t new. Sammy first bit me less than a week after moving in with us, and has drawn blood from the two of us a combined 15-20 times in the nine months that we’ve had him. Yesterday was different because when my partner ran upstairs to come to my aid with the fight he overheard as I was trying to subdue the pup, he got bit, hard, through the basket muzzle the dog has been sporting for most of a month.
We’ve been working on training Sammy with the muzzle on so that we can safely engage in the subduing of his aggression without getting bitten. Seeing the blood rushing out of my partner’s finger shocked me, and though I can’t speak for how it made my partner feel, I think we can imagine. It was a painful decision to even use a muzzle in the first place, but we did it because it offered a guarantee that we would not be bitten. This moment was a betrayal! We felt betrayed by the muzzle, by the dog himself, and by the process. I felt helpless. It seemed like the end, like we couldn’t have the dog in the house with us another single night.
I spent the entire day thinking about “what comes next,” having no ideas for how to come to any kind of satisfying resolution. I tried to gather my thoughts and think about our situation objectively rather than focus on the morning’s incident. The facts are these:
•Our fearful, nervous, highly energetic dog has needs that are very clearly more than we are currently capable of meeting, and carries trauma that we have no way of understanding
•It is possible that we can raise our capacities and ultimately help him thrive
•It is possible that someone could give him what he needs but it’s not us
•It is possible that he is too psychologically damaged to have a comfortable life
How can I make a plan when this situation is so non-linear? It is so unclear, and there’s such discomfort in that. The thought of doing anything that might make things even worse for Sammy is torture (as is the thought of him potentially biting my mother while I’m out at work!).
As we have been going through this struggle with our dog growing more and more aggressive, trying to meet his needs and understand him and help him, I have felt so alone. So much guilt. So much failure. When you research rehoming or *ugh* getting rid of an aggressive dog, all that the internet basically has to say is that you are a real “POS”. Tons of articles titled “Rehoming an aggressive dog” that are 99% suggestions for how to keep the dog with you at home, cataloging all the things you’ve already been trying, and with a sentence at the bottom saying some variation of “if you really are *unwilling to do the work*, bring the dog to a no-kill shelter where they will likely have a sad life in a kennel.” We are doing the work. I don’t want the dog to have a hard, sad life. My love for him is boundless and I would do anything to help him, but what if my efforts are totally fruitless? At what point does our need to feel safe in our home trump the dog’s need to be there with us?
I was driven to write this all down and share it because if you are going through this, have ever gone through this, will one day go through this, I need you to know you aren’t alone. You are kind and loving, and strong. You deserve to be your number one priority. Whatever happens, you can grow and bloom from it. There is no wasted time and no wasted money in the process of giving love and stability to a troubled animal. Even if you don’t succeed. Even if you don’t do it forever. You’re NOT ALONE and as much as I have been feeling lonely in this situation, the world proved me wrong on yesterday’s aforementioned walk.
I passed a woman on the path who stopped me to share her story of having an aggressive dog who looked just like my dog and wore the same muzzle. “I can see you’re on the phone,” she said, “and I won’t keep you. I just had to tell you what you’re doing is amazing, and I know how hard it is.”
I was indeed mid-conversation, and so I just had time to say “thank you so much - I really needed to hear that today.” As I walked onwards it occurred to me that I should’ve stopped and asked her what happened with her dog. I’ve been googling and googling trying to find some community, some stories of people who have gone through what we’re going through, with no real results, and now this woman stopped me on the path and I just let her walk right by! I felt like a fool. Luckily the world is on my side (always) and on my way back home we passed each other again. I was ready this time, took my headphones out and called to her “can I ask you a question?”
We stood on the path and spoke for a few minutes. She told me her dog had looked just like my Sammy, and wore the exact same muzzle. She told me she had tried for 20 months to rehabilitate the dog. She shared honestly (without conveying any negative judgment) that she had made the hard choice to euthanize her pup rather than putting a fearful dog back into a tough system. She listened to me as I told her of my stress, anxiety, questions, and self- doubts. She was like an Angel. Before we parted, she offered me her phone number and suggested I reach out to vent or share anytime. When I told my partner about it later on, we two skeptics agreed that it was the sort of thing that makes one believe in signs.
I really don’t know what comes next for Sammy and us. We’re taking it one day at a time, trying to give him the best of ourselves every day that we’re together. I still hold hope that he will be rehabilitated and we can live out his days together, happily, and I’m also keeping my eyes open for an even better home for him. I don’t regret taking on this challenge, not for a second, and I appreciate every opportunity to face myself head-on as this has forced me to do. I’m struck over and over by our capacity to love.
If any part of this tale resonates with you, and you feel you would benefit from connection, pleeeease reach out to me so I can meet you with conversation, comfort, and compassion.