Today, one month after we said goodbye to Sunshine, we said goodbye to Happy, our dog.
I am very sensitive to judgment, so please, if you’re going to comment, be kind.
I never, ever thought I’d be faced with this decision. While Happy has always been a challenge, he tries so hard. We have rearranged our lives around our dog, for seven years, and we’ve been brought to the brink of this decision many times.
Each time, “the brink” was an incident. Happy bit someone, one of us, one of the other pets, a visitor, a stranger. Each incident left us in tears and emotional agony, evaluating our options.
Sweetie was telling me she feels responsible, because in the first 24hours of having Happy, I was going to call the first owner to have her take him back. He had a complete mental breakdown in his first day, I’d never seen anything like it.
Sweetie took him out for a long walk and convinced us both we could get through it.
Happy has always been my dog, he’s my responsibility. Every time we’ve had an incident, I resolve to do better.
Two years later, we seriously considered euthanasia for the first time. He was no longer hiding under furniture and “sharking out” from underneath, biting anything that came close to the chair, but he had shifted to attacking our feet, striking at Sweetie if she came near me while I had him on my lap, biting me if he decided to be possessive of whatever he was sitting on or near.
We worked with him, and worked with him, and worked with him.
We learned how to minimize his opportunities for possessive behavior. We learned how to modify his behavior around feet, and slowly convince him to associate feet with good things. We learned to never, ever allow a stranger to touch him, how to snatch him out of reach when a stranger ignored our orders, “don’t pet him!” And I taught him how to go around children on the beach, and come to me if another dog made him nervous, rather than attacking the dog as if he had to fight to the death.
Everything was King Kong sized to Happy. We did our best to make his world a fun and safe place.
Each time, for seven years, we turned back from the brink. Let’s try teaching him to run beside my bicycle, let’s walk him with other dogs, let’s never let him on the bed or sofa, let’s only feed him in his kennel… We have tackled each newly discovered issue with behavior modification, positive reinforcement, and near-constant vigilance.
I say near-constant, because we’re human. And it seems we go two or three or six months without incident, and another thing happens, brings us right back to the brink, faced with the same choices. More, different training, new resolve to do better by him. Consultations with trainers, our vet, our friends in rescue. So much helpful advice over seven years.
Happy is the one dog in my life that has taught me more than any of the others combined.
And so when I finally realized yesterday that the risk I’m running by allowing this to go on is not just to me, and the denial / justification I have been telling myself that “he is so small, he can’t do any real damage” is untrue.
I don’t want to discuss yesterday’s incident, because I can’t talk about what we could have done, or tried next. It was a close call involving the love of my life, and in a gut-wrenching moment of clarity I realized that this time *must be* the last time.
I took Happy on an extra long walk last night, just the two of us. I fed him chicken for dinner. I barely slept last night, for this is the weightiest decision I have made in my adult life.
My dear friends and readers, I promise you I did everything I was capable of doing for Happy. I did not come by this decision out of convenience, nor do I believe his condition is as a result of the recent changes in our house, the loss of Sunshine, the addition of the kittens.
If we did not have kittens, and Happy was the only animal in the house, we would still be getting bitten. We have worked with him over the years, and he has improved a great deal, but he will still bite quickly, with no warning. His mind goes blank, and he has no control. It’s a reflex, and his triggers are unpredictable.
We did our best for as long as we could, and this time, I knew, there could be no more incidents.
So Happy came with me when I took the kittens in to the vet to be neutered, and I asked the vet to put Happy to sleep.
Happy is free of his nervous body, a body that shoots full of adrenaline at the slightest stimulation, a body full of memories of his first terrifying year on earth. His spirit has always been greyhound-sized, he’s always been the little dog with the huge aura. He is safe with his friend and teacher Mocha, with Sunshine who shines her cat-benevolence on him. He went straight to heaven, just like the saying.
Dear God, forgive me. I did the best I could.
Dear friends, I’m sorry my blog has been so intense these past months. I know it’s not easy to read about these sad things, and I thank you so much for being here with me.
After Happy left his body, and the kittens were undergoing their surgery, I went to Smitty’s for some food. While I was sitting there, eating scrambled eggs and drinking herbal tea, staring out the window, I saw the shape of a dog form out of the grey sidewalk and grey-er sky. It was a schnauzer.
My childhood dog, Heidi, was a standard schnauzer, and before my Mom died she said one of the signs she would send to me would be schnauzers. She’s done it twice before – once in Telegraph cove, an insanely remote place to encounter a breed that is so unusual, and once on the day we thought we were picking up kittens, but discovered a barn-breeding operation instead.
And now today, as I sat in Smitty’s, reviewing all the choices we made for Happy over the years, and shouldering the burden of this last, heaviest decision, there’s a schnauzer, right outside the window, just as I was asking for forgiveness.
I heard this: “forgive yourself”.
I can’t do that today. Not today, but maybe in a little while. Today is for sadness, and regret, wishing I could have found some miracle to unlock his brain and show him he could relax and never, ever, bite again. For today, this is the very best I can do.