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.
19 thoughts on “My good dog.”
You and Kathryn have done better than you know. You are teaching many with these intimate accounts of your lives and struggles. Thank you.
I agree with mysethfriend; your sharing teaches others. Thank you so much for that. I’m not sure what else to say except I love you and I’m sorry for all you’ve gone through. Let me (and us, your readers) know if there’s anything more we can do to support you right now. ((((Big hug))))
Oh Dear! Please try not to be so hard on yourself! As I read the blog I could truly understand your feelings and struggles with this sweet pup! It really does sound like you did EVERYTHING and more for Happy. I’m guessing there are many who wouldn’t have tolerated that behaviour for near as long as you did. It seems to me this was done out of true love. Happy is great now with the other doggy, Mocha! Try not to be so hard on yourself! You loved Happy and did the right thing. Bless you!!
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Thank you Peg. It’s been a couple of weeks now and we still cry about it. You are right of course, most dogs are at the end of the road the first time they bite a human. I know we did everything we could.
Thank you for affirming that for us. This is truly the most difficult decision I ever had to make for an animal.
My heart feels for you, no matter the reason it is so sad when we have to put our pet to sleep. Love to you and Happy❤️
I am so sorry I can feel your pain from your words it is never easy to make a tough desision
You did everything you could, and it was the only right decision for your family. You went above and beyond what anyone else could have done. You know that in your head, but sometimes it takes longer for the heart to feel that. Hugs and much love, MB
I am so sorry for your loss Kate. I can only imagine what you’re going through. However, I believe that you did all that you could with great care and consideration. I’ve sent prayers for you, your partner, and Happy.
I’m so sorry you had to make such a hard, heart breaking decision for your animal friend. I know personally how hard it is to lose a loved one, pets included, but I believe you did the right thing. A life filled with anxiety and stress isn’t one anyone wishes for, especially so young. You did what you could, what you felt was right, and it’s okay to forgive yourself!
My heart is broken for you. I can only imagine how difficult this was for you. Love and peace to you and your partner and Happy.
I’m so sorry to hear that you had to go through this.
You freed him of this body that didn’t work the way it should have.
You gave him more time then anyone else could have or would have, and it was quality time.
Hang in there 🙂
May you find your peace with this. I am trying to learn myself what true suffering means for animals. Often it’s when they hurt the people they love. You have spared Happy from more of this.
I pray you can find it in your heart to forgive yourself soon. You did the best you could for Happy, and now he is free. That was the final loving act you did for him, out of no doubt countless acts of love over the years.
I am so sorry for you, Kate. I know and can tell what an agonizing decision this was for you and can only imagine how it hurts your heart. Sometimes, this is the hardest but the kindest choice we can make for our animal companions, and for all parties concerned. Happy can be free now…you helped to release him from his anxiety and fears. I am sure the incident was as horrible for him as it was for all of you. Much love and hugs…Sara
Kate – I’m so sorry you had to make this decision – I know it was made out of love and true compassion for Happy – sometimes the hardest decisions are actually the most humane – I’m sure he is so relieved and “Happy” xoxoxo
Kate, I feel your pain from the way you write. I hope you forgive yourself as we are our own worst critic. You did a very brave thing which is to take responsibility for something for which most would simply avoid and leave to others. I can say that I have in the past left that very hard decision to other people. Now there is no avoiding it and must soon face a similar decision. Thank you for sharing. You don’t realize how helpful you posts are and how it helps those who read them.
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Thank you Susan, and thank you EVERYONE who has commented, your support means SO MUCH to me and has been very helpful in the days that have followed.
I am so sorry you and Happy and the rest of your household had to go through this. I think Happy had a purpose and a lesson for you, maybe. The contract must always be completed before one of the parties can cross over. Always remember that Happy was not a bad dog and you did nothing wrong. Always believe you both did what you came to do. Now Happy is truly happy.
Yes and thank you. I learned more from Happy than any other dog in my life, including my beloved childhood companion, Heidi.
I do believe that while “contracts” can be a part of our lives, life is not as simple as that, and that Happy’s temperament, sensitivity and early experiences (resulted from the free-will actions of his first owners) was not entirely planned. I don’t believe he came into life to be euthanized by his loving human, but that his fate was determined by the choices of his humans, including me, who were and are responsible for him.
One thought that does strike true for me is that we all come to reconcile our choices, and the consequences of our choices, when the time comes.
No, he was not a bad dog, he was my very good dog, and he tried *so hard*. So did his humans, who loved him and still do.