Monday, December 9, 2013

Guest Writer Series: The Hardest Decision

From time to time, we like to give our readers the opportunity to share their stories -- funny, reminiscent, and even hard-learned lessons. Today, we bring you a true story that is both heart-wrenching and a reminder that we truly can't save them all. 


I think it's time I share my story about the dog I should not have "saved."

I had over 10 years experience working with dogs. I knew better, but I took on a dog I should not have taken on. One of our volunteers who did so much for us and has such a big heart sent me an email about a dog that was confiscated in a cruelty case. The email included the police photos from the case. He was so pathetic, skin and bones, literally some of the most depressing photos I've ever seen. His condition was absolutely deplorable and at the time, he was just a small puppy. The dog had to stay at the shelter during the investigation which took some time, but after the case was over, he was adopted by a very nice couple. They were the ones reaching out to rescue people. The email said their neighborhood had decided the dog was a threat and needed to go. I wish I could find the email to copy and paste, but I knew right away that they were leaving out something. There were holes in the story and it was obvious.

Our volunteer said she felt compelled to drive down and rescue this dog 100+ miles away and wanted to know if we could take him into our rescue. I told her no, that I did not think it was a good idea and that I only take in dogs I can evaluate in person first. Against my advice, she decided to go and get the dog and keep him at her home until she could find a home for him. On her way home she called me and I could tell she knew she made a mistake. She said he was terrified and her gut told her his previous family wasn't telling her everything about him. She had never seen a dog so fearful, but he did seem to love and be comfortable with the people surrendering him. She decided she couldn't just leave him there and that she could fix him with love and training. Over the next few days, I started getting frantic emails about his red flag behavior and her husband wanted the dog out of their house. She was desperate and didn't know what to do. I tried offering advice and tips, but then he attacked her dog and that was the final straw for the husband. She called me devastated saying she had no idea what to do. Against my gut and best judgment, I caved and told her to bring him to my house.

She arrived and the dog was the most pitiful, terrified being I'd ever laid my eyes on. He was shaking so intensely out of fear. His tail was as tucked as far as it could possibly be, with his body arched. He immediately ran into a crate that was open and refused to come out. Again, my gut was saying don't take in this dog, but I felt bad for the volunteer and I thought my experience would allow me to "fix" this poor dog. She left and now started the process of gaining this dog's trust. I sat outside of his crate and talked to him for hours. He wanted nothing to do with me, but then one of my dogs came and laid beside his crate and then started licking him the crate bars. Finally, he perked up a little. Then my dog came and sat in my lap as if to show him "It's okay, you can trust her."  I was finally able to get a leash on him but he was still absolutely terrified, jumping at every movement and sound. I knew this was going to be a long road.

With lots of positive reinforcement, he slowly, slowly started to come around, I mean it took weeks. The volunteer who had brought him to us would come over and visit him and bring him treats. She was so impressed with his progress. I admit, it felt good to be the person that could "fix" an un-fixable dog. As soon as I started to think he could be a normal dog, he became obsessed with me. I left him for 5 minutes to get a glass of water and he literally dug through a solid wood door. His face and paws were bloody with splinters. At that moment, I knew he would never be a stable dog, but instead of doing what was right I decided to still try and play the hero and continue to try and "fix" this dog. He decided he didn't want to leave my side, putting him in his crate at night was becoming more and more difficult, but I chalked it up as separation anxiety.

One night I went to put him in his crate. My husband had already gone to bed for the night and he is the heaviest sleeper ever. I led the dog to the crate and he got in, but then turned around and for a split second he looked at me and I knew something horrible was about to happen. I could see the desperation in his eyes. He went for me full on, I had just enough time to put my hands in front of my face. He grabbed one of my hands and thrashed it around. I was knocked to the ground and now was trying to fight him off with my hands and feet. Blood was flying everywhere, my blood. I tried to scream, but my voice wouldn't work. It was absolutely terrifying.

I'm sure it was minutes, but it felt like an eternity and then all of a sudden our senior dog jumped on him. He immediately redirected on to her. She was no match for him and now her blood was everywhere. I finally found my voice and started screaming. I tried desperately to pull him off, but by that time my hands were swollen and useless. My husband didn't hear my screams, I decided I had to leave the fight and run to the bedroom to wake him up. At that point, I think I went into shock because it's all a blur.

My husband tried to get me to go to the hospital, but I refused. Our dog had retreated to her crate and we could not get her to come out so we could assess her injuries. The room where everything had gone down in was covered in blood. It was on the ceiling, on the walls, all over the floors. There were trails of drips of blood throughout the house from where I had gone to get my husband and where our dog had walked to the other room to her crate after my husband finally got the foster dog into his crate. It looked like a crime scene. I had to throw away the clothes I was wearing, the sheets on the bed where I laid afterwards. The pain was surreal. I needed stitches, antibiotics, a prescription strength anti-inflammatory, and I'm sure a lot more, but I was too terrified to go the hospital. I didn't want to deal with the emotional pain that I had failed this dog and my dog. I bandaged my wounds myself. My hand is permanently scarred.

My husband finally had to get wire cutters and cut open our dog's crate so we could get her to the emergency vet. I called our volunteer and broke down in tears describing what had happened. She and her husband met us at the vet. Thousands of dollars later and they still weren't sure if our dog would survive. We even said our goodbyes just in case she didn't make it through the night. The volunteer graciously paid part of her bill. After a week of 24 hour vet care she was able to come home but still needed constant care. They weren't sure if she'd be able to use her back legs again, but with lots of care and time, she made a full recovery and lived another 2 years.

After the fight, besides going to the vet, I laid in bed crying and depressed. I was trying to take everything in and figure out what the next step was and how this experience had changed my life. I decided to call my closest rescue friends. The first was our vet and she said the foster dog needed to be euthanized immediately. The next was my friend that's been in rescue for over a decade. She agreed the dog needed to be euthanized. I agreed and realized not only did he need to be euthanized, but it should have been done a long time ago, even before he arrived at my home which was the 5th place he had been rehomed to. I am to blame for taking on a dog I knew was unstable, but I think blame also needs to go on to those that wanted to pass on the burden.

I was confident in my decision to have him euthanized and made the appointment. My rescue friend agreed to go with me. I called the volunteer and I could tell she was hesitant about him being euthanized, but left the decision up to me. Later that night, I found out she had contacted another rescue to see what they would do in this situation. They told her once they rescue a dog, that dog was with them forever, that they did not euthanize for behavior reasons or give up on a dog. Hearing this stung. I started questioning my decision and called the rescue she had contacted. They were sympathetic about the situation, but offered another option and suggested the dog be sent to a "sanctuary" particularly Sanctuary Animal Refuge run by Palena Dorsey. I decided to look into that place and didn't like what I saw, I also didn't like the idea of this dog living his life out in a cage. (Thank God I didn't send him there because a short time later that place was shut down.) Despite everything, I still loved the dog, even if I was terrified of him. I knew that I loved him enough to finally give him peace through humane euthanasia. Even though everyone was not happy with my decision, I decided I owed it to this dog. He had lived in a loving home for several months and those would be his last memories. He got to leave this world in the arms of someone who loved him, my arms.

I learned so many lessons from this experience; it really was life changing. I had worked in an open intake shelter before and knew you couldn't save them all, but I think up until this incident, I thought you could "fix" them all. The truth is not every dog can become a loving, trusted companion. Some dogs have a past they just cannot get over, some are just born unstable. I think those of us in rescue that have learned this incredibly hard lesson need to be open about it. It's one of those topics we don't like to discuss and feel ashamed if we've been through it. I also believe some people in rescue just won't get it until they've experienced it and I hope they never do. It's also important to realize as a rescue, you are responsible for the dogs you put out into the community. People expect to get a dog from a rescue that's been evaluated and observed, more so than a dog they would get from a shelter. As a rescue, you have a responsibility to not put an unstable dog into a home, even a foster home.

On the flip side, people who no longer want their dog because it's aggressive or unstable really need to ask themselves "what kind of person is going to be willing to take in a dog with those kind of issues?" Especially considering how many stable dogs that don't have temperament issues are euthanized every day. Also, not only are you putting other people in danger by rehoming a dog like this, but I think it's also selfish to pass the burden on.

I knew when I first read the email about this dog that his former owners were holding back information. I honestly think they knew how serious his issues were, but they wanted to pass him on so they could pat themselves on the back for sending him to someone that could "fix" him.