I don’t talk about it much because it is not an easy thing to talk about for a lot of reasons. The post over on No Dog About It titled “The burden of euthanizing an aggressive dog” does a good job of summing up the guilt, the multitude of “what if’s” and the feelings of failure you go through after an event like this. It’s given me the courage to speak up now, as I feel there are probably others out there struggling with these issues.
It is very hard to reconcile how a dog you love, that can be super sweet and affectionate, is capable of such an action. After something like this, your trust is broken and your nerves are shot. The physical wounds heal, but the emotional ones…they stay with you. To this day I still tense up anytime I hear a dog getting snarky about something.
As sweet as Abbot was, he had issues. He was territorial, shy and had major separation anxiety. He was a stray at the shelter I volunteered for. He did not “show” well at the shelter. He would charge the cage door anytime someone would pass by. That is the reason I wanted to foster him. He was never going to get adopted as long as he stayed in the facility. Once out of the cage, he was super sweet and affectionate, but potential adopters could never get past the image of him being an ass in the cage.
I fostered him for 3 months before deciding to adopt him. My head was telling me that I was not the right owner for him, but my heart was telling me otherwise. I worked all day, which is not a good scenario for a dog with separation anxiety. I had a dog sitter come during the day, but in the end I really don’t think that helped any. If anything, I think it just added to his anxiety. I’m sure Abbot was thinking: “Yay, someone else is here to play with me. Wait, you’re leaving now too? Nooo! Come back!“.
He really should have been in a home where someone was around most of the day. I justified keeping him as my own by telling myself there was no guarantee that the shelter would find him a home which would meet that criteria. Even if they did, that person is bound to leave the home every once in a while to run errands. How would they handle his separation anxiety? Maybe this issue is why he landed in the shelter in the first place.
The separation anxiety wasn’t his only issue. I wasn’t his first bite either. He bit the neighbor kid through the fencing. I was outside standing next to Abbot at the time monitoring and in a blink of an eye it happened. Thankfully the bite did not cause any damage, but it was still a scary moment. I explained this one away as him being territorial. From that point forward, if the kids were outside, Abbot was on a tie out so he could not reach the fence line. I’m managing the environment. Everything is going to be fine. Now I’m starting to wonder “Had he bitten anyone long before we ever met? Is that the reason why he landed in the shelter?”
Then comes the incident with my friend’s little girl, who I’ll refer to as Ann. She was around 7 at the time. They had come in from out of town for a visit. I kept Abbot on a leash the entire time because I was unsure how he would be around her. There was a moment where Ann went to give my parents a hug, and Abbot went berserk over it. If he had not been on a leash that day, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have attacked her. Not good! I couldn’t even begin to explain his actions on this one.
I took him through dog training classes and consulted with the trainer on this. The separation anxiety never got better, but I told myself I was managing the situation and it would be fine. During the periods of time when he was alone, he would have potty accidents and he would destroy things. He just couldn’t help it. The anxiety was too much. I resigned myself to the fact that I would be cleaning up after him on a daily basis. Not just the accidents, but the destruction too. Take a look at the picture to the right. His crate started out where you can see the Collie standing. By the time I got home the crate was in the kitchen with the carpeting pulled into the crate. How the heck did that happen?! This was a common occurrence.
The day he bit me, was quite frankly, my own fault. We had come home from a visit to my parent’s house and I let him and my other dogs outside for a potty break. Abbot did both while outside. I brought everyone in and went upstairs to work on my computer. The dogs aren’t allowed upstairs. I was upstairs for maybe 40 minutes. Not long in my terms, but long enough for Abbot to have a panic attack. I came downstairs to find pee and poop in the house. I got mad. He was outside not even an hour ago and did both! Why would he do this now? I was at a loss.
I yelled at him and he went running into his crate. I don’t hit dogs, that’s not my style, but he doesn’t know that. I should have known better and taken a second to cool off, but I didn’t. I approached his cage still mad at him. I wanted to get him out of the cage to go back outside. In his mind my body language was communicating to him that I was a threat and he is now trapped in his cage. He had nowhere to go, so he did what he thought he needed to do to protect himself. As I reached in to get him, he nailed me.
I understand why he did what he did that night, but there were too many things going on with him prior to that night which I couldn’t understand. His reaction to Ann hugging my parents being one of them. Some dogs just aren’t wired correctly. How can I justify keeping an aggressive dog, when so many well-adjusted dogs are dying in shelters every day?
Rehoming him was not an option. He was a time-bomb waiting to go off. The next time it could have been a child. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone. Keeping him was no longer an option for me either. My nerves were shot. I no longer trusted him, and I was now afraid of him. That’s not a good combination. This was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I did not make it lightly.
I used to believe that all dogs could be saved. They just needed time, love, training and patience. Between what happened with Abbot and what I’ve witnessed in my rescue work since then, my opinion on this changed. I have a new found respect for what dogs are capable of doing. Some dogs will just never fully adjust to living harmoniously in our world. It’s been a hard pill to swallow.
This all happened 6 years ago. I’ve learned a lot about animal behavior and options for aggressive dogs since then. If I had known then some of what I know now, I might have handled things differently. Would it have made a difference? Obviously there’s no way to know that now. I made the decision that I felt was the best one at the time for him, for my family and for the public in general.
I’m sure there are many of you out there that will disagree with my decision to euthanize him, and feel he had a right to live out his life. I understand where you are coming from. If I had not gone through this myself, I would be feeling the same way. The only thing I can say is this, until you can walk a mile in my shoes, you really have no idea how you would handle the same situation if the roles were reversed. I hope you never have to walk a mile in my shoes.