|My beautiful boy|
He is gone, my beautiful boy, the dog with issues we adopted last December; the dog who quickly fell in love with me and the dog I soon after came to love; the dog who gradually fell in love with David, too, and the dog David eventually couldn’t help loving back. He wasn’t suffering (he loved his life, which made it all the harder for us to end it), but he has gone to join our Sarah, leaving us behind.
He was good-looking, smart, physically healthy, playful, energetic, and he became -- with us -- affectionate, downright snuggly. In our year together, he learned about manners and obedience and play and love. He seemed grateful. And he was joyful! Once he figured it out, he was thrilled to have a family and a home! But tragically, he could not overcome the impulse to bite, which may have been a result of past mistreatment … or a necessity of dog-eat-dog survival picked up while he was a stray … or some awful genetic kink. We’ll never know. But every so often his Mr. Hyde personality would appear in a terrifying snarl, and he would strike like a cobra. That had pretty much stopped when it was only the three of us together, but….
“Maybe if you were younger, you’d have had more patience –” began one otherwise sympathetic recipient of the sad news.
No. We have more patience now than we ever had when we were younger, and little Peasy had the benefit of over a century and a half of combined wisdom acquired by his dog parents. Other than temporary time-outs and occasional sharp words (the latter bursting from us in the fright of the moment rather than carried out as “discipline”), all his training was positive in nature. He got focused training. He had attention, lessons, exercise, play, and home comforts. He learned so much! And, as I say, we loved him, he knew we loved him, and he loved us in return – all of us loving each other more and more with each passing week.
So I don’t fault any of the three of us. We humans were patient and loving and consistent, and he, the dog, was willing and eager. He was not a bad boy. He just couldn’t control the bad feelings when they came on him. Who knows where they originated? It doesn’t matter.
When I posted about Peasy on this blog during his year with us, I mentioned that he had “issues,” made reference to the “Mr. Hyde” side of his personality, even his “cobra strikes,” but I never came right out and said anything directly about biting. Except when those lightning-flash incidents occurred, he was sweet and obedient and affectionate, so we hoped he would gradually feel secure and that it would stop happening. But over the summer and fall he bit two friends and one relative, despite our precautions. He snapped at me but only drew blood once, while David he bit seriously three times, and the last time (back in Michigan) struck us as a deal-breaker, because we could give no situational excuse for it. We made arrangements. But the day before his life was scheduled to end, we backed out. Just couldn’t do it....
But. Dangerous. Frightening. An untenable situation. And deep, deep heartbreak.
Do online searches for “heartbreak +dog,” and almost all the results you’ll see have to do with dogs dying of illness, trauma, or old age. When I finally came upon the term “reactive dog” and the possibility of clicker training, I fell on it eagerly, more optimistic and confident than desperate. This was despite what I’d been told by a woman who provides kennel space and the necessities of life to unadoptable dogs, at least one of them a dog even she can’t touch after having it in her care for years. She warned me flat-out (and this was a long conversation; she wasn’t just giving an uninformed opinion) that I would never be able to trust Peasy not to bite.
“Do you understand? You’ll never be able to trust him.”
I still thought we could do it. How could we not try? We were aware of certain trigger situations and could work on those. But the otherwise unpredictability of other cobra strikes made it impossible to work on general desensitizing of our basically good, sweet dog. He would have to be desensitized to each individual separately, one at a time, and each individual would have to live in our household, and still it would take months, as it had with us. Not feasible.
So we kept him away from people. If we were dining outdoors with friends, he was on the porch; if we were on the porch, he was outdoors; when our little great-grandchildren visited for an evening, he spent the evening in my car. That's how we got through our Michigan summer.
Actually, we had talked about finding him another home out in Arizona after the very first bad bite, even before we returned to Michigan for the summer, but I was unwilling to “surrender” him to a shelter or a “rescue” organization, giving up any say over what strangers might adopt him, how long it might take for anyone to want him at all (he’d been in the pound in Graham County for almost four months before I came along), and what might happen to him in the meantime and with more strangers. Other people might not be as understanding and patient as we were and might try, as did one young Arizona trainer I tried early on, the tough love, “show-him-who’s-boss” approach, which generally serves to reinforce all the worst fears of a reactive dog. Even if not harshly corrected (or worse, outright abused), he would be traumatized all over again by going from a loving home to another institutional incarceration or to strangers. I couldn’t do that to him then, in Arizona, and I certainly couldn’t do it later, in Michigan, after bonding with him more and more deeply. Not to mention the fact that it would hardly be fair to expose new owners to the risks he posed.
We took him to an interview with a special trainer in Michigan, postponing our departure for Arizona for the good of our dog. This highly credentialed, lovely woman was understanding and patient but not exactly encouraging. She did, however, suggest the possibility of anti-anxiety medications, and we jumped on that hope. She and our vet conferred. Peasy started on meds, and he came west with us, after all, back to his Arizona beginnings….
|little Pea in Cochise County|
One situation that had been bad from the beginning was that whenever we dropped something on the floor and reached to get it, he would lunge and bite. With the meds (and time, during which his trust in us increased), that trigger ceased to be one. We could drop things all over the house and pick them up with no inappropriate behavior from Peasy. Not that we ever completely relaxed our guard, but the improvement was noteworthy. And during our evening pack time, he was more relaxed and snuggly all the time.
But as cuddly and kissy and loving and appreciative as he was with us – more so every day -- he was still nervous with other people. It even seemed, paradoxically, that the more he relaxed and the closer he bonded with us, the more eager he was to “protect” us from other people, seeing them as threats to us. “He loves us too much,” the Artist said sadly, even as he and Peasy were cuddling on the bed.
Because Peasy’s besotted love for us was irresistible, as was his enthusiasm for our most ordinary routines. "Where's your lion? That's right! That’s your lion!” He learned his "lamb" in a single day. He had the most exuberant nature!
But it was inevitable that sooner or later another bad bite was going to occur. Luckily for us, the person bitten, fond of us and even (for some weird reason, believe it or not) fond of our crazy dog, did not threaten to sue, but she did talk to me frankly about the danger our dog presented. “What if it had been a child?”
An exception to his general people-phobia was my hiking and dog-walking partner. He seemed fine with her. -- But who knew when some misperception might set him off?
We brought him home for the first time on December 10, 2020, and on December 29, 2021, the three of us took our last ride together. He was always happy to go for a ride -- anywhere, just to be with us -- and if we left him for 10 minutes, when we came back to the car, he was a bundle of wiggles and kisses. He jumped eagerly into the back seat every chance he got.
|"I'll go anywhere with you!"|
I had given him his usual anti-anxiety pill early in the morning and gave him four more after our morning run and then two more in the car, because -- why not? I figured that if he became sleepy or drowsy before we reached the dreaded destination, so much the better. He sat up and looked out the window for about half the trip, then lay down on the seat but never did close his eyes. Every time one of us looked back at him, he was looking at us.
“You want to be with him?” we were asked at the vet clinic. Of course! We did not want our boy to feel abandoned or panicked or fearful. And Peasy's leave-taking went smoothly and peacefully. We held him and stroked him and told him what a good dog he was. And he was a good dog – as good as he could be!
“Look at it this way. We gave him the best year of his life,” the Artist said.
More than that: we gave him a life!
|Loving his life|
Peasy’s didn’t have the 17 years that Nikki had (14 with us after her early years, shrouded like Peasy’s youth in mystery), and he didn’t have the 13 years Sarah had, in the bookstore and on our travels, from puppyhood to gentle old age. But it was a good, happy, love-filled life. And he certainly wasn’t lined up for any such rosy fate when we found him! Odds were about a million to one of that happening.
Oh, my sweet, sweet boy! It hurts me so much that no one outside our home will ever know what a good, darling little boy you got to be with us! Plenty of people thought we were crazy to adopt and keep him at all, given the constraints he put on our social life. And if others believed in the good qualities I’ve described, they’ll think surely we must not have tried hard enough to rehabilitate him. In other words, to some people our dog was a monster, and to others we are the monsters.
“I can’t stand sad dog stories!”
So many people have said that to me over the years in my bookstore, and Peasy’s story is a heartbreaker, for sure. But if we’d never brought him into our lives? If he’d continued to languish, unloved, in that concrete-floored cell where we found him? That was no life! With us, he had adventures, running free with me in Arizona and Michigan. He had dog friends in Arizona, and in Michigan and Arizona both he was woven into the fabric of our household, from morning dog-and-dad time on the bed, to dog-and-mom play and running and desert rambles with friends, to evening pack-time with the three of us together.
So mine is a sad story and a happy story, and even as my heart has broken over and over, is still breaking, and will ache for a long time to come, I do not regret for one minute bringing little Pea into our lives to love, sharing joy and love and happiness with that goofy little guy. He was a gift life gave us, and we were the gift life gave him. And when his end came, he was not abandoned or traumatized, and he had no reason to be frightened, because we were right there with him. It was the least we could do for our boy, who tried so hard to be the best dog he could be.
It was a rainy morning. Dark clouds on our way up to and through the mountains. Now and then, scraps of rainbows. Several on our way north to Thatcher, and a complete one on our way home without him. Peasy's rainbow. Let me think that. I miss him so much.
|I will always love you, my boy!|
Oh , Pamela and David . My heart breaks for you and Peasy .
You know, in the dog world, we say they went over the rainbow bridge. So yes indeed this is Peasy's rainbow. There are lots of dog and dog lovers there, he'll be OK, even happy, there. Some people believe we'll all meet again someday. Maybe so.
I'm so very sorry, but also realize that you made the decision that had to be made, and you were responsible, loving dog parents. He knew he was loved. He loved you. In the end that is all that matters.
I know you will miss him every day, just as you miss your two girls, gone before him. We will miss seeing him too. He was an exceptionally beautiful boy.
Behavioral euthanasia is a topic that needs to come out of the closet. For those of us who choose it only as a last resort, with breaking hearts, it is in no way a question of “convenience." Situations like ours with Peasy occur more often than people realize, more often perhaps than people even want to know, and along with the grief (both the expected kind, at the end, and anticipatory grief, because one grieves over every regrettable incident and over all the social opportunities one’s dog is missing), out in the larger world there is a culture of shame surrounding euthanasia for behavioral problems, however awful they might be. The sentiment most often voiced publicly is that no dog not yet at the end of its natural life span should ever be put down, for any reason, that every dog can be rehabilitated, that it is the owners who are to blame, if not for causing the problems, then at least for not trying harder or longer or doing the right things to effect rehabilitation. You have to search long and hard to find the voices that have been silenced in the public forum, people with stories like mine. Along with the joy of Peasy came heartbreak, all along. This is why I shared as much of our story as I did on my blog, and I am heartened by the sympathetic responses of friends on Facebook who seem to understand and appreciate all that we went through for our dog, the good life he had with us, and the peaceful, loving end. I can’t stop crying, but I also want to let other people who have gone through this know that they are not alone.
Some situations in life offer an array of choices but none that feel good. To learn more about when behavioral euthanasia might be the least bad choice, see https://humanepro.org/magazine/articles/when-love-isnt-enough
An important sentence from the second of the two articles cited above is this one: "To pretend that it is a callous act is in itself a callous act.” I thank my friends for not being callous in judging me but for giving loving, understanding sympathy. Maybe now those same friends, so understanding with me, can also help to break the silence around this heartbreaking choice by sharing my story and/or the sources above with other friends they know in this agonizing situation.
Dear Pamela, I grieve for you and David and Peasy but what a loving end to his brief but so happy time with you. You gave him the best possible life both in Michigan and out west, something he obviously had never experienced or he wouldn't have had that trauma and the need to react to strangers as he did. Clearly before you he had not met with patience, gentleness, consistent reliable behavior, and above all deep love. He was very fortunate.
Pamela, my dear, dear friend, I've commented privately on this sad situation, but I wanted to mention one more thing. When you met Peasy, he was filthy, matted, terrified, unapproachable and so scary he was assumed to be a female. No one found out otherwise until you took "her" to be spayed and, searching "her" belly for stitches to keep an eye on, discovered his male parts. So, no, his life portended nothing good until you came along. You worked wonders with him, and he rewarded you and David by returning the love you gave him, and then some. The articles you linked to are excellent, and make clear that sometimes euthanasia is the kindest option for all. Peasy's rainbow: what a comfort!
Oh, Pamela, I'm so sad for you and sorry for the loss of your beautiful boy. I ached as I read through your post on what you've been through with Peasy the last year. All the good and joy you gave each other. How hard you tried to help him through his troubles. And that last impossibly difficult decision you made out of necessity. May he rest peacefully now that the cobra is dead. Karen
Dear Pamela, you are such a loving and amazingly wise woman! Sending you hopes for comfort and peace in these difficult days, with your artist to comfort each other. Love & caring, Peg Ramsdell
I am sorry for your loss and glad for the love you shared. I, too, walk this path. There are some things that no amount of training, medication and love can fix.
Dear, Dearest Pamela, Your Little Pea is gone, but what you gave him outshines any part of his short life! His love for you and David was pure and sweet, and you both did your absolute best in giving him a real, normal life. David is right in saying that he had the best year of his life. Your final decision is tragically the correct one. People criticizing you are harsh and they misunderstand the dog vs. owner dynamic, I believe. How sad for you both, but it was the right thing to do. Your last message to us all is a wonderful and inspiring one, it is open-hearted love, and really supportive towards others who might be in a similar situation. My regrets and sorrows to you, dear friend.
I want to say first, right up front, that I have not yet received criticism for this decision. I expected and dreaded it, but so far everyone has been very understanding and sympathetic. Judy, I’m so sorry you are on the same sorrowful path and hope your friends are as tender with you as mine are with me!
Something else I thought of today was the history David and I have with our dogs since 1993:
Nikki was very people-shy and goosey, and she never became what you would call confident or outgoing, but she learned to play and enjoy life, though she had been adopted and returned to the shelter twice before I adopted her! We traveled with her from the Florida Everglades to Wawa, Ontario, and she was a great little traveler. I worked with her from the start to come when called, to lie down on command, etc., and she was a good learner. One of my brothers-in-law, who had never had a dog in his life, was awestruck when he told Nikki to sit and she did! It was that moment that opened his eyes to the possibility of responding positively to my sister’s wishes to have a dog.
Then there was Sarah, the “practically perfect puppy.” We found her at the Cherryland Humane Society when she was eight months old, already housebroken and already trained in basic commands. Sarah loved everyone! The biggest challenge was teaching her not to jump up on people in her enthusiasm. (Also teaching my friends to help me with that bit of training and not to say, “Oh, it’s all right,” because it wasn’t!) She was so smart I even added a couple of “tricks” to her repertoire and would have her perform for children who came to the bookstore and were more interested in dogs than books. My son said, “She’s the best-trained dog you’ve ever had.” A good friend asked if I thought it was Sarah’s nature or my training that made her such a great dog. “I think she was born great,” I told him, but we were also very consistent with her training so that she would be not just beautiful and friendly but also well behaved. Like Nikki before her, she was my constant companion.
Little Pea knew NOTHING when we brought him home! Getting him to sit on command, butt on the floor, took an entire week. Getting him to sit and wait and not rush his food dish like a desperate starvling took another week or two. But he learned. He walked sweetly on a leash — as long as no stranger approached us! He learned to lie down, wait, stay. In time, he took bites of food from our hands very gently. He never once got into the garbage, although it would have been easy-peasy as pie for him to tip it over and out. He never counter-surfed. Because I introduced the nail clippers slowly and gradually, he was even terrific about letting me clip his toenails (which Sarah had never been!). When we had had enough of pack time on the bed in the evening and told him to get down, he always did. No arguments.
He was not a vicious dog. The last upsetting incident with us was back in Michigan, and since then we had felt he was getting “better and better every day.” We hadn’t seen his mean face for weeks. The friend he bit was someone he knew, and he didn’t fear or hate her. As we reconstruct the situation, he felt we were being threatened and that he needed to protect us.
What I’m saying is that I do not feel as if we failed by not training our dog. He did not live outdoors on a chain, nor did he run wild. He was a member of our family.
The scary behavior would always come in a flash and disappear in a flash. Often he would have a kind of dazed, confused expression afterward. When ordered to lie down on his bed, he did it right away without argument. We never “blamed” him. Whatever the source of his impulse, he couldn’t help having it. It was a horrible paradox that the better he was with us, the more he seemed to feel the need to protect us from the rest of the world. I wouldn’t call it jealousy on his part. He would have laid down his life for us. In a way — that’s just what he did.
We are going to miss him for a long, long time.
Pamela and Artist...
All our lives have meaning - all are too short for comfort.
Slipping out of this world, to whatever void or adventure lies ahead,
We pause and remember the joy, the learnings, the hope for every future.
Peasy knows your love of him, to him, for him.
The greatest love remains attached. Peasy has it.
Thank you, Alexis, for such beautiful thoughts!
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