I love my animals. I love all animals. Hell, if a tarantula needed rescuing, I’d be there with a screeching voice, a terrarium box, and a book called, Learning to Love Your Spider: Lessons in Accepting the Disgusting. But, loving animals means that sometimes you have to love them enough to do what’s right for them, even if it’s not right for you, a lesson that I’ve learned the hard way, in recent months.
Everyone knows our family loves our dog. She was a replacement for Eddie, a dog that cannot, and could not, be matched, but she persisted in her efforts, and wormed her way into a place in our hearts, nonetheless. She’s, no doubt, doofus that has become, like all dogs do, a member of our family. She’s laid by my side when I’ve felt sick, annoyed the crap out of me, stolen whole sandwiches from the table, sniffed guests’ crotches, snuggled my boy when he cried, and let me stroke her velvety-soft ears for hours; in short, she’s a dog.
When we moved from Virginia, where we got her, to California, we noticed a subtle change in her, slow at first, but gradually getting worse and worse. Over the most recent 12-18 months, she’s become so miserable that it’s like watching a depressed version of Eeyore, who she’s always looked like anyway,
combined with piglet, for anxiety.
Yeah, yeah, this trivializes mental illness, per this article; but, it also makes definitions accessible to people who refuse to acknowledge that mental illness is a thing. It is. If you believe it isn’t, you’re ridiculous, and stupid. There’s no nice way to say that. In fact, over 95% of the world’s population is thought to suffer from some kind of mental health problem. 95 fucking percent. So, you don’t ever get to say that it’s not you. It is you. It’s everyone. Everyone. Being fucked up is normal. Which begs the question: isn’t it abnormal, then, to be “normal?” So, then why are we calling it a “problem?”
Anyway, from the minute we got to our new house, she seemed unhappy here. We chalked it up to needing an adjustment period. She was miserable in our new yard, which sucks compared to the yard she had in Virginia, where she spent her mornings, even when it was sweltering, basking in the grass. Here, because we live on a corner lot, with a lot of foot-traffic, both pedestrian and dog, she can’t do that without scaring children with her beastly bark. Oh, and the time that she snapped her “unbreakable” lead in half, to tear across the street, knocking a small child to the ground to attack his fluff of fur that he was walking, that wasn’t great either. I think it was a dog, but it’s hard to say, it looked more like the end of a cotton swab that you clean your ears with.
We also have large front widows, side windows and slantways windows. Not really, but it sounds like we live in the Willy Wonka House when I say it that way. But, when you have windows on all sides of a corner house, it’s freak-out central for an anxious dog. She runs from window to window, alerting us of all things that might be a danger to us, including pine cones that blew across the yard, to every passing vehicle, to children walking to school. It’s all important information. And, she’s not barking in a “Look! Look!” bark; she’s barking in a, “OMG! We’re all going to die!” bark. It’s so sad to hear. She’s so scared.
When we picked our corner house of death, at least according to Daphne, we didn’t realize we were dooming her to misery. She was so chill and calm in Virginia. She’d passed all her puppy classes, was well-trained, and I used to brag how she was so easy to handle on a leash that I could walk her just fine on my own. Now, her anxiety and dog aggression is so bad that she’s either miserably moping and sleeping all day, or alternatively, attacking not just small dogs, but all dogs that she sees. I can’t walk her alone anymore, because I cannot, absolutely cannot control her anymore. She’s dragged me to the ground, pulled me, caused rope burns on my hands from the leash being yanked through so quickly. It’s terrible for both of us, not to mention the children and dogs she’s gone after.
Last week was the final straw, really. She started our walk by putting her hackles up at children, jumping on their trampoline, in their yard. She walks with her hackles up, most of the time, when it’s just her and I, really. But, at children? It scares me. What if she starts going after kids who aren’t walking dogs? Moments later, she attacked a little girl and her Labrador. I couldn’t stop it. I tried all the tactics we’d been working on that we got from a trainer. None of them worked. They work when Bryon does them, but not when I do them. Considering that I’m the one who trained the dog in the first place, took her to her puppy classes, and did all the work, I don’t understand why this is, but go figure. Ungrateful little girl. Honestly. Kids, I tell you.
I’m starting to get genuinely worried that she’s going to hurt a child, another dog, or something worse. I’m even starting to get worried that she’s going to hurt one of our animals, animals she’s formerly been fine with. The trainer we spoke with told me that because she hasn’t hurt anyone, especially another dog, that she’s not genuinely dog-aggressive. She explained that Daphne is capable of killing another animal in one bite, or one swipe of her paw, and that because she’s jumping on these dogs and isn’t biting down hard, or swiping in a way that kills them, she’s merely showing them that she’s making a first move, showing them that she’s the boss, essentially that she’s afraid. This is a good thing because it means she’s trainable, especially in a better environment.
Alas, the better environment. Bryon and I have been talking about giving her a better home, one where she isn’t so stressed, for a while; but, we’ve not been able to pull the trigger, because we love her. We’ve been dancing around the idea for months. And, it finally dawned on us, that the reason we can’t pull the trigger is because we are being selfish; we don’t want to lose her. We’re not talking about re-homing her because we can’t handle her, or because we don’t want her, or any of those terrible reasons that people re-home a dog. We’re talking about re-homing her because we want her to be happy. We are talking about re-homing her because we want her to have a better yard, a calmer environment, and all the things we can’t provide for her. And, we don’t want her to have to go through another move, which she didn’t handle well. We’re not thinking of us at all, we’re thinking of her. The only reason we haven’t helped her yet, is because we’re thinking of us. Listening to her grind her teeth all day, and often at night, is terrible. She’s so miserable. It’s time.
So, we started looking. A rescue organization I talked to told me that how she looks indicates that she’s impeccably cared for and that she’d have a line out the door for her; she’d be adopted in less than a day. Her coat is shiny, she’s a good weight, she doesn’t have any grey in her muzzle for a dog her age, which means she’s fed and cared for well. But, Bryon knows someone who’s been wanting a Great Dane for years, so they are our first choice. They have a quiet home and someone who works from home. They‘ve got a fenced-in yard, and a quiet neighborhood. This is a perfect match for her, and they’d let us visit her. In fact, they encourage it. It's like an "open adoption!" Because we know them, we’d get to know her for the rest of her life, which is ideal for us. This decision is terrible, and we hate it, at least we can do it in a way that is less terrible, right?
So, we had a meet and greet, yesterday with the prospective adoptees, and it went great. They love her. Next weekend, they are coming to pick her up and take her for a two-week trial run. If all goes well, they’ll likely adopt her. Daphne loved them too. She, obviously, has no idea what’s happening, but I already feel good about these people. She was so happy when they were here. She lit up. She’s so depressed during the day. She has, essentially, only ever bonded with Bryon, and no amount of attention that I give her, when we’re home alone, is enough for her, so she is like a sofa-cushion, when we’re alone. I’m lucky to get a half-hearted tail wag from her, from a thirty-minute scratching session, and a pound of sausage. But, the minute Bryon walks in the door, it’s like someone flips the “Daphne-On” switch, and she perks up. She was, fully, “Daphne-On” for these people. I’m really hoping that in the absence of Bryon, she can re-set and be happy.
And you know what? We have cared for her well. While they were here, we were explaining her health to them, and her care, her previous vet visits, her diet, and answering all of their questions, and it really dawned on me, she’s not been some neglected, uncared for animal, that we’re dumping off on someone else. She’s got a binder full of her vet records, her AKC paperwork, her insurance, a bucketful of toys and grooming tools, a list of procedures we’ve had done. She’s been loved and treated well. I was feeling so terrible about considering this, but while I was talking, it finally clicked: I’m a good dog owner. And a good dog owner does this for a dog that’s miserable.
The misery of losing a pet, when they are still alive, is terrible. It’s not something I’d ever expected having to do. The tears I’ve shed for this are many and plenty. We love her. But, we love her enough to let her go. I know, already, I’ll be judged for this decision. I’ve already seen some judgment just from the few people we’ve told. But, it’s okay. Until you’ve watched something you love be miserable, and had to make the right choice, I won’t worry about what you think. I know many people who’ve given up an animal simply because they just didn’t want it, because they thought it was too hard to take care of, or they wanted a different one. I’ve known people who gave their dogs away because they got pregnant, or were just thinking of getting pregnant. We’re doing this for the opposite reasons; we’re doing it because we love her. We’re not providing a good enough home for her, and she deserves so much more. She’s a beautiful, wonderful dog, and she deserves a comfortable, quiet home, that we cannot provide.
At the very least, know this decision was not made in haste, and know it wasn't made by people who simply stopped loving their dog. Nor, was it made because we don't want her. It was made because we do love her, and we do want her. It sucks.