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The aftermath

July 27, 2015

It’s been a week.

I am reeling from all the support I am getting from strangers far and wide. I wish I could respond to each and every one of you, and I hope that those whom shared their own stories can feel my big, virtual hug.

I didn’t write my story to share it, I wrote it for myself. Catharsis. And it was cathartic. But then I got to thinking, despite the sensitive topic, perhaps there are others who have gone through the struggle, who are going through the struggle, who may have to go through the struggle. I had no idea so many people put their dogs down for reasons similar to mine. And some people were forced after a final harrowing incident. People have been sued. People spent thousands of dollars digging themselves out from the aftermath of their dog’s actions. Dogs have been taken away by animal control and euthanized by the authorities (my biggest fear).

I was playing Russian Roulette. But with a big red dog.

I am also reeling from some of the cruel and hurtful comments. I know I opened myself up by posting my story on a public forum. I was actually a bit wary as I clicked the ‘publish’ button on the WordPress site. I voluntarily made myself vulnerable to the rude, cruel, condescending, judgmental, holier-than-thou people that I know are lurking about. But still, my open wounds started to bleed.

To the people who asked why I didn’t just buy a house with a big yard: What a nice idea. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. Buying a house with a nice big yard for Sutter would cost at least a million and a half dollars. Even if I could afford that, in a practical sense, a nice big yard is not all that a dog needs. When I was married, I had a nice big yard. Sutter never went out there unless he had to go potty. He would rather hang out on the couch inside.

To those that asked why I waited so long to put him down: The situation was not as cut and dried as it seemed. Sutter did make contact with multiple people and dogs, but the incidents were always spaced apart by months or even years. After each incident, I tried new remedies like a muzzle, medication, a new trainer, better management.  I admit I was in denial, and I admit that I let my guard down. He seemed to be calming down and getting much better. During the last incident with the old lady, Sutter was seemingly ignoring her altogether. He was sniffing something off the path, and she was walking by on the other side. Sutter lunged and jumped after her as she had already walked by. He was lightening fast and there was zero warning. I regret that this happened with all my heart. And I am so lucky that the lady was okay even though she fell on her face. That was the wake up call. The thought of Sutter being taken away by animal control, and the recollection of all the past incidents, and the recommendations of several trainers, behaviorists, the vet, my attorney, family and friends, led me to the conclusion that enough was enough. I had already moved once, and I recently bought my condo. I loved Sutter with all my heart, but the realization that someone could be hurt very badly, I could be sued, I could lose everything, was a dark cloud hanging over my head.

Why was he allowed so close to people? Why did we let him come into contact with anyone on the walks? As someone stated, it is impossible to control the world. Do you realize how many off-leash dogs are around all the time? And how many toddlers run around wild, not listening to their parents’ calls to come back?

To the people who said we should just keep him inside at all times: Sutter loved his walks. He would stand at the door, wag his tail and smile, waiting for his walks. I walked him. A lot. At 8 years old he did not need as much stimulation and exercise as he did as a young dog. But I walked him a lot to keep his energy down. I got up at 5am every morning and took him out for 45 minutes, rain or shine. Then after work, I took him for 3-5 miles. Every day. Sutter would no longer thrive had he been on house arrest. And he still needed the exercise.

What about a muzzle? For a dog like Sutter, quality life would surely suffer. He was a highly sensitive dog, and a muzzle bothered him to the point of catatonia.

And yes, I know that cattle dogs are not for everyone. And yes, I know that cattle dogs need free space to run and play. They are working dogs and need to be kept busy. Sutter was abandoned in a box mere days old. I had no idea what his breed was when I adopted him. He had a short nose and floppy ears. At about 4 or 5 months old, his ears popped up and his nose got long. Even if I knew he was a cattle dog, I could not predict that I would get divorced and be forced to move out of my home. Things happen to people. And I did everything I could to keep him with me, even when he bit the apartment manager and got evicted.

What about medication? Sutter had blood work done and medical exams and there was nothing ‘wrong’ that the vet could detect. We tried anti-anxiety medication which did absolutely nothing. We tried sedatives which did nothing until the dose got high enough for him to be a zombie. Neither were good solutions.

What about finding a home with lots of land or a no-kill shelter? I wonder if any of the people saying I should have just found a new home would have taken on a 60 lbs, high energy, unpredictable dog who lunges and bites dogs and kids and people without warning. And as for ‘no-kill’ shelters…very few of those really exist. Even ‘no-kill’ shelters kill. They kill when a dog is sick or aggressive, to make room for others. A sensitive dog like Sutter, scared of loud noises, not happy around other dogs and strangers – what would his life be like locked in a cage like that? I honestly don’t think just being alive is enough. Doesn’t one also have to experience joy?

I was accused of not spending enough time with him. I was told that he needed to be with me 100% of the day, every day. How dare I leave him at home when I work. I was berated and told that I was the cause of his anxiety and violence. People hoped that I didn’t have children, and said I should be sterilized. I need a “kick up the backside”. I saw comments like ‘every dog can be trained’, ‘you didn’t try hard enough’ and that I have just given permission to the world to kill healthy dogs. Someone told me that they hope I see his face every day and suffer. I lied to my dog, gave him a great day, then killed him. I am a piece of shit. I am an asshole. I am useless and worthless. I will go to hell. The dogsnobs blog dedicated a whole blog post to me, my bad decision, the mismanagement of my dog, and what an idiot I am. Selfish, evil bitch. I should go fuck myself.  And my favorite, from dear Star Mitchell: I should go kill myself.

So yes, I am grateful for all the support, but I am a human being with feelings and the desire for people to respect and be kind to me. Of course, with the events of last Monday, I am grieving, regretting, questioning, wishing I could go back in time. So for now, I am going to lick my wounds, and take a walk to the coast, where my Sutter Puppy and I walked every day.

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I Put My Dog Down Yesterday

July 21, 2015

Sutter.Sunset

I put my dog down yesterday. He was not sick. He was not old. I rescued him over 8 years ago when he was only 2 months old. And I put him down to rescue him again.

Sutter would have been one of the 4 million dogs euthanized in a US shelter that year. But instead, he and his litter mates were rescued by Pound Puppy Rescue, a local puppy rescue. Just days old when he was brought into his foster home, Sutter and his litter mates were bottle fed until they could eat on their own.

Sutter was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. Deep red coat and amber eyes. Naturally athletic. We were unsure of his breed but a DNA test told us cattle dog and boxer. His herding and hunting instincts were interminable. And from the very moment I got him, something was ‘off’.

I socialized him at home with friends and other dogs until he was fully vaccinated. Then I took him to the dog park 5 times a week, the beach, work, dog friendly restaurants, puppy school, agility training, nose work class. Despite all these efforts, Sutter was hyper vigilant. Never relaxed. Always on edge. He put a dog at the dog park in the hospital. He bit a child riding by on her tricycle. He bit people in our house, the cleaning lady, the gardener and a fireman. He chased the postman down the driveway baring his teeth. Amazingly none of these instances were reported, but Sutter’s freedoms were restricted. I rescued Sutter and it was my job to keep him safe. Inside our home with our family, Sutter was a dream. He never chewed anything. He wasn’t needy. He was affectionate. And quiet.

After my divorce I moved into an apartment, and hired a dog walker. I gave her very explicit instructions. About two weeks into her job, she called me to tell me that Sutter bit the apartment manager. Two days later, Sutter bit a dog. Sutter had three days to find a new home. I managed to find him a place to stay until I could move. I was not giving up on my dog.

Sutter was a management issue. Walking him became more and more stressful. Crossing the street when people came towards us. Pulling him away from children who wanted to pet him. As I became more vigilant, Sutter fed off the energy and got worse. Walking him was no longer fun, it was a chore with the thought, “What’s going to happen next” constantly going through my head.

I tried everything: trainers with an iron fist, muzzles, and thunder shirts, medication. Nothing helped. He growled at everyone that gave him a sideways glance. He lunged without warning. He air snapped. But all the while at home, he was a great companion, goofy happy and chill.

Last week, our elderly neighbor was walking by, and as her back was turned, Sutter lunged, knocked her to the ground and bit her. No warning. What would a dog who has been loved his whole life, have to fear? What is going through his head that makes him so insecure and defensive that he would do this? Again, luck was on my side and our 84 year old neighbor made it through unhurt.

I talked to experts and trainers, veterinarians and shelter staff. Sutter had no chance to be rehomed; it would just transfer the liability from my home to another. I could limit his freedoms even more. Only walking him in the dead of night. I could put a muzzle on him at all times. But then the question of quality of life comes up. Quality of life for him. Quality of life for me.

All this time, for the last 4 years or so, the thought of euthanasia has loomed in the background. And to be brutally honest, a bit of relief would seep through the heartbreak when I thought of it. Relief at not wondering when the next time would be. Relief at not worrying about getting a call from the police or animal control. Relief at not being at risk of a lawsuit. Relief at avoiding the distinct possibility that Sutter could badly hurt someone. Of all the people I spoke with, only one told me not to consider putting him down. Because I would never forgive myself; because I would feel guilty for the rest of my life. That, to me, is a selfish reason not to do it. How would I feel if Sutter put a child in the hospital or killed a dog? The guilt would be unbearable. The guilt that I didn’t do something sooner.

So yesterday, I spent the day with my boy Sutter. I made him a scrambled egg for breakfast and he had the last bite of banana. We took a long walk along the coast, and I let him sniff every blade of grass, and eat whatever tasty morsel I would usually pull him away from. I let him look for mice in the scrub. We watched hawks hunt for their breakfast and stared at the ocean. He rolled in the wet grass and jumped up smiling at me.

Then, we took him to the vet. We went into the quiet room and spent some time with him. The tech came and gave him a shot that made him sleepy. Even then he was strong, he refused to go to sleep and jumped up several times, walking like a drunk. We finally convinced him to lie down on the blanket. We pet him and kissed him and gave him treats and hugged him and told him we love him so much. The vet came in and injected him with some bright blue medicine, and his breathing and heart slowed down. His eyes remained open and we talked to him gently, telling him to go to sleep. Then he was gone.

My pain was excruciating, and it still is. And maybe my friend is right. I may never forgive myself for playing God and deciding Sutter’s time was up. And the rescue volunteer in me is calling myself a hypocrite of the worst kind. How can I save a dog, only to euthanize him when he was still so vibrant and healthy?

I will likely struggle with these thoughts for many years to come. And I will always miss Sutter, the little puppy that I rescued. But in the end I know I saved him from himself.

Christmas Puppies

December 10, 2013

Sutter

With the holidays approaching, we are receiving many applications for ‘Christmas Puppies’. The holiday vacation can be a great time to adopt a puppy, because people are off work and school, etc. But it is also very common to be impulsive – a ‘Christmas Present’ for the family. A puppy is a lifelong commitment. It is so important to note that puppies grow up, and without doing everything ‘right’ from the start, it is possible that the adult dog will be hard to manage. Dogs needs lots of attention, exercise, love, and can cost a lot of money too. Everyone needs to be on board. This is why we do not allow ‘surprise’ puppies over the holidays.

When bringing a dog into the family, consider it a commitment of up to 15 years. Think about everything that can happen in the next 15 years, and how your dog will fit into your plans. And also remember that a puppy can grow into a challenging dog, despite everything you may try to do to ensure he will be well adjusted, social and easy. Just like people, sometimes they are ‘wired’ differently. Please research the breed and don’t adopt a puppy based upon aesthetics alone. Some breeds will not be a good fit for your lifestyle.

This is a photo of my Sutter, the day I brought him home from PPR. He was the picture of puppy cuteness. I did everything ‘right’, starting with safe socialization, and after he was vaccinated he went to the beach, dog park, etc. at least 5 times a week. He came to work with me where he could hang out with Stanford students all day. He went to puppy/dog classes including puppy socials, obedience, ‘tricks and games’, ‘nose work’ and agility. Despite all this, he has given me more grief than I bargained for. Like many herding dogs, he is too smart for his own good, very athletic and high energy. He is also a squirrel/bird hunter, which makes walks difficult, and he is scared of new people including little kids. He is also intolerant of most dogs. He needs to be constantly managed on walks, and I cannot bring him anywhere else. It is socially inhibiting and quite frankly a big pain in the ass.

Seven years have passed, and despite all this – Sutter is my kid. I love him unconditionally and I handle his quirks and idiosyncrasies. He brings love, joy and laughter into my life every day. I will never throw in the towel. I took the commitment very seriously and I will be his protector, guardian and caretaker as long as he lives. It isn’t easy, but I know if I give up on him, there would be very few (if any) people that would take him on. I didn’t know it would be like this when I rescued him, but it is. Adopting a puppy is wonderful, but it can also bring challenge and adversity too. You need to take the good with the bad. It’s totally worth it.

Dear Chosen New Families – A letter by Laura (PPR Foster)

November 7, 2013
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This is a beautiful letter that our foster, Laura, wrote to the families that were adopting the puppies she bottle fed and nursed back to health from a horrible case of pneumonia. This was Laura’s first time fostering. We rescued a new mamma (Mary Jane) with 8 newborn puppies. Things seemed to go well for a few days, then Mary Jane got very sick, and the puppies started getting sick as well. We had to separate the puppies from Mary Jane, and Laura stepped up to bottle feed four of them.

She did an amazing job. It was a rough road with a (relatively) happy ending. I wanted to share this so you could get a taste of what fostering is like. It is not just about playing with puppies all day. There are good days and bad, anxiety, fear, jubilation, excitement, and emotional crashes. Sometimes all in one day. Thank you, Laura. You are a true inspiration. The letter:

Dear Chosen New Families,

Where do I start? So many feelings and worries and concerns to wade through to tell you just what I want/need you to know! I didn’t know, really, what I was getting into at the start. I felt like it was time for me to step up and help a little more so when I said I’d help bottle feed puppies, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. How hard could it be? It would be adorable!

Well, first of all, I expected one or two puppies. Who on earth would put a novice in charge of any more puppies? So when Mindy called and suggested we each take 4 puppies, I said, “Sure!” Her confidence told me I would do just fine. (REALLY?)

It was beautiful. 4 little tiny guinea pig-looking-beings curled up in a pile expecting nothing of me other than to keep them alive. The mother might get better, right? So it might be a couple nights, maybe. Wait, mom was on major antibiotics. Antibiotics take a week and a half. How long can she keep her milk? It dawned on me my expectations were not realistic. No problem. I already have the puppies. No way I’m giving them back. It’s on me now.

So, with the list of things I needed at hand, the puppies keeping warm in towels in a laundry basket, I took on the task. Bottle-feeding was required every 3-4 hours (I learned you can’t let them go too long or their blood sugar could drop and THEY COULD DIE!) so I became a mother of quadruplets and woke myself up twice a night for weeks. Feeding and grooming (potty time) took about an hour and a half each feeding. Yawn! I kept the mantra, “it’s not forever,” which can get anyone through any amount of sleep deprivation when you have furry little faces that remind you of how lucky you are to be in that spot.

My dog, Dasher, a previous Pound Puppy dog, gave me some warnings that things weren’t right. Normally a very social dog, who hardly leaves my side or leaves visitors without a bath of kisses, Dasher took one smell of them the first night and refused to stay in the same room with them. This lasted a week and a half until we realized they were really sick. I never would have imagined that taking on this huge challenge would actually result in a loss. After worrying and giving extra care to Sneakers, the second visit to the vet showed severe pneumonia and, with great grief, my oldest son and I watched as he was put to sleep. We brought him home to be buried near our pond and I cry even now, so many weeks later. Though our time was so short together, we were heartbroken with his loss. I was left to balance the determination that I was going to keep these puppies alive with the possibility I would have to bury all of mine in the backyard. It was terrifying.

Soon we had more to worry about when Mindy lost one of hers, and then others became really sick. Flip stopped eating, and Slipper had a runny nose. After hearing many worrisome possible diagnoses, we made the decision to medicate all of them. It took three levels of antibiotics before we saw improvement. The third one kicked in almost immediately. It was remarkable!! Things were looking up and with an enormous sense of relief, we were able to sit back and enjoy the tremendous, miraculous growth these puppies were going through. It was only a day and a half after starting meds when Dasher began to join us.

When I picked them up that first night, their eyes were shut tight and people couldn’t even recognize them as DOGS. Now they started to show their puppy shapes, wag their tiny tails, and began to show spurts of energy in lopsided runs through the room. Wow.

So, somewhere between the vet visits and the healthy comebacks, I decided that while giving up these puppies would be difficult emotionally, I was just so ecstatic I might be able to keep them alive and get them healthy enough for adoption. I knew it would be ok. It was such a wonderful thing to help get puppies from a horrible shelter and finally off to a loving, permanent home! I’m grateful for the experience, to put it simply.

But, now they’re showing real personality. They recognize me and jump in my lap and show sheer excitement when I come into view. I see them peek their heads to find where I am and I can tell they are listening for my voice. Their departure will leave my house a lot less full, and a lot more empty. For 8 weeks all I’ve pretty much thought about is PUPPIES. In one hour period, I will hand them over to people I’ve met once.

What amazing people you must be for me to be able to do this!! It is ONLY with the knowledge that these sweet puppies will be as loved by you as they are by me that I can give them up. (Ok, and the fact that I can’t train 3 puppies at one time to keep my furniture and garden in tact, as well as not have my husband super mad. Did I mention he was in Japan when I brought the puppies home? :D ) It is only the sound of your voices and the words you write and the excitement you’ve shown that enables me to be truly happy for this transition.

Thank you for taking over where I need to end. Enjoy your new puppy. They have been loved and they are stocked full of love for you.

Sincerely,

Laura

PS. I would be grateful for pictures from time to time! Feel free to stop in for a visit, sooner or later, too. We would love that.

Sarge.

July 13, 2013

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This is Sarge. See the sparkle in his eye and the big smile? He looks like a happy, friendly, goofball. Probably someone’s well loved pet. Right?

Think again. “Sarge” is the name that a network of rescue volunteers gave him, because he did not have a name. He is not someone’s well loved pet. His history is completely unknown, but he had the bad luck of landing in the Orange Cove Animal Shelter.

The term “shelter” should be eradicated. “Shelter” connotes a place to go for refuge and respite. This is not the reality for most shelters in the country. Orange Cove does not provide shelter. They are in the middle of nowhere, with only 6 ‘kennels’ for the dogs to stay. There is no foot traffic, so the likelihood of an adoption is slim to none. With only 6 kennels, they fill up frequently, and have to put dogs down to make room. The ‘kennels’ are concrete rooms, without any ventilation, and without a single window. The temperatures in Orange Cove reach up to 110 degrees during the summer months. Inside those kennels are ovens.

This picture of Sarge was taken by a volunteer that takes him out when she can, for long walks in the fresh air. Sarge is wonderful with all dogs he meets, and all people too, including children. He has a happy grin, and a waggy tail. He loves human companionship; he leans into you for a hug whenever he can. How did such a beautiful, loving dog end up at Orange Cove? If only he could speak. We will never know.

Sarge did not have a name, or a kennel ID number. No paperwork. No one that worked at the shelter could tell us when he was brought in, how he was found, or anything else about him. He received no medical care, and probably no affection from the small staff that works there. The last time the volunteer dropped him off in his kennel, Sarge jumped up on her and hugged her with all four legs, literally begging her not leave. Sadly, there was no other option, and she had to put him back.

The last few weeks, the rescue community has been scrambling to save Sarge. His picture was all over Facebook on the various rescue pages, and that face motivated countless rescuers to forward and share and network. I saw Sarge on Facebook myself, and his story haunted me. Even though PPR is focused on pregnant dogs and puppies under 3 months old, I could not forget that face. I decided to get involved and e-mailed another rescue. They asked some questions and I put them in touch with the woman that was walking Sarge. It took a couple of days, but the rescue found a foster in San Jose. We then started to coordinate transport. The shelter was alerted to hold Sarge so that we could get him out, and transport to the bay area was all set.

The rescue community was elated. Sarge was saved!

The story does not end there. When it was time to pick up Sarge, he was not at the shelter. The volunteer had the staff member open up Sarge’s kennel, but there was a different dog inside. When asked about the beautiful white and red dog, the staff person said he had never seen or heard of him. There was no record to put Sarge on hold, and no one knew where he could be. There was no paperwork, no paper trail, nothing. Right now we are saying he ‘went missing’, but there is no possibility of him escaping. We have to assume he either died of heat stroke, or was euthanized. Although Sarge was technically saved, he was saved too late. He never got to know the people that loved him so much, people he had never met, people that worked hours to try to help him. He died in that place, alone.

Every day people tell me I have the best job ever, playing with puppies, and posting cute pictures on Facebook. This is not my job. I am a volunteer. And this volunteer job is hard. I see the evil that humankind is capable of every day. Sometimes there is no violence, but neglect and apathy can be just as destructive. This is what rescue is really like. It’s rewarding in many ways. But it’s hard, frustrating, and heart breaking most of the time.