we used to have a dog

used to. past tense.

i’ve hesitated to share this story, because i know how stories about dogs and the decision to no longer have dogs can get people riled up.  i worry about judgment, but i have to share this story because it’s part of my story.

i’ve written about rudy before.  last month, about a week before christmas, we had to put rudy to sleep.  rudy had severe issues with dog-aggression and, more recently, food-aggression.  more than one dog-loving friend had repeatedly commented that if dogs could be diagnosed with mental illness, rudy would meet the criteria for schizophrenia for sure.  for more than six years we worked with her, trained her, and made accommodations for her to keep her safe, keep us safe, and keep others safe.  she was anxious and unpredictable no matter what we did.  it was exhausting and stressful to live with her, but we did it anyway because she was part of our family.

but the problem became so bad that for the past few years she wasn’t really part of the family.  we had to separate her from the kiddos whenever food was around.  for those of you with kids you know that this is pretty much all the time, with the snacks and the juice and the crumbs and whatnot.  we also separated her from other dogs, which meant no park visits during peak hours, no doggy daycare, no playtime with dogs in the neighborhood.  dogs are social creatures but her behavior demanded that her social interaction be severely limited.  it sucked for her and it sucked for us.  it was really no way for a dog to live.

months ago, before baby boy was born, we had rudy evaluated by a behaviorist to see if she would be considered adoptable, even though we had already been told by the rescue organizations and no-kill shelters that she didn’t meet their criteria, given her history of aggression.  she failed.  big time.  she lunged, snarling and snapping, at the evaluator who tried to remove the bowl of food during the test.  we were given two choices: take her home with us and deal with her, or have her euthanized.  we brought her home.  and then we had a baby.  adjustment to life with a newborn is stressful enough by itself, but even more stressful when dealing with a psychotic dog.  but, surprisingly enough, rudy was awesome with the baby.  she tolerated his probing fingers in her ears and mouth and on her tail.  she allowed him to climb on her.  she rolled over to expose her belly to be caressed by his drool-covered fingers.  i stated time and time again that rudy’s saving grace was that she was good with kids.

until she wasn’t.

a bit of history:  she had (possibly?) snapped at our daughter (or maybe at me?) once before when avery was ten months old or so.  avery had a piece of paper in her mouth and when i went to remove it rudy growled and made a slight lunge in our direction.  it was unprecedented, the dog showing aggression toward the baby or toward me, so i didn’t know what to make of it. was it really aggression?  maybe she was protecting the baby?  maybe she thought the paper was food?  who knows.  either way, we definitely stepped up our vigilance at that point.  that was in 2008.

and then last month…rudy’s saving grace?  gone.  the food aggression with the kiddos became an issue, and it wasn’t just food, it was the baby boy’s spit-up.  she decided that his regurgitated milk, his vomit, was her food.  it wasn’t simply an issue of separating her from the kids at mealtime; she became aggressive over his pool of milk that he spit up hours after his bottle.  he spit, she lunged for it, he put his hand on her head, she bared her teeth and growled.  i jumped up and grabbed her to move her away from the baby and she growled and snapped at me.

grace.  gone.  game over.

i took her in that afternoon and had her put to sleep.  it was sad and i cried, but when it came down to my children’s safety or my dog’s life it wasn’t even a question.  i know there are dog lovers out there who probably think i am evil or heartless, but my baby’s beautiful face is precious and i could no longer risk having my unpredictable dog in the same space as my kids.  i struggled for years with rudy’s behavior but she crossed a line and there was no other alternative.

i dream about her almost every night but during my waking hours i feel relieved.  the stress of managing her unpredictable behavior has been lifted.  it was not a decision we made thoughtlessly; we exhausted all other options but in the end the choice was made for us, really.

so that’s the end of rudy’s story, i guess.  she was sweet and loving and wanted to please, but there was just something crazy in her head that she couldn’t help and we couldn’t fix.

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5 Comments to “we used to have a dog”

  1. That was very beautifully written (like all your posts). Thank you for being brave enough to share that story and I think you made a very intelligent and wise decision. As heartbreaking as I’m sure it was, you most certainly did the right thing, and I commend you for it. I’m sorry it had to end the way it did, but I’m glad that it wasn’t worse. I’m sending lots of good thoughts your way.

  2. Hugs. No judgement, only sympathy. I am glad to hear you no longer worry about this day to day.

  3. No judgement. You did what was best for your family and put a lot of heart into it for them and Rudy. Sometimes things can’t be changed. Hopefully Rudy is free of that mind now and can move on to another life with a little more peace.

  4. Big hugs from me. I’ve had a psychotic dog and a psychotic cat, and they were exhausting. You did absolutely everything you could. I’m sorry it didn’t have a better ending, but you’re absolutely right that the kids come first. Always and forever. Hope Rudy is in a happier less psychotic place.

  5. Completely understand your decision…definitely a difficult one. You have to do what’s best for your babies end of story.

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