This story is hard to tell. But, what's the use of writing if you can't tell it as it is. If you are not in the mood for a deep story right now, a long story that is a little sad, please don't read. I also ask that no comments be posted that are “debate provoking" and I thank you for your respect. Finally and importantly I want to add that this story is the exception and certainly not the rule when adopting shelter animals. I respect our no-kill animal shelter greatly and most all animals that leave their premises are happy and healthy and go on to live long lives with their adopted owners. You could say my luck was "bad" but I know in some way my life has been touched and deepened by the following events.
About 6 months ago, we adopted an adolescent mixed-breed dog from the local no-kill shelter. When she showed signs of aggression to the family cat, we returned her. She was quickly adopted again by another family (without a cat) and went on to bite her new owners. I was devastated to hear the news as I knew her chances of being adopted again were slim. They did not euthanize her but rather kept her in a limited confinement at the county shelter. I don't know more than that.
Despite my sadness, a month or so later, we adopted again. This time a much younger puppy, just 2 months. She had been dropped off at the shelter just a few days previous with a few other litter mates. The shelter didn't know much about where the litter had come from. She was teeny tiny and even The Brad agreed getting a dog this young was likely saving us from past-induced behavior issues.
We kept her shelter name: Lulu. She was your everyday puppy: cute, sweet, happy, submissive, chewed on stuff, needed training. I took on the task of training her and she was so smart. A terrier and shepherd or labrador mix was our best guess and she stayed much smaller than we expected. Puppies are a lot of work, and that is that. But it didn't bother me. I wanted to give a shelter doggie a good life- that was my impetus.
As Lulu got to be closer to 4 months old, she started to be less submissive around older dogs that were strangers to her. This was odd to us, as puppies look to older dogs for direction. We didn't think much of it as she was good with our older labs, especially the female who seemed to take Lulu on as her own pup. A little more time went by and out of nowhere one day in Home Depot, Lulu bared her teeth and growled at a little girl who was walking towards her. In the weeks that followed she did the same to several people and children who came over to our home. By that time I knew to leash her on our own property when guests came.
Sometimes she eventually warmed up to the visitors (meaning if they totally ignored her, she would ignore them) and there were a very select few she trusted and was happy to see (all the people who fit that bill had known her when we first brought her home. ) Most people she just did not like. Our friendly neighbor for instance, who wanted to be friends with Lulu again and again got only snarls. I sought a dog behaviorist and worked with Lulu everyday on a lesson plan. I continued to take her out on leashed walks. Sometimes she was “ok” on the walk and there would only be a few growls and lunges. Most times though, I came home almost in tears as she would have aggressed on every passerby. And when I mean "aggressing", I don't mean growling a little bit. I mean flying off the leash, barking and bearing her teeth like a police dog after a villain. People would jump back in horror. Brad started calling her "Killer."
I kept at it. I tried every tactic. I read every training book. I consulted training videos. I talked to experts. Weeks passed. I learned from my study that sometimes aggression can't be trained out of a dog. But Lulu was so sweet with me. She loved me in what seemed to be an abnormally huge way. She didn't mind the kids or Brad (though she certainly wasn't over the moon about them either- like most puppies would and should be.)
Then the other day I nervously took Lulu to the pet store to pick up some things, going with the school of thought that exposure to safe situations was the key to her coming out of her aggression. At this point though, I was nervous and it felt downright wrong to be exposing her in public. She flew off the handle once we were in the store, nearly biting 3 people in close proximity to her. She hid between my legs in shame when I tried to correct her. I left in tears and brought her home. I was never hard on her, I knew that would never work with a dog as painfully sensitive as she was- but I'll be anthropomorphic for a moment and say: she knew full well I was sadly disappointed with her behavior. And she seemed to say in response: "I can't help it."
Within an hour of that incident, she growled at our oldest lab- something she had never done before. And later still, she growled at our 4-year-old. And that was it. That was the line, the final straw. I took her back to the shelter at once. I had spoken to the shelter director the day previously and she was aware of the whole situation. (In fact, we had plans for her to check Lulu out herself later on in the week.) The director also happens to be the town's most respected dog trainer with 30 years of experience. She had seen her share of aggressive dogs and many of them were corrected after doing her program. That said, she could not believe it when she saw Lulu.
Lulu did her thing- all the things I've described before- when the director approached her. Several other shelter employees approached Lulu (in the mellow, no-eye contact way you approach an aggressive dog) and she became more wild and fearful than I had ever seen her. I held tight to her leash and tried to calm her down. She huddled at my legs. The director looked at me dead in the eye and told me: This is bad. She's just a puppy! She shocklingly informed me that she couldn't take Lulu back into the shelter, it would be a liability. It was also clear I couldn't take her back home- at this point she was a liability to me as well.
I asked for my options which were: I could try another behaviorist, but Lulu would then live with me. I could also send her away to be "hard-core" worked with for a period of weeks or months, but, there was no reputable person or company that was recommended in driving distance (also, such training is highly expensive and in extreme cases such as Lulu's, often not a fix.) Beyond all that, I knew damn straight that Lulu trusted no one but me. To leave her in the care of anyone else would have been so very confusing and stressful for her. The director told me what she felt was the “best option." I know you can guess it. I leaned into the director and cried on her shoulder and tears came to her eyes too. This was a person who spent her life giving troubled dogs another chance ...but Lulu just didn't fit the bill.
I left the shelter and took Lulu straight to the best vet in town for a second opinion. We muzzled her and he looked her over and found nothing physically wrong with her. And I already knew that to be true myself. This was a dog who could play in the yard all day long and not tire one single bit. We talked, the vet said what he thought. Just for the hell of it, the he tried to befriend Lulu with me in the room and then without me in the room. No chance in hell. If this were my dog, he said, I would put her down.
Oh. I cried. I cried. I cried. Not only for the dog, but for the world. The deepest cry for all the beings- animal or human who can't rightly be understood on this plane. I cried because I wanted so badly to save an animal. And in the end, I was being told to send her back to her source. And she loved me so much! Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. I wanted to kick the world. And the vet closed the door, leaving me to decide. I called Brad and then one of my best friends (who is a hardcore animal rights advocate) for last bits of advice. And then I went up to the front desk like a blubbering baby to let them know they could send the vet back in.
When they put an animal down, they tranquilize it first. He gave her the shot and told me I could leave if I wanted. I WOULD NEVER LEAVE HER!!! I said, loud enough for the whole office to hear. So he left us there, sitting on the floor, my arms holding Lulu as she went into a deep sleep. The florescent lights above us seemed so cold and harsh and there was this monotonous buzz in the room that I couldn't place. Her body became really heavy, her mouth fell open a little bit, and her eyes too. I tried to close them shut again but they wouldn't stay. I wanted to run out of the room or out of my skin. I can't explain how horrible I felt, how helpless ...and I can't believe I'm even trying to write about it on the blog. You may or may not understand, she was just a dog....but my heart chipped right then, seeing her fade away. Oh, how it stung.
The vet came back in with the nurse. The nurse put her arm around me. He gave Lulu the final shot, we all put our hands on her, petting her until her heartbeat stopped.
No dog is just a dog. No person just a person. No flower just a flower. Infinite grains of sand, snowflakes, none of them are the same. I will carry Lulu's unique imprint around with me always. When I walk out to the chicken coop now, I can still feel her trotting beside me. Looking up at me with so much joy and excitement. And if that had been the full extent of our world, just her and me, me and her, walking through this life with no one else around....how wonderful that would have been for her. And maybe it is that way now for Lulu. I like to think so, anyway.