You Died Today

Today I had you killed. You weren’t even my dog. This should never have been my decision.  But it ended up mine anyway.

I am so sorry, Dora. It was never my intention to end your life. When I met you I was full of hope that we could undo the damage of your unknown past, previous life experiences, bad genetics, bad starts. I hoped we could rebuild your trust in humans and help you feel calm and happy in the human designed world that you never asked to be born into. You were young and strong and beautiful. You were quick and spicy and full of life. You had the best doggie smile. I hoped that we could “fix” you and find you a wonderful family who would adopt you and love you and keep you safe the rest of your life.

I hope that you know how hard we tried. That we did our best for you. We did everything we knew to do; gave you time and space to decompress, long on and off leash walks, playtime with the dogs you liked, separation from those you felt uncomfortable with, enrichment toys and activities, and training sessions reinforced with things you loved. We kept your world small and safe and moved slowly and at your pace to build your trust. We worked with our vet to find the best combination and dosage of medications that we hoped would lower your anxiety and allow you to relax and be more comfortable in the world. 

We used all the best practice techniques for working with dogs with fear and with the behavioral issues you displayed. And you improved a lot. You did your best, too. You were such a good girl. But our combined efforts were still not enough for you to feel relaxed and happy, or to be successful in a regular home, with a regular adopter or family. Our best wasn’t enough for you to feel comfortable in your own skin, or deal with the normal daily events even in our highly structured and controlled environment. Life events, noises, people and movement stressed you so much. Separation from the action made you so frustrated and upset. Settling was so difficult for you.

I will never understand the humans who bought or bred you, and then simply dumped you on the street like a piece of trash when they tired of you, or when your behavior became too much for them, or when you weren’t a puppy anymore, or when you came into heat and attracted the attention of too many males. I don’t know why your people dumped you, only that they did, and I will never understand how they could do that to you.

What did they think was likely to happen to you? That your issues would magically disappear if you were picked up by someone else? That you would thrive on the street, not having grown up there, knowing nothing about the dangers of traffic, of the other free-roaming dogs who claim territories and don’t welcome new dogs, or of the people who kick and throw rocks at dogs who wander alone? Did they worry how would you find enough to eat? Did they ever wonder how you were, or even think of you at all? Did they even care? Did they immediately go out and get another puppy?

My brain knows that the home with the hermit on a mountain or on a deserted island where even UPS doesn’t deliver is a fairly tale. Like unicorns and leprechauns, those homes don’t exist, no matter how much my heart wishes they did. The hard truth is, there isn’t a home for every dog. Adopting you to a family or individual would have been setting you both up for failure on so many levels. 

Dora, you were a Ferrari of a dog. Anyone with the level of experience and expertise required to manage you well wouldn’t have been interested in taking you home, because they have lived or worked with dogs like you and know how difficult it is. The truth is that people don’t knowingly choose to adopt dogs who are as much work, who have such a grab bag of difficult behavioral traits, who require as much management as you did. 

A person willing to take on a dog with your intensity would be someone who had never lived or worked with a dog like you. And you were far, far too much dog for someone like that. That person would not have had the knowledge or expertise to live with you successfully. People don’t learn to drive behind the wheel of a Formula One race car or an 18 wheeler.

There is a voice in my head that won’t quiet. The voice tells me that I betrayed your trust, that I quit on you. That I didn’t do enough to save you. That we could have tried this, should have tried that, definitely didn’t try hard enough. The voice says that I didn’t give you enough time. At it’s harshest, the voice asks what kind of a monster takes you to a place and holds you in their arms, whispering “It’s okay, you’re such a good girl” in your ear while a stranger injects a cocktail of drugs into your vein that cause your heart to stop beating. 

I know this voice so well. We are not friends, this voice and I, but it sticks around uninvited anyway. It loves to drone on in the early hours of the morning, waking me up and ensuring that I watch the slow creep of dawn’s light arrive through a curtain of tears, remorse, and sadness.

My brain knows the voice is wrong, that this isn’t so, that this is untrue. My brain knows that we did everything we could, used best practice and execution, that we tried and tried to help you, but my brain still finds itself cowed, silenced by the stridency and insistence of the voice.

My heart also tries to override the voice. My heart knows I did the necessary thing today. I cannot say that it was the right thing, but I know it was the necessary one. My heart knows that killing you was also releasing you. But my heart is tired and aches with your loss; the loss of yet another sweet life, and the sharp cutting words of the voice scrape and jab at all the tender, raw places in my heart, making them bleed. How is it possible that taking your life is the kindest thing that I could have done for you?

I am so sorry, Dora. Today was not the end any of us envisioned for you when you arrived with us. I hope you knew how much you were loved by us, your caretakers, and how grateful we are to you for teaching us to be better humans, for teaching us to be better at helping dogs like you. I am so sorry that our best was not enough to save you. I hope that the love you received from all your caretakers, the adventures, walks, the play and cuddles you had during your time with showed you how much you mattered. It was a privilege and an honour to care for you. I hope your crossing was as soft and easy as we could make it. I hope you are running fast and happy and carefree on the other side. 

RIP sweet girl. 

A new grave on the mountain

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