Andrea Dickson, editor of personal finance blog Wise Bread, sent us this story of making the hard decision when a dog owner has a dog that is aggressive:
Iâ€™ve been told before that the hardest decision to make is the mature decision. Iâ€™m sure I first heard the saying from my mother, who was trying to get me to stop spending irresponsibly. But it only occurred to me recently just how true it really is â€“ the most important decisions are the hardest to make, and the most mature decision is often the most horrible option.
My friend, Iâ€™ll call her Anna, recently adopted a dog from a shelter outside of Seattle. He was a medium-sized sporting dog, and he took to her immediately. The shelter said that he had had some minor aggression problems (something like extreme barking) and that they had put him through an intensive training course to cure him of his annoying behavior.
Anna was very excited to have a dog in her life. A canine lover through and through, Anna would often come to hang out at my place, where my dogs would loll about on her lap, vying for her attention and her doggie massages. Anna never cared if she was covered in dog hair; she tolerated my dogsâ€™ sneaky face-licking, and was always patient and sweet, even if my dogs were annoying (which they frequently are). Having her own dog to love was obviously a very important thing for her, and she was determined to give this abandoned pooch a good, safe, and happy existence.
Anna brought the dog home and within a few days, began to notice some behavioral problems. The dog, who Iâ€™ll call Rover, had some strange territorial aggressiveness. Rover would greet family and friends enthusiastically, with plenty of tail wags, but might suddenly growl should the person linger in the foyer while preparing to leave. Anyone who got into the car at the same time as Rover was considered a friend, but if anyone (save Anna) attempted to get into the car after Rover was already happily ensconced in the back seat, he would growl menacingly.
The rest of the story after the jump.
Concerned, Anna brought him back to the shelter that she had adopted him from, and they spent another weekend with a â€œrefresher courseâ€. Anna called me, asking for advice on dog training, and unfortunately, I wasnâ€™t able to help her. She came to the conclusion that Rover had been trained as a guard dog, and that his problem only pertained to the entryway to his home, and the car. Which is too bad, really, because those are two fairly important and prominent areas in a dogâ€™s life.
After a couple more weeks, Rover began snapping at people. The snapping wasnâ€™t encouraging, but what made it more worrisome was that he gave no warning â€“ the growling had stopped. Rover would simply lunge at a passerby with no prior indication of the impending attack. Anna managed to hold him back, but was worried what the increasingly frightening behavior. Another thing that concerned her was that, occasionally, Rover would stare at Anna as though he had never seen her before. â€œItâ€™s, like, zero recognition,â€ she sighed over the phone. â€œLike heâ€™s trying to figure out where I came from. Really, itâ€™s like his eyes sort of go blank. Itâ€™s really creepy.â€
Anna was paying for a dog specialist to come and analyze Roverâ€™s behavior, to see if there was anything that could be done â€“ behavior modification classes, doggie Prozac, whatever. In the meantime, she vowed never to leave him alone or in a situation where he could hurt someone, and to treat him as well as she could. Rover was a perfect dog, outside of his strange snapping. He was perfectly house trained. He never tore up anything in the house, never chewed on a shoe. As far as being inside, he was a consummate gentleman.
One day Anna walked Rover to Trader Joeâ€™s with her friend, Marie. Marie had been there when Anna adopted Rover, and she was very comfortable around him. She stayed outside, holding Roverâ€™s leash, while Anna ran in to buy some groceries.
Rover almost immediately bit someone. Marie didnâ€™t even have a second to yank him back as his jaws locked onto the thigh of a young man who was walking past. Rover gave no sign of fear, no warning growl. When Anna returned to see what had happened, her heart dropped. The young man was incredibly gracious, despite the fact that his skin was broken. He declined to press charges against Anna.
Anna knew at that point that Rover simply couldnâ€™t be trusted. She contemplated keeping him muzzled, but that seemed to agitate him even further. The dog behaviorists she spoke to assessed the situation as hopeless. They proffered that Rover wasnâ€™t even showing classic signs of distress â€“ he wasnâ€™t growling or barking, just attacking innocent people without warning. Dogs do occasionally become psychotic, and Anna was looking at her own little Hannibal Lector.
Anna called the shelter once again and found out that not only was Rover an aggressive dog, but that he had been returned to the shelter multiple times for biting children. (Anna would find out much later that the â€œaggression-correctingâ€ training course that Rover had initially been put through was a severe negative reinforcement program, in which that animal was punished physically should he pull too hard on the leash or growl at a stranger.)
Anna realized with a heavy heart that she had two choices. She could keep Grover locked up inside and never allow him around guests or friends. Or she could have him put down. She called the vet and scheduled an euthanization.
I know Anna was heartbroken, because she emailed me for days about her plan. â€œI tried so hard,â€ she said. â€œBut nothing that we were doing was making it any better, and no one has any solution for me.â€ Despite knowing that she could afford the emotional or financial cost of keeping a dangerous dog, Anna was very torn over her decision. Rover clearly adored her and was anxious to make her happy. She loved coming home to find him waiting for her. He was a good companion, as long as she was the only one around.
The night before he was to be put to sleep, Anna let Rover sleep in her bed with him. Rover was ecstatic, since he had always been relegated to his big bed on the floor.
At the last minute, Annaâ€™s lousy boss didnâ€™t allow her to take time off to be present for Roverâ€™s euthanization. Marie agreed to go with him. True to his nature, Rover attempted to attack someone in the vetâ€™s lobby.
After being given a sedative pill, Rover was snoring loudly, with his head in Marieâ€™s lap, and a shot was administered that stopped his heart. He wasnâ€™t frightened or angry, and clearly oblivious to what was going on from start to finish.
Aside from feeling sorry for Anna, I felt like the shelter should be sued for adopting and readopting an animal who was known to have severe aggression issues. Anna seems to have no interest in pursuing legal action against them, and to be fair, Iâ€™m not sure if thereâ€™s much of a case to be made. But Iâ€™d like them to be help accountable for their irresponsible and dangerous decisions.
I love dogs. I want every dog to have a good home, but some dogs are simply not capable of living and interacting safely with humans. Even PAWS recognizes this. The shelter that Anna adopted from should know better than to try to retrain and adopt out a dog that has a history of biting children.
Anna made a mature, courageous, and heartbreaking decision. I know that for her, it was a situation that taught her a number of lessons, but Iâ€™m horrified that she had to be the one to make the call. The decision to euthanize a dangerous dog should have been made long ago, before Anna had a chance to meet and adore him. I suppose that Roverâ€™s few short happy weeks with Anna were good for him, but when I think of the danger that he posed, of the potential kids who could have lost a finger or worse to Roverâ€™s unpredictable jaws, it infuriates me.