Making the Heartbreaking Decision to Put Down an Aggressive Dog
A memorial to our boy, Jameson.
There will be some who hate me for my decision, there will be some who feel bad, and will offer condolences, which I will greatly appreciate. But I’m not writing this for any of those reasons, I’m writing this for those who have been in my position and felt alone, like a terrible person, and who felt they had no one to talk to. And also, I’m writing this for me.
Two years ago, I talked my husband into getting a second dog. We had adopted the most perfect pure bred black lab puppy 2 years prior, but I had always felt guilty for not getting a rescue, as my family dog growing up had been.
After searching on pet adoption websites for months, a coworker put me in touch with a rescue group she worked with. I found the dog I wanted; a spitting image of my best friend’s dog. Just a skinnier, smellier, hairless version that itched a lot. I remember dragging my best friend out into a snow storm to go to the Pet Smart where he would be shown, and claiming him for my own, and we were naming him Jameson.
My then-hyper black lab quickly learned he was no longer the dominant dog. Jameson ran the show from here on out, despite all of our training efforts. Poor Jameson itched like craaaazy, it was heartbreaking. He also smelled horrific. I took him to the vet time and time again to try and get his discomfort under control. With Prednisone, baths, Benadryl and Zyrtec, we started helping Jameson get comfortable, and the hair on his legs started to grow back.
We got Jameson just before Christmas, so he was able to make it to our New Year’s Eve party. Leashed, he came down for a bit to say hello to all of the guests and eat every last morsel that was dropped on the garage floor, which was good because his ribs were showing through his skin. He was having a grand ol’ time until two children came out of the bathroom- he growled and barked like they were some sort of threat. We thought that was odd, so we called a trainer to come to our house. She informed us that he had never seen children before and just needed to be acquainted with them. We knew we wanted kids someday so we made sure to acquaint him with our nieces and nephews and even my Little from Big Brothers Big Sisters. Once he was more familiar, he never had a problem with aggression and kids, so all of my efforts went into helping his allergy problem.
Apoquel, Cytopoint, prescription diets, Benadryl, Zyrtec, Prednisone, fish oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, saffllower oil, some oil for horses, topical creams, body sprays, eggs, no chicken, no duck, thunder jackets, allergy testing, allergy injections .. We searched and searched for something to soothe my poor baby’s itching.
That remedy has still never been found. The only small relief was Prednisone (which is a steroid and would eventually ruin his kidneys, the pills would also decrease their effectiveness over time.) We had him allergy tested and were giving him immunotherapy shots; we were 8 months into the allergy shots with no positive results so far.
Eventually I got pregnant and one day I was throwing the ball for the dogs in my yard. A salesman walked onto my property and both dogs went running towards him. My lab barked at him, but Jameson barked and bit him in the rear end. Being pregnant and alone at my house with a man on my property, I told the salesman it was his fault- he was trespassing, and I thought my pup was just protecting me.
After the baby was born, our friend, a local sheriff, wanted to stop in and meet the baby. My husband called ahead so I gated the dogs into my sunroom. He walked in and went to say hi to the dogs, reaching over the sunroom gate, and Jameson bit him. I apologized and said that Jameson must not like men in uniforms, that’s why he was gated up. We didn’t think much of the incident, thinking Jameson was probably still trying to protect me.. but in the back of my mind, I did wonder why I never had these occurrences with our lab.
One day I invited my high school friend and her two kids over. The 3 year old girl, who has a dog herself, gave Jameson treats while I had a handle on his collar- not tight, but just in case he felt threatened. He gently took the treats and was a happy boy. I let go of the collar and he seemed happy and calm. I let my other dog in, held both of their collars and she gave them treats. Both dogs seemed calm and non-threatened. But then I heard a quick growl and as I turned, I witnessed my Jameson bite the 3 year old in the face. I jumped forward, pushing him back and her up, saw blood and prayed there was not an eyeball hanging off of her face. Thankfully, there was just a cut to her lip, swelling on her upper and lower lips, and bruising to her chin and forehead. It was the most terrifying thing I had ever witnessed and I believe it would have been much worse if I wasn’t right there.
I know I missed signs that the people of the dog world could have identified, and they have told me on social media again and again all the things I’ve done wrong. But as much as I love dogs, I have a job- a civic duty- to protect my son, my family, my friends, and the public. Could I have trained him better? Yes. But we did bring in a trainer twice, and I didn’t know my dog had an aggression problem until I was pregnant, and by then, his bites were so close together that there wasn’t even time to get him trained. Having a newborn consumes a lot of time.
In the past 2 weeks, I’ve been told many times that, “every dog can be trained”. While that is a very hopeful statement, it’s not one I am willing to bet my son’s life on. Dog training is really training for the whole family and how they need to treat, act and react to the dog. I find that near impossible when a baby or a toddler are involved. I’m sure it’s been done, but I don’t believe it’s within my limits.. as awful as that may sound. This month alone there was a toddler in Rocky Mount, NC- mauled to death by her family dog, there was a toddler in York County, PA- mauled to death by their family dog, and there was the toddler in Texas who was also mauled to death by her family dog.
So for these reasons, in addition to my anxiety, mixed with my brother-in-law’s cop stories of repeated dog attacks on their owners, and topped with the cut up and bruised face of the little girl my Jameson attacked, I knew I could not keep Jameson in our home. We had wonderful people who created facebook posts and shared them all over trying to rehome him. I know they had the best intentions in their heart, but I had a bad feeling about rehoming him. I consulted with two vets, the rescue I got Jameson from, and another local rescue, that all agreed that a dog with 3 bites on his record, in addition to the allergy issues he had, was unlikely to be rehomed. One vet said, “you have a loaded gun, rehoming would just be passing it to someone else”. I had briefly posted my dilemma on facebook, and received numerous private messages about people who rehomed dogs that bit, only to find out that they bit again…
Rehoming Jameson would mean that someone would have to want a dog with 3 bites on his record and they would want to take care of his allergies, in addition to working with him to help his aggression.. Jameson came to us at 10 months old, he spent 7 months before that in a shelter, obviously itching himself to death, and malnourished. The 3 months before that could have been on the streets for all I know, which is why he sees small children as a threat, maybe they trigger something in him, something he once had to fight? After being in the shelter, he was then brought by transport to upstate NY, which means being in a crate in a car with a stranger through a certain stretch, then getting in another car, then another.. then he was placed in a foster home and then with me. The thought of my already anxious boy going to some facility or strange home, most likely with other dogs, to get trained to not bite seemed scary. And then once that training is done, getting placed with a new home with new people, because- again, I just can’t bet my son’s life that all training works for all dogs. My Jameson would sit there wondering, “where is that silly lady that calls herself mommy, and where was that guy who I ran after when his van came home and started beeping in reverse.. where’s my brother and when can we play again? And where was that new funny thing that made loud noises sometimes…? And why do I still itch and mommy’s not here to give me anything to help it..?
So, in the end, we decided to put our beloved Jameson down. I know there were a lot of good hearted people who wanted to “save” him, but I think we did save him. From where he came from and the issues he had, his life could have been a lot worse. I know it doesn’t look like it in years, but do dogs understand years the way we do? They don’t record time like humans. They only know the here and now. And I can say with confidence, we gave him an awesome time while he was here. He came to Maine with us in September, and short of charging at every passer-by and barking for the one day he was crated, which the whole block informed us of, he got to take walks every day, he got to run in the ocean and swim in sea-water- which is amazing because the first summer we had him, he was afraid of our pool. This summer, we got him to go on the first step. He’d throw the ball in and bark at it, trying to paw it out and sometimes he’d fall in and we’d have to save him … or he’d realize he could ACTUALLY swim, so he made it out, and then threw his ball back in again. He and my lab helped me tell Chris that we were going to be having a baby last Thanksgiving, by wearing a chalk board sign around each of their necks. Jameson also helped tell the world on facebook about the new baby by sitting in front of our Christmas tree and staring at baby shoes.
No deer, squirrel, chipmunk, mouse, mole or snake could cross the property without him knowing and trying to hunt it down. Sometimes through our windows! And sometimes swallowing it whole. Without fail, at 5am every morning, he’d burst up with a face lick to tell you it’s time for breakfast. He’d steal every bone or toy my lab put in his mouth, he’d only retrieve the ball down the hallway- because outside had too many other things going on. But every time I sat on the toilet seat, he’d get a ball and drop it into my pants for me to throw down the hallway. He would play soccer with himself and kick his toys and bones under the TV stand every time.. and sometimes at random, he’d stand by the bed or couch or tv stand and bark, and sure enough, there would be a long lost toy under there. He had acres of property to roam, once he escaped and tried to get a baby deer, the momma deer was not happy.. he’d hunt for chipmunks in the rock wall and he’d lay out in the sun on our driveway, usually staring at our neighbors.
If there was a person willing to adopt a dog that’s bitten 3 times, with serious allergies that still weren’t under control, I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable even sending him off. This is what he knows. We are his family. He’s been through so much- how am I guaranteed that his allergies will be under control? How will I know he’s not kept in a crate all day and night or muzzled because of the aggression or itching? How will I live not knowing if he’s bitten again and someone else is doing the job of putting him down when it was supposed to be me and his daddy at his side, petting him and telling him he’s a good boy, after having a steak breakfast? When is quality of life better than quantity?
In a perfect world, he never would have bitten a child. Maybe it’s my fault and I should have seen signs, but in this life, I did the best I could. I am now faced with: keeping a dog I don’t trust around my newborn, soon to be crawling and grabbing at things; rehoming to god knows where- where he could bite again or they may not take care of his allergies; or putting him down peacefully so he doesn’t hurt anyone else, and relieving him of that constant itch that has been described to me as “always having poison ivy”.. so this is what we chose. I hope I have helped anyone else who has or may have to go through this awful, awful choice. No one prepared me for this when getting a dog.. the physical hurt of your heart aching over the sadness, the sleepless nights, the chest pain, the guilt, the would haves and should haves, the stomach trouble, the anxiety, the obsessive thinking over it, the crying.. ohhh the crying… but this is life. And my personal belief, because of science and such, is that we are all energy, and when we die, our energy goes elsewhere. Maybe another creature, maybe it hangs out a while and does funny stuff to the lights, but the energy moves on.. so Jameson, I hope your energy stays as vibrant as you are, with no itching, and no need to bite anyone. And I hope you know, that while you were in our lives for far shorter of a time than we had hoped, you were part of this family, you made an impact, you will remain in this family forever through our hearts and our stories and our memories of you and we love love love you soooooo much.
“Goodnight, Sleep tight
God bless you, I love you
I will see you in the morning”, except now I will see you in a different way, in my heart