Five weeks ago and I still can’t really talk about it. Writing on the other hand, THAT I think I can do.
Last fall Axel, my male dog (a lab, not a breed known for aggression issues) ate our neighbour’s cat in a sudden and random attack. I saved the cat (never again) from his jaw, twice…but the damage done and the highest amount of vet involvement (which was chosen to get back at me) ran me a bill of $6700. You read that right…$6700 worth of vet work, that didn’t work as they apparently had to amputate later on anyways, for an 11 year old cat. I clearly still have issues, though nothing negates my responsibility as the owner, just to be clear.
Anyways, following this and within just a short 6 month period, Axel started exhibiting some other aggressive behaviors. A different neighbour mentioned that when he’s gotten out of the yard, he would false charge at people (ugh) and has also always growled at my cousin whether at her house or mine. Then, in a random moment of whatever it was, he burst into scary, protective barking in the face of my kids’ friend who was over. I was there, she did nothing. But I can tell you right now, it scared the ever loving shit out of her. And me. And then, just a couple of weeks later, while a different neighbour was going onto the deck to see the puppies, Axel got through the metal caging, cornered her and lunged to bite. Now I know that if he had intended to bite he would have actually done it. I also know he had been barking to tell her to back off and that he was being protective. But still, it was enough for me and I was CERTAIN it was just a matter of time before he would bite somebody. And THAT is something I knew I could not live with. The cat was bad enough, but a human…perhaps a child…perhaps a face…ugh, it sent me into panic mode and I knew then that I had take action.
I could not rehome him because the potential would still be there AND I would still feel responsible, though I did have one potential option with a master dog trainer but it just didn’t pan out. I wasn’t willing to neuter him in the hopes it would work, although it was suggested more than a few times. Here’s the thing – which of your kids’ faces do you want to find out on that it wasn’t enough? Because I knew I couldn’t manage that risk or responsibility either.
The cat attack ruined me in ways I can’t even begin to describe. It was truly traumatic and as a result, any time he darted off the deck or down the stairs, or took off barking, I panicked. Instant paralyzing fear.
And then in June, I moved to a new neighbourhood but the fear and risk came with, of course. My new backyard is more secure and I am grateful for that but still, the barking and darting down the stairs sent my insides into high alert. Quite honestly, I knew I didn’t want to live that way. Despite being one of the calmest and kindest dogs you’d ever have met (he was amazing), his protective instinct was so intense and unpredictable, I couldn’t trust him. And I couldn’t trust my ability to control him which is honestly even worse.
What I know is this: I’m not one for dramatics or to overreact about a situation. And while several people knew Axel, nobody knew him like I did. And nobody else was there for any of the above mentioned situations. So, if I was certain he would bite someone, or scared enough that he might, then that was absolutely likely. Besides, nobody was responsible for his actions ~ good, bad or ugly ~ NOBODY except me.
Trying to manage the emotional turmoil.
But how – how was I going to make this happen? And when? I realized nobody was there to help me and nobody was going to save me. I was on my own and completely alone. I had ONE person who supported my decision. ONE
With big decisions, it can take me a while to decide. But once I do, the decision is made and there’s no going back.
So the problem now became HOW I was going to do this truly heartbreaking thing. I’m the type that has to be the one to follow through on it but I really just didn’t know if I could in this instance. I thought maybe I could get a friend to do it for me, that the kids and I would go out and come home and he’d be gone. So I processed that and thought if I could take that slightly easier road, maybe I could get through this. But who? Nobody understood.
Look, not every animal has to be saved. And not every animal needs the chance to live forever. And certainly not with the looming possibility of putting other animals or people in danger. Not on my watch at least.
When I spoke with a friend who works at a vet clinic and she explained the process, I decided I could do it. Truth is, there was no other option. The kids knew it was coming and when they were getting ready to head to their dad’s, I let them know that Axel would be gone when they got back. They understood and although we were all sad and I burst into tears any time he snuggled with them or looked at me, or I felt compelled to tell him I loved him, we knew it was the right and best choice.
We fed him a ham his last night.
I let him lay on my bed. In the morning, after the kids were picked up, I made paw prints on paper that we can frame. I also measured him on our family measuring board and I fed him again (seems silly, I know, but this dog was loved and I wanted him to know). I was too scared to take him for an actual run in a field for fear that it would be the time something happened, but I went out and played with him and the other two for a bit.
And then I loaded him into the vehicle – he got the back seat instead of the very back of the vehicle. And we drove almost an hour to the vet, arriving 20 minutes late, which apparently is typical for such appointments. He spent the drive looking out the window, laying on the seat, and poking his head into the front to tuck it under my arm. *cue all the tears*
I talked to him, cried about him, and had no idea how I was actually going to do this. Only knowing that I was, in fact, going to do this. I had no hesitation, no consideration for cancelling or rescheduling. But my heart was breaking. And I was mad it had to be me….and that I was alone. But maybe my grief is better dealt with that way, I don’t know.
For anyone who is considering it or knows it’s coming for their pet, it’s peaceful. What the kids and I hold onto is that all Axel knew is he was loved and happy and then he was sleepy. EVEN with the things that went wrong (catheter for injection didn’t work, veins in other legs didn’t work, then needed to get more of it to complete the process as some had been wasted in the other attempts and issues, then ultimately having to inject his heart because his veins wouldn’t cooperate….yeah, all awesome, right?!), it was somehow still peaceful and I got to sit there and hold and pet him. And sob because I did lots of that too.
And then I left….without my dog.
I got up, kissed him goodbye, walked to my car and drove away.
And cried off and on the entire way home. I also gave myself some serious kudos for doing hard things because this was a hard thing, nearly impossible in fact, and I never want to do it again.
But I did it…and I survived…and I feel like I’ve chalked one up for the responsible pet owners of the world. Which may mean nothing to you but quite honestly, means everything to me. I made an impossible decision and followed through with it. On my own and completely alone.