Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How Things Are

I started this post differently, exactly one week ago.

It was full of happy news and instagram photos and glad tidings of dogs. Instead, I get to write this one.

We're putting Tesla, our dog, to sleep tonight.  The fact of the matter is that, no matter how much we love her, exercise her, play with her, train her, and manage her, she's bitten me six times over the last nine months. She's gotten Danny three or so times.

Last week we "adopted" a second dog on a trial-run from the prison-training program, a dog purported to be excellent at dog calming signals. We hoped he'd help Tesla learn to self-calm so that we could do some BAT-training with her. They played well together - and he was a good dog - but the stress of the change sent Tesla into a crisis-mode that we couldn't ignore. If the weather hadn't been unseasonably cool and I hadn't been wearing jeans, she would have gotten my legs. Twice.

We returned the other dog. We considered keeping him, but he showed signs of becoming a resource-guarder, and to be honest, after working with an aggressive 30-lb dog for nine months, I was terrified at the potential of doing the same with a 75-lb dog. (Note: he was returned to the prison program, where he will be trained and interacted with until adoption. He's good.)

After a conversation with our trainer, we came to the conclusion that Tesla, as smart and athletic, cute and funny as she is, would never be safe around young children. 

Danny and I had preliminary hopes of finding a shelter that might be able to work with her, but the no-kill shelter in our area doesn't accept aggressive dogs. And realistically, her stress in any other situation would put anyone trying to work with her at risk. We made the excruciating decision to have her put to sleep.

I hate it. I hate failure. I look at her and see the puppy I stayed up with at all hours, socialized endlessly, and trained patiently. But the fact of the matter is that when she hit adolescence, all of her genetically-inherited tendencies kicked in. The dog who once basked in the joy of having her belly rubbed by multiple children at a family reunion, the dog who patiently allowed timid children to pet her at the park, now bares her teeth and growls at me if I give her a (requested) belly rub.

It breaks my heart. 

We got Tesla shortly after our move to Tri-Cities, after (as faithful readers of this blog know) a difficult series of months. The circumstances of that are a large reason why we fought so hard for her. We learned a lot. We learned that her brand of stress-reactivity is partly genetic, and partly imparted by the mother in-utero. Having seen her mother, we know this was the case. Our beloved puppy was a behavioral time bomb, but one who had the best life possible.

As much as we hurt for her as well as ourselves, I'm glad we're doing this now, before she seriously injures someone. We can remember her in as balanced a light as possible, rather than as "the dog who sent ____to the hospital." We're not doing this out of anger, or as punishment. She is so high-stress, despite our best efforts, that her quality of life is not what it should be. This way, we know exactly where she is, that she's not hungry, not frightened - and not frightening anyone else.

So that's what's going on around here. We are actively looking for a new puppy, and I'm desperately looking forward to having good news to post. Until then, if you have a dog (or cat, or bunny, or what-have-you), give it a pet for me and enjoy the moment. 

Life is short. Enjoy the good days.