January 17th, 2013
As a disclaimer: this post was hard for me to write and the decisions described in it were harder still to make. But I find blogging therapeutic, so stay with me and — please — positive comments only!
We said goodbye to our dog Riley today. It was not the goodbye we had hoped for, after spending six years of our lives with the furball.
We got Riley from a local shelter a few months after we got married and loved him with the zeal that I think only childless people can devote to their pets. We took him everywhere, went on long walks together, cycled through a variety of obedience classes just because he loved them, and even arranged “play dates” for him via Craigslist.
Then we had kids.
The warning signs were probably always there. The way Riley would tense up when small children approached us at the park. His nervousness around kids who came too near when we walked. But those were other people’s kids. He would love ours, of course. After all, we’d seen Marley and Me. Even crazy dogs love their human’s kids.
But Riley didn’t. We followed all the suggested procedures for introducing Miss Mouse to the family, but Riley never warmed to her. After a near-miss, almost-biting incident when she was learning to crawl, we thought hard about finding him a new home. But we stuck with him, and he grudgingly settled into a mode of tolerant dislike.
Then came Buggie in all his boisterous boy-ness. While Miss Mouse generally left the dog alone (perhaps remembering his teeth inches from her nose), Buggie loved Riley with all his heart.
The move to Kentucky made things worse. Riley didn’t adjust well. Some of it may have been the smaller house — he and the kids were on top of each other more. He started developing “hot spots” which we attributed to some sort of outdoor allergy, and his anxiety and defensiveness around the kids increased. After another near-miss (this time with Buggie) and a scary moment with the children of some visiting friends, we decided it was time to search in earnest for a new home.
I thought it would be easy.
He was an extremely smart, very affectionate, well-trained, crate-loving, good-looking dog. In July, we posted him on the websites of two nearby humane societies and waited for the perfect, kid-free family to materialize. But no one wanted him.
Well, that’s not quite true. We got a call from a college kid whose landlord needed some convincing, a crazy-sounding lady looking for a guard dog, and two families whose existing “pack” had no interest in welcoming our boy into their club.
As the months passed, we got less optimistic, but the situation at home was getting worse, so we pressed on. After trying to treat Riley’s “allergies” for several months, we took him to a different vet who suggested he thought Riley was stressed. That the bald spots and bites on his flanks were a form of self-destructive behavior – an OCD stress-reliever. He proscribed Prozac.
The meds helped a little and we explored more re-homing avenues. We contacted every dog-lover we knew, asking them to spread the word. We put his picture on Facebook. We reached out to sixteen different rescue organizations in three different states. We added his name to another humane society page, further away.
The rescue organizations were either too full or simply not interested. Several told us candidly that our pooch, with his age and dislike of small people, wasn’t a “good candidate for adoption.” Tell me about it. One flat-out suggested we put him down.
And as the clock ticked and our third baby drew nearer, that last option — originally unthinkable — began to come to the front. I couldn’t bear the thought of dropping Riley off at the local shelter. Given what we’d seen in our own efforts, the odds of him being adopted seemed slim and I didn’t want to imagine him spending his last days in a crowded kennel, frightened and alone.
When I finally mustered the guts to call the humane society to talk it through with them, the final piece clicked into place. I learned that my instincts were right. Given his background and his age, they wouldn’t even try to find a home for Riley. They were very compassionate and understanding and agreed that we could bring him to them for a humane end.
As we were pondering that course of action, the Prozac stopped working. Maybe he could sense our stress. Maybe he understood English. I have no idea. But Riley’s stress went back up and he started chewing himself again.
It was time.
We said goodbye and took him in this morning. And it sucked. Big Time. But the days leading up to the end were actually the worst. Today there’s peace, too, knowing we tried everything we could and that he’s not suffering anymore.
We were as honest as we could be with the kids. I don’t believe in the whole “Spot went to live on a farm somewhere” fantasy, so we told them the truth: Riley was sick, and he died. We’d been slowly prepping Miss Mouse by talking about how sick Riley was, each time we doled out one of his pills. It may have helped a bit, but she was devastated.
We held a small “memorial” service in our yard, burying a picture of Riley, along with several of his favorite toys and his leash. We cried a lot. And now we move forward.
Goodbye, buddy. Good dog.