Heartbreak Moves In After Pet Moves Out

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by Elizabeth Withey

I feel like a failure. I feel like a quitter. I feel like a cliche.

I feel like a dirty rotten combination of all three.

Not quite the holiday spirit I’d hoped to achieve, but then, this is what happens when you give your dog away just before Christmas, three months after you have a baby.

Our whippet Felix — a.k.a. Juggernaut, a.k.a. Big Nose, a.k.a. Poop Demon (due to fecal consumption as a puppy) — joined the Withey household last September, before the idea of motherhood had ever crossed my mind. Felix was five months old, irresistibly cute with oversized paws and coffee-coloured eyes. The white stripe down his snout contrasted his glossy black fur.

We loved Felix fiercely, immediately. So, too, did Poppy, our scrawny fawn-coloured whippet, whom Jonathan and I thought could use a friend.

Poppy was over the moon when Felix arrived. Soon, they were BFFs, destuffing toys as a team, chasing each other through the river valley at breakneck speed, cuddling up together on one dog bed.

From the start, Felix was tolerant of Poppy’s dominance, learning to do his business outdoors with her jaws gently clamped around his hind leg.

We were tolerant, too. We minimized our second dog’s rambunctious nature, his pacing, his gas. We forgave him for stealing treats from Poppy (the boy has an appetite!), for drooling and puking in the car (the boy has a sensitive stomach!), for chewing up our couch and our shoes and the wedding quilt my mother stitched by hand (the boy has a lot of energy!). We held on to Felix when friends came over, knowing from experience his enthusiasm was hazardous to noses and groins and hardwood. The dog wasn’t really doing anything wrong. He was just being a dog.

Perhaps that glossy black fur was symbolic, indicative of trouble to come. Six months after we got Felix, Jonathan and I were questioning our decision. I e-mailed the breeder to outline my concerns: Felix is hyper. We are struggling to train him. He requires constant supervision and is causing us a serious amount of stress.

“Would you be open to sending him back to me?” she asked.

No, no. We couldn’t do that! That Marley and Me dude had a crazy dog, but HE didn’t quit. No, we’d do whatever it took to make this a happily-ever-after.

I was newly pregnant but convinced we could work it out before the baby arrived. At the breeder’s suggestion, we took the dogs for even longer, more vigorous runs. We enrolled Felix in obedience school, knowing it was really about training the owners.

We coped. We hoped.

Love — the human sort, the pet sort — is tremendous. And risky. We dive into that pond of warm and fuzzy choosing to deny the existence of Heartbreak, a cold-blooded beast lurking at the bottom. We’re convinced love will keep us afloat. The beast waits, hungry, hoping we’ll go under so it can devour us.

By late summer, my baby bump was big. Bigger was the elephant in the room: our doubts about Felix. Doubts that swelled after Felix, unbeknownst to me, leaped out the back window of the car in rush-hour traffic near the Rossdale cemetery. I raced back on foot from Telus Field once I realized he was missing, clutching my beach-ball belly, hoping he hadn’t been run over.

Things only worsened with Oscar on the scene. Monitoring Felix’s antics while dealing with a newborn made an already tough situation unmanageable. Soon the black dog with the white stripe on his snout was in my bad books daily for some sort of nonsense: running around the house with a baby hat in his mouth, wrecking baby bottles, narrowly avoiding Oscar when jumping up on me or the bed.

Guilt overwhelmed me each time I raised my voice at those coffeecoloured eyes.

“And there comes a time,” Vancouver rockers Black Mountain sing in the tune Stay Free, “when you, when you oughta know. Well, it’s stormy outside so quit, so quit all that running.”

And that’s exactly what I was doing. Running in a storm. Running from the brutal truth that it wasn’t working out with our irresistibly cute dog, even though we loved him fiercely. It’s just that I couldn’t bear the thought of failure, of “getting rid” of a pet I loved, of having to write about it in this column.

After a family meeting and too much crying, our minds were made up. I e-mailed the breeder anew and set the wheels in motion. Soon, we’d found Felix a lovely new home in Toronto with another whippet lover.

Knowing my pet was going somewhere safe and happy did little for my heart. The beast at the bottom of the pond nibbled away at it. Tears welled up each time I imagined leaving Felix in his crate at Air Canada cargo. So great was my shame, I couldn’t even tell my friends, afraid they would judge me. What kind of person drops a dog once she has a kid?

We drove Felix to the airport freshly bathed, nails trimmed, dressed in his coat to stay warm on the flight. We knew it was the best thing for us and for him. The farewell was quick but not quick enough.

“It’s like when you break up with someone,” my husband said that night in bed. “It’s a pain that won’t go away.”

“In the end, he is a dog,” a friend reassured me after the deed was done. She reminded me Felix went to another good home where he’d get everything he needed: food, exercise, attention. “He’ll forget about you,” she said.

A part of me knows it was the right decision, one that took courage and reason. My stress levels have plummeted since Felix moved to Toronto. I don’t miss the rambunctiousness, the constant scolding, the chewed-up baby stuff. But a part of me will always believe I did not try hard enough.

I hope you forget about me, Felix. I will not forget about you.

Life With Dogs post end paw print

Thanks to Elizabeth Withey for this thought provoking piece. Reprinted by permission of the Edmonton Journal.

0 thoughts on “Heartbreak Moves In After Pet Moves Out”

      • If you haven’t been in the situation you shouldn’t judge. Perhaps you don’t have children Kelly.

        • Please don’t be so harsh on her. You have not been in her place, you have not walked on those shoes.
          Be kind. There is enough misunderstanding and cruelty in the world. Do remember, there may come a day when you will need kindness.

  1. wow my question is would you give up your kid if he/she was bad? so know you didnt try hard enough, but i also know your in pain and you will always miss you but lets hope he forgets you.

  2. I guess I find myself angry at her. I mean, I get mad at my rowdy bunch all the time and I threaten to excommunicate them but, they know I am “full of it.” Once I have had the chance to vent and scold them all is well again. But to send them to another home, no, never……

    • I have a 2 year old lab mix that we have to get rid of tomorrow. It is a tough descision, but we know its the right thing

  3. agree that author is very courageous to share. I have no sense of humor when it comes to a) buying dogs and b) putting them on airplanes, but thank goodness she used a responsible breeder who offered to take the dog back. I don’t think personally I could give up a dog, but I can definitely imagine such situations. For one thing, like it or not, we live in a society which values humans above animals; that is, if it comes down to the well-being of a human vs. the well-being of a dog, the law and many social mores dictate that the human “wins.” So once you bring another human life into the equation, there are lots of “nevers” to rethink. Finally, I’m reminded of Jon Katz’s difficult decision to “let” a dog of his go live with another family, knowing full well that the dog would be infinitely happier and have a blast with the new household. One of the many gifts that authors give readers is the opportunity to empathize.

  4. Elizabeth..you did the right thing. It takes a ton of courage. I am a rescuer and a foster mom. I also know a happy home is a balanced home. Not all personalities work. You loved him enough to let him go and to move on and grow with somebody he can love and grow with as well. Best wishes to you and your family…and to Poppy. May he find another buddy, one that fits closer to the harmony of your home.

    Bless you sweet Felix…run hard, play hard and have a great life!

  5. Very brave to post here. I think you made the right choices for your situation. You found a good home for him. I work with greyhound adoption and we get some returns due to changes in the home situation. Most of the time these dogs are easier to then re-home due to having been in a home situation. I myself have taken two of them into my own home and they have been wonderful pets. If you decide in the future to adopt another dog….won’t you please consider a “senior”…….they have so much love to give and are usually a little less “hyper”. Congrats on the new baby.

  6. Everyone has a breaking level, I was there I do not know or understand what they went through. Though I am one of those who will try and not judge them for their decision all I can say is at least they did not dump the dog on the streets to fend for itself.

    I am so very thankful that my mommy’s tolerance is waaaaaayyyyy out there! She tolerates so much from me and the fosters she brings into our home. She has given up on spotless floors and clothes the stay clean all day to ensure that all of us grow up happy and healthy. She always puts us first. For that I am grateful. Wish there were more people out there whom were unselfish like her.


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