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”

  1. To the people who think she didn’t try hard enough: It’s not like she took the dog to a shelter, it went to a home to be loved and cared for.

  2. Blah blah. Yep, you’re a quitter!!! So sad. Hate that once human babies are born, canine babies are on the back burner. Sux! What the hell is wrong with people?

    • How old are you? Sadly, not old enough to know that love is not about how you feel or your opinions; it is about making the right choices for someone else. It takes courage to make right choices and to put the needs of someone else above your own. It might not be a bad idea for you to REALLY read the story again and try to put yourself in her place and the dog’s. This woman’s decision was not entered in easily or lightly. She could only do what she knew to do at the time…nothing more and nothing less. Down the road and with a little more experience, she will probably know to do better. Now she did all she could. How about a little compassion…who knows, maybe some day you may need some.

  3. It must have been very hard to share this story. When I brought my Wesley home, despite working with him for over two months at the shelter, he was still a crazy, biting, hyper, scared and, frankly, scary dog.

    He had a hard bite record. In the words of the shelter operator, I was probably his last chance at “being someone’s dog” because, they said, when I was with him, he was at his calmest. (Unimaginable if you had seen how wild this dog was!) I have no doubt he would still be caged at the shelter if I hadn’t taken him.

    But there were times when I didn’t know if we were going to make it together. There were times when I didn’t think I could be the human he needed. The training was slow, frustrating and at times painful. He bit me half a dozen times out of fear and confusion. (Nips, really, but a bite is a bite.) There were half steps forward and giant leaps backward. There were tears and doubts and sleepless nights. The idea of giving him up broke my heart, but the idea of keeping him if I couldn’t help him was worse.

    If, during that really, really rough period, I had encountered anyone with better skills and better training than mine, someone I thought could give Wesley a better chance, a better life, I might have given him up. For him, not for me. I love this dog with my whole heart and I was willing to do whatever it took to make him a happy, healthy, confident dog. And that included letting him go.

    Would I have felt like a failure? No doubt. Would I have been criticized for not trying hard enough? Certainly. Would I have been riddled with guilt for life? Probably. But I would have withstood it all if I knew Wesley was happier. That’s what love is.

    Fortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. He’s made huge progress and so have I. But he’s still with me ONLY because I still believe I’m his best hope at a normal doggy life.

    Giving up a pet is never an easy decision. But it IS a decision that can be made with reason and compassion for both canine and human.

    So please, Elizabeth, try to let go of the guilt. After all, Felix will be much happier without the constant scolding, too! And with proper exercise, attention and affection, he has a chance at a really good life. You’re not a quitter, a failure or a cliche. The part of you that knows you made the right decision? That’s the part of you that loves the dog more than you love yourself – or your pride.

    Loretta & Wesley

  4. I hope you never get another dog, cat or any other animal. You don’t deserve them. Yes, you are a quitter like so many people who dump their animals once they become an inconvenience to them. Go to the pounds and look at all the faces of death. Then watch as they are murdered- all because of people like you! Courageous to put this out here in hopes of redeeming yourself but no pity here.

    • You are an idiot. She did what was best for her son and the dog. Dogs get re-homed. There is nothing wrong with that. It is not in a shelter. It is in a living home that is better for the dog but most of all, better for the humans. You are an idiot.

      • Wow! I think you have lowered this conversation to a very nasty level. If you disagree that is fine. This is clearly a “hot button” issue for everyone. But naming calling, well, that says more about you than the post you commented on. Let’s be civil here.

        • How is telling the author that she is on par with the people who do dump their unwanted pets in kill shelters being civil? There were plenty of hateful remarks already being made even without the so-called name calling : telling her that her behaviour was lousier than lousy, or wishing she NEVER get a pet of any kind, that is hardly civil discourse.

          • Wow, I can’t believe I am being chastised for discouraging name calling. The posts to which you refer as unpleasant were not all made by the original poster generating this thread. Do you suggest that attacking this person is justified retaliation for those other posts?

            Clearly there are many different views here and they have struck an emotional chord with many and by the way, I think the post made at the top of this thread is probably made by someone who has stooped to a visceral response as well.

            Two wrongs don’t make a right. The point is that we try to evaluate the merits of this story in hopes of finding a middle ground for discussion, not for attacking each other.

  5. I agree with Sue. No, you didn’t try hard enough. I have no patience – sorry – with people who abandon their pets when it becomes inconvenient to have them around. You can find another solution.

    And this is why I think young married couples planning to have children, in particular, should’nt own pets. You know what you’re going to do – have children, then give the dog away. Just save everyone the aggravation and don’t bother.

    • First off she didn’t abandon him! She didn’t tie him to a box or drop him at a shelter. She did the right thing for him and her family. Secondly you can have a dog(s) and children! But you do have to insure the pet is the right fit for a family. For EVERYONES happiness and safety!

  6. oh my–words escape me–and that in itself says something–I feel her pain–
    Thanks to Elizabeth for sharing this–and to NEIL for putting it here on his blog for us to think about!!!!

  7. Wow…. This made me cry. My heart breaks for her.

    Many years ago, I adopted my sweet tuxedo foster… Wendy.. I love Wendy. I still love her. I always will, but the pain isn’t there like it was so many years ago. My sweet little Wendy….. wasn’t happy here. I won’t go into details on why we felt this way judging from some of the comments above judging Elizabeth. Ours wasn’t a new baby coming or anything like that. She worked well with my son with aspergers.

    We made the painful decision to give her back to the group we work with to have her rehomed. That sucked…. What sucked even more was seeing her new foster family at events with her… and trying not to just bawl and cry….

    I’m happy to say that Wendy was rehomed with some nice folks across the borderr in Canada. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a problem or complaint. I’m happy for Wendy and realize that I put her needs first over my own.

    I realize I open myself up for judgement by posting this message, but the truth is… sometimes, no matter how much YOU love the dog you wish you have in your home. Its not a good match if both you and the dog aren’t happy.


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