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.