I Put My Dog Down Today

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This incredibly heart-touching piece comes from Indrani, a volunteer at Pound Puppy Rescue:

 

I put my dog down yesterday. He was not sick. He was not old. I rescued him over 8 years ago when he was only 2 months old. And I put him down to rescue him again.

Sutter would have been one of the 4 million dogs euthanized in a US shelter that year. But instead, he and his litter mates were rescued by Pound Puppy Rescue, a local puppy rescue. Just days old when he was brought into his foster home, Sutter and his litter mates were bottle fed until they could eat on their own.

Sutter was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. Deep red coat and amber eyes. Naturally athletic. We were unsure of his breed but a DNA test told us cattle dog and boxer. His herding and hunting instincts were interminable. And from the very moment I got him, something was ‘off’.

I socialized him at home with friends and other dogs until he was fully vaccinated. Then I took him to the dog park 5 times a week, the beach, work, dog friendly restaurants, puppy school, agility training, nose work class. Despite all these efforts, Sutter was hyper vigilant. Never relaxed. Always on edge. He put a dog at the dog park in the hospital. He bit a child riding by on her tricycle. He bit people in our house, the cleaning lady, the gardener and a fireman. He chased the postman down the driveway baring his teeth. Amazingly none of these instances were reported, but Sutter’s freedoms were restricted. I rescued Sutter and it was my job to keep him safe. Inside our home with our family, Sutter was a dream. He never chewed anything. He wasn’t needy. He was affectionate. And quiet.

After my divorce I moved into an apartment, and hired a dog walker. I gave her very explicit instructions. About two weeks into her job, she called me to tell me that Sutter bit the apartment manager. Two days later, Sutter bit a dog. Sutter had three days to find a new home. I managed to find him a place to stay until I could move. I was not giving up on my dog.

Sutter was a management issue. Walking him became more and more stressful. Crossing the street when people came towards us. Pulling him away from children who wanted to pet him. As I became more vigilant, Sutter fed off the energy and got worse. Walking him was no longer fun, it was a chore with the thought, “What’s going to happen next” constantly going through my head.

I tried everything: trainers with an iron fist, muzzles, and thunder shirts, medication. Nothing helped. He growled at everyone that gave him a sideways glance. He lunged without warning. He air snapped. But all the while at home, he was a great companion, goofy happy and chill.

Last week, our elderly neighbor was walking by, and as her back was turned, Sutter lunged, knocked her to the ground and bit her. No warning. What would a dog who has been loved his whole life, have to fear? What is going through his head that makes him so insecure and defensive that he would do this? Again, luck was on my side and our 84 year old neighbor made it through unhurt.

I talked to experts and trainers, veterinarians and shelter staff. Sutter had no chance to be rehomed; it would just transfer the liability from my home to another. I could limit his freedoms even more. Only walking him in the dead of night. I could put a muzzle on him at all times. But then the question of quality of life comes up. Quality of life for him. Quality of life for me.

All this time, for the last 4 years or so, the thought of euthanasia has loomed in the background. And to be brutally honest, a bit of relief would seep through the heartbreak when I thought of it. Relief at not wondering when the next time would be. Relief at not worrying about getting a call from the police or animal control. Relief at not being at risk of a lawsuit. Relief at avoiding the distinct possibility that Sutter could badly hurt someone. Of all the people I spoke with, only one told me not to consider putting him down. Because I would never forgive myself; because I would feel guilty for the rest of my life. That, to me, is a selfish reason not to do it. How would I feel if Sutter put a child in the hospital or killed a dog? The guilt would be unbearable. The guilt that I didn’t do something sooner.

So yesterday, I spent the day with my boy Sutter. I made him a scrambled egg for breakfast and he had the last bite of banana. We took a long walk along the coast, and I let him sniff every blade of grass, and eat whatever tasty morsel I would usually pull him away from. I let him look for mice in the scrub. We watched hawks hunt for their breakfast and stared at the ocean. He rolled in the wet grass and jumped up smiling at me.

Then, we took him to the vet. We went into the quiet room and spent some time with him. The tech came and gave him a shot that made him sleepy. Even then he was strong, he refused to go to sleep and jumped up several times, walking like a drunk. We finally convinced him to lie down on the blanket. We pet him and kissed him and gave him treats and hugged him and told him we love him so much. The vet came in and injected him with some bright blue medicine, and his breathing and heart slowed down. His eyes remained open and we talked to him gently, telling him to go to sleep. Then he was gone.

My pain was excruciating, and it still is. And maybe my friend is right. I may never forgive myself for playing God and deciding Sutter’s time was up. And the rescue volunteer in me is calling myself a hypocrite of the worst kind. How can I save a dog, only to euthanize him when he was still so vibrant and healthy?

I will likely struggle with these thoughts for many years to come. And I will always miss Sutter, the little puppy that I rescued. But in the end I know I saved him from himself.

 

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Update – one week after posting:

It’s been a week.

I am reeling from all the support I am getting from strangers far and wide. I wish I could respond to each and every one of you, and I hope that those whom shared their own stories can feel my big, virtual hug.

I didn’t write my story to share it, I wrote it for myself. Catharsis. And it was cathartic. But then I got to thinking, despite the sensitive topic, perhaps there are others who have gone through the struggle, who are going through the struggle, who may have to go through the struggle. I had no idea so many people put their dogs down for reasons similar to mine. And some people were forced after a final harrowing incident. People have been sued. People spent thousands of dollars digging themselves out from the aftermath of their dog’s actions. Dogs have been taken away by animal control and euthanized by the authorities (my biggest fear).

I was playing Russian Roulette. But with a big red dog.

I am also reeling from some of the cruel and hurtful comments. I know I opened myself up by posting my story on a public forum. I was actually a bit wary as I clicked the ‘publish’ button on the WordPress site. I voluntarily made myself vulnerable to the rude, cruel, condescending, judgmental, holier-than-thou people that I know are lurking about. But still, my open wounds started to bleed.

To the people who asked why I didn’t just buy a house with a big yard: What a nice idea. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. Buying a house with a nice big yard for Sutter would cost at least a million and a half dollars. Even if I could afford that, in a practical sense, a nice big yard is not all that a dog needs. When I was married, I had a nice big yard. Sutter never went out there unless he had to go potty. He would rather hang out on the couch inside.

To those that asked why I waited so long to put him down: The situation was not as cut and dried as it seemed. Sutter did make contact with multiple people and dogs, but the incidents were always spaced apart by months or even years. After each incident, I tried new remedies like a muzzle, medication, a new trainer, better management.  I admit I was in denial, and I admit that I let my guard down. He seemed to be calming down and getting much better. During the last incident with the old lady, Sutter was seemingly ignoring her altogether. He was sniffing something off the path, and she was walking by on the other side. Sutter lunged and jumped after her as she had already walked by. He was lightening fast and there was zero warning. I regret that this happened with all my heart. And I am so lucky that the lady was okay even though she fell on her face. That was the wake up call. The thought of Sutter being taken away by animal control, and the recollection of all the past incidents, and the recommendations of several trainers, behaviorists, the vet, my attorney, family and friends, led me to the conclusion that enough was enough. I had already moved once, and I recently bought my condo. I loved Sutter with all my heart, but the realization that someone could be hurt very badly, I could be sued, I could lose everything, was a dark cloud hanging over my head.

Why was he allowed so close to people? Why did we let him come into contact with anyone on the walks? As someone stated, it is impossible to control the world. Do you realize how many off-leash dogs are around all the time? And how many toddlers run around wild, not listening to their parents’ calls to come back?

To the people who said we should just keep him inside at all times: Sutter loved his walks. He would stand at the door, wag his tail and smile, waiting for his walks. I walked him. A lot. At 8 years old he did not need as much stimulation and exercise as he did as a young dog. But I walked him a lot to keep his energy down. I got up at 5am every morning and took him out for 45 minutes, rain or shine. Then after work, I took him for 3-5 miles. Every day. Sutter would no longer thrive had he been on house arrest. And he still needed the exercise.

What about a muzzle? For a dog like Sutter, quality life would surely suffer. He was a highly sensitive dog, and a muzzle bothered him to the point of catatonia.

And yes, I know that cattle dogs are not for everyone. And yes, I know that cattle dogs need free space to run and play. They are working dogs and need to be kept busy. Sutter was abandoned in a box mere days old. I had no idea what his breed was when I adopted him. He had a short nose and floppy ears. At about 4 or 5 months old, his ears popped up and his nose got long. Even if I knew he was a cattle dog, I could not predict that I would get divorced and be forced to move out of my home. Things happen to people. And I did everything I could to keep him with me, even when he bit the apartment manager and got evicted.

What about medication? Sutter had blood work done and medical exams and there was nothing ‘wrong’ that the vet could detect. We tried anti-anxiety medication which did absolutely nothing. We tried sedatives which did nothing until the dose got high enough for him to be a zombie. Neither were good solutions.

What about finding a home with lots of land or a no-kill shelter? I wonder if any of the people saying I should have just found a new home would have taken on a 60 lbs, high energy, unpredictable dog who lunges and bites dogs and kids and people without warning. And as for ‘no-kill’ shelters…very few of those really exist. Even ‘no-kill’ shelters kill. They kill when a dog is sick or aggressive, to make room for others. A sensitive dog like Sutter, scared of loud noises, not happy around other dogs and strangers – what would his life be like locked in a cage like that? I honestly don’t think just being alive is enough. Doesn’t one also have to experience joy?

I was accused of not spending enough time with him. I was told that he needed to be with me 100% of the day, every day. How dare I leave him at home when I work. I was berated and told that I was the cause of his anxiety and violence. People hoped that I didn’t have children, and said I should be sterilized. I need a “kick up the backside”. I saw comments like ‘every dog can be trained’, ‘you didn’t try hard enough’ and that I have just given permission to the world to kill healthy dogs. Someone told me that they hope I see his face every day and suffer. I lied to my dog, gave him a great day, then killed him. I am a piece of shit. I am an asshole. I am useless and worthless. I will go to hell. The dogsnobs blog dedicated a whole blog post to me, my bad decision, the mismanagement of my dog, and what an idiot I am. Selfish, evil bitch. I should go fuck myself.  And my favorite, from dear Star Mitchell: I should go kill myself.

So yes, I am grateful for all the support, but I am a human being with feelings and the desire for people to respect and be kind to me. Of course, with the events of last Monday, I am grieving, regretting, questioning, wishing I could go back in time. So for now, I am going to lick my wounds, and take a walk to the coast, where my Sutter Puppy and I walked every day.

 

453 thoughts on “I Put My Dog Down Today”

  1. I am so sorry you had to go through this. I had to put my 17 year old cocker spaniel to sleep in 2004 because her kidneys were failing and that was very hard. I probably would have done the same thing with Sutter but with a breaking heart, knowing he was so loved while I had him and did the best for him I could. Just remember he went over the Rainbow Bridge with all the other special pets that people loved. You can never bring Sutter back but there are millions of animals out there that need all of our love and care and I know you will find that special someone again that you will be mom too. Best of luck always.

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    • You put your beloved dog to sleep because of an illness, she ended her dogs life just because SHE couldn’t manage. Only thinking about herself in the terms of SHE could get sued, SHE could lose everything. It’s a sad, horrible situation. There was many options that it seems she didn’t even attempt. My only thought is i do hope she feel the remorse of murdering her family member so she won’t do it again. My heart is with her, but more importantly my heart is with Sutter.

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      • Thank you for sharing your experience with Sutter. Im sorry for your loss, but in my heart feel you went to great lenghths to keep the dog.
        I am in a very much the same situation with my white lab Abbey. Shes bitten me seven times and drawn blood. Bit my husband once and is more aggresive..she chases kids, runners, and has dragged mr on the ground three times. Once recently into the side of the house hit my side body and face. Yet in house she does commands and is very hyper. We spent a lot on vet bills and can not keep this up. I don’t thinl we can sell or give her away. Human society will probably put her down. Its exhausting me and my husband our health is not good. So im afraid Abbey needs to be put down. It’ll be a very sad day, yet a relief in many ways.
        God bless you and please pray for us on one october.

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      • You’re a complete prick. Judgemental wanker. It’s easy to critique but hard to actually be constructive and share this. Good luck with people liking you.

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      • Anonymous you are cold-hearted and unable to understand all the circumstances that Melanie went through to “manage” her dog. You should be ashamed posting these statements and not not having the courage to own your words by posting yourself as anonymous. More people should be a courageous as Melanie to realize her only option.

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      • You have literally no idea what you’re talking about. I would like to see you try to handle the same situation.

        Also, there is zero logic in saying someone is selfish for not wanting more people and animals to get hurt, you idiot.

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  2. Dont be so hard on yourself. Sutter got more love from you than anyone else could have ever given to him. You had more patience with him than most do with their own children. Your story conveys so much love in your heart, not just for your pet but for life too. The most important thing in all this is that you dont love that love in compassion you have in your heart. Dont let this heartbreaking attempt discourage you from pouring all that love into a new friend, whether it be beast or man. I admire you. You may not have done EVERYTHING POSSIBLE, but you did for more than what anyone could consider reasonable. Free yourself of guilt. The reality is the shortened time he had with you was so much more than 99.9% of people that adopt would have done for him. Keep on keepin’ on.

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  3. I think you did the right thing. Sometimes we have to do things in life that hurts us so much. He had a good life with you and he did not suffer. I’m in a position right now where I have two older pets that will need put down sooner than later. It’s very hard . My heart and prayers are with you!

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  4. Know this: for every instance Sutter lunged, growled, or ended up biting someone he must have felt bursts of emotion/stress/aggression that even he did not understand. He was your sweet dog who was at the mercy of behaviors he could not control. You showed absolute mercy in delivering him from this day-in, day-out struggle. Try to remember that and ignore those who have no clue how hard you worked to find solutions for your sweet boy.. He likely had some type of brain based pathology that veterinary medicine has yet to unravel. Be well.

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    • Very well said. There are many humans who grow up in wonderful homes with no abuse or major trauma and still develop into pedophiles, rapists, and killers. Sometimes there are just genetic malfunctions that cause animals of all kinds to behave in ways that are not able to be righted. In the case of Sutter, he may have had an enlarged amygdala, which can cause heightened fear and aggression. Hopefully someday scientists and doctors will be able to find the roots of these problems and amend them.

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  5. I had a similar situation about 10 years ago with my cat. He was suffering from bad urinary tract infections, and I’d take him to the vet for the doc to treat him for one, and a couple of weeks later he’d come down with another. The vet finally told me, when I asked if he was suffering too much from the infections and the trauma from the vet visits, “At this point, are you keeping him alive for his sake, or for yours?” I knew then it was time to let him go, and the doc euthanized him an hour later. You did the right thing in letting him go, and don’t let any internet trolls tell you otherwise. Take comfort in all the good memories you have of Sutter, and although I’m not particularly religious, I know I’ll see Muchkin again someday, and I’m sure Sutter will be waiting for you when your time comes too!

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  6. Dear Melanie, no matter how hard it was, you did the right thing.
    I’d thank the good Lord every day, that Sutter didn’t maim or kill a child, an adult or a dog, during his Life. How could you have lived with yourself, a rational , loving , responsible human being, if he had.
    He was NOT a rational ,responsible human being. YOU and no one else were responsible for him.
    People talk, and probably mean well, but in the end, they were NOT responsible for him.
    I admire you for your decision, and the guts to carry it through.
    SUTTER loved you and DID NOT die a killer !!!!!!! Bless you and hang in there… Ines.

    Reply

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