Monday, August 13, 2012

"The wild animals answer, consciously, no question about their conduct. But once in a while some human belonger to silences who has a heart, that watches and receives, gets an answer."
Sundown, by John Joseph Mathews

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In spite of his love for us and us for him, Otis did not love the rest of the world. He presented with aggression towards people both outside and inside our home. We had to put him to sleep last week.

It's taken an unusual emotional toll on me. One day I think I'm fine; the next I'm not—I can't eat, I can't sleep, I can't concentrate on work. I think a lot about what it is we as a society now expect of dogs, the stress we put on them to measure up to sometimes-impossible standards of behavior, the laws that try to hold them—and us—up to these standards. And then sadness turns to anger.

Growing up, I was surrounded by dogs, not all of them nice. A constant refrain among adults was, "You leave that dog alone. He'll bite you and you'll only have yourself to blame." We never thought anything of it. A dog was allowed to be an individual, allowed to have its likes and dislikes. Only if it turned out to be an unmanageable problem, only if it failed in its ability to work, did my father or one of the ranch hands take it out into the hills to be shot. But that rarely happened. Even the most surly dogs managed to fit in with the groove of day-to-day life.

Take a dog like Otis (who, by the way, was not a pit bull, but a mix of what our vet thinks was American Bulldog and perhaps Dogo Argentino), though, and put him in the hands of the wrong kind of person (Otis's previous owners), and you have a problem, not an asset or even an individual. You have, according to courts who adjudicate in our increasingly fear-based society, a monster. The solution is zero tolerance.

Had we known Otis's history (which I only found out after the fact and at great insistence with the shelter), had we realized that territorial aggression cannot be tested for in a shelter environment but only manifests once a dog bonds strongly to its people and place, we would never have adopted him. But so many shelters, under increasing pressure to MOVE dogs, do not test correctly and refrain from providing potential adopters with the information they need to make safe, educated choices.

One way or the other, Otis was going to pay the price for this neglect. One way or the other, Otis was always dead dog walking.


LẌ said...

Sincere condolences.

When I was growing up, my parents took away and had one of my dogs killed because she had gotten territorial. It still is a painful memory.

BlazngScarlet said...

I am so very sorry Moi.

Bretthead said...

Aww. Bummer. For what it's worth, tragic events often create an emotional environment of fantastic writing. You always write well, but this had more bite to it. Sorry for the bad pun fully intended. I have a habit of joking in all too serious situations. Hence my handle on here I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Moi, how unfortunate and sad! It is so difficult to fix a damaged dog. We know you did your best, but some things cannot be undone. (I sensed something had happened when your blog changed, but had no idea of the tradedy.) At least Otis got love and caring while he was with you, even if for a short time. Please let it comfort you that you did your best for him. He knew it.

Your anger is so justified.

Dang, my heart goes out to you!


Sharon Rudd said...

I’ve never had to put a pet down, thank goodness. But it’s a loss however it comes about.

I lost my 15-year-old cat, Scout, last week. Talk about pets being individuals, for many of his 15 years, Scout was a perpetual teenager patrolling our little cul-de-sac. In his early days, he was out and about charming the widow ladies on my street. After they passed and younger families with kids moved in, he befriended the young tikes too. I will never forget the day the then-only-child of a neighbor proudly showed me a buff-colored stuffed animal she’d named Scout because it reminded her of my little buddy.

That family now has four kids, and they’ve grown past the age where they’d scurry across the yard or clamor onto my porch to pet “Kitty.” Scout always took it with good humor. Sometimes rolling around on his back, as if to invite someone to rub his belly.

He seemed to bounce back after his mysterious disappearance last fall. But he must have used up more of those proverbial feline nine lives on his walkabout than I’ll ever know. I will miss him.

My heart goes out to you, Moi. And in some weird way I thank you for your post, which has helped me write a bit of an obit for Scout and shed some much-needed tears.

xoxo, eggy

Aunty Belle said...


Like yore family, Pappy Cracker rarely would put down a dawg--an' he a plenty of 'em, some fer huntin'. But dawgs wuz allowed to be dawgs, as ya note above. Granny were the champion pup trainer, an' if she couldn't git a dawg off to a good start it went to a farm family, rather than squash the pup in an urban setting.

I'se grieved fer ya' Moi--more than ya may know--our clan also lost a pup this week (Front Porch) also three years old. His death wuz from old injury/ new stress on the injury- a happy companion thas' sorely missed--whatever the reason we humans lose our dawgs, it's a knife twist. I'se so so sorry.

czar said...

Quite the cautionary tale. Thinking of you here.

@Eggy: We have a cat like that. 16 years old now. Has helped raise our neighbors' seven grandchildren, the first of whom was terrified of cats until meeting ours. When the child was old enough to go to school and they gave him the inevitable Thanksgiving assignment, "What are you thankful for?" his answer was simple: Elvis.

moi said...

lx and Scarlet: Thank you.

WTWA: It's okay; you always manage to make me spit out a little bit of my coffee. That's a good thing.

Serendipity: Yes, I do feel good about the time we did have together. He got to be part of a family, running free with us in the hills several times, playing with his Boomer ball, sleeping on the sofa. Getting lots of love. It's a terrible shame because he was so smart and so keyed in.

Eggy: My condolences on Scout's passing. It's never easy losing a beloved pet, regardless of age or circumstance. Those emotional bonds that we form are very, very strong.

Aunty: I have never been much for puppies, because unless one buys from a very reputable breeder, there are some things that can't be assessed at an early age and that "nurture" won't fix. Which is why I've always gone for older dogs—by the time one is 2 or 3, pretty much what you see is what you get—their behavior can be assessed and they are still amenable to training. Territorial aggression, however, is quite a different ballgame, and I didn't snap to the fact that I was dealing with a guarding breed. Nor did I know the terrible circumstances from which he came. But, you are right. In another day and time we could have kept Otis, worked with him, managed him. But not in this society, with it's hair trigger lust for litigation and fear of everything. We simply could not take the risk.

Czar: Sweet story. Part of what makes life so great is the relationships we form with those few animals that have something extra special. We may domesticate them, but they turn out to teach us quite a bit about being human.

Aunty Belle said...

New post on Front Porch--please come offer yore insight.

darkfoam said...

I'm so sorry to read this. I know that you formed an attachment to this dog. It is a cautionary tale. I adopted my first ever mutt puppy from an animal shelter 11 years ago. Great dog, social, loves people ... not very fond of other dogs at all. Despite training, I couldn't get him socialized to other dogs either. He was the neglected runt of the litter. You are right. When you get a puppy from the pound, you don't know what you are getting.

Poor Otis :(

moi said...

Foam: Thanks for your condolences. I'm not bothered by dog aggression, because it's pretty easy to manage. And it's not a gateway drug to human aggression, either. As your pup illustrates, DA dogs are usually über social with people and that's awesome. But a dog that is human aggressive is a totally different problem, not manageable, but dangerous and, in this sue-happy day and age, a real legal liability. But, as with DA, being grumpy with humans is not an ethical judgement on a dog. Dogs don't know ethics, they don't know right from wrong. They only know what their instincts and we humans instruct. They only know what works.