What do you do when the dog you love is likely to cause serious harm to someone?
I don’t know.
There’s never an easy answer, rarely a “right” or “wrong” choice.
We do the best we can.
What I’ve learned through my work as a pet sitter and rescue volunteer is sometimes dog lovers will disagree, and that’s OK. It’s OK to disagree as long as we can still support one another.
I know euthanizing aggressive dogs is a difficult topic, one many people won’t want to read about.
But it’s a topic we need to talk about. There are aggressive dogs out there – some treatable, some manageable, others not. Many remain in a “gray area.”
The following are the stories of three dog lovers willing to share their personal experiences. My hope is that their stories will help others.
Please share your support in the comments.
Chinook the mixed breed
“I am a dog trainer, in part, because of the one I couldn’t save.”
Trish McMillan Loehr fostered and raised a puppy with the pup’s mom and littermates back in 1997.
“I was living with a boyfriend, apprenticing to become a dog trainer at the time, and raised the puppies by the book, lots of early handling and socialization,” she said.
She decided to keep one of the puppies, an “eerily smart” chocolate pup named Chinook.
“At three weeks of age, Chinook was growling during routine puppy handling,” she said. “He was spooking away from strangers by eight weeks of age and lunging and snarling at us over possessions by four months.”
At six months, Loehr said it took four people to restrain Chinook for the blood draw needed to put him on Prozac.
“We tried a number of different behavior meds for the next year, but nothing could make Chinook a safe dog,” she said. “He had a lot of training, more than any dog I’ve had before or since and was very smart and obedient most of the time. Until he wasn’t.”
She said her dog was worse at night and around resources – some real, some imagined.
Once, Chinook attacked Loehr’s boyfriend on the back porch where the dog had gotten into some trash the night before but had since been cleaned up. Another time, Chinook lunged at Loehr after she set his food bowl down. He then stood over the bowl and urinated in it.
As the dog became older, Loehr said the bites became harder, leaving punctures and deep, black bruises.
She described her experience living with Chinook as living under house arrest, unable to have friends over. She would walk her dog in the middle of the night and had nightmares that Chinook had escaped from the yard.
“Toward the end, Chinook gave a threatening growl if he saw a human roll over in bed at night,” she said.
“He had to start sleeping in a crate in the living room after that but lunged and snarled at the bars if he saw movement or if anyone approached after 9 or 10 at night. It was as though he didn’t even recognize us. In the morning, he would wake up happy and kissy as he had been as a puppy.”
Loehr made – and cancelled – two appointments to have Chinook euthanized because she said he was never at his worst on the day of an appointment.
“On his last day, Chinook had my boyfriend trapped in the living room and me in the office. He was lunging and growling at each of us if we moved. I managed to get to the kitchen, ball up some sedatives into a piece of bread, toss it to him, and wait for the meds to slow Chinook down so that we could take him to the vet for that last, final needle.”
She described her dog as brilliant, beautiful and otherwise healthy, but she believes ending his life was the most humane choice for everyone.
“After being hostage to him for 18 months, I decided I had to let him go.”
Belle the pointer mix
Elizabeth said she and her husband gave their dog Belle “five wonderful years.”
When they adopted her, they figured they were Belle’s third home because her previous owner had gotten her from a shelter a month or two earlier.
After picking her up and getting her home and settled, they knew Belle was dog reactive and to keep a careful eye on her around other dogs.
Later, Elizabeth said they had some issues with their living arrangement but described Belle (the dog with the white chest) as a “trooper” through it all.
“We spent 93 days in a hotel, then in an apartment building with other people and finally were allowed back into the house. That’s where things started going weird.”
For example, she said Belle and another dog had a small fight in the street.
“She actually broke the screen on the back of my honey’s truck to go attack a puppy at a friend’s house,” she said.
“The second time she did that, my other half got her and our other dog back in the truck and pointed his finger at her and said ‘no.’ She nipped his finger and our other dog growled at him. He knew right then and there that he would never trust her again.”
Because their other dog, D.O.G., had backed up Belle, Elizabeth said her husband gave D.O.G. six months to “turn around” otherwise they would have to put him down as well.
“My other half just recently told me that that was one of the hardest things that he’s done,” she said. “Wait and see if our aggressive dog had taught some of it to our other, more mellow dog. Thankfully, she had not.”
Elizabeth said the day they chose to have Belle euthanized was a horrible day at work. She called their regular vet and made the appointment.
After giving Belle a thorough exam, the vet tried to talk them out of it at first.
Elizabeth said this gave her a little “glimmer of hope” until the vet said they couldn’t take Belle anywhere that would make her reactive.
“In the end, we made the right decision,” Elizabeth said. “I miss her. She was my summer lunch buddy and my girl. But the stress in our house was gone that evening. I never realized how much she had us wound up.”
Silky the coon hound mix
Susan chose to euthanize her dog Silky 10 years ago due to aggression.
“Next to losing my daughter at birth, it was by far the most difficult moment of my life, and I am not being dramatic. I still think about her almost every day,” she said.
Susan and her family had adopted Silky (not pictured) from a shelter when the dog was about 2.5 years old. She said Silky adapted quickly to their household, which included Susan’s 2-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.
“However, she was very, very food aggressive and on several occasions growled and became aggressive when kids were carrying food around,” she said.
Over the next two years, the aggression became a big issue.
“With kids going in and out all the time, we sequestered her on our second floor,” Susan said. “We saw several trainers, used a pet psychologist and were looking to re-home her when she had a series of bites.”
She said Silky would often get between her and the stove while barking and growling for food.
Within a two-week period, Silky bit two of her son’s 6-year-old friends. One incident involved food. One did not.
Silky also attacked a neighbor who was clearing food off the table, Susan said. This neighbor went to the hospital for stitches and required several rounds of IV antibiotics.
“After consulting with our family vet and several friends who are vets, we felt the right thing to do was to euthanize,” Susan said. “It was heartbreaking.”
Her vet tried to talk her out of it but Susan knew the dog would not be safe in any home.
“I still remember the heartbreak and of holding her as the vet put her down,” she said. “The looks from the vet techs who shook their heads at me and told me not to do it.”
Yet, she knew it was right.
“After hearing the screams of six year olds who were bit and seeing the agony of my neighbor, I know that it was the best thing to do.”
Thank you to these three women for sharing their stories. – Lindsay