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Pet Peeve: Making a Ruff Decision

Truman is getting a new home. He'll be going to live with my mom for an unknown period of time, maybe for the rest of his life. Coming to this decision took over a year, a lot of talking, a lot of trying new things, a lot of bones and phenobarbital (for the dog), a lot of guilt and shame (for me).

Growing up, I identified myself as an animal lover. Our family always included at least one or two non-humans, and I never pictured myself voluntarily living without a pet of some sort. I worked at a veterinarian's office in high school and seriously considered pursuing veterinary school. My 16th birthday present was a black cat named Noir who thought (and still thinks) of himself as a human because his kittenhood was characterized by my constantly keeping him at eye level by either carrying him with me around the house or placing him on counter tops while I worked on homework or household chores. When I went to college and lived in dormitories, I couldn't take him with me, so he stayed with my mom. During this time period, I somehow developed an allergy to cats, and each time I came home for breaks, I was more and more allergic to him. John and his kids are all allergic to cats, too, so there was no way I could bring him with us. I get to visit him regularly, but always leave with hives on my face because I can't help but let him head-butt me in the forehead affectionately as he is wont to do (I taught him to greet me at eye-level, after all).

The first year we were married, we adopted Truman as a puppy. He'd been found at 3-4 weeks old in an abandoned box outside of a Wal-Mart. At the time, the youngest kid in our house was 10 years old and theoretically self-sufficient. We both worked 8-5 jobs and had free time in evenings and on weekends. I took Truman to obedience classes and spent time with working with him daily on his behavior, because even though he'd been neutered as part of the adoption agreement with the rescue organization, he was more mouthy and aggressive than average, and I was concerned about him thinking he was the alpha dog (my niece and nephew were babies and frequently visited, we had neighbor kids in our yard, I knew we'd be having kids eventually, and I didn't want to have an aggressive dog). He was a great dog, we'd always say. He had a very unique look, no health problems, he slept quietly on the floor in our bedroom every night and didn't disturb us, never ate our socks or dug holes in our back yard. Sure, he was high energy, but he was a nice dog, basically low maintenance, and DEFINITELY part of the family. Those people that decided to just irresponsibly and cruelly "get rid" of their pets when they had babies were so unworthy of ever being pet owners. How could they just abandon a member of the family? I would NEVER do anything like that.

After the kids were born and Truman got older, instead of seeing a decrease in his energy level and hyper tendencies, we saw an increase as we had less time to focus on him and he had more desire to make his presence known to us. We began to notice that if left alone for five seconds near the kitchen, he would jump onto our counters and eat whatever he could find there. He would dig through our trash cans and eat wadded up paper towels. He would swallow baby socks whole, then deposit them, bile-soaked, onto our carpet a few hours later. These things were all big disappointments and frustrations, but we went on. He was simply another quirky, high-maintenance member of our on-the-edge family.

Last year, we discovered he was epileptic, and we started the confusing and long process of getting him on the correct dosage of seizure-preventing medication. The meds that are supposed to cause lethargy seem to make him even more prone to eating socks and kleenex, more prone to barking and slamming his 70-pound body against our sliding glass door if we dare to leave him outside for ten minutes, more prone to reminding us, through all of our other life chaos, that he is the one who's not getting what he needs in this family.

We joke about the madness around here, and it probably seems funny and entertaining when I use the word "shriek" to talk about losing my sanity with my very intense child who talks and challenges non-stop; and it probably seems like exaggeration when I refer to John's daughter's extreme lethargy and the lengths we go to every single day to put her on a path different from her depressed, self-loathing mother; and it probably seems like hyperbole that we consider ourselves on the edge of society, with no close in-person friends because of the seemingly endless quirks we all bring into this menagerie. But here's the thing: none of this is really exaggeration. Our dog really is slamming his body into our glass door and would do so 24 hours a day if left to his own devices; John's clients really are calling our home repeatedly at dinner time while we ignore the loud rings and focus on yelling at our kids to sit down and stop having a tantrum about consuming one single LENTIL, or even a processed cheese-covered pasta shell; our 16-year-old really is in her room sleeping anytime she has a choice of what to do with her time despite being in counseling, on meds, and in constant contact with us, her friends, her extended family, all of whom are trying to get her to wake the hell up and embrace her life; our four-year-old really is talking, challenging, and negotiating with us non-stop, and often accents this with harsh instances of a complete loss of emotional and physical control; our three-year-old really has learned from all of these psycho behaviors and we really do spend time trying to undo at least some of that damage which is near impossible since he's still simultaneously exposed to all of the madness; and most of all, I really do feel on the edge of a breakdown half the time, and so does John. For the record, and to ward off any undue worry about anyone's physical safety, we can love our kids, try every day to improve things, and yet still feel this way. I know that such a thing is possible, because that, my friends, is our reality -- not something created for the entertainment of our vast audience (hello, all five of you!).

So. We have a lot to handle, but we manage it.

HOW. EV. ER. Truman. The dog. The slamming of the 70-pound body against the glass door during nap times, meal times, rare-company-in-our-house times? PROBLEMO. The worsening eating of the baby socks after the kids were born? Turned into the eating of anything not large, metal, or connected to the floor. The bile-soaked items turning up on our rug? UM. TWO CURIOUS KIDS UNDER AGE 5 LIVING IN THIS HOUSE. PICKING UP SAID BILE-SOAKED ITEMS. Also, the puppy aggression I mentioned earlier? Never went away. He has snapped at both kids on more than one occasion - and not because they were doing anything aggressive like pulling his tail or using his body as a trampoline - they simply overstepped the vague doggie bounds Truman created and failed to communicate to us lowly humans. I don't know what the final straw was, but on one recent evening as John and I attempted to have a conversation after putting the kids to bed, we were continually interrupted by Truman's aggressive thrashing against the injustice of the back door, and our decision was made. That night, we'd just dealt with a ridiculous amount of strife involving, at one or another point, every single child inhabiting our chaotic residence; the thrashing represented months and years of a creature whose needs we simply could no longer meet.

A few nights after my mom and stepdad volunteered to provide Truman's new home but before we'd made the hand-off, I took him for a run in the neighborhood. On the way back home, I ran into a neighbor with daughter Bryce's age, who asked politely if she could pet the dog. I agreed, and then started chatting with her mom. While I had him on a leash with a choke chain, he got nervous because of the neighbor's dog and ENDED UP BITING THE LITTLE GIRL. Biting. Her.



He didn't break the skin, I guess it was a "warning" bite. To a five-year-old. Who was softly petting his head and cooing at him. This is a dog who currently lives with a four- and three-year-old. I already doubted how safe an aggression-prone dog was in our house, where chaos rules. Now, I have a legitimate fear about leaving him in a situation where something causes him to snap and bite one of the kids.

As much as I love the dog and as guilty as I feel for becoming one of "those" people abandoning my pet, doing one of those things I swore I'd never do, I simply can't put my kids, or the kids around us, at daily risk. I don't know if this was something we caused or brought on because of the absolutely insane nature of our household, but it doesn't really matter what caused it anymore. The problem exists: the dog isn't getting what he needs; as a result, or in addition to that, he is becoming more aggressive, specifically towards children.

The fact that my mom and stepdad are willing to take him means that the kids (who love Truman despite, or maybe because of, his quirks) will be able to see him regularly, and that he'll be around other, MELLOW dogs (I'm hoping their behavior will rub off on him). I'll miss him -- I'll miss the dog I thought I was adopting, just like any of us miss the perfect life we envisioned for ourselves before REAL life shattered that image and made us re-evaluate it all. But I know, for once I am certain, that this is the right thing to do.