This is Addaway. This picture was taken about 20 minutes before he died. Read about his life and the joy he brought our family.
He was named after an old man in a hospital Janelle used to work in. He was our first dog together and we had him for longer than we have been married so far. He was both of our first dog as adults. And today we had to put him down. Let me tell you the story, not for your sake, but for mine.
We had been dating for about 11 months. We had been engaged for two. In the throes of planning a wedding in under 5 months and the 2009 Christmas season, we said to each other, “Let’s go to the Humane Society, just to see what it’s all about. We absolutely won’t come home with a dog, we just want to look into options.” We had talked about getting dogs in generic terms, but before we knew it, she was taking this picture:
He was super sweet. He came to live with me, and we had so much fun together. Somewhere I have a picture of him with a wrapping paper tube that was 4 times his size. He was playful and energetic. Everything we looked for in a puppy.
Once we were married and started settling in, we wanted to focus our efforts on training him. Both of us had grown up in homes with dogs, but we had never trained any of our dogs growing up. We wanted to be good responsible dog owners and have a well-trained dog. At this point, he wasn’t really well-behaved or poorly behaved, he was just a dog that could do whatever he wanted, and we wanted to give his life some structure.
So, being entirely new to the training of dogs, I had seen the local PetSmart offered classes. I talked to an instructor and we picked out a beginners class for him, he was a little over 6 months old.
Sandy was our instructor. She was great. She still asks us how “Addaboy” is doing when we see her in the store, which is about every other time we walk in. We haven’t had the opportunity to share the latest update with her yet.
The class covers the very basics. We worked on “sit”, “stay”, “down”, loose-leash walking, and maybe a few other basic things. Addaway learned very well, he would do anything for the liver treats Sandy had. It was here during this training that we discovered our first issue with him, he didn’t get along with some other dogs.
There was one dog in particular in class that he didn’t like, and I think that dog didn’t like him much either. Sometimes he was ok, but a lot of the time Adda would lunge and snap at him. Sometimes he would snap at the other 3 dogs in the class, but he really didn’t like just that one dog.
Looking back, I can see that fear and anxiety were there then, right at the beginning. But we didn’t know. We had no idea what to look for or how to understand that.
He graduated from the class, and we got the “My Dog Has Class” magnet that still hangs on our fridge.
Addaway was a pretty good learner. Janelle worked with him quite a bit, and he got very good at sitting, rolling over, high-five, and he even played dead sometimes when you “shot” him with your finger. Things seemed to be going well.
I’m not exactly sure where things started to change, or if there was a trigger. I don’t think so. I can’t really remember anything specifically sticking out, but he became more aggressive and much harder to control. There were times when we would have to put his leash on, hook the other end through his kennel then pull him into it, just to get him to go to bed.
We got a Gentle Leader to help control him when we would go for walks. That helped, especially when we walked, but there was definitely quite a while where we didn’t know what we were going to do. We started to ask around, our vet, Sandy the trainer, friends, the internet, and anyone else we could find that had trouble with dogs that were tough to deal with.
My mother suggested that a friend of hers had taken her dog to Kennelwood (no link, don’t go there, but more on that later) for a intensive training program. I started to look into other intensive training programs, and found a few in the area, but Kennelwood was by far the biggest. They had their share of bad reviews, but most of the time, people had said good things about their experience. We read several comments of “I could not control my dog, and now they are obedient.” That is what we needed.
The only thing that slowed us up? They train with a “remote collar”. That is a shock collar for those that are not familiar. We really didn’t want to do this, but clearly we had to do something. We asked Sandy, our vet, and a few other people whose opinion we trusted about using shock collars. Everyone said there are times when that is necessary and they can be effective. They are not inhumane when trained and used properly.
I still believe that to be true. It is definitely up for debate, but there are times when you can train a dog with a shock collar and it will get better. When anxiety is at the root of the problem though, I would never recommend a shock collar. Being shocked occasionally is certainly not going to make anyone, especially a dog that really doesn’t truly understand why you are doing what you are doing, any less anxious.
After a long time of consideration, we decided to go with the training. That meant he was going to be gone away from our home for 3 weeks. He boarded with them at night and trained with them all day. We had to completely remove him from the situation in order to get him in a position to get better. And it wasn’t cheap. Between buying the collar, paying for training and boarding, the bill was a little over $1000. At the time, it really seemed like the only option, and we didn’t know what else to do.
What a tough 3 weeks, the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving in 2010. We talked with the trainer a few times who continued to tell us the training was going well. I was so excited the day I got to go back and pick up my boy. I couldn’t wait.
When we got there, he was a totally different dog. Seeing as how he was uncontrollable most of the time, that was a very welcome thing. He didn’t do anything without an ok from Mike, the trainer. He was visibly shaking he was so nervous. But he was thrilled to see us. And he listened. He stayed on his “climb” until we said “free” and he would sit when we said sit. When we walked he was constantly checking us so he would know when and where to go. His obedience was fixed, but at what cost?
I should have known this wasn’t a smart decision when we took him back for our first of several included follow up appointments. The first time he was back in the training room with Mike, he pooped all over the floor. It is the only time he ever did that. He potty trained very easily, and I should have known that nerves had as much to do with that as anything. I really wish that Kennelwood had done a better job at the beginning with the intake to see why he had problems. Their services should include a better intake interview, where they meet the dog, discuss all the problems and behaviors and then recommend a treatment plan. What they did was answer a few of my questions and take my money.
At that point in his life, we really had no other options, we had done what we thought we could, and what we thought was best. Based on his behavior at the time, the recommendations we sought, and the information we had, I would make the same decision every time. Knowing what we know now and have learned since then, there are several other things I would have tried first. I guess we thought some of those weren’t “intensive” enough. We eventually did try one of those other things, but more on that in a minute.
Once we got him back from Kennelwood, we had to change how we interacted with him. We had to have him know that we were in charge. We also always had the remote with us. Most of the time we didn’t need to use it. When we did, like when we were outside and the neighbors let their dogs out too, it seemed woefully ineffective. In the end, he listened much better most of the time. He was much more obedient most of the time. But if he didn’t want to be, he could continue to act out through the pain of the shock.
We had talked to Mike about the possibility of getting another dog at some point to help keep him company, give him someone to play with and a way to get some of his energy out. He said it could be a good idea, but probably best to do it before he got too old, and before he was 18 months old would be a good time. So, the day after our 1st anniversary, we got Axl Rose (yes, that is our other dog’s name, she is a girl named after the lead singer of Guns ‘n Roses).
There were no real problems when we got her, both dogs seemed to get along just fine. Adda played pretty rough with her, and she could not figure out how to pee outside. Well, I take that back, she just peed wherever she was when she needed to pee, which was pretty often.
Trying to raise and potty train her occupied our lives for a while there. I think back now, that she was probably pretty nervous a lot of the time too. She licks things a lot, and she hides under the futon (yes, we have a futon, don’t judge). She really did pee all the time. Her nervous ticks were all “good” things. She is super cute and would just lick you all day if you let her. It was quite the struggle to get her to pee outside though. We got to a point where if she did not pee outside, she went in her kennel. When she did, so did Adda. They started spending way more time in the kennel.
While all this is going on, getting a new puppy used to life with us, we somewhat overlooked Addaway for a while, as far as behavior goes at least. I mean, he would act up, and we would shock him, but we were definitely in a holding pattern with him. He was ok. Not great, but not unbearable. The other dog here was definitely helping him not take things out on us, but now we had two crazy, nervous dogs, one that peed inside too much and one that was on edge and would snap at you.
This situation went on for about a year. We just kind of lived with it. Axl got bettter about peeing inside, but Adda was still anxious most of the time. We continued to try to work with him, but we were definitely at an equilibrium. He wasn’t getting much better. Compounding things is that we live in a duplex that I bought several years ago while single. Perfect bachelor pad, not a great place for a family. We live in one of the units, and it is about 900 sq. ft. For a dog that has lots of energy, that’s not a lot of room.
Our yard isn’t much bigger, and considering that Addaway would bark at anything that went by, we couldn’t just leave them outside too much, and never unattended (Axl had figured out how to jump the fence). When Addaway would get worked up about something, a car driving by, noises outside, and get worked up, there was the chance that he would displace that aggression and take it out on whoever was close to him, which was usually Axl. Adda especially didn’t like tight spaces and close quarters, anything restrictive would increase the chance of him lashing out.
While he had lashed out at us a few times, he usually didn’t connect, and had not broken skin. Then he did. It was probably about February this year, we were playing, and I may have touched his paw wrong, or surprised him or something, but he turned and bit my hand and broke skin. It was a puncture wound, not a tear (though I don’t think there is much difference, everyone asked if it was a puncture or tear. I guess a tear takes more commitment to the bite?). He bit me twice in less than a week. Now we started to look into other options.
He seemed to have allergies, especially in the winter. His coat was always dry and there was always gunk in his eyes. We thought that might be making him a little more edgy, so we started bathing him once a week. He hated it. He would get used to it, but he did not like being touched that much. He also hated nail trimming, but I think that is much more standard among dogs.
Sometime in early 2012, Adda had a very tough week. Twice in the same week, he bit me hard enough to break skin. Once I touched his paws while we were playing, but the other time I was just petting him. These are things that should not happen. It didn’t make me mad, it made me sad that somewhere in his brain, something went wrong and this is how he knows to react. Being at our wits end, and not knowing what else we could do, we called the behaviorist our vet recommended. The appointment was going to be 2 months away!
In March his annual vet visit came up. We went through all the same things, telling them that he is anxious and can be aggressive, we think he had allergies, but otherwise things were good. The vet told us that he could give him an allergy medication if we thought it would help, and his ears needed to be cleaned, but otherwise he was in peak physical condition. He was also glad to hear that we had made an appointment with the behaviorist, Dr. Horowitz.
We were actually going to meet with Dr. Pike, an understudy of Dr. Horowitz. She is still board certified and works very closely with Dr. Horowitz, so we were happy to get the opportunity. I, being the optimist I am was pretty sure this was going to finally be the solution to all of our problems. Janelle, being the more realistic of us, knew this was going to be tough if not impossible.
One of the first things she told us was that dogs that have shown they are willing to commit to a bite, especially to the point of drawing blood, are very tough to rehabilitate. The only sure way to make sure they never bite again is to put them down. That was so tough to hear. I think we had kind of known that could eventually be an option for a while, but I know I was definitely a little taken aback by the brute honesty of the statement. I knew it was what we needed, brutal honesty from someone who knows dogs, and I knew that we were going to be able to trust her, she wasn’t just going to tell us whatever we wanted to hear. That said, she still wanted to help us as much as possible to see if we could get him to a place where we could all be happy, which was everyone’s goal.
Our visit was in a room that had a medical feel to it, but with dog treats and products all over. She told us to sit with him on the leash and ignore him. She needed to see how he was once he relaxed. Then eventually we let him off the leash. We told her the whole story, start to finish, of how he came to be who he was, and what we had done about it. We were super excited to hear we should stop using the shock collar, we had wanted to for a while, but weren’t sure how to “ween” him off it. She said to just stop.
She also suggested we try the allergy meds, that was probably a contributing factor to his anxiety. Basically we were going to do lots of little things to limit his anxiety. His aggression was based in his anxiety, so we were going to try to give him an anxiety free world, to see how he reacted to that.
When we left, we had to do everything we could to make our house anxiety-proof. That is a tall order when you live in 900 sq. ft. in the city with super barky dogs next door! We got him another gentle leader, with instructions on how to fit him properly. He was to wear this at all times. We also put cardboard in the windows so most of the outside world would not directly affect him. We put a pheromone collar on him to aid in the relaxation. We limited his, and by default Axl’s, time outside their kennel. We played very gentle and tried our best to stay clam. We fed him separately in the bathroom with the door closed so he knew no one was going to take his food. We pulled out all the stops we could. Anything to help him and make him better and not so anxious.
I limited his walking, trying to avoid other dogs and things that would set him off. We tried to not walk when kids were going to or getting home from school. They were short and controlled and designed to be as anxiety free as possible. I walked the dogs separately, which Axl Rose hated. At least she hated when it was his turn, not so bad when it was hers.
Our original $400 appointment with Dr. Pike included the initial visit, which was almost a 3 hour visit, and 3 months of phone call follow ups. We called her every Tuesday, gave her the update on how that week had gone, made some minor tweaks in the way we treated and cared for him, then tried to do our best to follow all of her instructions (when we left the original appointment, we had about a 1 inch thick stack of instructions, not even exaggerating).
We told ourselves that we were going to take things as they go, and we would have a serious discussion of next steps after the 3 month trial with Dr. Pike’s instructions, unless another option became clear before then.
About 5 weeks into working with Dr. Pike, there were some minor advancements, he really did seem to be more at ease, and the times of him acting out had diminished significantly. There were still times that let us know he wasn’t “fixed” though. When the dogs were in the backyard, even with a newly constructed privacy fence (designed to help with the anxiety) he would still get very excited and anxious. If Axl was anywhere near him when a car drove by or the neighbor dogs were out, he would take out his displaced aggression on her.
One day, we were outside playing with the dogs, and it was time to come inside. We all went to the screen door where the dogs have been trained to sit and wait for us. Adda saw a cat and jumped through the screen door, breaking the plexiglass that was in the door. No injuries, but it was clear that we had done what we could to help him in every way we could, and while he was better than he had been, he was still not at the place where we could continue to live with him.
We had a long talk, the first of many. Our first realization was that his behavior had always been unacceptable, and we had made concession after concession to live with him. There were times of joy, sure, but a lot of the time, things were frustrating. He would learn new things, behave well on a walk, play nice with the cat, or anything else, and all the bad stuff he did would get forgotten. Not to mention that we could not play with him nearly as much as he or we wanted to for fear of being bitten. Janelle was almost always at least in a little bit of fear of him, even on good behavior, having been bitten by a dog as a child. I was not as scared, but I also got bitten a few times. I definitely treated him differently than I would have treated other dogs. And when he spends a ton of time in the kennel, we all just feel bad and guilty.
We talked with Dr. Pike and told her of our plans to not have him live with us anymore, she was very supportive. As she told us in the session and reiterated here, she does not live with him, we know him best, and we are the only ones that can make this decision. Of course, we absolutely want to rehome him, we still cannot stand the thought of having to euthanize a perfectly healthy, 2 1/2 years old dog. He just doesn’t fit into our world. If there was someone else that could give him some room to run, spend some more dedicated time with just him, take him for long runs, anything, he could continue to live, and hopefully thrive.
I made a poster with a good picture and a short explanation. I gave a very brief description of his history, along with the rules of his adoption: no families with children, no other pets, and a yard to run in would be a great plus. We emailed this to everyone we could think of, posted it on Facebook and Tumblr, we even got the Weatherbird to tweet (and subsequently retweeted) about our plight.
We got a lot of good response. A ton of people were willing to help. People offered to forward our email, shared our posts, called shelters for us; people really went out of their way. But no one had a home for him. There were a few people that were willing to take him in, but they didn’t meet the criteria, and we felt that his safety, the safety of the new family, and the safety of other animals were all worth keeping our stipulations, even though it was very difficult to turn down a chance for him to restart.
After about 2 weeks, Janelle and I had to talk a little more seriously about this. We were hopeful that we were going to find someone, but we needed to start planning for other options, including giving ourselves a time frame. Given that we had heard a good initial response, but no one even had anything as specific as “I know a guy” was a little disheartening. I called every no-kill shelter in Missouri, and they all told me similar things.
"We don’t have room"
"Have you tried training?"
"I know a good behaviorist, Dr. Horowitz."
"We only take dogs from shelters, not the general public."
"It is puppy season, we just don’t have room."
These are all basically things we knew, that this was going to be extremely difficult to find a shelter to take him. He has so many things that make it tough for him to adopt. He is a black dog, he is not a puppy, he has known aggression issues, and that is just a few things. Shelters, especially no-kill shelters, exist by being a temporary place for dogs. They rely on people adopting their dogs. There are very few places that are permanent homes for dogs, and they are not close, and they are very full. The one in Minnesota that held the most promise gets over 100 calls or emails every day. Our problem is very difficult, but we are by no means the only ones faced with this decision.
The really tough part of trying to find a shelter is that there are so many dogs that need a home that don’t have any issues, that aren’t aggressive. We know he would be hard to adopt out, so he would take a spot from another dog for longer than another dog may stay in a shelter. In the end, he might even bite someone at the shelter, forcing them to have to put him down.
So shelters were out. We gave ourselves the month of May to find a home for him. We reconsidered our decision in every way every night. Every night. We cried more often than not. I walked them 2 or 3 times every day, just to spend time with him, let him know that was indeed very loved. We consulted everyone we could think of again. We tried and tried and cried and cried. I have never faced something this tough my whole life.
We were finally near the last week of May. We had no responses yet. The time had come. Throughout this 6 week process from deciding he could not live with us anymore to where we were, Janelle was great. We toiled over this decision. She had been in the position of being there when a dog was euthanized before, and she used to work at our vet, so she made the call to make the appointment.
We had told the vet the last we were there for Axl about the situation. I was hoping they would have a home in mind, but she was very straightforward and honest with us in saying that dogs like this sometimes have to get put down. Some dogs get it, some don’t. She was very direct and offered some suggestions of no-kill shelters, all of which I had already called at that point. The vet knew of our situation, so when Janelle called and a former co-worker answered, the conversation went something like this:
J: Hi, this is Janelle…. (She could not speak, she was crying)
MaryAnn: Hi Janelle, I know why you are calling, and we are all aware, and we are very sorry. I know you want to make an appointment, well, you don’t want too, (Janelle laughed) but when would you like to come in….
Then the call continued. I am very grateful for the vet we have. They have been outstanding through this whole process. They helped us from the beginning try to keep him under control, recommending different things and services, and now when we were out of options, they were here to help and comfort us. They have been awesome, I highly recommend them.
After making the appointment on Friday May 25th for Saturday June 2nd, Janelle called me. I was just taking the dogs for a walk. I had just opened the door and let the dogs out the front porch. I sat down with them when she called. She told me that we had an appointment and we had a week left. I immediately cried. I cried for the next 30 minutes on the walk with them. I don’t think I saw many other people, but I am sure they were wondering what was wrong with me if they did see me.
When we got home from the walk I couldn’t hold it in anymore. At all. I lost it completely. I sat in the bathroom and sobbed. Loudly. Then Addaway came and sat in front of me. He let me love on him. Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself of something, but I think he was telling me it was ok. Then he tried to bite my hand. That moment, being completely torn, knowing we were making the exact right decision at the right time, and knowing that we were making the toughest decision of our lives. I have never felt so torn and hope I never do again. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
The next week was probably the toughest I have ever experienced. We talked every night about if this was right. We told all of our friends, and asked them if they knew of any last minute things we hadn’t seen or tried. We re-called people. We made every last ditch effort to do anything to not have to go to the vet Saturday. I cried all the time. I have a friend in Kansas City that was trying as hard as possible to find a shelter or a home or anything in the Kansas City area that would relieve us of this horrible obligation. Friday night I told him to stop trying, God had been speaking to both of us throughout the week and the past month, and we think He was telling us we were making the right decision.
Saturday, the day we had dreaded for more than 6 weeks, was finally here. It had been hard to sleep, and even harder to get out of bed. I was determined to make it his best day ever, so I started immediately. I gave him the “good” food bowl (the other bowl has things in it that make you eat slower). I even filled it all the way up. We took him for a walk. He growled at everyone he saw, which just made us more sad really. We cried and cried. We played in the back yard as hard as we could. We put them back in their kennel and somehow I was able to eat. I let them back out as soon as possible. We played more, I took them for another walk, and we played out back even more. We cried a few more times.
Then we took him for a drive. He loves the car, so I thought there was no better way to spend our last time with him. We drove for about an hour, and he LOVED it. We gave him treats and rolled down the windows. He had a great day. Then we came to the vet. For the drive, it was easy for me to not think of our destination, but when we got close, I couldn’t hold it together anymore. Janelle was great throughout this process, she did an amazing job of taking care of the necessary details and letting me grieve.
When we pulled into the lot, she went inside so we could make sure no other dogs in the waiting area, and that we could just go right into our room. I took Addaway to see if he needed to pee. He did. He was excited and nervous. But he also let me love on him. I took the great picture at the top of this post. He was happy. I was balling.
Janelle came and told me we were ready. We sat outside for a minute with him and enjoyed a few final minutes.
We went straight into the first room. There was a blanket on the floor. Then the waterworks really started. We had a few minutes on our own so we prayed. God is so good to us, and sometimes there are just tough things we have to do. God is still there. He was there for us throughout that process and we wanted to praise Him for that. He is good.
The vet came in, and Dr. R (he has a somewhat complicated last name) was our vet. We love all the vets there, but he was perfect for this. There was also a tech that we didn’t know, which didn’t bother me at all. I don’t think I even looked at the vet honestly, just enough to say hi. They gave him a sedative. Within a few minutes, he laid down and was completely calm, but fully aware. I was just petting and loving on him this whole time. Even in a completely relaxed state, he tried to bite me. I think he was telling us this was the right decision.
Seeing him in this completely relaxed state made us realize that he had never been truly relaxed. Even when he slept he wasn’t like this. It made us sad of course, but it also made us feel pity for him, and gave us knowledge that we are doing the right thing.
Then came the next phase of the process. Dr. R asked us to move around to his head so he could see us. We were both crying, I was letting it out like a boss. I was sobbing and heaving. I just help his head and pet him and loved him and told him he did good. They started giving him the shot in his leg, and he bucked a little, but I held his head where he was. I was so sad. They gave him the whole shot, then checked him, but when he bucked enough of the shot didn’t go in, so they had to get more and shoot his back leg. He was unconscious at this point, but I was still loving him and holding him and sobbing. He was so relaxed and ready. They gave him the next shot. Then they checked his heart. Dr. R simply said, “He’s gone.” Then he patted my shoulder and walked out with the tech. I think I said thanks, but I couldn’t really focus on anything, I just let loose and wailed.
Janelle and I cried together for a few minutes, just holding each other, looking at him. We must have gone through an entire box of kleenex. This was so hard to do. We loved that dog. He was a jerk a lot of the time, but we still loved him. He was the first thing that was “ours” together, not hers, and not mine (though he was my dog, in the same way the cats are hers, they just put up with me, and sometimes the cats even like me). We tried so hard to help him. We just wanted to do everything we could for him, and we did. We spent thousands of dollars on him, and would have spent thousands more if it would have helped. We would have loved him more and played with him harder if it would have helped. We did what we could, and it still didn’t work. There was something wrong with him upstairs, and we knew there was always going to be something wrong with him upstairs.
Maybe in a different time and place we would have reached a different result. But we are where we are, and we needed to make this decision when and where we did. That’s the lot we had to work with. Some of the things that have reassured us that this was the right decision:
We learned so much throughout this process. We learned about loving animals and the spot they can take in your life. We learned about dealing with difficult behaviors and putting others in front of us and our hopes and dreams. We learned a lot about how to raise dogs well, that will come in handy, as we are sure to have plenty more dogs. We learned that pain and grief like we felt only comes when you truly give of yourself and love deeply. Even if its a dog. We loved that dog, but in the end, we had to draw a line and say that our needs had been put on the back burner for far too long, and our selves and our marriage were more important than trying to rehabilitate a dog that wasn’t getting any better.
I loved that dog. He was good for us and I am glad we got the time with him that we did. Thanks Addaway, you will always be with me in my heart and my head and my memories. Rest in peace buddy.