A Westporter Makes A Very Difficult Dog Decision

A Westporter who asks to remain anonymous writes:

We all love our dogs, but how often do our dogs not love us? With a heavy heart I have come to a decision. It  won’t earn accolades from friends or even family, but it needs to be made nonetheless: I’m going to put my 4-year-old dog down.

One day, the dog broke its owner's glasses.

One day, the dog broke its owner’s glasses.

He is a canine felon. He has a rap sheet in Virginia, and a bad reputation in NY and Maryland with years of biting: me, my daughter and handlers. He lunges with bared teeth at his dog friends, without any provocation. My biggest concern is…what if? What if he pulls away from me, and a child tries to stop him? I could not live with myself if my dog — a known biter — hurts someone.

At Thanksgiving I received reports of his biting when I kenneled him in Maryland. Earlier this fall he was requested not to return to another facility when he bit a handler who placed her hand on his collar as she tried to keep him from another dog.

In his 1st year here, my dog was attacked on a Westport beach by an unleashed and unregistered bully breed. The damage was significant, and it took a few weeks for my dog to get back to “normal” — able to run and jump like nothing had happened. Afterwards I heard from others whose dogs had been injured at Winslow Park or at the beach, some warning me of repeat offenders.

Compo Beach attracts many types of dogs.

Compo Beach attracts many types of dogs.

I reached out to the breed rescue group I had adopted my then-9-month-old puppy from, for advice on my next steps. The former rescue coordinator responded:

So sorry that you have had to go through these very trying experiences. A biting ‘Big Dog’ is definitely not the norm…BUT it has occurred and will occur since ‘bad breeding’ is something we can’t control. Wish we could but that is a fact. Your dog is clearly NOT the ‘norm’ and the unpredictability of his biting means just that, not predictable and therefore could seriously hurt an innocent person, or worse, a child.

You have done what you could, and gone beyond what many would put up with for so long. That risk of a bite from a good sized dog, a Big Dog, is something you cannot take.

Believe me, after 27 years coordinating the Rescue program, these decisions are the hardest to make, but they are the right ones when folks like you have done  your best, and with so many instances, a peaceful permanent sleep is the only solution.

It's tough saying goodbye to any dog.

It’s tough saying goodbye to any dog.

You, we, cannot pass this on to another person or family. Your dog is too dangerous, and others might NOT have the supreme effort for him as you have done. As you do love him, as we all love our Big Dog, this is the loving thing to do. It will be more ‘painful’ for you but the right thing for him.

You have done your best.

“He has a very high opinion of himself, he has no respect” an animal behaviorist told me after several home visits, and I thought: Of course he does. He lives in Westport! Those I have told come in 2 camps: One is, How could I put a family member down? Two: Zero tolerance to a biting dog, put him down, he is a liability.

This decision hasn’t been taken lightly — far from it. But after additional bites where he has broken the skin, my skin, it is time to assess the situation and make the call I am loath to make.

28 responses to “A Westporter Makes A Very Difficult Dog Decision

  1. Audrey Hertzel

    What a heartbreaking situation. So sorry. :-(

  2. Julie Van Norden

    This is such a hard decision to make. No matter how strongly you believe you’ve done the right thing you will be left with a heavy heart. I’m sorry.

  3. Too sad but it does happen. I train dogs and some dogs, either from abuse or bad breeding cannot be rehabilitated. I’ve had large dog clients biting children, family members, strangers, other dogs and it’s too risky. I had one family fire me when I told them their large breed dog was too dangerous for young children and needed to be turned in for re-homing without children — I could not say “put down” or they would have thrown me out of the house, literally but it had to be said.

    It’s very disappointing when one gets a dog with dreams of having your “best friend” by your side and you get a difficult animal who cannot be trained out of these dangerous behaviors and rehabilitated. You will heal from this, and when you get a new canine friend, make sure to do your homework about the breeder (their rep and their line of dogs – talk to owners of their dogs before getting one) OR if adopting from shelter – get as much history as you can about the dog, spend significant time with the dog in a room at the shelter with your family and any other animals you may have – -a meet and greet. Set up a trial run at your home before signing the papers. If it does not go well or your gut tells you “no” then go with it. Also get a good trainer who has studied canine behaviors because they can read things you might not be able to.

    Good luck and so sorry but you should not feel guilty for one second. I have a good friend who lost the whole top joint of her finger to her large dog who could not be rehabbed! She had to put him down finally. That’s permanent damage now that can’t be undone and thankfully, it was not someone else who could have sued her.

    BTW — I live out waay of state so I’m not gunning for business :) I hear these stories a lot and wanted to help.

  4. Your moral dilemma and responsible action must be truly heartbreaking, but one that must be taken. As a former large dog owner it was always a concern… We never had an issue but we were always responsible… I personally was bit by an Irish wolfhound totally unprovoked… To my understanding it wasn’t the first time and like you this is not isolated.. Your actions are sad but 100% honorable

  5. You should not spend another second beating yourself up. You are doing a supremely hard thing, making a terribly difficult and painful decision but for all of the right reasons. I hope you can find some comfort in that knowledge in the days to come.

  6. Ann Marie Flynn

    When I have had to make decisions such as you have to make, I pull up on my computer….The Rainbow Bridge….and read it through as many times as I need to be consoled.
    Unfortunately, it might be a necessary decision for you to do to protect others.
    I wish you good healing.

  7. Truly a heartbreaking situation for you and any dog lover. As someone with a soft spot for Rotties my heart is breaking especially hard. Please let me echo every comment above. You’ve given this dog many years of life and love which you can be proud of. Try to give yourself permission to deal with this sooner, rather than later. Kudos to the rescue group for such a compassionate, well-thought out response based on years (27+) of experience.

  8. Julie Mombello

    I got teary as I read your story, but there is no question that you are doing the right thing. I’m a dog person extraordinaire and also had a dog similar to yours. At the time I had 2 young children and another much smaller dog. I thought the issues that we were having were specific to our household and so I found a family to adopt our big dog. I wish I had had the courage to do what you are doing – there are just some dogs who cannot be trained and/or rehabilitated. I admire your strength!

  9. Ellen Gleicher

    I totally feel your pain. My husband and I adopted a bulldog from a bad breeder.
    He turned out to be deaf and a little tough to train, but oh so sweet. Everything changed when he turned 3, and I was also pregnant with our second child. Neuman started biting and lunging at people.. myself included.
    It was for no reason and completely unprovoked. We went the same route with a well known behaviorist. Nobody could help us. My husband and I were distraught, and a rescue friend of mine suggested a rescue in upstate New York.
    This woman said she knew she could rehabilitate him, and she would keep him herself. A huge donation later he had a new home and we were heartbroken, but happy to still know he was alive. We received beautiful pictures of Neuman driving around getting treats from nearby merchants.
    A while later the correspondences Came to a sudden stop. After a lot of prodding, because I felt something was off,,,. I was told the rescue woman had to put Neuman down. It was the second time he attacked her completely unprovoked, and she needed stitches.
    I truly feel your pain.

  10. kimberly cole

    can you make one last ditch effort and write to cesar milan? he usually takes dogs like this one, rehabilitates them and finds them a new home.

  11. I am disabled and lived in Westport for much of my life and now live on Nantucket. Both are very “dog friendly” communities, which is great, but I find that often “dog friendly” communities are too tolerant of dog aggression. I rely on a service dog and sadly my service dog and I have endured numerous attacks by other people’s pets. When I ask someone approaching us, if their dog is friendly, never has anyone answered no, people always make excuses. The worst is when I talk to someone about a recent incident of a dog biting my service dog, and the person responds with “oh hey I know that dog! It bit mine too.”

    Until people start making a fuss and report aggressive dogs, other people and dogs will continue to be at risk. People are responsible for the harm their pets cause and dogs are required to be under the control of their owners at all times. People who own aggressive dogs usually are in denial about it and until they are held accountable their dogs, the animal will always be more and more likely to act out every time their owner sets them up to fail again.

    If you experience or witness serious aggression from a dog, make a fuss! Do it loud and right away! Rally other witnesses, tell the owner how completely unacceptable it is. Call the police if necessary! Take a picture of the dog and owner! If the owner’s response is anything but shock and apology, then you should assume this wasn’t the first time and the owner knowingly put you and your dog at risk without your consent and that is NOT okay! Stand up for yourself and others! Stand up for everyone’s right to be and feel safe! Don’t be afraid to point a finger or be accused of shaming, you are acting in the best interests of the safety of the community. People who knowingly endanger others by letting their dog attack stop going places where their denial is called out and where they are held accountable for their actions. It is only when people speak up and stop doing nothing about aggressive dogs, that a community can become as dog safe as it is dog friendly.

    Now all that said, people have a right to own and love a dog with “issues.” I adopted a dog aggressive dog from the Westport shelter when I was in high school and I loved him and cared for him till he died at the age of 22. I tried dozens of trainers and methods, but he was just terrified of dogs and would bite if one came close, so I always kept him on leash and I avoided other dogs as best I could. We only had problems when people ignored my words and refused to keep their dog to them self. If someone says their dog isn’t friendly, and their dog is on a leash, it is your responsibility to keep your dog away from that dog. The actions of friendly dogs can start fights even if they never open their mouth, simply by not respecting the space and body language of others. An undisciplined friendly dog that rushes into the face of a nervous dog and rubs it’s body against the legs of the nervous dog’s owner, is rudely goading the nervous dog. It’s like the canine version of flipping the bird. We all have a right to come and go as we please and not be forced to interact with someone else’s dog.

    This link goes to a fantastic info graphic explaining the plight of owners of reactive dogs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lilita/6577001349/sizes/l/ nod it is available as a free download from doggieart.net

  12. No question that you are doing the right thing! Very hard, but the thought of living with the possible consequences are far greater!

  13. Holly Wheeler

    You’ve certainly got a very heartbreaking and tough decision. If you’ve never put an animal down, please know that making the decision is the hard part. The actual ‘act’ is one of the most gentle, kind and humane experiences you will ever have (through your tears).

  14. I had to put down my beloved Butch because he was a biter. As my vet told me, there are only 2 types of dogs…those that bite and those that don’t. It was one of the hardest things, if not the hardest, that I ever had to do but it just got to the point where he was biting the hand that fed him and that is not a good thing. Sorry for your loss…I feel your pain… but you made the right decision.

  15. There’s not much I can add. As an animal lover and a responsible owner, I know about tough decisions and heartbreak. It seems as though you have done all you can. Even with this decision, you are not abandoning your dog. Peace be with you both.

  16. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    It’s not your fault.
    On another note, are dogs, leashed or unleashed, allowed on Compo Beach throughout the year?

  17. My first dog was a great little Llahsa Apso who was extremely smart and cute but also extremely territorial and aggressive. Once little kids came into the picture, things got bad. We tried all sorts of training which went quite well in the classroom (actually church basement), except he never lost his aggression toward small kids going toward his possessions or his territory. Dozens of bites and snarling lunges later, we finally had to get rid of him. Thankfully we found a childless home of a retired couple out of state who took him and pampered him to our amazement. We then later got a labradoodle who was 180 degrees different. You can take food out of it’s mouth, poke it’s eyes, even sit on it without a peep. I was stunned at how much fun a “good” dog can be so we don’t have to be on edge 24/7 wondering when the next attack will occur. Moving on was painful, but it was the best thing we ever did, dogwise.

  18. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    This whole thread is a joke, right? I haven’t seen so much anguish/agony/angst since the launch of the ACA enrollment website. Dan, I don’t know how you do it, but you always manage to inspire your readers to reach for and attain even greater heights. I thought the series about the coffee guy oversleeping at the train station and missing work was unbeatable and I have just been proven wrong. Anybody that wonders what continuous improvement looks like has only to read your blog.

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      What do you mean by “continuous improvement”?

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

        Nancy, “continuous improvement” is generally defined as consistently doing the same job better than you did it the previous time to the extent that it becomes automatic. There was no other responsible choice than to put that dog to sleep unless it had been provoked every time it bit people.

        • Nancy Hunter Wilson

          Does this expression “continuous improvement” include “bedside manner”, or “empathy”? Or, maybe, I misunderstood your remark.

          • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

            Maybe you misunderstood my remark.

          • Yes, perhaps I misunderstood Eric’s remark as well. In this day and age, some people view their dogs as full fledged family members (hence doggie daycares, doggie spas which I think takes it waay out there but..) — not just some four legged for tying up in the backyard or an animal to take hunting. They’re as much a family member for folks for some, as children are. So, it makes for a quite a horrible experience to go through for this individual to make a decision to kill their family member. Many people are empathetic and I think that’s a good thing. The world needs more empathy and Dan was simply doing a human interest story – interesting to some who love dogs and not so interesting to those who don’t.

            • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

              Mea Culpa. Going forward, to avoid any possibility of further anguish to anyone, I’m willing to try a muzzle (on myself, I mean) even though the canine in question or his owner evidently wasn’t. I love dogs and I’ve never met one that wasn’t interesting.

  19. there will always be another dog that needs adoption and you’re simply making room for one that isn’t a threat

  20. Robin Scarella

    A heartbreaking decision. Sounds like all has been tried and it is truly not safe to keep. U gave it your all and am sure wrestled back and forth. Sounds like right decision. Wishing u peace.