For those of you how don’t know, Captain Pup has been our dog for 9 and a half years. A friend of Anthony’s brother found pup in a parking lot around Thanksgiving in 2004. It was raining so we took him in. We called him “Pup” because we didn’t want to name him. We tried to find an owner, but no one claimed him. So after almost a month, Anthony said, “I’ll keep him.”
Anthony’s Brother tried to rename him. “Captain” was the favorite option. But it was too late – a month of calling him “Pup” and he wouldn’t respond to anything else. So for the better part of a decade, “Pup” was as regular a word in my everyday vocabulary as the word “Water.” At first, the vet thought he was about a year old when we found him. But after being properly fed and cared for, it came to light that he was closer to age 3 when we found him.
Pup loved the car back then. He’d go anywhere with us. And he always wanted to sit in the driver’s seat. 🙂 He’d put his front paws on the steering wheel and watch where we were headed over the dash. Then he’d hop in the back, curl up, and take a nap. He was a funny-looking kind of cute, and the biggest cuddle bug. But that was years ago.
These days, pup is the “Grumpy Old Man” as we call him. If our calculations are correct, he’s about 13 years old. He is afraid of the car now because it usually means visiting the vet, and his naps are less of a recharge and more of a way of life. That black and tan dog in the picture is now a black and grey dog. Old Man to the Nth degree. And “grumpy” is a euphemism for a dog that has turned aggressive and easily agitated. He liked Abigail for about 6 months after we brought her home. Pretty much once she was even remotely mobile, he decided they weren’t friends. The same seems to hold true for Milo. He is a very different dog than the one we took in off the street almost 10 years ago.
The truth is, Pup doesn’t really like people in general. Especially strange men. He has shown obvious signs of abuse from day one. He’s a barker, and a growler. But for the entire time we’ve had him, he’s been mostly all bark and no bite. He has snapped a few times at people who have gotten in his face or made him feel threatened. But he’d never hurt anyone.
That is, until this past Thursday. Abigail was sitting on the floor watching TV and eating goldfish crackers. Totally normal. And Pup was attempting to steal some of those crackers. Also normal. As Abby moved the crackers away, he quietly growled. Normal. My tone of voice in warning him to knock it off – normal. What happened next was as far from normal as it gets. Abby turned to look in my direction (turning her head towards Pup) and he lunged. Without warning, he bit her face, leaving a significant gash on her right eyelid.
I watched it happen. It was mere feet from me. For a moment, both Abby and I froze in shock. In that moment, I saw that Pup’s expression had changed. His normally kind eyes and sarcastic grin had turned cold and angry. But then the moment passed. All in the same split second, Pup’s expression returned to normal and the pain of the bite set in. I put Milo down (who immediately objected by crying) so I could scoop up a sobbing and confused Abby. Pup ran and hid. He knew he’d done something horrible.
It took the better part of 20 minutes to calm Abigail down. In that time I had assessed that the wound did not puncture her eyelid or damage her eye. It was just a deep and painful cut. I called Anthony for reinforcements, but by the time he arrived home, things had settled and seemed normal. Abby even seemed unphased, trying to let Pup back into the house from the yard where I’d banished him for the moment. The doctor was called, with treatment instructions given, and everyone seemed ok… everyone except me. I still couldn’t wrap my head around it, and worse still, I knew what was coming. Anthony said it aloud first. “He can’t stay here.”
If you know me well, you know that there has literally been a 3 months span of time when I was 15 that I didn’t own a dog. That’s it. Every single day of the rest of my 31 years included a furry friend. And I was taught that while they were family pets, that they were to be treated as family members. You don’t leave them behind – for ANY reason… except one.
Dogs that bite children, for ANY reason, cannot stay. It’s like there is some dog owner code written down somewhere that states it. Can’t find an apartment that will take dogs? Not a good enough reason to dismiss the animal. Can’t afford the medical bills? Not a good enough reason. Spouse allergic to the animal? Still not a good enough reason. But a dog that bites, unprovoked, changes things.
I was heartbroken. But my hands were tied. I called the local shelter for information on protocols and got ambushed. A dog that bites is serious business to them. Animal Control had to get involved, as did the health department. An official Bite Report was filed. It was a giant mess and my head was spinning. And the ultimate result was that the best course of action for all involved, including Pup, was to surrender him to the shelter. I wanted to vomit.
Anthony took the rest of the day off to help me deal with it all. I was told that he’d be given a 10-day quarantine to rule out rabies. (He was current on his shots, so I knew that wasn’t it). From there, they will assess his behavior. If he passes their tests, they will do everything they can to find someone to adopt him – most likely a home with no children. The shelter is a reputable one, with a very low rate of euthanasia. They are known for going above and beyond the call of duty and keep dogs significantly longer than they are required to do so. But, of course, dogs who do not pass their behavioral assessments are deemed “unadoptable” will have to be put down. A fate that is a real possibility for my precious little guy.
I felt (and still feel) so guilty. Leaving him at that shelter was gut-wrenching. I broke down sobbing in the parking lot. And as the days have passed, I’ve gone from shocked and upset to angry. The Bite Report left me with a choice: Keep the dog under Health Department approved quarantine in your home and away from any children, or surrender him. And you have roughly 4 hours to make your decision before we make it for you. The guilt I feel is from knowing that if I’d had more time to deal with it all, I could have done better than “We guarantee him 14 days here (10 of which I paid for), but after that, anything is possible.” I know that I could have found him a home, or a rescue, or at least a foster until other arrangements could be made. But I wasn’t given that option. And 4 days after surrendering him, I am still feeling guilty and angry. And I feel like that is going to last for a lot longer than I want it to.
I know that, under the circumstances, we did the right thing. The safety of my children, and any visiting children, far outweigh my sentimental feelings for a pet. But knowing the facts in my head don’t detract from the feelings in my heart. I feel like I let him down somehow. But I also know that he’s the reason we are in this mess. And I also know he’s got a shot at turning this around. I know that if anyone can find him a home, it’s our local shelter. And I know that he will be well cared for while he is there, however long that may be.
I have to believe that whatever happens to him, it’s for the best. He is old and his mind is slipping. I am sure that the dog that bit my daughter is not the dog I’ve lived with for a decade. I know that he knows how much we love him. And I know that, no matter how hard it is to face, we did the right thing. Which, as usual, is the hardest thing to do.
Abigail’s eyelid is healing. I am hoping it will not scar. Her emotions seem to have leveled out a bit. She was definitely not herself for a day or two after it happened, but she’s coming back around quickly. And while she was visibly scared of Pup after the incident, it doesn’t seem to have transferred to other dogs, as she has spent time with a few family dogs since, and been fine. I pray there is no long-term damage here.
While I am no longer struggling with the decisions we made, I am struggling with the unknown. Surrendering him means we give up all rights of ownership. Meaning that I don’t get notified of what becomes of our beloved family pet. I won’t know if he passes those tests. I won’t know if he gets adopted. I won’t know if he gets put down. I will struggle with this lack of knowledge for a long time. All I can do is pray that whatever is supposed to happen for Pup, will happen. And I pray that whoever is in charge of his care is kind. Because, biter or not, he was and is a good dog. And he deserves at least that.
I miss you, so much, Pup. Grumpy as you had become, I still loved you. I will think about you often and remember you just as you are in the picture. A good dog.