In the spring of ’06 I adopted a stray, a beagle-husky mix that I named Ricky. Ricky was in many ways a fabulous dog — quiet in the house, good with people including children, not food or toy aggressive, not an escape artist, and a good traveler. But over the years, he became increasingly aggressive to other dogs…to the point that many days it was like I was walking Cujo.
I thought about giving him back to the shelter about 1 1/2 years ago, but decided to try and work it out.
I tried training with a local pro, which didn’t do much. I started using an Easy Walk harness and that worked for about a year, but he got increasingly worked up and hard to control when we passed a dog on our walks…or something he even thought might be a dog up ahead — people walking a toddler or even pulling wheeled backpacks. Last month I switched to a Gentle Leader head harness and I was very careful to follow the training tape but he started lunging against it when he saw a dog, smelled a dog, or we approached a house where one of his “arch nemeses” lived — sometimes I felt like I was just sawing on his poor nose. I could only take him on a couple of different walks any more, where I knew no dogs lived.
A few weeks ago he got away from me at the park and launched himself into a big black lab that was completely minding its own business some ways away. The lab very expertly flipped Ricky over onto his back — the whole dog pack thing — but the minute he let Ricky up, Ricky went for him again.
Then I realized that my excuses to skip our twice daily walks or take short walks (it’s getting dark, I’m tired, etc.) were really about not wanting to deal with the drama. At home, he was a Good Dog, but I had to admit I wasn’t capable of dealing with his worsening aggression. So I emailed the shelter and told them I was done and needed to return Ricky.
And they told me they (or any shelter) couldn’t take a d0g-aggressive dog because, of course, they had to put the safety of the other dogs and the workers first. They also noted that intensive anti-aggression training can be very tough on the dog, especially an older one, like Ricky. That’s when the possibility of having Ricky euthanized was first mentioned.
I called my vet, and they agreed. So after a few days of spoiling Ricky rotten, which he loved, I took him to the vet and had him put down. The office was not busy and the vet and two techs came into the room after Ricky had passed and we petted him and cried and told stories about our dogs — a little wake, really.
I told one story that involved Ricky’s big old hound-dog smile, and on the drive home, I realized something: I hadn’t seen that smile in at least 2 years. Ricky had become increasingly aggressive, but also overly-focused and tense and, well, unhappy. He was healthy, but something hadn’t been right for a long time. That moment, I knew I’d made the right decision.
So goodbye, Ricky. Author Terry Pratchett writes that a creature that is half-man, half wolf isn’t a werewolf — it’s a dog. Dogs are the animals on the planet that have most entered our lives and our hearts and while I have absolutely no idea what the afterlife is like, I’m pretty sure they are there.