This morning was really difficult. It was the day that other days were leading up to, and when the morning came, I wished that it hadn’t. I wished it were far off, and I felt myself losing my nerve. My resolve seemed to be melting, but I knew I had to push through the doubt. Because the doubt was simply a way of wishing things were different.
Which they aren’t. Things are the way the are, and despite my best intentions and my best attempts, I couldn’t change things.
I love Clive, a rescued Yorkie mix. He was sweet, affectionate, playful. He was a perfect little nap buddy who loved to curl up beside you and just chill. He was always ready with kisses when you wanted them – and when you didn’t. He was awesome at fetch and tug-of-war.
And then there was the Other Clive. The one I first discovered when I took him to a park. I was cautious because I didn’t know what would happen as we were surrounded by children. Then a kid on roller skates zoomed right by him, and Other Clive came out. He was snarling, barking, and snapping, and I knew that if he could get to that kid – or possibly any kid near him – he would bite. I held him down and kept him restrained until I thought he was calm enough to pick up. A few minutes later, a boy came up and asked if he could pet Clive, and for the first (not only) time, I responded, “No; he bites.”
After losing our last dog to old age, I didn’t want another dog. They are dirty, make a mess, make noise, shed, get into garbage, require bathing and shots, more expenses, and need walks no matter what the weather. Sometimes I just want to have a pajama day – no walks and no brushing dog hair from my clothes. But my son wanted one. He is very persistent and adorable. So, we started the long search for the right dog.
When we found the very unkempt and tiny Clive at the shelter, we knew that he was having a tough time getting adopted. His matted fur told us he’d been there for months. He seemed to love my son and my son loved him. And he seemed to need us. I liked that he made clear he needed to go outside. Housebroken! Clive got extra points for that. And he looked like a Clive, so my son’s desire to name him Chewbacca quickly dissipated, and we giddy 3 were thrilled as we watched his nametag get printed with that name on it.
When we got him home after many failings due to winter weather, he was pretty relaxed, not much into playing, and just figuring out the lay of the land. I was working from home most of the time then, so I got to stay home and teach him where the boundaries were. And I got a nice foot warmer as he lay at my feet while I plugged away on my laptop each afternoon.
After the park incident, I became increasingly anxious with him around my son. Each growl made my heart jump, though most growls were just play noises. Then, I took him for a walk down the street and introduced him to some neighbors. He was barking and looked upset, but I advised my dog-owning neighbor to maybe let him sniff her hand. Without hesitation, he bit that outstretched hand and drew blood. I was mortified. I was lucky they were so understanding and that the wound wouldn’t require stitches.
It was from there that I feared every walk or trip outdoors. Any time we encountered another person or dog or especially a bicycle or motorcycle, Clive would become Other Clive, and my main concern was in making certain he didn’t slip his collar or that my son wouldn’t try to comfort the dog when he was in this alternate state.
I discovered once as I was walking him in the rain that an umbrella could hold his focus well enough that he wouldn’t seem to be hunting the moment we opened the front door, so I got in the habit of carrying one with me. This didn’t really stop him from turning into “Snarles Barkley” as we nicknamed him; but it did give him something to bite into as he was so desperate to do. I later learned this is called a redirection bite and that it’s a red flag that your dog is genuinely dangerous.
Then came having anyone over to the house. Or taking the dog anywhere. When we went to the Outer Banks, I wanted one last visit to the beach to dip my toes in the ocean before I left, but Other Clive had other ideas: attack anything he could see. He was in a dark place. In the hotel, he barked at every noise and behaved as though we were constantly under attack. He couldn’t find any peace. When we needed to have people in the house, we would have to keep him locked in a room and listen as Other Clive barked and clawed at the door until they finally left and he could perform a thorough search to make certain they were gone. Even the television was a threat to him. Illustrated animals were clearly out to destroy us, according to Other Clive. His level of anxiety and aggression were difficult to watch.
And then he bit my son. On the face. Breaking the skin. Half an inch from his eye.
My need to protect my son outranked any obligation I had to keep Clive. But then what to do?
I consulted with a dog trainer who came to the house. Inside or outside, Other Clive couldn’t let the trainer see the sweet Clive we thought we’d adopted into our Forever Home. He snarled and snapped and begged to bite her for 30 minutes. Nothing we tried made the slightest difference to him.
Seeing him like that made me fear that even re-homing him meant I was putting someone else’s child or grandchild or friend or neighbor at risk. The dog trainer and the vet agreed. If I returned Clive to the shelter, he would be put to sleep. If I re-homed him, I was leaving people open to a very real potential for injury. If I kept him, I was leaving my own child at risk for serious injury.
My decision was this: Clive couldn’t stay. He couldn’t be re-homed. And if he had to meet his end, I would at least be there to comfort him. He wouldn’t be surrounded by strangers when he left us. He wouldn’t be abandoned again. In his last moments, he would be loved.
My son asked me repeatedly not to do it. He said over and over that he wanted Clive to be there when he got home from school. My heart was a puddle on the floor. Responsibility is really hard. I advise against growing up. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.
Clive was shivering in the car as I drove him to the veterinarian, and I doubt it had anything to do with the cold. He whined. This was unusual for him. He liked car rides. But he knew where we were going. He had an idea what was going to happen. How do they know? How could they?
As would be expected, when I entered the vet’s office, the staff was somber. Everyone was soft-spoken and very kind. They handed me a clipboard with a consent to euthanize form, which I completed while in the back of my head I was reading something not written on the form: I hereby sentence my dog to death.
They took him into another room to put in an IV catheter then came back to ask me how I wanted to proceed, letting me know my options. I said I wanted the sedative in the catheter instead of in the muscle. I didn’t think I could stand to prolong the sedation for 20 minutes. It was agony enough. When they brought him back in, he was still muzzled, and I could feel my heart breaking.
He was obviously upset and nervous, and I held him. I whispered to him, “I’m here, buddy. I have you,” while petting him to calm him down. He became still and let out a long sigh. When the vet, seeing that he and I were locked in silence, asked if I was ready, my throat clenched, and all I could do was nod.
As soon as the sedative was administered, Clive went limp, and I let him lie on the table. I watched as the vet took a second needle with a pale pink solution and depressed the plunger. Clive was moving his tongue as though to lap up some water. And then he wasn’t.
The vet and I both pet him for a few moments, and then she took her stethoscope and listened to his chest. “It’s stopped.” I took a long look at him and then placed my forehead on his. It was my turn to let out a long sigh. She carried him into the next room, removed his collar, and wrapped him for burial at home. She held the door open for me as I left with him in my arms.
And it was then, as I carried his lifeless body to my car that I first heard myself crying and then saw that the world had gone blurry from the tears in my eyes. It hurt to breathe. I’ve never taken the death of a pet so hard, and I was alarmed by how much this hurt.
“I failed him,” I thought. “I let him down.” I denied him all the future cuddles and belly rubs he may have enjoyed. I denied him the entire future of good Clive moments that we all loved so much. And my decision couldn’t be undone now. My grief reduced me to a sobbing mess all the way home. I wondered if I’ll ever really forgive myself.
Clive is buried next to one of our gardens in a grave I’m glad I thought to dig the day before. He is wrapped in one of my son’s baby blankets for an eternal figurative hug from us. His head rests on one of his toys because it’s the fun and playful Clive I’d like to remember.
Ultimately, what we wanted when we decided to get a dog was a pet that my son deserved – one we could take to the park, on vacations, have adventures with, and that would be as good a friend to him as my son would be to it. We got that – but only part of the time. The rest of the time we had the pet we couldn’t help because of PTSD-like adrenaline brain damage he got sometime before we ever knew him. It pained me every time I saw Other Clive, which was every day. No amount of love would make it go away. Love could only bring him peace.